Finding Meaning in Video Chat — Why I’ve joined Marco Polo

I’m happy to announce I’ve joined Marco Polo (aka Joya Communications) to head international growth.

Here’s why

In 2017, I sold Babajob, my baby of 11 years and the endeavor I deeply believed was the best use of my potential. The last year has been one of identity seeking; it was a chance to be a better father and better husband, to write, to spend time with a few organizations whose work I admired (Jaaga — including BeFantastic.in and Dara.Network, Unifize, Harambee, and iSpirt) and figure out what new gig would give me as much meaning as Babajob did.

And so why Marco Polo?

For those of you who have not tried Marco Polo, you’ll likely hear of it as a Snapchat for Adults. I gotta be frank — this feels dismissive and something I don’t get because I’ve never really understood Snapchat. I find apps like SnapChat, ShareChat and YouTube nice to watch random videos when I’m bored. The videos are occasionally funny or odd but I keep asking myself “Who are these people?” — only to never see them again. The communication aspects seem confusing and secondary to the competition for notoriety.

MarcoPolo.me is damn good for far away families.

People who prefer not to type

About half the world learned languages with Roman scripts — English, French, German, Spanish, etc. These happen to be the places where keyboards were invented and hence keyboards — including mobile keyboards — work reasonably well for writing those languages. Now imagine growing up with a language like Chinese and its thousands of characters. Keyboards suck for non-Roman script languages and hence is it any wonder that a billion Chinese people exchange voice clips on WeChat everyday? Voice is just a more natural, expressive and faster way to communicate. The same is true for video chat — but it’s better because emotion is conveyed in faces.

People that live far from home aka Migrants

The history of civilization is a flow of people to cities — it’s always been where the money is. In India alone, 139 million mostly men, leave their villages at non-harvest times to work in the low-end jobs that Babajob specialized. They often only read and write in the vernacular language of their home state, sleep with 9–12 people in an urban, two bedroom apartment and work 12 hour shifts as guards, drivers, waiters or cleaners. They miss their families and often send money home. In the last few years, cheap smartphone and data plans have given personalized entertainment to 400 million Indians and created an explosion in India’s data consumption. But working noon to midnight does not allow for many overlapping times to call family back in one’s native place. Marco Polo offers a real answer to this problem, with free, simple asynchronous video chat. This population’s needs and time incompatibilities with their loved ones are shared by billions of workers in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and economic hubs throughout the world. It’s also shared by me personally as someone who’s built a new family in a timezone 11.5 hours away from my own family. Marco Polo has been a welcome tool for me to feel closer to my loved ones in America.

And that criteria?

Marco Polo stacks up well. Michal and Vlada are kind, mission-drived and incredibly smart founders and their focus on our culture and user retention is an inspiration. My 25 other colleagues combine excellence with a dedication to bring this feeling of closeness to everyone. The team is also entirely remote and distributed across the US, Canada and now India and hence every employee joke, meeting and demo takes place online (so many pet videos!). I expect that Marco Polo’s positive impact will be emotional and enhance connection to the people we care about most — which I’ll concede is different than the more UN-style SDG impact metrics that Babajob and other social-impact companies usually pursue. In terms of resources, It’s backers are among the best and most connected VCs in the world. And I’m overjoyed that scaling of Marco Polo beyond the States falls to me and the team we’ll build largely in India.

CEO, Dara.network. Founder of http://babajob.com. Previously Marco Polo and MSFT. Dad. Believer in Tech for Good.