How COVID set us on a more meaningful path

As Zoom and Teams dominated our industry we found a more meaningful problem to work on: Delivering community, connection and belonging to those that need it the most.

Meetupcall has been helping organisations connect remotely since 2009.  Initially through the development of a simple to use telephone conference call service and latterly through our customiseable video conferencing platform.

We have always been a small business, employing at our peak around 24 people, but in that time we have connected over 750,000 different people in 117 countries.  Our customers buy from us because we build simple to use, reliable products and back them up with unrivalled and human customer support.  This is our key differentiator to our much bigger and better funded competition, and the thing that we do better than anybody else.

What this means, is that our typical customer tends to be a slightly later adopter, somebody who appreciates a little extra help to get up and running and benefits from the confidence that a human is always there if needed.  Prior to COVID, our vision was to be the service than enables these kinds of late adopting, more conservative organisations to embrace the benefits of meeting and working remotely; then everything changed.

The COVID lockdowns forced organisations to rapidly adopt this new way of working in just a few weeks and our marketplace became dominated, overnight, by two products (Zoom and Microsoft Teams).  The following months also saw the usual big tech Goliaths (Facebook, Google, Apple) aggressively enter our space, keen to have access to all that data and to keep users within their walled gardens. It seemed all of a sudden, that nobody needed our help anymore.

As it turned out, that wasn’t true.

It goes without saying that one of the groups most effected by COVID is older people; not only are they most at risk from the virus itself but the lockdowns and restrictions impact the support networks that they rely upon, leaving them isolated, lonely and disconnected from their communities.  Unable to reach these people in person during the lockdowns, charities and community organisations tried to find ways to facilitate social interaction and maintain community connections.  The tools and services the rest of us adopted to remain connected during this time were not accessible to this audience, who were often digitally isolated or living with physical or cognitive challenges. All except one… Meetupcall.

By focussing on developing a service that was simple to use we had inadvertently created a service that was accessible to older people, and so, we began working with a number of charities to help them reach those most in need.  Our service wasn’t perfect, but with a few feature updates and UX changes we were able to adapt the product to meet the requirements for this new use case and were glad to be doing our bit and helping out in a crisis.

What surprised us, and the organisations we were working with, was just how effective and valuable delivering services this way would be to the recipients.  Not only was this a low cost and scaleable way of reaching large numbers of people to deliver social interaction, stimulating activities and reduce loneliness, but our customers were now able to reach people who were previously unreachable.  Loneliness in older people was a massive problem prior to the COVID lockdowns and is an even bigger problem afterward and we may have discovered an effective way to reduce it at scale.

For the last 18 months we have been working closely with our charity partners to develop a service specifically for this use case, a service that is optimised to enable accessibility for an older audience, includes safeguarding measures to keep vulnerable people safe and can report on the impact these services are delivering.  Throughout this process we have become convinced that using technology in this way to reach these people could significantly improve the lives of older people by enabling them to stay socially connected for longer, and that we could lead the way.

While we will continue to support our existing customers who are still getting value from and using our business products, we are committing our future efforts to tackle the problem of loneliness in older people.  We are on a new mission to deliver community, connection and belonging to those that need it the most.

If you’re interested in this issue or working on this problem too, then please get in touch.