In 2007, Chris Wanstrath and PJ Hyett were sitting in a small SF apartment, building websites for CNET on Ruby on Rails. The more they used Rails, the more suggestions they had for improving the open-source project. But as was the industry norm back then, the open-source initiative was managed by a group of trusted coders who had explicit permission to commit changes. Anyone wanting to contribute to the central code had to go through them. Over time, Chris and PJ felt that they were spending more time lobbying for the change than actually identifying and coding the change. Fed up with the process, they decided to build their own repository: Logical Awesome LLC.
Logical Awesome turned into GitHub, and today, more than 83M developers use it daily to build and collaborate. GitHub made coding a team sport. It changed the way coders build and collaborate with one another.
One year later, two Facebook engineers had a mission to kill email at work. Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein quit their jobs, and Asana was born to help anyone within a company communicate and collaborate more efficiently. In the following years, Miro and Trello were built to communicate ideas and manage projects in real time. Figma and Notion quickly followed, changing the way people design and manage knowledge.
The first 🌊: Collaboration as a Product
Github revolutionised an industry by enabling more collaboration, albeit on an asynchronous basis. While Github was pushing for this foundational shift to happen, Asana, Miro, Trello, and Figma began applying synchronous multiplayer features to product ideas. They became category-defining companies that paved the way for the first wave of real-time collaborative software. They built real-time multiplayer features at the core of their offering, which differentiated them from incumbents. And even though we’d argue that Figma and Miro’s collaborative features are nowadays an enhancer rather than the main value driver of the software, multiplayer features are what drove their initial development and adoption.
The second 🌊: Collaboration as a Feature
Today, we aren’t trying to convince ourselves of the need for collaboration within the workplace. A COVID-induced shift to hybrid work, the consumerisation of B2B SaaS, and a familiarity with the first wave of collaborative software have opened the floodgates for more multiplayer products. We’re now seeing a shift in collaborative tech being baked into products beyond design and productivity. We call this shift from collaboration as a product to collaboration as a feature the second wave of collaborative tech. Companies that haven’t traditionally thought of themselves as collaboration-first are now deciding to adopt multiplayer features on the application layer to improve their product’s user experience and build virality into their business (much more on this here). Supply chain, tax, and even life sciences are seeking to give their customers a more frictionless, data-centric, and integrated experience, whether their users are sitting next to each other or oceans apart.
At Seedcamp, we are excited by the impact collaborative tech is having on dozens of verticals, for companies small and large. Below we highlight a few companies which we have backed and/or admire, all using multiplayer collaborative tech to enhance their products.
In the data space, Count is helping business users and data teams communicate in real-time. Hex and Benchling are making notebooks for data and life sciences multiplayer. Evercast is changing the way teams collaborate on video production. We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with a number of multiplayer collaborative SaaS across multiple sectors from finance to data and communications (portfolio companies highlighted in green). Rayon is rethinking the design, exchange, and communication process for spatial design companies that have traditionally used a combination of BIM, PDFs, and email to model and communicate with stakeholders. Ourspace equips teams with a canvas to make better org design decisions and Fullview enables virtual support teams to give better customer service.
In addition to vertical-specific solutions, infrastructure plays have also cropped up as part of the second wave of collaboration. We call these multiplayer enablers. They provide the necessary tooling to turn something that was traditionally single-player into a multiplayer collaborative experience. One example of a multiplayer enabler is our portfolio company Sandbox. Jonathan Bree, the founder and CEO, built Sandbox with the belief that the internet is a multiplayer space and merits a multiplayer browser. Via Sandbox, users can quickly turn a web browsing experience into a multiplayer event. Currently, in beta, the Seedcamp team already loves using the Chrome extension for
Amazon browsing pipeline and portfolio review meetings.
Another example from our portfolio is Liveblocks. Instead of making browsers collaborative, Liveblocks enables developers to build real-time collaborative features on top of existing and new-developed SaaS applications. Liveblocks is made up of two layers: a “presence” layer which, via live cursors and avatars, creates a multiplayer experience, and a “storage” layer which lets users manipulate the same piece of data in real-time and synchronise their application state without any lag. Neatly packaged into an easily-integratable API, Liveblocks is already used by dozens of companies.
Recently, we sat down with Steven Fabre, the co-founder and CEO of Liveblocks, to chat about his take on the future of collaborative multiplayer SaaS.
The beauty of Liveblocks is its ease of integration which enables a variety of people, from construction to healthcare professionals, to take advantage of the benefits of real-time collaborative SaaS. Propeller and Dialogue, which Steven touches upon during the interview, would likely not have prioritised multiplayer features if it weren’t for Liveblocks’ ease of use. We believe that infrastructure solutions like Liveblocks will pave the way for many more tools to integrate multiplayer features that enhance user experience.
“I think the future of SaaS is going be collaborative. It’s gonna become a commodity. If your product isn’t multiplayer, if it doesn’t work in the browser where you can easily share your URL with somebody, and that person ends up in the same space as you, your competitor will do it and win.” Steven Fabre, CEO at Liveblocks
Of course, when incorrectly fitted to a use case, multiplayer collaborative SaaS can create a less-than-ideal outcome. It can lead to groupthink and distraction. We likely couldn’t have written this article if three other avatars on our screens were moving words around and converging upon the same thought. Similarly, a coder might struggle if their teammate changes the source code on line 9 that breaks lines 20-40. Solo focus will always be valuable and some professions (and personalities) require more of it than others. Multiplayer features will have to be modular in order to cater to these use cases.
The third 🌊: Commoditisation of collaboration
At Seedcamp, we believe that multiplayer, real-time collaboration will continue to be universally embedded into products. We are looking particularly closely at multiplayer collaborative SaaS that is: i) serving fragmented industries with many involved stakeholders, and ii) competing against legacy software (more on why it’s nearly impossible to turn legacy software multiplayer here).
We are witnessing some exciting developments in industries that have traditionally been left out of massive tech transformations. Many of these industries struggle with high fragmentation and a variety of stakeholders who own siloed parts of the value creation process, causing a headache to anyone who has to manage them. Multiplayer collaborative SaaS could be an answer to many of these issues. We backed Loc.tax because we realised how siloed and Excel/PDF-dependent global tax teams are. More multiplayer software serving categories like shipping, construction, FMCG, and legacy B2B marketplaces can massively disrupt the way stakeholders communicate today.
If you’re working on something interesting within the multiplayer collaborative space, we’d love to hear from you! Share what you’re building here or email directly at email@example.com. If you’re looking for opportunities to work in this exciting space, feel free to check out our portfolio job board here.
Seedcamp’s Collaborative SaaS Footprint (so far…)
- Baserow — Open-source no-code database and Airtable alternative
- Fullview — Customer experience control centre
- Graphy — Next-gen platform for data visualisation
- Labstep — The R&D cloud platform designed to simplify and accelerate scientific discovery
- Liveblocks — Creating performant and reliable collaborative experiences
- Liveflow — Automated financial management
- Loc.tax — Collaborative tax project management based on Git
- Maze — Powering modern product teams to do better product research
- Ourspace — Collaborative team design canvas
- Outverse — The platform built for the next generation of online communities
- Rayon — Collaborative space design at scale
- Sandbox — Multiplayer operating system
- Veratrak — Connecting the life sciences supply chain