Willo, a freemium video interview SaaS, scores ~$320k during the remote work boom

Glasgow, Scotland-based video interview startup Willo has scored a £250,000 (~$320k) seed round of funding after watching demand for its asynchronous Q&A style video platform leap up during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Guernsey-based VC firm 1818 Venture Capital is investing in the seed round, with Willo board members Steve Perry, Stefan Ciecierski and Peter Preston also kicking in a smaller chunk of the capital.

The 2018-founded startup says usage of its SaaS platform has grown at least 80% each month since April, after the UK went into a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Customers have also been finding new uses for the product beyond video interviews — such as for reviews, training, and learning and development — as remote working has been supercharged by the pandemic.

“We have over 1,000 users in 60+ countries — growing 2x faster this month than previous months!” says CEO and founder, Euan Cameron. “Core industries are recruitment, customer research, learning and development and non-profits for volunteers etc.”

The seed funding will be put towards accelerating Willo’s international growth — with a recruitment drive that will add 24 members of staff planned, in addition to spending on further product development.

Cameron confirms it’s working on adding real-time video to the platform, when we ask — so it’s gunning to go after a slice of Zoom (et al)’s lunch.

“Our core product offering is simple, affordable async video communication. However, we are currently in development of a realtime (Live) interviewing option so that organisations can seamlessly flip from an asynchronous video into a realtime one,” he says.

Currently Willo offers an interface that let employers pose questions for candidates/staff to respond to by recording a video response. The platform stores all videos in a dashboard for easy reviewing and sharing.

For the recruitment use-case it also offers a question bank — letting employers choose from “hundreds” of pre-written questions to shave a little friction off the recruitment process.

Expanding on some of the additional uses customers have been finding for the platform during the pandemic, Cameron tells TechCrunch: “We have an education charity in the UK (Worktree) who use Willo to ask people in successful careers around the world about their job and their career path. Worktree then provides these videos to kids in schools to help them make career choices.

“A business in Europe uses Willo to identify niche influencers who have potential and bring them on board a training and development program.”

Another example he gives is a university in India that’s using it to find and enrol software engineers for a degree course. Businesses are also using it to obtain customer testimonials and for customer research. And of course Willo’s own VC investor is a user — having adopted the platform for all new business pitches.

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“Every new business must go through Willo as part of what they have branded their ‘Ten Minute Pitch’. They connect Willo to Calendy to automate this workflow which is cool,” he notes, adding: “What is most interesting is that all of these examples previously used to rely on face-to-face meetings or video calls, but they had to adapt.”

Willo is also putting a tentative toe into the waters of artificial intelligence for the hiring use-case, although he says its roadmap has shifted to focus more on chasing growth as a result of the pandemic lockdown effect.

Its website trails an “AI-powered” beta feature that’s doing keyword analysis with the aim of identifying personality and behavioral traits, based on how candidates speak.

Asked about this, Cameron says: “Currently, our AI which is in beta is purely focused on the transcription of the audio, we are working hard on not only transcribing accurately but also creating keyword trends. For example, if you are an analytical person we can identify that and call it out to the organisation by looking at common words and themes within your interview.”

“This is very much in its infancy as COVID-19 has pushed us to focus on delivering what we already do at scale and for the many additional use cases [mentioned previously],” he adds.

Applying algorithms to automate elements of the hiring process is something a growing number of startups have been dabbling in in recent years. Although there can be legal risks around bias/discrimination when applying such tools — given the varied and often complex patchworks of applicable laws in different jurisdictions. (In the UK, for example, equality, employment and data protection law may all need to be considered.)

Asked how Willo is avoiding the risk of AI-powered keyword analysis leading to unfair/unequal effects for interview candidates, Cameron says: “Regarding UK equality law we have been working with organisations on a 1-to-1 basis around training and development of their own staff to ensure that they are using Willo as a tool for good. We believe that the same bias and discrimination would occur in a face-to-face or live video interview so it is a case of eradicating that from the individuals through training. We partner with an HR consultancy to help deliver this training when requested.”

“We are working with an incredibly experienced data and compliance expert to ensure we introduce AI effectively, legally and to the benefit of both interviewer and interviewee,” he adds.

“Our core values are always to be transparent and ensure that we are adding value for all users. One of the challenges with AI at Willo is to ensure that we continue to enhance the human interactions at scale — the number one piece of feedback we receive from users is that they loved seeing and hearing from people — so we never want to automate that out of the product.”

On the competitive front, Cameron lists Sparkhire, Vidcruiter and Recright as “key” competitors though he notes that Willo, which offers a freemium tier, is positioning itself to be accessible for a wider range of users.

“They all focus primarily on recruitment and are prohibitively expensive for most SMEs and start-ups. I believe that video interviewing should benefit everyone, not just large multinationals,” he adds.

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