Serial founder Howard Lerman reeled in $40 million to build his future of work platform
By Riley Kaminer
Like many companies, the pandemic pushed online brand management company Yext out of its Manhattan offices and onto digital platforms like Zoom and Slack. By that point, the company had ballooned to upwards of 1,500 employees and was still led by original co-founder Howard Lerman.
“One day I was setting up a Zoom meeting for over 100 people in our calendar, and I forgot to add someone,” Lerman told Refresh Miami. “I realized at that moment that if you forget to add someone to an invite, that person doesn’t exist. They’re disconnected from the ether entirely.”
At this moment, the wheels started turning for Lerman. “I had a flash of insight: What if you could provide a company a way to see all their employees – a bird’s eye view of everyone in the company at the same time.” In Harry Potter terms, think of it as a ‘Marauders Map,’ enabling everyone in an office to see where each other is at any given moment.
Going from zero to one
“I’m a zero to one kind of guy,” Lerman admitted. So after stepping down from his post at Yext, he decided to start developing a solution to the problem that had vexed him so much. Alongside co-founders Sean MacIsaac, Jon Brod, and Grace Sutherland, Lerman founded Roam in 2022.
Refresh Miami caught up with Lerman in his Miami Beach office. “Our headquarters is in the cloud,” said Lerman – although Miami serves as the center of gravity for the company’s 20 full-time, fully-distributed employees.
Lerman’s vision for Roam is for companies to run all of their operations through Roam’s platform, eventually offering all the features companies can find in Zoom, Slack, interactive whiteboard apps, and Loom.
“If you add up enterprise licenses for all those companies, it can be more than $1,500 a year. Ours is $10 a month, and only if you use it.” Companies only pay for their employees who are active on the platform.
When users log into Roam, they first encounter a view showing the different offices they can enter. Once they choose an office, they are met with a floor plan-style map that groups users – in Roam’s own example – by their functionality: R&D, commercial, design, marketing, etc. There are also conference rooms and offices that users can enter by knocking, in addition to chat features.
“Roam is all about making everything just like the real world, as if everyone were in the same office,” Lerman asserted, underscoring the emphasis Roam places on showing people’s (virtual) presence.
On Roam, the average meeting is eight and a half minutes long and 71% of meetings are audio-only. “I want you to think about the last time you scheduled an eight and a half minute long call,” said Lerman. “Things that used to take two people five minutes are now being scheduled for 60 minutes with 10 people next week.”
“I want to remove all that Zoom clutter on your calendar and let people roam around freely. It’s fluid, it’s ad hoc, and it’s dynamic.”
People are buying into Roam’s future of work vision
The platform’s rapid growth signals that early users are excited about Roam. Lerman reports that their closed beta, which just launched three months ago, has over 1,800 people on its waiting list. (He said Miami startups can jump to the front of the line by reaching out to him directly on Twitter.)
Roam’s first batch of users has already logged 3.3 million meeting minutes. “We spent $0 on sales and marketing,” noted Lerman. “It’s all referrals and inbounds.” He added that Roam has an 83% conversion rate from free to paid memberships.
“90% of companies that use Roam report feeling more connected after 30 days,” shared Lerman. He believes that using Roam will ultimately have a positive impact on company culture.
So far, Roam has raised a $30 million Series A late last year from Jules Maltz at IVP, plus a $10.6 million contribution from Lerman himself.
Building the Miami tech ecosystem alongside Roam
Lerman, who has been based in South Florida since 2019, also expressed excitement about Miami’s growing tech ecosystem. He drew parallels between Miami and New York when he first moved there.
“I used to get teased by people in Silicon Valley for starting a company in New York in 2006. So I’ve seen this movie before. We were in New York before New York Tech was cool. Now in New York, tech is absolutely massive – and it’s totally legitimized. It just takes a couple of cycles. It took 10 years for it to happen in New York. So I think don’t judge Miami on what happens next month, judge Miami on what happens in a decade.”
Lerman believes that Miami has all the elements that would bring us success in the long term. “We have all the raw ingredients in terms of founders and venture capitalists, as well as energy and momentum.”
That said, in a post-pandemic world, Lerman sees the location of a company’s headquarters as something less critical. “The fact is that 100% of companies that succeed become distributed and have people everywhere.”
As for what advice he gives to local founders, Lerman shared a message of persistence. He said that startups shouldn’t feel bad about raising in 2021, emphasizing that it was rational at the time given the circumstances. And for companies who are having trouble attracting VC dollars: “Go raise money from your customers in the form of revenue.”
“But my advice for any entrepreneur can be boiled down to one word: go.”
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