Wonder: These three founders are building a German Zoom competitor

Leonard Witteler, Pascal Steck and Stephane Roux want to take on zoom.

Birgit Kaulfuss

At some point it catches up with everyone at home: the zoom fatigue. In the home office era, the term has meanwhile established itself as a universal description for the state of fatigue that most people experience after around an hour of video conference. Pascal Steck also knows this feeling. “As soon as you meet in a large group, it gets boring very quickly. People don’t just want to listen passively. You want to exchange ideas. Most tools are not built for this, ”the young entrepreneur says in an interview with Together with his college friend Leonard Witteler and the former McKinsey consultant Stephane Roux, he developed video conference software in the middle of the corona pandemic, which should also be used for dialogues, group work and networks in virtual space.

Her startup Wonder, which was still called Yotribe in the first few months, is now considered a shooting star among video conferencing applications among investors. The company is only half a year old. Since the first prototype that the founders put together on an April weekend, the user curve has risen steeply. Today Wonder has 45,000 monthly active users, with a weekly growth rate of 25 percent. And the first funding has already flowed. In July, the Berlin venture capitalist Blue Yard invested one million euros together with a number of private investors.

Video conferencing that feels like cocktail parties

Wonder's user interface is like a map. You can also use it to simulate different office spaces.

Wonder’s user interface is like a map. You can also use it to simulate different office spaces.


The founders’ idea is simple: Instead of lecture mode, they rely on dynamic discussions. The logic is like a cocktail party: the guest has an overview of who is in the room and can drop out of conversations or start new discussion groups at any time. This is made possible by a map view on which you can move around with your avatar like in a video game. If the user gets closer to another guest or a discussion group, the video chat opens. According to Wonder, up to 1,500 participants can currently fit into one room.

“In six to 12 months we want to be the primary tool that groups use to meet online,” says co-founder Stephane Roux. In his opinion, the possible uses are diverse. He sees the largest market in companies that work remotely. In addition, Wonder is interesting for organizers of virtual conferences, where networking plays a major role. Universities have also used it to host seminars and alumni meetings. The first customers include, for example, the Berlin School of Economics and Law and its startup incubator, in which Wonder took the first steps. The management consultancies Accenture and Deloitte as well as Roux ‘Alma Mater, Harvard University, have already tried out the video conference format, according to the company.

Data protection as a challenge

So far the software is free. “In the long term, we want to introduce a subscription model or a pay per use model,” says Roux. Now, however, the first thing to do is to collect user experience. Accordingly, Wonder is currently not making any sales, but has costs. The ten employees and the expenses for the IT infrastructure are significant.

Wonders servers are in Frankfurt, data processing is currently carried out by a service provider in the USA. Should they continue to scale, European data protection is likely to be one of the most important issues the startup has to deal with.

Founders only had a wedding platform

Wonder is the second founding of the three Berliners. The idea came to you during the lockdown in March. Up until that point in time, they had actually planned to expand across Germany with their first startup, Marrily. With the online agency for wedding photographers they had placed 15 jobs by then. “We wanted to earn money with something small first, in order to start something big later,” recalls Steck. The crisis thwarted them. The wedding business was idle – and people also had to adapt to new conditions in other areas of life. An old video conference project that co-founder Leonard Witteler still had in the drawer from his student days now seemed to make a lot more sense in the pandemic.

Because the market for it is booming. The top dog Zoom increased its sales in the second quarter of 2020 by more than fourfold compared to the previous year: while sales were just under 146 million US dollars a year ago, sales now climbed to 663.5 million dollars. Other players are also benefiting from the home office trend.

The big question remains whether video conferences will still be so popular when there is a corona vaccine and physical events can take place again. The Wonder founders are optimistic. “In the future, events will take place online more often, because if they feel like real social interactions, then economic factors also come into play,” says Witteler. Companies would think twice about taking on the costs of travel, organization, and the venue if it could go digital.

Software giants could simply copy ideas

There is also a second risk. The big global players in the video conferencing business have also noticed that their solutions could be improved. In theory, you can copy Wonder, because there is no protective patent. The US company Zoom announced some innovations this week that could be dangerous for the young startup. On the one hand, Zoom is entering the event business with its own platform. In the future it should be possible to use it to organize virtual events with ticket sales. On the other hand, there are some updates for improved interaction, such as emoji reactions and rooms for group work.

Wonder also wants to use the tailwind that it is currently getting from the limited contact options. The founders plan to bring the product to maturity by December. The previous financing was originally intended to last for 1.5 years. If the startup continues to grow at this rate, it will probably have to look for new investors as early as next year.


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