With 8 million users, Rounds is the Google Hangouts you've never heard of. Today it adds co-browsing

By Erin Griffith , written on June 18, 2013

From The News Desk

Airtime, we all recall, was a spectacular failure. The company spent $33.5 million and two years building a video chat service for friends, strangers and friends-of-friends. Only around 400 people used it per day.

At the time, we chalked it up to the fact Skype had simply won video chat. We didn't need another social network layer on top of video chat. What Skype couldn't do (group chats), Google Hangouts had solved.

However, all along an Israeli video chat company called Rounds has been proving that theory wrong. The company has been around since 2008 and only raised $5 million in VC funding, but it's iterated its way to an impressive 8 million users -- half a million of which are on mobile.

Today the company adds co-browsing, another step toward its mission of allowing users to actually "do stuff" together online, and not just stare at each other.

Rounds has gotten eight million users by making its chats active experiences, with games that mimic Tetris and Draw Something, among others. The addition of co-browsing means users can watch videos together, scribble to one another, and share gifs/stories/photos/whatever with each other to see their reaction as they view it. The video watching experience is completely synchronous, so if one person presses pause, both it happens on both screens. What's more, they can shop online and browse websites while speaking to one another.


The idea is that people typically do more than just talk when they hang out. They see a movie, or they play a board game, or they share photos, or walk around a mall. I get why it makes sense to digitize this. I have a friend who likes to invite me over for "TV with laptops," where we put Netflix on in the background, fire up our laptops or tablets and chat about the articles we're clicking on, or commerce sites we're browsing, or Facebook photos we're looking at. There is a lot of turning the screen around to say, "look at this!" and even some IMing of links. The idea of "hanging out" is evolving.

Rounds is popular with teens, says marketing director Natasha Shine, because they have curfews but still want to hang out with one another, play games, shop and chat. More than 50 percent of its users are between the ages of 13 and 17 in the US.

At one point Rounds built an Airtime-like feature that introduced users to friends-of-friends called "Meet Someone." People used it, Shine says, but the company removed the feature a few months back because it wasn't in line with the ultimate mission of connecting people who know each other.

Rounds has a few competitors -- Google Hangouts of course, and Tango, a mobile app. But both of those are limited to one platform. Rounds is platform-agnostic, Shine says, available as a chrome extension, as an HTML5 site, via Facebook and as mobile apps. Teens might not have access to computers at all hours, but Rounds is available on whatever device they have.