Mmhmm turns your boring Zoom call into a Weekend Update-style TV show

The Mmhmm desktop app.
Image: Mmhmm

The future of video chat will look more like Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update than it will Zoom. That’s the bet being made by Phil Libin, who led Evernote as CEO during its glory days and has returned to the intersection of consumer and enterprise software with a virtual camera that could reshape video communication. The product has a name that is ridiculous even by the standards of Silicon Valley — it’s called Mmhmm — and the company said today that it had raised $4.5 million led by Sequoia Capital.

Mmhmm — “it’s important to have a name you can say while eating,” Libin jokes — is a virtual camera that can be used with Zoom, Google Meet, YouTube, and other video streaming services. Turn it on, and the app transforms your room into a virtual stage. Like other videoconferencing tools, Mmhmm offers a variety of still and animated virtual backgrounds to enliven your conversations.

But that’s just the start: the real power of Mmhmm comes in the way it lets you easily manipulate slides, backgrounds, and your own image — either for fun or for business reasons. With a simple gesture on a trackpad, you can move your face around the screen, shrink or enlarge your image, or disappear completely. (You can also turn a grainy, opaque blue in a touch modeled after Jedi holograms.) You can post slides that appear over your shoulder and advance them with a tap. And you can team up with another Mmhmm user to create a collaborative presentation, with each of you able to manipulate images on the screen and advance the show.

The app also allows you to create interactive presentations. A recorded Mmhmm video can be played back as a movie, but the viewer can also click on slides to advance the presentation, toggle the presenter and their audio on and off, or pause the presentation to zoom in on a notable slide.

The result is a product that could be equally of interest to YouTubers, salespeople, and friends who are goofing off during Zoom happy hours. Mmhmm is available today as an invite-only beta for macOS Catalina, with mobile and Windows versions expected in the coming months.

The app is the product of AllTurtles, a digital studio that Libin founded in 2017 after leaving Evernote and doing a stint as a venture capitalist. The idea for it originated as the COVID-19 pandemic forced Libin and his teammates into full-time remote work, where their videoconferencing options left them feeling uninspired.

Another view of Mmhmm.
Image: Mmhmm

Libin is among many in Silicon Valley who believe that remote work will prove popular even after the pandemic subsides and that videoconferencing will be the connective tissue between people and companies. “Everyone has to have a video presence now,” Libin says. “We all have to do this now some of the time, forever.”

That has created an opening for what Libin calls “personal video presence” — a software-enhanced version of yourself that appears whenever you’re on (web) camera. The idea is to bring some style to your video chats that Zoom and its many clones have so far failed to deliver.

The alpha version of Mmhmm, which I’ve tested over the past couple of weeks, is clearly early in that vision. But it’s also promising. The Verge colleagues to whom I have shown Libin’s demo all asked me when they would be able to start using it.

Mmhmm presentations can be recorded.
Image: Mmhmm

Some prominent backers have also taken notice. Libin has attracted a host of big names in consumer software to Mmhmm as angel investors, including Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, and Eventbrite co-founders Julia and Kevin Hartz.

As with Evernote, Libin says that Mmhmm will likely adopt a “freemium” business model, offering some features for free and others on a paid tier. He imagines guitar teachers using Mmhmm to play while showing the song’s tablature in a slide; doctors practicing telemedicine with X-rays appearing above their shoulders, and financial planners walking clients through their taxes with the relevant numbers floating nearby.

It’s intended to be the go-to app for “people who want to stream PowerPoint instead of Fortnite,” he says. “Depressingly, there are very many of us.”

As for the name, Libin says he finds the oddness of it compelling. “A thing I like about Mmhmm is that it’s hard to say,” he says. “You can inflect it in so many different ways ... You have to perform it.”

Performance is the heart of Mmhmm, and it explains why, in addition to more mundane matters like building a Windows app, the company is also working on a feature that will let presenters disappear from the screen by throwing a virtual smoke bomb.

From the moment Zoom announced it had surged from 10 million daily meeting participants in December to more than 300 million participants today, something like Mmhmm was probably inevitable. It seems likely to inspire a wave of clones, as other streaming solutions come to the same conclusion Mmhmm did — that if this is the way life is going to be, the time we spend in videoconferencing software ought to look and feel a lot more fun.

Comments

This looks like an excellent enhancement to the video conferencing solutions currently out there, my only problem with it is what is to prevent it getting sherlocked within the next 6 months.

Indeed, that really looks great.

I’d love for Apple to sherlock this! Or even better, give those guys a ton of money and a badge.

I’ve been hoping for a "FaceTime Pro" Webex/Zoom/etc. competitor since the plague hit our lands, so far no luck. Speaking of Webex, I bet that mmhmm is hooking into those apps as a virtual camera source? No luck with Webex then, they killed that feature just like Zoom did (but Zoom brought it back).

I’m totally against that ! If Apple sherlock this, it would mean a platform exclusive app…
Not that bad actually, if they do that, someone else can take the place to put an universal cool meeting app, like Zoom did.

Seems kind of trivial for Google to be able to include a basic picture in picture screen share & webcam view in Google Meet. A bit bandwidth heavy if two different video sources, and ideally they’d want to be able to stitch the two video sources together locally, which would not be trivial.

Came to say something similar. This looks really great but it seems like Zoom or anyone else could add this easily to their existing products. I hope these folks make it though, it’s nice to see people getting creative to take an existing product to the next level.

The name is terrible though. Teenagers may find the name amusing but I can’t imagine in a business setting telling someone we’re going to have a Mmhmm meeting. I will say that many years ago I would have never thought I’d use the words "Yahoo" or "Google" in a professional setting either, but at least those are actual pronounceable words. Did they just go through bunch of comic books to pick out a name? Why not just go with Aaargh, Uuugh, Thwack or Grrrr?

Logitech already has an app that does some of these things. You can download it when you buy one of their webcams. It is a virtual camera that allows modification of the image in multiple ways, you can add a text field in the bottom of the image, etc. I use it now in my video chats.

You can also modify the video feed by changing frame rate and resolution.

It’s kind of primitive compared to what Umhmm aspires to create, but they are already shipping a product.

I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned in the article.

I’d recommend OBS Studio as an open source alternative that’s been around for years.

https://obsproject.com/

Both Zoom and Teams recognize at least 4 OBS Virtual Cameras, so you can either manage all your streams in a single one, or if you prefer, have different presets for a full screen desktop etc.

Especially seeing that right now it is Mac Only. As a Windows Shop running Teams and Zoom, This would give some leverage to Zoom, but I bet something comes along sooner for Teams before they make it Windows or mobile compatible.

will be purchased for 2.67 billion by either -

microsoft
apple (iMessage)
zoom
slack
Facebook

this is not a standalone app – this is a feature – the entire point of this app is to file that hole – sell. I mean even the name is obvious lol no app named mmmhmmm will ever make to be synonymous with video conferencing. b

I think the name is fantastic! Plus, a year ago "Zoom" meant anything but video conferencing…

It is a shame that in this day and age that being acquired by one of those companies is probably their actual overall goal. It’s probably even stated in their pitch to investors.

This has been the approach since the turn of the century.

Has it though? Most of the companies we now know as the "winners" (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc) were still in their infancy back then and even fightIng for their existence. The playing field was much more wide open and many of these startups weren’t looking to be bought, they were hoping to become successful on their own, if not dominant. Many did get bought out but I don’t know that getting acquired was their core strategy from the get go like it is now.

I’d say that foolhardy acquisitions and speculation have long been a part of the tech industry, going back to the dot com bubble of the late 90s.

Remember, Yahoo! thought spending over 5 billion on broadcast.com was a good idea, probably one of the stupidest acquisitions in history, unless your name is Mark Cuban or Todd Wagner.

I can definitively say that it isn’t.

There are apps that already do this: ManyCam (which has a crap interface and a really limited set of tools), Wirecast (expensive), Ecamm Live (okay but weird UI), mimo Live (best of the bunch IMO) and let’s not forget OBS, but those are overkill for most users. Mmhmm looks just right. Can’t wait to test this!

OBS may have a (slightly) steeper learning curve, but it’s long history means there’s tons of tutorials from beginner to advanced, depending on the end user’s technical aptitude.

Excellent idea and app with an unfortunate name – it’s hard to know how many m’s to use… I had to look it up. The logo also reminds me of the Grateful Dead logo, even though it shouldn’t. But somewhere in my brain it made me think of it.

As for the name, Libin says he finds the oddness of it compelling. "A thing I like about Mmhmm is that it’s hard to say," he says. "You can inflect it in so many different ways … You have to perform it."

Looks like a really great product! Where do I invest? This has the potential to make some serious money.

You can already do this with the Logitech Capture software that comes with their webcams although this is a prettier implementation of the idea.

Looks like a simpler, much easier to use version of OBS with virtual cam.

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