Interview with Tony Kypreos, CEO, Dupl

This article follows on from “Introducing Dupl: The ‘Togetherphone’”. Dupl opens up a new avenue in real-time communications, so I’m keen to share insights about it. Here, I interview Founder & CEO Tony Kypreos.

MG: In a nutshell, what is Dupl about?
TK: Dupl brings visual content to real time conversation. Think about the many times you sent web links or pictures to someone. With Dupl you can have them right there in your conversation, and also both people in the conversation can explore from there together. You both have equal control, just like real life conversations.So Dupl is designed for two people to have an immersive conversation, and to be able to productively do things together from browsing the web for information, choosing and agreeing flights, studying together or enjoying video clips together.

What are the reasons to believe that you have found (one of the many sets of) keys to future of personal communications?
Our approach is different to many technology ventures. We take a user-centred “empathic” design approach.  We spent time observing physical communication behaviour between different types of people in different environments and situations. We then designed Dupl based on the synthesising the insights from these observations. Our focus was more on what to remove from services than what to add: to keep it as simple and elegant as possible, since that’s what gives Dupl its simplicity and utility.For example there is rich and meaningful communication when a 65-year-old grandmother and 11-year-old granddaughter are together. What do they like to do, what do they talk about, what do they laugh and joke about? How and why is that lost with distance?Our challenge was to create a product that could simply and elegantly get as close as possible to the rapport people have when they are together physically.So you follow this anthropological approach to observing user behaviour. How did that work, and what did you learn?
The leadership team (Tony, Matti, George) have had a lot of experience in human-centred design: Tony and George in working with IDEO on mobile communication projects, and Matti was originally a cognitive scientist and service design expert with Fjord. So we naturally gravitate to that approach.Firstly we ignore technology start-up noise – it’s typically distracting and superficial. We focus on the user, their circumstances, their choices, their daily challenges, and their relationships. We also avoid focussing on people in the technology & telecoms industry as they are anomalies and can provide false positives, and can drive unnecessary feature creep and complexity into the product process.We observe – watch & listen to people in their own environment, in context. For instance, if it’s a fashion designer at their studio, or a therapist at their clinic, then we seek to identify needs that are not fulfilled. Our challenge is to tame the technology to give the user utility and enjoyment, and not complexity.

In particular, as we go from communicating face-to-face to being at a distance, we no longer have the same shared physical context of a room, table, documents, or screens. How do you frame and think about this problem of “distance communication” that is new or different? Artefacts like computers, mobile phones, mouse and concepts like folders are new in the evolution of human communication.

So we observe what people enjoy doing in normal life. If we watch a video or movie, then we like to go with someone to enjoy the experience – in the moment; when we go shopping for an emotive or considered purchase, then we like to have someone we trust with us; as students we often like to talk and debate things which helps learning. People like doing things together.

What is the value proposition of Dupl?
In real life you like to do stuff together, but on the Internet we have become solitary – sending data nuggets to each other. That’s fine and can be habit-forming, but there are other behaviours as well that have not been addressed by our industry.

Today’s communications service innovation is highly focussed on one business model (advertising) and one distribution mode (social media), beyond the actual form and function of the product. We’ve taken a different position.

Users are overwhelmed with asynchronous messaging choices. But real-time conversational voice communication has been somewhat neglected. Products have polarised into two main extremes – video conferencing (such as GoToMeeting, Webex and increasingly Skype/Lync for corporate usage), and multi-party video chat (like Oovoo, Tango, Fring etc. focused on teen usage).

What unmet need does Dupl fulfil, and for whom?
The unmet need depends on the user, their needs and their goals.

In extended families separated by distance this is more of an emotional bonding that comes from doing things together and bringing visual objects into the conversation. Much more than any video call alone can do.

We’ve had extensive interest in Dupl from creative and service professionals. For example we’re in discussions with industry bodies that see Dupl helping fashion designers collaborate e.g. on production and style sheets, as the information is highly visual and needs creative discussion.

We are progressing pilot studies with certain types of healthcare professional who have found Dupl unique and helpful for being able to give remote consultations with their clients and patients – to both impart personal information and at the same to build empathy. This is a basis for cognitive behavioural therapy where we provide both access to the expert and also the cognitive stimulus required to assist behavioural change for the patient. There is so much data out there (think of wearable connected devices) but there is limited capability to bring this into a conversation at the right place, time and context.

We also have seen tremendous potential in education for distributed learning with students helping each other.

As a Dupl user, what do I experience when ‘together’?
Dupl is currently in beta as a native app, firstly iOS8 for iPad to ensure we had the device form factor and performance for the experience. But that is just a first prototype step that has helped us identify product market fit.

As a user you can invite and make video calls to a friend or colleague, but after this the experience is very different to video VoIP. For example, with the Dupl beta app, either user on the call can simply go to their device photo album and retrieve and show photos or screen shots, and either user can also go into web browsing mode where they can both browse and explore the web together, all done within the video/audio call.

But we’re not an app company. The mobile app provides one of the touch points, web access is critically important especially for the heavy lifting required for our expert professional users. The commercial product that will be released in 2015 is focussed on specific professional users to communicate better with their customers.

How is Dupl different from existing communications media?
Empathy is lost in SMS, IM and social media as they change how people express themselves. With messaging we lack nuanced sensory feedback and so we don’t feel real empathy. Empathy is also lost in video communication like FaceTime – it’s not natural to just stare at another person’s face in a sort of windowless room. So video calling is limited too.

Social media and messaging is very easy with low investment of effort, but it’s a sort of relentless snacking and observing. Real conversation is being neglected, and we’ve found many people are yearning for a solution.

How does this virtual environment approach work, given we now have three stimuli to integrate: audio, video and “the discussion object(s)” with their mutual interactions?
One behavioural observation is how audio and video are useful for setting context and first stage rapport – but we observed that when users move into “doing things together” with visual objects they often disable video and just keep audio.

This is a valuable insight; many users are on limited WiFi (even here in Western Europe) and have to deal with variable bandwidth <2 Mbps. So with Dupl users can actually do much more and do it at lower bandwidth than full screen video.

How do you see this evolving in terms of the richness of interaction and the shared virtual environment being created?
There is a balance between adding features and having a simple and effective design. We are biased towards simplicity and minimising cognitive load.

The roadmap and private beta has capabilities beyond the public version, which we’re testing before public release. There is also a lot more a user can do which is not real-time and also outside the application.

There is already a great deal of rich interaction, and we’re observing a shift between solitary browsing to shared collaborative browsing with Dupl. This is an interesting and new behaviour.

The name Dupl puns on being in a twosome. What’s so special about two-ness in communications? Why not Truples and Quples and beyond?
There is wisdom in the proverb says “Two’s company, three’s a crowd”. There are several reasons why we exclusively focus on two and not more.

  • Firstly dyadic relationships are often the most important and valuable psychologically for people.
  • Secondly every dyadic relationship is unique – our product architecture allows our users to have many discrete paired relationships.
  • Thirdly it’s about simplicity and conversational equality; with two people users can do things together and no one person needs to take overall control.
  • Finally, conversations with three or more don’t happen that often. Almost all real time conversations are between two people, adding more is very much the exception not the rule.

Many technology or social media led products focus on multi-party chat, basically because it feels like progress. We don’t see it that way.

Our industry is dominated by “geek think” and logic. You talk about the emotional and empathetic benefits of visual communication: pathos and ethos rather than just logos. Help me to understand what that means in practise.
Any product takes form from the beliefs and biases of its creators.

Just like any other company Dupl has it’s own belief system. A big part of our philosophy is social impact: will our product improve the lives of millions of people through its use?  That’s why we have focussed on being inclusive, by designing a product that almost anyone can use, whether young or old, technically savvy or more novice.

How will you make money?
We’re passionate about user privacy and don’t like advertising. We like uncluttered functional products with clear and transparent revenue models. User trust is critical.

We have two revenue models:
1. Subscription to certain advanced features: a similar approach to Evernote and Dropbox.
2. Revenue share: this has been validated with certain professional who want to run consultations with their clients via Dupl.

We have seen that some of the most important private conversations a person can ever have relate to their health and wellbeing.

There are major issues in healthcare delivery and efficacy and we’re passionate about helping solve these; Preventative health & wellbeing is our absolute focus. We’re currently in test with specific healthcare professionals for them to use a tailored and extended Dupl to engage with their customers more frequently and more effectively to achieve better outcomes.

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