Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Launch HN: Slingshow (YC W20) – Easily build custom virtual events and webinars
99 points by nilaymodi123 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments
Hello world, my name is Nilay. My cofounder Jorge and I founded Slingshow (https://slingshow.com/) and we're super excited (and nervous!) to finally launch on HN. Slingshow helps you build custom virtual events for your community. Think Zoom, but with a modern and flexible user experience that seamlessly flows between different ways of interacting with larger and smaller groups.

Last year, we were in YC W20 pivoting through several ideas, but then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, our YC batch was just a series of monotonous Zoom calls. We lost the magic of the social dinners, random conversations, and catching a speaker afterward for a personal chat. We quickly recognized that while Zoom was great for small meetings, the functionality and UI/UX made large group events unorganized and passive.

During the pandemic, many novel and sometimes gimmicky video platforms emerged targeting the social niche. But every organization hosts more than social events. We built Slingshow to have no learning curve for traditional use cases like panels and presentations while seamlessly incorporating newer social formats. We think the best virtual event formats are still in their infancy and are unique to every use case, so we wanted to create a flexible tool that would let organizers build their own experiences.

We were inspired by companies like Notion, Coda, Retool, and Airtable, which work in the UI/UX paradigm of creating functional modular building blocks. This means choosing a few simple, valuable abstractions like a table or a button and letting users mix and match these components to meet their needs. In our case, we’re starting with four fundamental blocks that organizers use to plan a schedule: Tables for free-flowing networking like interactions, Rooms for concurrent presentations, a Stage for classic webinar like presentations, and a Call to Action block for redirecting to external websites like forms, activities, etc.

Using our blocks, one of our enterprise customers (Fivetran) holds their standard webinar on our Stage block and then shifts into the Rooms block where attendees can choose to speak with the panelists. Another customer held a dating event that started with a Stage to introduce the event, then switched to Tables of 4, then 3, then 2 with different prompts to create more intimate conversations. We also have other customers hosting unique product launches, happy hours, live podcasts, cohort-based classes, and multi-day hackathons. While some platforms offer similar functionality, they’re heavy conference platforms with a large learning curve. They also require days of work to create specialized assets and often involve trained intermediaries like event organizers and planners.

We’re not focused on conferences but rather on simplicity, and Blocks help us achieve that. They're versatile and help simplify the organizer's event creation process by hiding complexity. Blocks are also a simple way for us to add new formats in the future. By just by creating a schedule with Blocks, Slingshow automatically generates the event page with registration, a cover image, and the entire attendee experience. Add a logo and brand color, and we'll automatically theme the entire event to make it feel like your brand.

We've chosen to launch late as nothing else matters if the video isn't stable and reliable for first-time users. One speaker failing to connect could ruin an event leaving a bad impression on everyone involved. We’ve spent several months working with early customers to gracefully handle errors and give helpful error messages for all the complexity of video: weak network connections, old browsers, mobile devices, firewalls, SDK edge cases, permission issues, etc. Depending on the use case, we also switch between multiple WebRTC video infrastructure providers. And lastly, following the lead of companies like Discord and Tandem, we built our backend using the Phoenix framework in Elixir because of its excellent support for WebSockets.

We still have a long way to go, but we feel confident with what we have and are ready to open up to a broader audience. We'd love to hear your feedback and experiences with the many virtual events you've probably experienced over this pandemic. Thanks! :–)

You can try out Slingshow for free here – https://slingshow.com/.

Nice one! This one falls into 'everyone is trying to hack this, and the major players won't have something until 2028, why has no one built it yet?' Congrats!

Thanks so much. This made our day :)

Looks great! How does this compare to Welcome[0]? They were also in your batch.

[0] https://experiencewelcome.com

Fundamentally different approaches to product and target market. We have no intention of building a service company or just being another conference tool. There are more than 100 in the market.

We're trying to create a new format that could only exist in the digital world. Fast paced micro-events throughout the year that keep attendees on their toes and help foster community as people get to engage more.

Doing one big conference at the end of the year is the old way of thinking. It's blindly taking the real world conference and making it digital. A movie has a different language than a play. We're trying to figure out that language as opposed to just filming the play.

Looks great! Amazing work.

Am I right for thinking that this might not be the best tool for me if my online events aren't public but instead are internal -- where not just anybody can register, just certain pre-registered folks who are either members of the organization or staff at affiliated organizations?

I'll definitely find a use for it somewhere, regardless, even if for a different type of event.

Also, not to be the person who isn't paying for the tool but is still asking for features, but I'd love to see interpretation features down the line. We have live interpreters for many of our events.

That's a great question. Slingshow handles this pretty well. We have lots of customers in similar situations like the one you mentioned who use the product regularly. However, we have to do a better job of explaining this. We're working on having different ways to restrict the event upfront & giving you the option to remove the "registration page." However, you can still use it right now without your team having to register.

Currently, at the event start time, the Slingshow event page becomes the actual event, and attendees can enter using Google, Linkedin, or email even if they didn't register. There's no unique link that you only get when you register. It's all just one link, and the registration is essentially just an email capture + reminder email. There are many advantages of doing it this way (and some disadvantages), including being a good catch-all for internal and external use cases.

As far as you're concerned, your flow would be very similar to a Zoom call or Google Hangout. Just create the event, set the start time, email it out, or put it in Slack, and at the time of the event, your members/staff can enter the event. No registration is required.

However, you may still have concerns around members sharing the event, and that's what we're working on fixing next, for example, domain restriction, manually admitting people etc. But it's the same issue you'd face with using Zoom or Google Hangout as a link even with a password is still a shareable link. We recommend for now having the waiting room open and admitting people one by one (it's super quick in Slingshow with Cmd+K) or importing a list of emails as "pre-approved."

I hope this wasn't too confusing. If you'd like to give Slingshow a shot and still have questions, I'd be more than happy to jump on a quick call with you or send a short Loom to make this more concrete. Please feel free to create an account and message us on the Intercom, and we'll walk you through it. We have more work to do in this area to make it more intuitive, but we've think a lot about these different "entrance flows," so thanks for asking this question.

And yes, noted on the live interpreters point. Just to clarify - do you have multiple languages at the same time? Is it primarily ASL? Would love to learn more. Thanks!

Up to a dozen languages at once for us.

Zoom has some capabilities along these lines that we've used for smaller events with just English/Spanish. https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/360034919791-Langu...

Neat idea. Over the past year I have seen a lot of experimentation with webinars and I think many tech folks have landed on OBS to design them. How does one go about designing their stage? Can you connect your OBS virtual camera as a way to pass your webinar design to Slingshow? Or is there a better way to do that?

OBS is a great tool for customizing your video feed and the virtual camera works great on Slingshow. But, as the platform we focus on adding custom, interactive elements to the stage like a nametag with clickable links and calls to action that can open a form or website inline. Beyond that, the event image, logo, and brand color theme the entire event including the stage.

Cool, thanks. Will be keeping an eye on this.

Very cool! The walkthrough was slick. You mentioned a few use cases up in the OP - would love to see videos of those being built out, too. I bet you could run some fun games like Mafia or Two Booms in a Room with this.

Looking forward to a demo of the attendee side of things.

Thank you! I'm actually super excited about use cases like that. Your examples reminded me of a startup that recently hosted an internal event called "Sales Armageddon" where they had teams in different rooms competing on how many inbound leads they could call and schedule a demo. There was a lot more to it including training but it was like a sales game!

Also, we currently don't have a video of the attendee experience, but you can scroll to the Blocks section to see screenshots. Feel free to create an account to check it out also!

Very cool product, and major kudos to your transparency around hiring process [0]. Some folks will say that it's "fuzzy" and "hard to parse" but I think it's outstandingly humanized and friendly. My only critique is the values, which are strangely cryptic and a little "cliquey-sounding", but the clarity and openness of the rest is great.

[0]: https://www.notion.so/Careers-8b6817689d0e4b82b16fe8c9d31321...

edited to replace the word "tribal" which was inappropriate in this context

Thanks for the shoutout!

Values can sometimes feel cliche, so we have tried to make them more memorable and thought-provoking by using short metaphors with a backstory. Appreciate your thoughts here, this is something we’re still thinking about.

Can you elaborate on "256-bit end-to-end encryption"? Does it apply to all content? How are the encryption keys stored and shared between participants?

Hey, it’s Jorge the CTO of Slingshow here. The security claims refer to all the video/audio in the product and were passed on from our video infrastructure providers[0][1]. Unless you are recording on the Stage, the video/audio doesn’t touch our servers. The WebRTC protocol actually mandates connections and signaling are encrypted with the Secure Real Time Protocol (SRTP).

But, I’ve spent the last hour reviewing the details and Daily mentions end to end encryption for P2P calls only and it seems Agora doesn’t mention it at all! It seems the WebRTC SFU servers (middlemen needed for calls greater than 4ish) require encryption and decryption server side breaking end to end encryption. This was all really concerning to me, and I think Agora used to claim they were end to end encrypted[2] and then their marketing became part of our marketing early on :(. I have removed all security claims from our website as we reevaluate how we approach security. Sorry about this HN.

[0] https://docs.agora.io/en/Agora%20Platform/security?platform=...

[1] https://www.daily.co/security

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23026101

Hi Jorge, interesting to see you are using both Agora and Daily! Any reason you went for them instead of Twilio?

EDIT: And if you care to elaborate, what is your custom WebSocket backend for?

Daily co-founder here. We try to be very careful with the language we use around security, privacy, and encryption, because it's so important to be able to trust (and verify) all claims. We try to always be clear that with Daily, media streams are end-to-end encrypted when a session is running in peer-to-peer mode, and aren't when a session is running in media server mode.

The WebRTC standard mandates encryption on the wire for each WebRTC connection. Which is really great! But there is currently no standard way to implement true "end-to-end encryption" for calls that are routed through a media server. Calls routed through a media server are separate connections to the server for each client. Each connection is encrypted, but the media server decrypts the RTP packets in order to forward them.

You can definitely implement end-to-end encryption if you have a custom WebRTC build (for example, a native mobile or desktop library). And you can now sort of hack end-to-end encryption together using the new Insertable Streams standard that is partially supported in Chrome.

But even with the current version of Insertable Streams, you'll have to generate encryption keys at the application level. So if, for example, your provider operates under a regulatory regime that requires they be able to provide law enforcement with access to your media streams, they will be able to do that.

Some video conferencing providers have claimed "end-to-end encryption", meaning "we don't decrypt the media as it flows through our servers." And I understand how they got there. If you do care about security, and you think you're following general security best practices on your media servers, and you don't ever touch the decrypted RTP packets except to forward them, that definitely feels like you're guaranteeing end-to-end encryption in every sense that anyone should care about. After all, for true end-to-end encryption you have to accomplish the key exchange somehow, there will be attack surfaces there, and your customers will want some of their media traffic to be decrypted on your servers for things like recording and transcription. So how is layering on this additional encryption going to actually make your system more secure, given the already very good security provided by the WebRTC point-to-point connections?

But ... end-to-end encryption has a technically precise meaning, so it's a lot better not to claim you're doing it, if you're not.

Another relevant HN comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27390377

[ Edited after I re-read this, to be 100% clear: the onus should be on us, the service providers, to say precisely what we do with regards to security. Slingshow, and all of our customers and partners, should be able to depend on us for accurate, clear, and complete security documentation. ]

What is the event like as an attendee? Do you need to install an app or is it browser based?

We are built on WebRTC so it is completely browser based. And the UI/UX changes depending on the current block you are in. We aim to be simple and interactive for even untechnical first time users. So if it’s currently a Stage block you just enter the audience and the other blocks have instructions embedded into the design to make it easy to interact with others.

Zoom is hacking on something exactly like this with Zoom Events (I have a friend who’s working on this team) and they are going to come out with something by the end of the year.

Hopefully there’s space for competitors :)

Does the stage block include a way to present PowerPoint or other slides, e.g. through screen sharing or uploading the slide deck?

Is there a way I can attend a demo event with a stage block, to see what the UX is like for an attendee?

Yup, our stage block is fully featured webinar software with everything from Q/A and raise hand to screen share. We are actually releasing uploading slides and playing videos directly in our product in the next few weeks. You can already do that by sharing your screen, but this will ensure a high resolution image and smooth playback.

And right now, the best way to get a demo is to sign up for free(no credit card required) and create an event that starts right now. We are thinking about adding a perpetually active networking block on our website, especially since people really “get it” once they experience the product. Or maybe just more gifs or videos throughout our landing page can get the experience across.

Watched your "build an event" demo and at the end it seemed like you were going to show us an attendee experience demo but I couldn't find it.

Very curious. Product seems slick on the build side.

Hey this is my bad and I should have been more clear in the video. I was actually just referring to the product screenshots in the Blocks section below. Also feel free to make an account to check it out.

On mobile, watched the creation demo. At the end you said scroll down to see the attendee experience but I couldn't find it. Looks slick though, best of luck.

Glad you like it! The attendee experience can be seen in all those block images we have throughout landing page. It is a little confusing since I imagine you were expecting another video.

looks great! I may have to give it a try.

BTW you have a typo on the homepage. CTRL-F for "slinghow"

How does it compare to something like on24?

ON24 does a great job of all things enterprise data-related, but it's very complicated, quite expensive, not self-serve, and in our opinion, the user experience is highly outdated. Their default event pages have a very Web 1.0 feel and showcase this very clearly.

After talking to lots of people over a year, ON24 and GoToWebinar are usually the two players that most people strongly dislike. We believe that innovating on the actual attendee and organizer experience is the right long-term approach instead of merely collecting and analyzing some data points.

I'd recommend trying out Slingshow and comparing the two. It'll take you a couple of minutes to see the differences. We're far from perfect and have more work to do in terms of data, but we think we have something quite unique and delightful.

I looked at Slingshow and wish I could

- host multiple events under one registration - as in a conference with multiple tracks and let’s say 50 webinars in the same day

- show a single page listing said events - only to registered attendees

- have control over who registers, including api integration for our event registration site

- have control over the event interface - presentation side by side with speaker, speaker bios, other docs

on24 is perhaps one of the worst events platforms I've every experienced or worked with. They seem to have changed little about their platform in a long time. More comparable would be gotowebinar or webinarninja.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact