Thursday, November 29, 2007

Red Herring: Qwaq Nabs $7M in Funding

"Forget about long-distance travel just to sit in stuffy conference rooms so you can listen to mind-numbing PowerPoints. Qwaq lets your avatar suffer for you.

Qwaq, the creators of virtual spaces for the enterprise, on Tuesday said it snagged a $7 million first round of funding co-led by Alloy Ventures and Storm Ventures with participation from previous investor KPG Ventures. Ammar Hanafi, general partner at Alloy Ventures, and Alex Mendez, founding general partner at Storm Ventures, will also join Qwaq’s board of directors.

Gartner analyst Adam Sarner said that he thinks experimental money should be invested in this area.

“We visualize the world and communicate with each other in a 3-D context,” he said.

Mr. Sarner said that virtual worlds could be helpful for meet and greets and social situations, but they aren’t going to make sitting through a boring business meeting any less painless.

And “just because you can have a 3-D virtual world with funny shirts, doesn’t mean you should,” he said.

The Palo Alto, California-based startup plans to use the funds to expand its sales, marketing, product, and engineering teams and initiatives.

Qwaq brings together people and applications in an “environment that’s ‘realish,’ but the communication is real,” company CEO Greg Nuyens said.

Much like San Francisco, California-based Second Life, Qwaq Forums uses animated avatars representing users to populate 3-D office spaces, replete with rotating fans and potted plants. Only instead of being a time killer, Qwaq Forums aims to actually increase productivity.

Qwaq Forums, the company’s first product, is a secure virtual workspace application that brings people, documents, and applications together in one online location, as if they were in the same physical location.

Mr. Nuyens, who describes Second Life as a “fancy pick-up joint,” said that although Qwaq Forums is more focused on sharing documents, the social aspect is still important. “It isn’t one or the other. It’s about being able to do both in the same place,” he said.

Mr. Nuyens acknowledges Cisco Systems' WebEx is the 900-pound gorilla of web conferencing, but he said that Qwaq has an edge on WebEx by focusing on collaboration rather than presentations.

Qwaq charges a per person per month fee for its service. Customers include BP, Intel, HP, Stanford University’s Media X, and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey.

With this new infusion of funding, Qwaq will have a chance to see if the average office worker thinks virtual workspaces are all they’re quacked up to be."

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