Seven years ago Greg Caplan left his office at Groupon, where he managed the site’s to-do category, and made a commitment to do more things himself. He wanted to travel the world and he wanted to help others do it too. So Caplan founded a start-up called Remote Year, a janitor for tired office workers to do their daily jobs while traveling abroad. For a fee, Remote Work arranged accommodation, coworking space, and even excursions. “We were trying to preach to the world that great work can be done from anywhere,” says Caplan.
Remote working has become the norm for many over the past year – although, ironically, the conditions for its rise have more or less slowed down Remote Year, the start-up. With the border closures last spring, dreams of traveling the world were dashed and Remote Year “postponed” ongoing trips, leaving some clients behind. failed abroad without reimbursement. The startup dismissed 50 percent of its staff in March. Caplan stepped down as CEO in April and the company was acquired by Selina, a hotel brand, in October. Since then, Caplan has been free to think more about how to make remote working meaningful, even without the globetrotter.
When Caplan worked in Mexico City years ago, he marveled at the technology that allowed him to do his work remotely, but he also found it exhausting. Rather than seeing the world, he was looking at his own face on Zoom. As a respite, he started doing some of his meetings off-camera, with headphones, on long walks through town. He circled around the Hippodrome, a tree-lined neighborhood with an old horse-racing track, listening to the chirping of birds and the chatter of pedestrians. “It was a little change, but it was like a light bulb moment for me,” says Caplan. “For many weeks, I took 30,000 steps a day.” He felt more energetic, more connected to the city and at his work.
Energized? Bound? This is a far cry from what many Americans have gone through in their own distant (forced) year. More than half of Americans worked from home during the pandemic, according to Gallup– and many will continue working remotely in the future. The software tools that enabled this transformation have also left workers to wander between bed and desk, hunched over their laptops, suffering from new illnesses like “Zoom fatigue. Caplan, a longtime advocate of remote working, doesn’t think the solution is rushing back into the office. Instead, its enemy is the office chair.
Its next startup aims to provide a fix: it’s called In law, a virtual meeting platform designed only for walks. Spot can be used on desktop, but it’s designed to shine on mobile, so you can take your calls in the fresh air. It has a built-in calendar for scheduling meetings and seeing upcoming calls. It can record and transcribe calls using Google voice transcription software. It also has a feature called Smart Mute, which algorithmically filters out street noise by boosting frequencies that sound like a human’s voice and dampening everything else. For now, Spot is in an invitation-only closed beta, but it plans to launch soon with a freemium model – free for individuals, not businesses.
Maybe the concept sounds familiar to you? Like Zoom, without the camera? Do you like WhatsApp audio? Like… a phone call? Caplan says its software adds something new, as it combines business functionality (scheduling, transcription, smart mute) with a mobile-first approach. It’s “lightweight,” designed to be used on the go, without the awkward dance of video conferencing.