Shin Kim spent nearly two years helping renowned entrepreneur and investor Elad Gil vet deals and dream up new ideas as his chief of staff. In the process, an idea bubbled up that seemed too compelling to let go. Now called Eraser, that year-old startup, which is centered around a collaborative digital canvas for whiteboarding and note-taking, has raised $4 million in seed funding led by Caffeinated Capital. It has also attracted what Kim says is more than 1 million users since its March launch, from "five-person startups to the largest global tech companies."
We talked with Kim last week to learn more about his transition from right-hand man to startup founder, as well as to understand why, in a world that is suddenly rife with tools that help remote teams collaborate more efficiently, he's confident there is room for Eraser to grow.
TC: You have two computer science degrees, from the University of Chicago and from Berkeley. How did you end up working with Elad Gil?
SK: [After school], I went into finance and investing in San Francisco [as an associate with JPMorgan, then Oak Hill Capital], and I met Elad through my brother. He was an investor in my brother's startup, Bitwise Asset Management, which is a crypto asset manager [where Kim's brother is CTO]. He was looking for a chief of staff as he just had so many things going on, and it was just him at that point with his EA. So I joined to help him with companies, doing due diligence, getting deep into the stories of companies and their financials and their data.
We were also working on incubating some ideas together, and that was the main draw for me -- that in addition to investing, he wanted to find ideas that should exist in the world but don't and to build something from the ground up, and Eraser was a collaboration in that regard. It was the pandemic. We had worked through a few ideas, and this was the final one that we hit on.
TC: What was the special insight here?
SK: Collaboration in general was really tough during the pandemic, right? Everything was broken, everything was suddenly Zoom-based, and as I talked to a bunch of companies both large and small in Silicon Valley, it seemed like ideation, or getting a project started off the ground, seemed really tough as opposed to executing on existing projects. Especially on a remote basis, this process of brainstorming together and building on top of each other's ideas is really tough. That's how the genesis of Eraser came to be.
TC: So this is an all-in-one ideation platform for technical teams. What does that mean, exactly?
SK: To unpack that a bit, by technical teams, we mean engineering teams and data science teams, and by ideation, our platform consists of three functionalities. One is a canvas where you can visually collaborate -- you can create diagrams or system architecture. You can create wireframes to visualize front-end UI mock ups. And you can annotate things, like scribble math equations [with a stylus, using its app in the iPad], like you would on a physical whiteboard.
The second piece is the note editor, where you can turn those figures and diagrams into some kind of documentation or reference document. This is where we serve technical teams better because oftentimes, they're using Google Docs as their documentation platform and then copy-pasting images that they drew on some other visualization tool into Google Docs. We have that capability natively inside of Eraser.
TC: And the last piece?
SK: You can post the entire conversation on Eraser or using audio chat. We realized that when users are doing brainstorming remotely, oftentimes Zoom or Google Meet is in the background and they're only using audio and really video because they've been working with these people for a long time and don't need to see their faces to be brainstorming. It's more about the content.
TC: Does Eraser save the audio so if you want to go back and replay that whole meeting, or also search through it, you can do this?
SK: That's to come. It's definitely on our roadmap. Currently, we only have real-time audio communication.
TC: You've already told me you aren't sharing customer names yet. What are some of the use cases you're seeing?
SK: We see individuals using it for hobby projects. We see educators using it. But our bread-and-butter use case is teams and companies that are using it for work. It's very lightweight, compared to some of the other alternatives out there. I think engineers are generally reticent to go into designer tools like Figma, but with Eraser, engineers feel like they can create their own wireframes and create visualizations of what they're imagining. That it's usable, lightweight and there's a lack of a learning curve is a lot of the feedback that we've been getting, especially compared with other products.
TC: How are you getting the product out in the world?
SK: It's definitely word of mouth. Another go-to-market strategy we adopted was to partner with virtual office platforms like Kumospace and Gather [a "metaverse" startup that just last week announced $50 million in Series B funding co-led by Sequoia Capital and Index Ventures].
TC: Who pays for that real estate? Are you charging these partners?
SK: No, we're not charging our partners. Monetization is something we want to get to later next year, though even then, we wouldn't charge our partners. We would charge the end users who wind up saying, 'Hey, I really like this whiteboard and want our entire team using it.'
TC: Are these partners charging you, or will they receive a cut from these transactions?
SK: That's TBD, as well. I think we're adding value by providing a whiteboard experience for their end users, which otherwise, they would have to create themselves, which would be a lot of work.
TC: When you do start charging, do you see this being per seat or per session?
SK: It would be a monthly-type deal where, we're charging per user per month. It's more of a classic subscription.
TC: Microsoft just announced a whole lot of collaboration tools. Obviously this is a crowded industry generally, but out of curiosity, what did you make of the company's recent announcements?
SK: Even though Microsoft Loop describes itself as a collaborative canvas, it largely seems to be a next-generation document editor, competing against the likes of Notion and Coda. Eraser's main use cases are built around visual collaboration like diagramming and wireframing, so I would argue the product identities between MS Loop and Eraser are dissimilar.
We're also focused on serving technical teams -- engineers, data scientists -- and want to build features to serve their needs like programmatically generating diagrams. MS Loop's mandate will likely be to serve a broadest possible audience, so it doesn't impact our core mission of building an end-to-end ideation platform for technical teams.