In the new era of social distancing, people are turning to tech to help them stay connected. Zoom is booming as companies instruct their employees to work from home, whilst apps like WhatsApp and Houseparty allow friends to interact on group video chats.
But there’s one platform that allows you to do anything online. Whether you want to set up an online study group with your classmates, watch Netflix or game together, or even have virtual dates, San Diego-based platform Kast is here for your new disconnected social life.
“We were the masters of social distancing before social distancing became a common phrase in the world,” explains co-founder and president Justin Weissberg. “People use Kast for drinking parties, watching anime, college kids living in the same dorm would hang out with each other online. They treat it like a virtual living room.”
The 28-year-old grew up on the internet, competing in the early forms of esports competitions on games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. As platforms such as Netflix took off during his time in college, he and his friends would try and watch films together at the same time. “My friends and I would be like, ‘one, two, three, go,’ and press play at the same time. At the time, I said, ‘Why does it have to be so hard to share experiences online?’”
It was his time as an esports player that eventually led to what would become Kast. Weissberg launched an app called Evasyst that would facilitate esports coaching, allowing teams to share screens in real-time. “We shared Eveasyst with gaming teams and gamers and then they started using it for stuff outside of esports, which is why we changed it to be all types of media.”
Eveasyst was live between 2016 and October 2018, which was when Weissberg turned the app into Kast with the help of the company’s CEO, Mark Ollila.
“We realised we could be a niche product for a niche community or we could build a potentially billion-dollar company that could really change the world. I was more interested in not going after one vertical but creating a solution that can help people and multiple verticals.”
Kast officially launched for people to use in July 2019, so it’s still less than a year old. During the beta phase, it was extremely popular with people at university who were using it for study groups, to maintain long-term relationships and hang out with one another. Weissberg says he’s seen 300+ different ways that people use Kast, with grandparents and grandchildren using it to keep in touch, to companies using it to facilitate remote workplaces.
In a world dominated by video chat apps, such as Skype, FaceTime and now Zoom, how has Kast become so popular. “Our users have told us they feel the quality is better than Skype, and they like the simplicity. It’s very millennial and Gen-Z friendly, but also 50-year-olds hang out on video chats.
“What’s great about Kast is that it allows groups of people to have shared, intimate experiences and moments. 90 per cent of the parties on Kast are private, only 10 per cent are public. You can pretty much use Kast for anything.”
The benefit also comes from the ability to have digital face-to-face contact, as well as share screens so people can watch films or series on Netflix and Amazon Prime together. Other companies have popped up offering this experience, such as a new Google Chrome extension named Netflix Party but Weissberg isn’t bothered about the competition. “It’s a totally different experience. I think what they do is great and very simple, making it easier to share Netflix together. But we want to help people have shared experiences online.”
Like other social media apps, such as Houseparty, Kast has seen an increase in people flocking to the platform in the new age of social distancing. Italy and Spain are two of the fastest-growing countries in terms of new users to the app, as well as China and Korea. Luckily, the platform hasn’t faced any server issues just yet and is keeping up with the new demand.
“We’ve had messages from people in Spain and Italy saying, ‘Thank you so much for making this.’ It makes me happy because as a company, it’s like we’re doing something good for the world,” says Weissberg.
Businesses are also tapping Kast for help holding virtual events. When the Games Developer Conference was cancelled at the end of February, the video games website Pocket Gamer held two GDC virtual panels on Kast. Other organisations have been in touch about using Kast to hold virtual concerts, whilst people are using the platform to broadcast yoga and workout classes.
For now, the company is focused on creating more features that allow people to have more intimate connections together. Weissberg promises that one new feature in particular will “take away another layer of you feeling like this is a virtual experience and helping you to feel more present with people.” What does that mean? He won’t share details just yet, so we’ll have to wait and see how that works in practice. And for those looking to try out the platform for the first time, Weissberg's advice is to just launch your first party and go for it.
“Share it with your friends and figure out what you want to do together. If it’s homework online, to be connected with loved ones or have virtual dates. Find a way to continue doing what you want to do every day.”
Kast is free to use, though an ad-free subscription costs £4.25 a month, kastapp.co