Case study
Tandem Logo

Better than real life: How Tandem reenvisions (and builds) a richer experience of remote work with the Daily API

Company
Tandem
Product
Virtual office
Industry
Enterprise collaboration
Location
San Francisco, CA
Tandem user interface

Tandem’s cofounders set out to create a remote work environment with the affordances of a real office, water-cooler included.

Events in 2020 accelerated a shift to remote working faster than any of us could have anticipated. More than any technological challenge, this change has brought an incredible amount of stress and anxiety to many teams. As video calling continues to replace face-to-face interactions, from morning standups to happy hour, remote work can feel isolating.

This sense of remove is part of what drove Rajiv Ayyangar, Tim Su, and Bernat Fortet to launch Tandem, a “virtual office” app that uses Daily’s video API. Tandem emerged from Y Combinator’s 2019 accelerator program with over $7 million in seed funding. In the works long before COVID, the app is used today by thousands of companies worldwide, from Dropbox to Lyft.

“We just fundamentally didn’t think remote work should be lonely,” Ayyangar explains. “That, in its simplest form is why we started doing this.”

We just fundamentally didn’t think remote work should be lonely.

Tandem recreates the flow of working in-person together — a virtual office for remote teams. A physical office connects a team in different ways, beyond planned meetings. There are the casual hellos, quick chats, and the culture and presence of a shared space.

In Tandem different calls are all just a click away. Remote colleagues can tap someone for a quick audio call or join a room for an intensive work session with video chat, screen sharing and “multiplayer” collaboration.

Tandem UI screenshots
With Tandem, you can share what you're working on, listening to, and start a video conversation in a single click.

Togetherness also is flexible: the app integrates with hundreds of programs, from Figma to Notion, letting colleagues work face-to-face within the same program. Remote colleagues can share what they’re working on, doing, or even listening to: Spotify integration means someone can DJ for the whole office, so everyone shares the same soundscape.

Ultimately, Tandem was built to provide what remote work most often lacks: a sense of presence. The team knew early on that, to achieve this, they needed flexible, lightweight video that was reliable enough to almost fade into the background. As Ayyangar puts it, “we don't want to be better than video conferencing. We want to be as good as real life or better than real life.” That vision came from a particularly personal goal.

Recovering the flow of working — and socializing — in person

Ayyangar and his cofounders were friends long before Tandem was even an idea, having met when their companies were acquired by Yahoo! in 2014. Even after Ayyanger and Fortet left (to return to early stage work), the three stayed in touch, knowing they wanted to be on the same team again.

Tandem cofounders
Tandem cofounders, Tim, Rajiv and Bernat (left to right).

This ethos, the desire to work together, was the driving force behind Tandem as it exists today.

“I wanted to work with Tim and Bernat more than I wanted to build any particular product,” Ayyangar explains.

Unusually for a team now dedicated to remote work, sharing an office and working from the same space were at first the team’s highest priority — bouncing ideas around, whiteboarding, and working together are central to their workflow.

“I always love the moments of shared realization where you're brainstorming or problem-solving with somebody. When a big idea just happens, and you're not even sure who came up with it,” Ayyangar explains.

Initially, the Tandem team worked on a cryptocurrency product together. Their focus shifted when two of them became parents and the cofounders began to collaborate remotely.

“We wanted to recover the flow of working in-person,” Ayyangar explains. “Given we were always team-first, I think it’s appropriate that we went meta and built something that helps us work better as a team.”

Tandem rockets animated GIF
Sometimes you need that virtual celebration.

Existing solutions built around scheduled meetings didn’t align with how the team liked to interact. Although we use the term “collaboration” broadly, we often use it to describe low-intensity interactions, such as coordinating tasks (“handing this over to you”) or simple communication (“keep me in the loop”). We’ve long known that real collaboration —  the type of shared experience that Ayyangar and his cofounders were struggling to achieve —   is essential for meaningful work, and much harder to achieve.

In 1991, Ikujiro Nonaka wrote the seminal article, The Knowledge Creating Company, which identified socializing and collaboration, along with focus and learning, as four essential modes of work. Nonaka describes how these modes are interconnected, and how they thrive on informal communication channels:

“Team members create new points of view through dialogue and discussion. They pool their information and examine it from various angles. Eventually, they integrate their diverse individual perspectives into a new perspective.”

From a business perspective, the need for both formal and informal channels of communication cannot be overstated, whether as a factor of the overall employee experience, or as an intrinsic part of how an organization builds knowledge. Socializing builds comfort and trust, which, when combined with an organization’s intellectual capital, breeds new ideas. Nearly thirty years after Nonaka’s article, Gartner ranks building skills and competencies as the top organizational priority for 2021.

Fittingly, Tandem as it exists today developed out of precisely this type of informal interaction. “There was this magic moment when Tim [Su] and I were brainstorming at night,” Ayyangar says.

Ayyangar saw Su working on the same document. “We started talking on a video call and had a little brainstorm. And that was like a light bulb where we thought — there's something about the interplay of documents and video.”

Building on Daily to create an experience of video way beyond traditional conferencing

These insights inspired the team as they set out to build Tandem. When the team designs, Ayyangar says, they “think about presence, and then synchronous conversation, and then collaboration.”

The Tandem team knew face-to-face communication would be a vital part of their product, which meant video would be key. They envisioned a streamlined, versatile, one-click video experience, to better create the feeling of being together.

Tandem has built a suite of real-time collaboration tools that encourage conversation and presence.
Collaborating in Tandem

Crucially, the video calling needed to be rock-solid at its core. They also needed a flexible solution that matched the variety of video-related workflows they wanted to build.

Before discovering Daily, the team built the initial prototype video calling component of their product in-house. As Ayyangar puts it, from a product perspective, “it wasn’t enough.”

While Tandem’s technical resources are deep, to dive further into the basics of video — call quality, reliability, and scaling — would be to reinvent what a strong API solves for. Crucially, it also came at the cost of investing in areas that differentiate the product strategically.

In their search for a video calling API, Tandem tried various platforms and services. “We tried everything. I think actually everything that existed at the time." Ayyangar explains.

Our video is not just a box in a website. We're trying to create a really flexible experience and Daily allowed us to do that.

Tandem had a hard time finding a real-time video API that perfectly fit their needs. "With a lot of the existing solutions, the flexibility wasn't there to do what we wanted to do... Our video is not just a box in a website. We're trying to create a really flexible experience and Daily allowed us to do that.”

It was also difficult to unearth actionable insight into their users’ call experience, which they needed to optimize their UX. “The services we were using didn't give us any visibility or they gave us too much,” Ayyangar says. “They would just vomit up logs, like oh, something went wrong. Here are 16 errors, good luck.”

With Daily, the Tandem team had the data visibility and flexibility they needed to build Tandem’s unique user experience, with its deep integration of presence, shared documents, and video. For example, a user can start a call in audio mode, enable video, pop the call out to a larger grid and downshift to a smaller tile. The app intelligently toggles users between SFU and peer-to-peer mode behind the scenes, and the team’s engineers work with Daily to optimize simulcast layers and other low-level implementation details.

Daily developer dashboard
Daily's developer dashboard provides clear insight into users' call experience.

Since Daily’s recent launch of call logging and telemetry, Tandem can quickly look in the dashboard to reconstruct network conditions that might lead to a sub-optimal user experience, and compare it to their own logging and user feedback. Looking ahead, Tandem is adding features so users can understand their own network health, pinging Daily servers for data.

“As a product-driven company, Daily was above and beyond every platform and partner we’d tried. We needed something that went beyond just ‘we give you video and that’s it’. We're trying to create a certain user experience, unlocking more fluid and spontaneous workflows, and flexible voice/video/screen-share calls are deeply integrated into that.”

Building for the future with Daily as a platform, and a partner

As Tandem helps their clients collaborate better, in a richer online environment, Ayyangar is excited about the possibilities that opens up.

“It’s kind of cool to think that, especially with all of these large companies and startups using Tandem, the next big idea could come from moments of inspiration in Tandem,” Ayyangar says.

Daily is a key part of that process — as Daily innovates with API features and infrastructure, these innovations pass through to Tandem’s users. Tandem can concentrate on their core business, knowing that the video component is taken care of, and will continue to develop alongside their vision, and their clients’ visions.

“We work with a lot of third-party tools and a lot of the tools care about our experience as builders,” Ayyangar says. “But Daily cares about our customer's experience with our product. They are constantly improving the service and exploring options with us. It’s a great partnership.”

Learn more about Daily

Daily APIs make it easy, fast, and flexible for developers to build with video.