Everyone knows that some meetings should just be emails, and some monstrous email threads might work better as meetings. But since the onset of the pandemic, humans in the new hybrid workplace have seen an increase in both meetings and emails. Calendars are flooded with weekly syncs, brainstorming sessions, and invitations to “touch base” — leaving next to no time for anything else.
One possible solution is encouraging more ad hoc meetings instead of scheduled calls. And soon, there will be an app for that. katch is a startup that helps people connect with the right people at the right moment, allowing for more unscripted, off-the-grid time. The katch app is scheduled to officially launch in the coming months, but those interested in testing it out early can join the beta waitlist by signing up at gokatch.com.
Having just raised a $4M seed round and currently in beta, katch is gearing up to help people reclaim their time and focus on the most important things in life. Backed by LocalGlobe, Speedinvest, and angel investors including names like Giphy founder Alex Chung, Classpass CEO Fritz Lanman, and former Tumblr VP Matt Hackett, katch is here to put an end to calendars so chock-full of meetings they look like a particularly bad game of Tetris.
Founders Edwin Akrong (ODF3), Alessandra Knight, and Paul Murphy were brought together by twists and turns on their respective career paths, where they each learned firsthand the importance of being mindful of time — both their own and others’.
We spoke with Edwin and Alessandra about the story behind katch and the path that led them to start a company that prioritizes making more time for the human experience.
Connecting the Dots
Although katch incorporated in 2021, the seed was planted a few years earlier at Dots, a mobile game studio that brought the founding team together.
Alessandra, who studied anthropology at college, has always had a passion for learning about different people and cultures. After taking on a job that had her on the road going to trade shows 24/7 and didn’t deliver on the excitement she’d been looking for, Alessandra realized she needed to see what else was out there.
“I was looking at tech companies that really valued employee growth for their entire journey, and companies where people believed in the product and loved what they were doing.”
Following that thread of people-first thinking landed Alessandra at Dots, where she quickly scaled to an operations-lead-slash-strategic-advisor role for the executive team, which included Paul Murphy who would become her mentor (and third katch co-founder).
At Dots, Alessandra’s role was geared towards optimizing time for herself and her colleagues. At one point, seeing how hard true, uninterrupted focus time was to come by, Alessandra and Paul suggested a no-meetings Friday where people could still do ad hoc meetings but not book meetings ahead of time. The change went over well with some people, less so with others, who were baffled by the request to cancel all their Friday meetings and make them happen ad hoc instead.
Even though making the most of people’s time was on their minds, Alessandra and Paul’s idea lay dormant for a while, waiting for the right moment, and the right person to lead the product development behind the mission.
And then there were three
Enter Edwin Akrong. Initially on a path to become a dentist, Edwin went to UPenn for Bioengineering. However, halfway through undergrad, he got a job interning for the Philadelphia Eagles, having taught himself to code on the side.
“It was a great experience, because it led me down this path where I thought, oh, engineering is cool. But working in digital is even cooler.”
Edwin’s minor was in entrepreneurship, and the idea of founding companies had always been at the back of his mind. As a product manager with the Eagles, he helped launch some of their first apps between 2008 and 2010. And then in 2012, the NBA came calling.
So while Alessandra and Paul were at Dots, Edwin was working at the NBA, where he was in discussion with Dots — with Paul as his main contact. That partnership didn’t pan out, but Edwin and Paul’s strong professional relationship did.
A few years into Edwin’s tenure in product management at the NBA, he reached an inflection point. Having realized he was doing more managing than product development, it hit Edwin that this was not where he was supposed to be, and he left to essentially start from scratch in the startup world.
“I leaned on Paul when I was leaving the NBA. He has been like a mentor for the last few years. While I've been working in startups, he's been giving me a lot of advice.”
Paul left Dots in 2018, and in 2019 Alessandra left to move to California and work at different VC-backed startups. She and Paul stayed in touch and reconnected when they were ready to talk more seriously about their idea for productizing the concept of no-meetings Fridays.
“Paul reached out saying, hey, remember that thing we've been talking about? I've got six months to do absolutely nothing. And I can only start projects. So where are you right now? Do you want to start a project? I said, absolutely. He suggested we circle back with Edwin and see what he's up to. And that's how Edwin was pulled into this fun operation.”
The freshly minted katch founding team pulled a lot of the ideas that Alessandra and Paul had been incorporating at Dots into the product, building the foundation and playing with priorities.
There’s a magic working with Alessandra and Paul, Edwin says, clearly reflected in their shared mission and genuine desire to solve a problem for people: making sure everyone can have all the necessary conversations, while being able to prioritize and optimize their time to do what's most important.
“We can trust each other. Ale knows what she's great at, I know what I'm great at, and we're going to bring it together. Plus we have Paul as the sage mentor.”
Joining On Deck
Aside from the founding team’s magical dynamic, another catalyst behind their success was Edwin’s stint at On Deck.
He first came across buzz about On Deck through his Twitter feed, and the more he thought about it, the more the idea began to appeal to Edwin’s inner entrepreneur.
By the time he made the call to join the third cohort of the On Deck Founder Fellowship in 2020, Edwin was excited to fly out to San Francisco for the retreat.
“I was getting my plane ticket, I was ready to go. And then COVID happened.”
This pivot to a remote model for On Deck turned out to be a blessing in disguise, allowing Edwin the relief of not having to sublet his apartment in New York City or deal with other logistical details. This, along with the enforced lockdown, allowed him to pour his focus into On Deck fully and make the most of the community and resources.
“I met a lot of amazing founders at On Deck, people that I still talk to this day about different things. One of them, Kyle Woumn, just raised his $10 million round with Overflow, and we talk all the time.”
By the end of a tumultuous 2020, Edwin took to Twitter to shout out On Deck as one of the highlights of his year. To pay it forward, he has now also introduced Alessandra to people he met at On Deck and has been sharing the many resources that ODF fellows have access to. Even without having experienced On Deck firsthand, Alessandra sees the value it’s brought to katch.
“It’s a really wonderful community that brings us so much value at katch, and I'm fortunate enough to have a co-founder who is a former fellow of the cohorts.”
Navigating a fundraise
With Edwin firmly embedded in the On Deck community, fundraising support for katch was close at hand, both in the broader sense of providing a network of like-minded founders, as well as direct hands-on help with their pitch deck.
According to Alessandra, fundraising, which started in May, was an unexpectedly fun experience that opened their eyes to some of the quirks of the VC space.
“Some VCs are more involved than others. But there are these really wonderful communities who will be there every step of the way to support you in navigating building a company even through the hardships.”
While the funding itself was the reward at the end of the fundraising journey, getting feedback from VCs on the product was instrumental in helping the team continue building a product that could really help busy people struggling with managing calendars full to the point of bursting.
Aside from the obvious benefit to the company, the fundraising also had a deeper personal meaning for Alessandra and Edwin.
“Fundraising as a Black woman, and Edwin as a Black man, us going out there and fundraising together — I think there's not many of us in the various founder communities. I felt empowered to be in this position, to be able to share this journey with people who are like us and inspire others.”
Focusing on the future
Today, after closing a $4 million seed round, katch is in beta, available for investors and a select close community, with plans to have an open beta by the end of the year. As the product lead, Edwin is serious about getting the first version of katch just right, so that it serves its audience well.
“Our mission is to have people make time for what's important to them. For this initial version of the app, we're being very targeted with our segment that we're going after. This product is going to serve people who are time-starved.”
The headcount currently stands at six full-time people, with plans to develop and grow the internal team as the product evolves. The focus today is on making it easy to set ad hoc meetings without all the back and forth of “Are you free? Send me a text!” katch is ready to tackle the inefficiencies of that back and forth.
“We have been adding engineers to help make sure that what we built actually works from a scalability standpoint. We’re starting to get a lot of signals that it's very usable, and people are finding that it solves their problem. So now we're figuring out how we get to the next phase.”
A unifying thread that ties the katch team together — and is sure to help them get to that next phase — is how deeply everyone cares about being thoughtful about time. As Edwin sums it up:
“We're not going to go out there and say we're another wellness app. But really, the whole goal is to help people make time for what matters, because that helps your mental headspace. Being human is what we want people to be able to do.”
If you want to declutter your calendar and join the beta, sign up for the waitlist at gokatch.com.