Ian Foster, founder of Center Camis taking the webcam world by storm. Early on, Ian realized that screen-edge webcams create a focal dilemma; to make eye contact, you had to ironically look away from the person you wanted to talk to. A search showed there needed to be a webcam on the market that was small enough to go in the middle of the screen.
Grit Daily was able to talk with Ian and learn more about what has made Center Cam so successful in a The market that seemed nonexistent till now.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Center Cam?
Ian Foster: My business partner Bryan Parmenter and I own Center Cam. I have a background in social work, gold diving, and media. We’re both people who try to find non-traditional solutions to problems, and then we try to simplify those solutions.
What was your thought process and inspiration behind the creation of Center Cam?
Ian Foster: I was finishing an internship as a Master of Social Work student when the pandemic hit in 2020. I switched to remote with the people I was counseling. “Remote” counseling felt really remote. I thought maybe a small camera in the middle of the screen would change the focal angle enough to allow for eye contact. I Googled “middle-screen webcam” but realized it didn’t exist. We went to work on a prototype, and here we are. have great connections to my friends and family- so the idea has always been to help people have more human interaction in the online space.
Can you explain the psychology behind Center Cam and why it’s so important?
Ian Foster: The psychology behind Center Cam is pretty simple; most cultures use non-verbal and eye contact as part of the communication process. In fact, the vast majority of “message” that is communicated between humans is non-verbal. Screen- edge webcams give all that up because to present yourself well; you have to look into the lens- which doesn’t allow you to look at the person you’re talking to simultaneously. Center Cam operates in the middle of the screen and allows you to see the non-verbal PLUS maintain eye contact. It’s the size of a dime, but another psychological trick is that you don’t really notice it once you start using it. You look past it to the person you are communicating with.
What was the greatest challenge you encountered when first starting Center Cam?
Ian Foster: The biggest challenge I can think of happened at a pivotal moment early in our Indiegogo campaign in 2021. We had previously bought a finished Center Cam assembly from our manufacturer- so we didn’t expect any major bumps. But our reachedfact out to us almost two months after the campaign started and told us they couldn’t buy the previous chip at any price. Chip-set shortage was affecting huge companies, and we are a start-up. They were working on a new chip solution , but it would be months out. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. We’d raised probably $200,000 at that point, and I had to tell everyone about the curveball. It’s tricky to message in such a way that is honest but also realistic when you’re not sure what the time frames for such things will be. There were international communication hurdles, shipping delays, parts delays, and dialing in the firmware once we had a working prototype. I knew we’d figure it out and honor our commitments to our backers, but THEY didn’t know that. Really grateful our backers held the faith, and for the patience they gave us.
How does your product set you apart from your competitors?
Ian Foster: We’re the only middle-screen webcam on the market. We invented the term “middle-screen webcam.” More importantly, though, our webcam allows you to have a more natural focal angle than other webcams, which allows you to have more meaningful connections with your people online.
Besides seeing your invention come to life, what has been most rewarding about this process?
Ian Foster: The most rewarding part of this has been the scale of the “good” that we’re involved in.
I’ve always wanted to be a therapist, but I’ve also always wanted to do good on a grand scale- I think most people have a similar goal of doing good. But therapy happens one person at a time, which is valuable but slow. After graduating, and as we were working on this problem, I had a dream that a bunch of therapists and coaches could use this to connect better with their people. We have now shipped over 25,000 Center Cams, and well over 5,000 of those are being used by therapists, counselors, or coaches. If you figure the average therapist is using it for 10-15 clients a week- the impact is more than I allowed myself to think about during the development slog. I mean, you hope, but you can’t get bogged down by the daydream when there are 1000 little things to figure out. How far the idea has come feels like an out-of-body experience to me. So grateful people saw the vision.
Where else do you see Center Cam being used in a post-pandemic virtual world?
Ian Foster: Web-conferencing is the main thing, and we’re focused on that- however, there are a ton of use scenarios for a small USB-enabled camera on an adjustable flex tube that can be mounted in a variety of settings. Offhand I’d say, security monitoring applications, local/state governments, and education. Most security cameras have a large, conscious frame. Ours is the size of a dime.
What’s on the horizon for Center Cam?
Ian Foster: We’re really close to releasing a Center Cam 2.0 model, which is a 5mp auto-focus camera. We’re also working on parallel production to redesign our original model as well as a 4k version. Center Cam is one product line that our company owns, and we have some non-tech products in the works as well. We focus on doing things that aren’t being done. It has more risk, but maybe that’s the gold diver in me who can’t help himself.
Peter Page is the Contributions Editor at Grit Daily. Formerly at Entrepreneur.com, he began his journalism career as a newspaper reporter long before print journalism had even heard of the internet, much less realized it would demolish the industry. The years he worked a police reporter are a big influence on his world view to this day. Page has some degree of expertise in environmental policy, the energy economy, ecosystem dynamics, the anthropology of urban gangs, the workings of civil and criminal courts, politics, the machinations of government, and the art of crystallizing thought in writing.