More than $1.4 billion committed to voice, 9 fundraising rounds closed in several verticals, including Clubhouse, the voice social media most talked about, but also data points, news regarding voice payments and monetization of voice apps. Here is your monthly digest.

A record amount of money flowing to voice!

  • Alibaba
Let’s start with BIG numbers: $1.4 billion! That’s what Alibaba (the “Chinese Amazon” for those who have been sleeping in a cave for the last decade) committed to spending on AI and IoT solutions centered around it smart speaker Tmall Genie.  The Chinese giant sees voice as more than “just” devices and apps and is on a mission to build a full ecosystem with voice as the main interface. That’s clearly a massive commitment. Given the pace of tech adoption in China, we will soon be looking East for disrupting use cases of voice.
  • ClubHouse
Another astonishing number: Andreessen Horowitz invested $10 million in Clubhouse, a voice-based social media app. Presented like that, this could be fundraising news like many others, but it is not. For those not familiar with Clubhouse, it is a voice-first (and currently voice-only) social media. Imagine a conference or meetup but in the dark. The only thing you could do is to listen…or speak. Like in meetups, on Clubhouse, people could exchange on a variety of topics.
What strikes is the apparent disconnect between the valuation ($100m) and the startup stage: ClubHouse is 4 months old, has around  5000 beta users, and is not even present on the App Store! Apparently the founders managed to get two top funds in competition which fueled a bidding war. Furthermore, according to Forbes, there are been at least $2m of secondary (people selling shares). Now, for those familiar with venture capital, which is all about upside and outliers, you could argue that Clubhouse has the potential to become a giant of Facebook size and be well worth the investment.
It’s interesting to notice that Marc Andreessen, the founder of the Andreessen Horowitz actually sits on Facebook board of directors, so it’s fair to assume that he knows a thing or two about social media 😉. Talking about Marc Andreessen, he is the one that published the massively commented post It’s time to build, where he suggests directing capital to fund vaccines research, housing, education, manufacturing, transportation….and then invest in a social media app while letting the founders take $2m off the table🤔. Talking about Facebook, they just launched CatchUp, which while not completely a Clubhouse clone has a lot of similarities to it.
I’m also expecting a wave of “Clubhouse for X” very soon and all those will reinforce the adoption of Voice as the primary interface. We will be following this closely….while waiting to be admitted to join Clubhouse.

Clubhouse Logo

 

  • AISpeech

AISpeech, a China-based startup announced a 410 million yuan ($58 million) Series E funding round led by China-based CTC Capital partners. The company provides NLP (Natural Language Processing) for several device manufacturers. More interesting and probably a reason behind the fundraising is the fact that the startup has developed a voice biometrics solution that can identify a speaker (Vocal ID) and analyze their tone of voice.

 

  • DefinedCrowd

DefinedCrowd closed a $50 million funding round from existing investors Evolution Equity Partners, Kibo Ventures, and Portugal Ventures as well as Semapa Next and Hermes GPE. The Seattle-based company offers training data that it crowdsources to speed up the training of AI. Members of its 300,000 people strong community are paid to transcribe audio or record their voices.

 

  • Paradox.ai

Paradox.ai is a US-based conversational AI Startup that just raised $40m in a Series B round led by Brighton Park Capital. Paradox’s offering is an assistant working both in text and voice forms for all routine HR tasks such as setting up interviews. Paradox was the company behind McDonald’s Apply Thru Alexa skill and Google actions.

 

  • Omilia

Omilia, a Cyprus based company has raised $20m from Grafton Capital in its first-ever funding round. The company founded in 2002 and offering conversation AI for customer support had been bootstrapping since then. Their solution offers customer care via virtual assistant in a “human-like” experience and works on all platforms (phone, chat, smart speakers, web, mobile) to banks, insurance, healthcare, and travel companies. An interesting piece of their portfolio is their voice biometrics solution to verify callers. It compares a current speaker’s voiceprint with a verified voiceprint it has stored for identification.

 

  • Podimo

Podimo, a podcast provider from Denmark has raised €15 million in a round from 83North. Heartcore and e.ventures. Those same funds also participated in the €6 million seed round in July 2019. The company offers a podcast and short-audio platform on a subscription-based service (a rough shortcut would be a “Netflix” for audio content). Podimo offers both a free and a premium version and is currently only available in Denmark and Germany.

 

  • Josh.ai

Josh.ai recently closed an $11m funding round from undisclosed investors and with undisclosed terms, which intrigues many. The startup sells luxury and privacy-centered alternatives to Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the likes. At a $1000 per smart speaker sold wholesale to home builders, its AI able to connect several devices manufacturers such as Sonos, LG, or Samsung. As known by many investors, hardware is…hard: we will keep an eye on them,

 

  • Orbita

Orbita, a Boston based startup offering a conversational AI solution for the health care vertical raised $9m in a round led by both Philips Health Technology Ventures and HealthX Ventures. This brings to total funding of the company that works with clients such as the American Red Cross, Mayo Clinic or Merck to $16.5m. Orbita offers both a voice assistant approved by medical authorities as well as a platform to deploy chatbots specific to healthcare.

 

  • Converse Now

Converse Now closed a $3.25 million seed round led by Bala Investments. The US-based company offers a platform that lets restaurants create a personalized voice assistant to interact with customers, handling orders, delivery, drive-thru…etc. This goes in the same direction as the acquisition of Apprente by McDonald’s. Given the current health crisis, we could expect an increase in demand for such AI solution which reduces human to human interactions.

Some Very Interesting Market Development

More users and more usage of smart speakers

NPR (a Broadcaster) published its Smart Audio Report 2020 together with Edison Research. While this article from RAIN News (Radio And INternet News) covers most of them, my takeaways are:

  • About 1 out of 4 Americans have at least one smart speaker. That’s a bit different from the Voicebot study recently released but stays in the same range.
  • Consumers are doing more with smart speakers
  • 37% of the speakers have screens
  • Users having speakers with screen are more into voice app discovery

Voice Payment coming soon?

A new setting to confirm purchased made through the Google Assistant appeared on the Assistant’s Payment and Security settings pane. That setting is to authorize purchases in selected categories with just the user voice and via the Assistant. Looks like “pay by voice” will soon become a new battlefield between Google Pay and Amazon Pay…

Amazon to enter the Podcast field?

According to Bloomberg, Amazon may be delivering podcasts soon. The plan is to have them integrated into Amazon Music, just like Spotify does. This would also mean that TuneIn – the default podcast provider for Alexa speakers – would be replaced by Amazon Music.

Skills Monetization via Advertising: a start?

We often talk about the monetization of Alexa skills as one of the topics that Amazon should tackle – along with discovery – to further develop a healthy ecosystem like mobile. So far, ISP (In-Skill-Purchases) was the only solution available as Amazon has always blocked skills publishers running ads. It appears that Amazon has silently opened the door to advertising on Alexa. A test ran in France by the agency Shirka LAB and Ad-Tech company Soundcast shows that publishers were able to serve ads on their Alexa skills. One condition we have heard was that the ads should not use Alexa’s voice. It may appear insignificant, but this could be one of the first cracks in the dam that has been stopping ads from submerging Alexa. This is exciting news and we will keep an eye on it.

Voice & You news

Last month, we kept on running user acquisition campaigns for our clients’ Alexa skills. That allowed us to get deeper into a solution that we hope to bring to the market in the coming months, where we would be able to run acquisition campaigns for our clients on a CPA (Cost per Activation) basis. We have also been busy working on new tools associated with Voxalyze and frameworks to help marketers. Stay tuned!

Alexis Hue

Alexis Hue

Alexis is Voxalyze cofounder. He is passionate about voice as a user interface and loves using data to unlock and enable growth.