What happened this month of June in Voice? Still quite some activity on the fundraising side, some significant developments regarding voice-commerce, high hopes with game studios like Zynga moving to voice, still nothing new on the Apple side, but quite some changes on the Voice&You/Voxalyze side. And if you want to know what Android, Snapchat, and Twitter have in common, it’s all in your monthly digest.

The level of fundraising activity in Voice is still pretty strong

  • Acast

Acast, a Stockholm based podcast company announced having raised a total of €50m in a mix of equity and debt. The equity part amount to 25m€ and has been invested by local investment firms, media groups, and pension funds. The loan worth €25m has been provided by the European Investment Bank.

Acast has been founded in 2013 and is a podcast marketplace with more than 125 million listeners globally. The business generated around €36m in 2019 and has yet to reach profitability. Podcasting is indeed both a booming and a very competitive market.

  • Rasa

Berlin-born Rasa has closed a $26 million Series B funding. The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz and joined by existing investors Accel, 468 Capital, Basis Set Ventures, and Mango Capital. That brings the total funding to $40m, as this round follows the Series A announced early last year

Rasa offers an open-source chatbot software. “A simplistic chatbot might be easy, but a resilient, fully contextual assistant that works is not,” says Alex Weidauer, co-founder and CEO. Some of Rasa’s clients include Adobe, BMW, Airbus, ENGIE, Orange, and Deutsche Telekom.

  • Apprentice.io
Apprentice, a New Jersey-based company developing a conversational AI and augmented reality platform for pharmaceutical, biotech, and chemical companies, announced it has raised $7.5 million. IT is clearly more a pharma investment than a voice investment but Voice and hands-free workflows are at the core of Apprentice value proposition. The round was led by Insight Partners, a fund famous for having invested in the likes of Shopify, Wix, Twitter, Docusign, or Tumblr.

  • Searchable.ai
Searchable.ai announced having raised a $4m seed round. The company is after the enterprise search market and is pre-revenue, being currently in the alpha phase of its initial product. “We are trying to solve this problem where people just can’t find information that they need in order to do their jobs. When you look within the workplace, this problem is just getting worse and worse with the proliferation of different formats and people storing their information in many different places, local networks, cloud repositories, email, and Slack” says Brian Shin, co-founder and CEO.
They plan to add voice search and even launch an Alexa skill as they believe a conversational approach is key: “We believe that there’ll be a whole new category of search, search companies, and search products that are more conversational. […] Being able to interact with your information more naturally, more and more conversationally, that’s where we think the market is going”.
Now as far as their logo is concerned, this is what can be found on the company website, but a design contest has been organized, so expect changes soon.

  • Alexa Accelerator Cohort

Amazon has announced the startups it selected for its Alexa Next Stage accelerator program. Those 7 startups from 5 countries will benefit from the program run jointly by Techstars and the Alexa fund.

ALBA Robot (Italy): A voice commanded robot for passengers with reduced mobility.

Blerp (USA): Audio soundbite search engine for sharing on social media platforms. The Giphy of Voice.

Blue Fever (USA):  Conversational app for young women using emotion-sensitive AI to create a “judgment-free digital best friend.”

Kardome (Israel): Audio tech for smart speakers in challenging environments (think noisy or with several people speaking at the same time).

Lingvist (Estonia): Voice-based virtual foreign language vocabulary teacher.

Sybel (France): Premium audio content platform. The Netflix of Voice.

Symbl (USA): Voice and text software API designer for businesses to build virtual assistants.

 

The rise of Voice-Commerce?

Two pieces of news came out this month regarding voice commerce, one from India, one from France.

Flipkart out of India is rolling out a voice assistant to make shopping easier as part of its growth strategy. For many, India and other developing countries where literacy is for some still a challenge is the next battleground for e-commerce. I found it a very smart move from Walmart-owned Flipkart to use voice as a way to acquire and onboard new e-commerce users. It proves once more that voice is the most natural and therefore easiest to master user interface

Back in Europe, Carrefour and Google announced the launch of a voice-based grocery shopping service in France. The French retailing giant has clear ambition when it comes to e-commerce, particularly food. It will be interesting to follow the development of the service.

Voice as a User Interface gaining significant traction

What does Android, Twitter, and Snapchat have in common? Massive user base….and an announcement regarding voice interfaces in June. A must-watch preview of Android 11 – see below – and its voice capabilities started to circulate while Snapchat released voice commands to add filters (“Hey Snapchat, make my hair pink”). At the same time, Twitter was releasing (iOS only for now) the “tweet by voice” feature. Users can now record a message and broadcast it to the platform. Interesting to see that after text, then photos, videos, gifs, twitter is now letting people tweet voice messages.

My view is that thanks to their massive user base, all the efforts of the companies mentioned above will accelerate the adoption of voice as a user interface.

 

Will gaming ignite the growth of the Skill Store?

Just like the Apple App Store started with beer drinking or crack of a whip sounds, the skill store started with fart noises and car facts. Nothing to cheer upon, unfortunately. As the stores mature, more serious developers join the bandwagon and launch great experience. It usually starts with gaming. So, I will take it as very good news to see game studios like Wanderword or Zynga launching games dedicated to Alexa. The thing to notice though is that those recently released games, while voice-first based, have been designed for a screen+voice interaction.

Apple to disrupt the Voice space – just kidding

Apple held its 2020 WWDC conference in June and apart from minor improvement for Siri, we are still wondering what is Apple’s voice services strategy. The industry has been hoping for years now for an Apple Voice App Marketplace, but it seems that either Apple has other priorities or isn’t ready. So, YES, Apple thinks different (…), but, NO, Apple won’t disrupt the Voice space. At least for now.

Voice & You Voxalyze news

On our side, we have decided to merge our two activities of tools to market Alexa skills (Voxalyze) and agency to market Alexa skills (Voice & You). After all, the second was using the first tools and a lot of clients of the former asked the latter to manage the growth of their skills. So, Voice & You will become Voxalyze Skills Marketing Services.

On a different note, we have now integrated our user acquisition analytics solution to several networks and could offer CPA (Cost Per Activation) campaigns to selected clients.  We have another great service regarding Skill Store Optimization working as a prototype and we hope to release its beta to selected users in a few weeks. 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.