What happened in Voice in August? An astonishing $750m worth of transactions, Amazon thinking about bringing ads to Alexa, and the Beta version of our Skill Store Optimization about to go live. Who said things were slow in August?

Fundraising marches ahead

  • Google to invest $450m in ADT
Google has announced it is paying $450m for a 6.6% stake in ADT, the home alarm company, which at first seems odd. Now, smart home penetration is still low, and often devices need manual work to be installed and configured…and ADT has about 20’000 technicians used to set up similar devices. Given the ownership percentage, it looks more like an option from Google on what is probably a very long game.
  • Gong raises $200m

Gong, a San Francisco-based company, raised $200m on a $2.2b valuation. What is exceptional is the pace of fundraising: the company completed 3 rounds of $40m, $65, and now $200m in less than 9 months. The investor list is a Rolodex of well-known funds such as Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Battery Ventures, or Salesforce Ventures, to name only a few. The company offers a “revenue intelligence platform,” which helps remote sales teams be more efficient by analyzing their sales calls and run data-driven recommendations.

  • Chorus.ai raises $45m

Chorus.ai, a San Francisco-based company, raised a $45m Series C round. This brings the total funding for the company, which leverages AI to analyze sales calls, to $100m. A treasure chest indeed needed in a vertical with plenty of competition.

  • Syntiant raises $35m
Syntiant, the Los Angeles-based company, closed a $35m Series C round, bringing the total funding to $65m for the semiconductor company. Their processors are designed for machine learning with voice recognition as a straightforward application. Microsoft, the Amazon Alexa Fund, Intel Capital, Motorola, and others participated in the round.
  • New York Times acquires Serial for $25m
The New York Times has agreed to buy Serial Productions, the company behind the hit podcast “Serial,” as it continues to expand into audio journalism.

  • Krisp raises $5m
Krisp, a San Francisco-based company that uses AI to mute background noise during calls for remote workers, closed a $5m Series A led by Sierra Ventures. The business clearly got a boost from COVID and people shifting to working from home. The long-term vision of the founders is to build a solution that would give you real-time feedback on how you are performing as a speaker, a sort of Grammar.ly for voice. Interesting.
  • Riff raises $1.5m
Riff, a London-based startup, raised $1.5 million in seed funding for its voice-led chat tool. The company wants to bring back the spontaneity of quick questions to colleagues without forcing into video chats. Imagine Slack but voice-based, where people could choose different types of messages like one-on-one, broadcast, or even open mic. Balderton Capital led the round.
  • Tellroby raise $500k

TellRoby, a Seattle-based company, raised a $500k seed round lead by voicepunch.vc, a fund dedicated to investment in the voice space. This is an extension of their seed $2.4m seed round from 2018, which was then led by the Amazon Alexa Fund. Seed round extension could be seen both as negative (“the company doesn’t have the traction to justify a Series A round”) and positive (“the company is into something. It has taken a bit longer than planned, but securing new investors is a sign of trust into their business”), so let’s see. The company offers a smart office solution that uses voice to automate tasks mostly in the customer support and helpdesk area.

 

  • Yac raises and extra $500k from Slack

Yac, the Orlando-based company which raised $1.5m earlier this year (This Month in Voice #6), with a product for voice-based asynchronous communication (think Slack but based on voice messages), has raised an extra $500k from…Slack.

 

  • Zoi closes a seed round
Zoi, a Rotterdam (Netherlands) based startup, announced having closed its seed round, which was led by Abu Dhabi based Chimera Investment. Like many others, Zoi captures, transcribes, and analyzes customer calls and meetings to provide insights. The amount raised was not disclosed, but this followed a pre-seed investment by Techstars, an accelerator.

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Are ads (finally) coming to Alexa?

Bloomberg released an interesting article about a possible hiring freeze withing the Alexa team, which is assumed to be 10’000 people strong. While we keep seeing more and more features being rolled out by Amazon and the ecosystem growing, it is extremely doubtful that Alexa has yet turned a profit. In-Skill-Purchase is still in its infancy, and discovery is not fixed (we are working on it!). The exciting part of the article is the fact that the company is considering selling ads. This is excellent news!

If we compare the mobile and voice apps ecosystem, what allowed for an explosion in supply (developer) and then demand (usage) of mobile apps was the fact that developers were able to monetize early on and therefore make money. I’m betting that allowing skill developers to monetize with ads will completely unleash the ecosystem. One risk would be for Amazon to do it the wrong way and monetize only first-party services (i.e., the ones it provides) via its Amazon Advertising division: this would annoy users and won’t help developers.

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Voxalyze News: we are almost there!

In a few years, we will remember August 2020 as the time we had our alfa product working and started iterating with the user interface. As much as we would have loved to push our Beta out to a selected few for feedback, we do need a few more days (not weeks). From then on, voice apps developers will – finally – be able to track and optimize the visibility of the Alexa skills. Here is a sneak preview for you.

 

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.