What a crazy month: I’m obviously talking about the current COVID-19 pandemic, its toll on human lives and its impact on everyone’s daily life. As COVID is the main topic of every media out there, I will let the others cover it in greater detail. I will instead focus on the usual fundraising activity in the voice space, the current state of fundraising, the recent developments of the industry as well as give you a short update on Voice & You. In those troubled times, let’s all keep in mind that there will be a day after COVID, and probably a different world after and it is our duty to anticipate it.
COVID-19 & Voice
Like almost every other industry currently, the voice industry has been looking at the virus and see how it could help tackle the issue or make the life of those affected easier. From coronavirus-risk assessment chatbots to analyzing the sound of your cough to voice-activated elevators, there is plenty of news out there. I won’t cover or refer to any as I honestly can’t tell which ones are of real and immediate use and which ones are simply vague announcements from companies trying to gain visibility. I will let you judge by yourselves.
One verified fact I could share though for fellow Alexa skills developers or publishers: traffic for Alexa skills is up. Of course, it depends on factors such as country, lockdown start-date as well as skill category, but from what I have witnessed on a panel of 10 skills we are talking +20% to +90% usage increase. Retention also seems up, but it’s too early to get exact numbers. It looks like that the more time people spend at home, the more they use their smart speakers.
- Suki raised $20m
Suki has been developing a voice assistant for healthcare workers and recently closed a $20m series B financing. The round was led by Flare Capital Partners, a Boston-based VC fund that exclusively invests in healthcare technology and both Breyer capital as well as Epsilon Health joined the round. Suki’s main application is collecting and transcribing doctor’s notes and filling records only with voice, hence saving the time spent by the doctors on paperwork. Yet another great example of voice interfaces in a specific vertical. Given the specificities of the healthcare space, I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar companies going after the same market here in Europe.
- Deepgram raised $12m
Deepgram, a startup providing high-quality speech recognition announced the closing of a $12m Series A. The company isn’t exactly a new-comer as it was founded more than 10 years ago has silently been working on its tech that is considered as (one of) the best out there, even allowing real-time text transcript. The round was led by Wing VC with the participation of others among which are Nvidia and SAP.
- What’s up with fundraising?
Although not specific to voice, early-stage financing is drying up. Several factors are explaining this:
- At early stage, it seems that business angels have pretty much vanished. That’s understandable at a time where they see their portfolio value decrease and they could also face liquidity issues.
- Other ones having liquidity issues are the LPs (the ones giving money to VCs). While in most of the cases, they can’t decline a capital call from a fund (ie a fund wants to invest and call the capital from its LPs), they could indicate that now is not a good time as well as indicate that if forced, then, they may reconsider participating in the next fund of that VC…
- VCs are in “triage” mode. While I don’t like the word, it describes well what is happening. Should a VC allocate those $2m to that new company at early stage (ie with lots of risks associated with the investment) or reserve it to help their portfolio company already at Series B/C (ie a LOT fewer risks with the investment) go through the crisis?
All the above is rational and after all venture capital has is not a charity. Now the difficulty for founders is to understand all of this, see through all the “we are open for business” claims, and find the – few- VCs actually investing at the moment and not in 6 months when it will hopefully be over. The other alternative is bootstrapping. That doesn’t apply to any business but it is a powerful option worth considering.
The Voice Industry is moving forward
Estonia is building a voice assistant for public services. The project is named KrattAI after a magical creature from Estonian mythology. For those not familiar (your should!) with Estonia, the country is at the forefront when it comes to tech and e-government in particular. Voting, Education, Banking and many other aspects of everyday life are already fully digitalized. Moving government services to a voice interface sounds like a natural next step for the country.
Over in India, Amazon rolled out voice shopping on its platform. Customers could use Alexa to search for items, add them to the cart and proceed to checkout, all by voice command after tapping the in-app microphone icon. Voice shopping hasn’t really taken off yet but India looks like a promising next step with many users using voice as the primary user interface.
Please meet Celia, the voice assistant from Huawei. It was about time: let’s not forget that Huawei is not allowed to use any Google services following a decision of the US government. So Huawei had to build its own voice assistant or rather adapted what it had built for the Chinese market under the Xiaoyi name. No breakthrough innovation there in terms of features. We should note the calorie-counting ability of a given dish though.
Latest developments at Voice & You
As announced in the last This Month in Voice post, we recently launched Voxalyze, the first user acquisition analytics platform with the aim of becoming the equivalent to voice of the leading MMP (Mobile Measurement Partner) for mobile. Well, the good news is that more and more skill developers or publishers are joining the platform and using it as a source of truth when it comes to user acquisition campaigns.
Now, while developers love our product, a few of them had a message somehow like this: “looks awesome, and yes, we need to get user acquisition under control, but we don’t have the capacity (knowledge/time) to run campaigns ourselves….could you do it for us?”. So, we are doing it and are currently about to launch acquisition campaigns on behalf of skill publishers. Exciting times…
Two advantages there: 1. we will become the main (power) user of our own tool and 2, it will help us bootstrap. We have also extended the scope of Voice & You further by proposing our clients SSO (Skill Store Optimization) as well as other services. Always with the same goal in mind since the beginning: help voice app grow their audience.