A Long December

One of voice tech's true originals, SoundHound readies for next chapter

A long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

Keyvan Mohajer went to Stanford in 2000, in the midst of starting multiple young companies, and dreamed of bringing to life some aspect of Star Trek, one of his favorite shows.

Teleportation, photon torpedoes, and warp drive all seemed a ways off.

But speaking to computers? Perhaps not.

He started SoundHound around 2005, and the company became one of the earliest players working on conversational AI, as they worked in stealth to commercialize an application for music consumption and discovery, more than a full decade before anyone would mutter the word Alexa.

When I had a chance to sit down recently and speak with Keyvan about the company and where it’s going, I asked him about another SoundHound first: being the first independent voice/AI company to raise a massive amount of VC funding.

Back in 2016 and 2017, venture capital money was allergic to voice tech companies. Too afraid of competition from big tech was the primary reason given, and it was a pretty reasonable excuse back then.

It was within this big tech-oriented environment where SoundHound broke through, raising the first big pioneering $100M round the voice/AI space had ever seen and re-shaping the landscape all in one singular motion.

“That money helped us achieve support for the 22 languages we support today, and facilitated a lot of our strategic growth,” Mohajer told me. “But some criticized the investment at the time. They didn’t understand our long-term vision.”

With VC funding now flowing freely from venture capital into conversational AI companies, SoundHound seems well positioned to take advantage of the fervent interest in the space.

When I asked Mohajer what he expected to see from the voice tech / conversational AI space coming out of the pandemic, he said something worth putting in bold:

I think going forward, we'll see success with companies that take technologies from various platforms, such as ours or others, and productize it in a new and interesting and unique way. One example I often mention of a company that has been successful with this type of approach is Whatsapp, which built on top of mobile platforms. We will see numerous successful companies built on top of existing voice ecosystems, much in this same fashion.

It’s worth probably a series of This Week In Voice VIP letters unpacking the need to productize voice, but I love that Keyvan zeroed it on it during our conversation.

Speaking to computers, whether wearables or smart speakers or mobile devices, is so abstract and loosely defined that we are seeing success with companies that manage to corral some aspect of the experience and brand it in a memorable way.

Before there was a company like NLX creating a cool-sounding product like Voice Compass, or Speechly’s Voice Search, or Wanderword’s Fabula, or Starbar’s Voice Inventory, or Cognigy’s Voice Gateway, or many, many, many companies and their myriad productized offerings, there was SoundHound, who led the way in breaking out voice-oriented features and functions and packaging them up as discrete offerings.

This now seems somewhat prescient, and is a solid blueprint for companies bring core technology into the space.

If voice technology is truly gaining steam as it appears, then the companies that have superior market positioning by virtue of arriving early should be found thriving and in a growth posture. SoundHound checks that box.

“All I wanted to do is make some sort of big impact,” Mohajer said. “Over more than a decade of work on SoundHound, we’re living that every day.”

Australia’s Bianca Rose Phillips, who has made a name for herself by writing and speaking about AI ethics as they relate to voice tech in healthcare, has a new book coming out August 31 called Making The Digital Health Revolution:

We will spotlight the book at both the upcoming Voice of Healthcare Summit (August 19, Fenway Park, Boston MA) and Project Voice X (October 25-27, Destin/Fort Walton Beach FL).

If you want to sign up for the book launch, you can do that here.

Early bird registration deadlines loom in days for numerous conferences below, so make sure to check them out if you’re interested in one or more of them.

Have a great weekend.

Voice tech, conversational AI, and modern healthcare - a one-day event at Boston’s iconic Fenway Park. Register here.

The gathering of the wide world of publishing returns. September 13-15, Nashville TN. Register here.

A special edition of Project Voice, the #1 event for voice tech and AI in America, which will involve the combination of voice, AI, and social audio. Destin / Fort Walton Beach, Florida, from October 25-27, and includes the celebrity roast of Open Voice Network’s own Jon Stine. Register here.