Going Big with a Consumer Voice Skill Startup?

In the past few weeks there have been numerous product announcements in the voice computing space from big players like Amazon and Google.  It appears as though a key part of the strategy for these platform companies is to foster a rich third-party developer ecosystem developing consumer voice Skill “applications,” with an eye towards making the end-user experience increasingly vibrant.  But can you actually successfully build a consumer-facing voice Skills based business?  Not a hobby, or a side-project.  A consumer startup on a #VoiceFirst platform with venture-scale potential.  Today?

This new computing paradigm with third-party developers situation has created a logical analogy which many have said “maps pretty neatly” between the Amazon Skill “Store” and the Apple App & Google Play Stores.  So are Skill Stores the App Stores of the Voice Computing era?   The latter managed marketplaces have provided a Continue reading "Going Big with a Consumer Voice Skill Startup?"

Timber! Out of the Woods: Why We Invested in a Startup With a New Approach to Logging

For me, the most exciting time to become involved in a startup is the very earliest of stages, when there is a vision and promise of what could be. Pre-product-market fit. Pre-product, even. That’s exactly when I met Zach Sherman and Ben Johnson of what would become Timber.

When we first talked, they didn’t have a prototype developed yet. They didn’t have an official name. They hadn’t even incorporated the company. In fact, they hadn’t even quit their previous jobs.

However, the two of them shared a vision of a cloud-based logging platform designed to help software developers get more done. One that offered developers context to their logs, centralizing and intelligently parsing to offer them the ability to click, filter, and search in real time. This system, enabled by the new capabilities of tools like Amazon Kinesis and Athena, would empower developers to quickly find whatever they needed, address Continue reading "Timber! Out of the Woods: Why We Invested in a Startup With a New Approach to Logging"

Goodbye to the Old Boston Innovators Group, Hello to Something BIG and Different

TL;DR: After a dozen years, Boston Innovators Group as we know it is sunsetting, but I will be regularly creating new, focused events to contribute to the ecosystem. The first event focused on voice computing will be held on June 27th. You can learn more and register here. When I moved back to Boston back in 2004, the area was a pretty lonely place for internet entrepreneurs like myself. Still recovering from the dot-com startup crash, the local ecosystem wasn’t conducive to getting together informally and fostering collaboration. Most of the local events were exclusive and expensive to attend, making it hard to meet new people in the community. So, my natural inclination was to do something about it.

BIG’s Beginnings

The first event was small — just a dozen people interested in the future of the internet. We squeezed into the back room at Tavern in the Square Continue reading "Goodbye to the Old Boston Innovators Group, Hello to Something BIG and Different"

User Acquisition for Alexa Skills

Last week, I gave a talk at Voicecamp, a program produced by our friends at Betaworks for early-stage companies building voice-based products. Fahim Abouelfadl and Matt Hartman, who are producing the accelerator and are deep in the voice computing space, asked me to lead a session during the early weeks of the camp. Given how challenging monetization and distribution is in voice computing and my background in marketing, I decided to put together a presentation for the accelerator focused on identifying the current best practices for marketing Alexa Skills. My conclusion is that marketing Skills is not radically different than approaches for other digital products, but you need to apply a voice-first lens. Instead of just keeping the audience limited to the handful of interesting companies in the accelerator, I thought that it would be productive to post them here, too:

The post Continue reading "User Acquisition for Alexa Skills"

Why NextView Ventures Invested in MealPal

The entire NextView team are personally subscribers to MealPal.  Why?  Because the consumer value-proposition for urban professionals in cities like Boston and New York is so strong.  A subscription plan, the weekday meal service MealPal offers both the convenience of skipping the line to pick up a pre-paid lunch at hundreds of local restaurants AND the consistently much cheaper price for all of those great meals.  Plus, the MealPal mobile app & online service acts as a “pal” concierge aiding discovery of new tasty local takeout lunch dishes depending on what ingredients & types of food users like & dislike. But a great consumer proposition is only one component of a successful startup.  On the other side of the equation, the participating restaurants absolutely love MealPal, too, as it sends them net new sustainably profitable customers – unlike the churn & burn group-style discounting schemed Continue reading "Why NextView Ventures Invested in MealPal"

Voice Computing in Enterprise: Inside & Out

We have an Amazon Echo in the NextView Ventures office.  Every day I say “good morning” and “good night” to it, and I ask Alexa for my flash news briefing when I walk in the door if I missed it earlier at home.  It answers the regular fact-check from team members and guests alike, as well as acts as an easy timer for quick stand-up meetings.  As the Alexa platform becomes smarter with more skills, we’ll use it more often in this office setting.  While venture capitalists’ offices aren’t your typical corporate environment, just having one around has helped open my own eyes to the potential for voice interfaces in the enterprise. Most of my blog posts to date on personal voice computing have emphasized the personal aspect – what are the services and supporting layers for the consumer?  But shortly after one of those Continue reading "Voice Computing in Enterprise: Inside & Out"

Current Challenges in Voice Computing: Distribution and Monetization, Not Necessarily Retention

Last week Voice Labs released a Voice Report on the current state of the voice computing industry.  The main theme of the document is the tremendous growth in the proliferation of voice computing devices (mostly Amazon Echos) over the past year or so and the sheer number of skills created to date.  However, the media narrative that was picked up wasn’t at as positive.  Instead, both ReCode and Techcrunch spotlighted a glaring issue: people aren’t sticking with voice apps they try.  With all of the 9000+ skills which are available to consumers today, are there any that are really worth using?  Or all they just silly disposable toys? A voice computing proponent’s retort to that critique might resemble Ed Sim’s insightful tweet reply: that “retention on voice apps, sounds like mobile world.”  Getting consumers to frequently & consistently integrate any application Continue reading "Current Challenges in Voice Computing: Distribution and Monetization, Not Necessarily Retention"