Making the call for teams building the future of audio.
It’s no secret that at Betaworks we’re incredibly optimistic about the future of audio. We’ve been investing in podcasting and audio applications for over five years now, including writing the first check into Anchor and as the first institutional investors in Gimlet (both acquired by Spotify). In 2017 we ran Voicecamp to explore the frontiers of voice-first technology.
The place audio has in our lives has changed dramatically over the past few years, from the explosion of podcasting and on-demand streaming music services like Spotify and Apple Music, to the ubiquity of AirPods and voice-based assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Home.
But even with all that change we believe we’re still in the beginning stages of a new wave of innovation around audio and voice. There have recently been major advances in Natural Language Processing (the way we and computers understand each other in human language, not code). The proliferation of excellent audio content means we’re in need of new approaches to discovery and monetization. Synthetic speech and new AI-enhanced editing tools promise to drastically reduce production costs, enabling the creation of all new kinds of audio-based content that wouldn’t be cost-effective otherwise. Smart headphones like AirPods open up new possibilities in mobile, voice-first applications and utilities.
All of this is why we’re announcing our next Camp program, Audiocamp, which will dive deep into this new frontier. Through this thematic investment and residency program, Betaworks Ventures will invest in and mentor start-ups building on top of the latest advancements in NLP, or inventing new mobile, voice-enabled experiences and utilities, or engaging audiences in new ways of finding and supporting their next favorite audio programming, or developing new social listening experiences for all types of audio.
At Betaworks Ventures we look for startups building at the intersection of underlying technology breakthroughs, emergent platforms, and new human behaviors.
What are we looking for?
Here are some of the things that have gotten us thinking. If you’re building a start-up that is building in one (or more) of these areas, we’d love to hear from you.
- Social audio experiences: We’re interested here in audio-based sharing, collaboration, or social experiences, especially in teams building a “digital 3rd space,” social and co-listening experiences, and always-on communication channels.
- Synthetic/generative audio or music: The application of generative adversarial networks (GANs) to audio paves the way for a multitude of synthetic and generative audio applications.
- “Always-in” applications and services. What new kinds of products, applications, services, experiences, etc can be created now that a growing number of people default to wearing AirPods and other wireless earbuds? How do old categories get re-invented with audio-first interfaces for users who are on the go?
- Audio utilities: How can machine learning, potentially combined with data around location and context, lead to new tools for creating, customizing, and consuming audio?
- NLP tools and applications for audio: We are interested in teams building new tools and software to enable the use of this technology in other applications. Think Pytorch/TensorFlow/Runway.
- Content discovery and monetization (aka Where does Podcasting go from here?): The amount of high-quality audio content, notably podcasts, has exploded. We are interested in speaking to teams solving for the discoverability problem, thinking about new ways to monetize, or just rethinking the category altogether.
- Audio AR: Augmented reality isn’t limited to graphics, so we’re looking for teams that are making use of available sensors and contextual info to create heads-up, hands-free spatial audio experiences.
- Killer voice-first apps for smart speakers: Tens of millions of homes have smart speakers, but most are only used for basic functions like listening to music or news, setting cooking timers, checking the weather, or turning on and off lights. We’d love to see more truly compelling and groundbreaking voice-first applications.
Betaworks Camp is Betaworks Ventures’ thematic investment and residency program in NYC. In addition to our on-going seed stage investments, once or twice a year, we select a thematic area of frontier technology in which we immerse ourselves and make a number of pre- and seed stage investments simultaneously. We invite these early-stage companies to work out of our NYC offices and work closely with the fund partners, attend special events, and work alongside other companies building in the thematic ecosystem. Previous program themes have included conversational interfaces, voice-first applications, computer vision and AR, live-streaming, and synthetic reality.