Our journey started in the spring of 2016 — I was taking some time off after 5 years running Kahuna and Alex was an Entrepreneur In Residence at The Chernin Group. At TCG, Alex was forecasting the impact that new digital platforms would have on media at-large. That’s where he first came across the Amazon Echo and had his first flash forward into how this category would impact consumers over the next five to ten years. As clearly as he saw the consumer impact, I saw an opportunity to re-imagine and create the ecosystem services that I’d seen drive the flywheel between developers, consumers, and brands during the early days of mobile. We set out to explore whether building a company made sense in this early voice-enabled digital assistant market.
The actual conversation might have been a bit less formal:
VoiceLabs was born June 2016 when we pitched Mike Kerns at The Chernin Group on a vision to build analytics, discovery and monetization services for the digital assistant market. Mike deeply understood the opportunity from a past life as CEO building on top of the Facebook platform and was excited to be a part of our journey. With Mike and the rest of the TCG team onboard, we locked in our first round of funding.
At the time, only 4M Amazon Echos were in the wild, Amazon Alexa was the only live open ecosystem, and there were just shy of 1,000 voice applications (Alexa Skills). We decided to build the first analytics product dedicated to digital assistants to learn quickly from developers, brands and the leading platforms. Within three weeks we had an analytics product MVP with an easy-to-use SDK and a couple of users. We turned the MVP into a real analytics platform in a couple months and called it VoiceInsights.
It was time to turn on the growth engine to bring in more developers and brands. At Kahuna, I had always wanted to build a major inbound lead engine but our outbound was working and we scaled quickly, so it always was on the back-burner. Given the opportunity to define the space, and my interest in achieving near $0 customer acquisition costs, I carved out the time to create The 2017 Voice Report.
By creating the first comprehensive, category-defining report, we got picked up and covered by over 100 publications and drew the attention of developers and brands in our space. We grew the analytics product from 0 to 3,500 developers in a matter of 8 months and were recognized by both Google and Amazon as one of the few analytics tools to consider.
As we delivered value to our 3,500 analytics customers, we started to see consumers ask more general-search questions, specifically relating to physical products. By this time, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Alibaba, JD, Baidu and countless others had fast-followed Amazon with their own digital assistant offerings. The number of third-party applications had also grown to 25,000. With digital assistant platforms announcing their intentions to funnel traffic to third parties, much like we saw for web search, we saw a market opportunity to become a part of that critical path. We set out to build a platform that would start by automatically transforming FAQ and product catalogs into valuable conversational experiences for our customers.
We created Alpine.AI to connect consumers with businesses on voice-enabled digital assistants. We pitched this concept and were very fortunate to partner with the teams at Javelin Venture Partners and Betaworks. They joined TCG in seeing the future we saw, and they committed to helping us reach it. With seed capital in hand, we assembled a world-class team to build a full solution for marketers and product managers to deliver conversational applications that are discovered and valuable on digital assistants.
We had the pleasure of collaborating with top-tier brands like Petco. Together with our customers, we built a platform that ingested their content, built Natural Language Understanding models, and made that content available conversationally. With 46% of Americans using digital voice assistants and 20% of US households using a smart speaker (and still growing), we saw first-hand how consumer expectations were changing at home, in the car and at work. The more we dug in with our customers and partners, the more we got the conviction that vertical assistants (pets, health, food, meetings, medical, etc) would become indispensable to the consumer, in brand new ways.
Today, we are excited to announce that Headspace is acquiring our product, team, and technology to help build an indispensable health assistant. We are thrilled to be dedicating our efforts to coaching and guiding users to build healthy routines. Consumers have self-improvement goals and stressors daily, and Headspace is offering its more than 31 million members the ability to use the product in more natural and conversational ways. Alpine’s machine learning capabilities accelerate Headspace’s efforts to bring these new conversational experiences to market. Headspace is committed to meeting people where they are, and they’ve already seen success in leveraging digital assistant platforms to improve user engagement. It is an exciting challenge and a huge opportunity, and we can’t wait to help the world be healthier and happier as part of this mission.
Alex and I would like to thank our team, our customers, and our investors for being key supporters in the Alpine journey:
- Our team: Oleg Avdeev, Carl Chinatomby, Steve Sharp for your dedication and hard work that made this possible! Kieran Boyle and Mike Desart for always delivering and inspiring us. Patrick Albano, for guiding us from afar. The whole Nativ.ly team, Jared and Sam, thank you for being a great partner. Sridhar and Carlos, thank you for navigating the early days.
- Our customers: Special thanks to Brock Weatherup from Petco for being a trailblazer in an emerging market, and Matt Nichols for making the introduction.
- Our investors: The teams at TCG, Javelin Venture Partners, and Betaworks for putting your faith in us and allowing us to bring our ideas to life. Mike Kerns, thank you for the guidance throughout and for being our sounding board. Scott Cannon, Jon Brelig, Jared Schrieber, John Kobs, Zach Coelius, thank you for trusting us, and for your advice along the way.
- Last but not least, thank you Libby and Julia for your endless encouragement and support.
Adam Marchick and Alex Linares
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