One Idea Started AirShr

The big idea behind AirShr is that life is difficult to remember.

Extend remembering anything on radio (especially while driving) and it’s nearly impossible.

One experience triggered my curiosity about wanting to remember radio. In mid 2013 a commercial for Bon Jovi concert tickets aired on a local radio station. I was driving and surrounded by advanced technology yet I was unable to reach out and save that radio moment. It soon became clear that this was an experience that I’d had many times. Was I alone?

I longed to push a button in my cockpit that would magically understand what I heard and then anticipate how I would consume that information after I left the car. An avid Shazam user, I wanted a service that recognised more than just music. I wanted to capture funny talk segments (like Nova’s Michael ‘Wippa’ Wifli doing his impersonation of Russell Crowe in Gladiator — priceless!), interviews, commercials or news that resonated with me and sometimes share them with a close circle of friends and family. Creating this experience would soon become AirShr’s mission and one that remains unchanged to this day.

However, using a service which causes a distraction while driving, no matter how magical, wasn’t an option. If you’re not sure what I mean by distracting, think about the effort required to take your phone out of your pocket, unlock it, find and open the app you need and then think about the concentration required to use an app and drive.

This idea accompanied me on a 10-day study trip to China with my business school. We had the chance to tour GM Shanghai and it was there where my hustle began. In a corridor after GM’s corporate presentation I pitched AirShr as an up and coming technology, unique to drivers, to senior GM leader. I didn’t have a pitch deck, any technology or evidence that this was anything more than an idea. This led to more conversations at GM where I received the earliest validation that AirShr could be valuable.

A $400 prototype changed everything

After experiencing not being able to capture a radio moment I knew, almost instinctively (and without an ounce of software engineering experience), that this challenge could be solved. Like with most ideas its full potential was unclear in the beginning. The trick was where to start.

User Centred Design and Contextual Inquiry have always served me well when framing problems. These disciplines are grounded in validating hypothesis through rapid prototyping and intently observing the behaviour of people using your idea (no matter how much of a hack it is). Here is the hypothesis that has helped guide AirShr’s development from day one: People care enough about radio in their car to press a button to remember and replay what they heard.

Less than six weeks later the first iOS prototype was released to 20 people in Sydney to test this hypothesis. The app cost $400. It was crude but functional and built by an engineer who I found on freelancer.com.

AirShr Prototype One

When you pressed this red game show-style button the phone saved the time, location and recorded 10 seconds of ambient sound using the in-built microphone. This information was sent back to a cloud server which triggered an SMS back to the phone. The SMS contained a link and when it was pressed pressed the 10 second recording was replayed providing a reminder of the moment.

I gave the app to 20 people I didn’t know (to avoid friends and family bias) and asked them to use it in their car to capture any radio moment they liked — funny talk segments, interviews, ads and music on AM or FM stations. I also gave each person the ridiculously well engineered Kenu Airframe so they could safely use the app while driving. Keeping the airframe after the experiment was my way of saying thanks to each participant.

This experiment lasted for 10 days and included two interviews, one after day five and one at the end. The data and interview results were astounding.

  1. Once per day — the number of times people used the app to capture talk, ads and music.
  2. Remembering inspired investigation — Replaying the 10 second recordings inspired people to continue investigating the topic they captured on YouTube and Google — one person bought a new internet plan ($2,200 over 24 months) because they could effortlessly capture a moment that related to an immediate life need.
  3. Active listening shifted — 90% of people claimed the way they listened to radio changed because they now had a way to easily capture moments that loved. After 10 days people claimed their active listening score was 6 on a scale of 1 (radio is passive, background entertainment in the car) to 10 (I’m fully engaged in what’s playing because there might be something I’d like to save).

Insight that couldn’t be ignored but no business model and no customer

Although auto manufactures and radio broadcasters expressed interest in our preliminary insight we still needed to prove the product could stand up to the claim that a driver could press a button and capture any content from any one of their favourite radio stations without touching their smartphone. We also wanted validate that the first experiment wasn’t just luck.

So three months later and with the expert guidance of Opher Yom-Tov, AirShr’s new Chief Product Officer, we launched an eight week prototype experiment which involved an iOS app and a small Bluetooth button — see our journey on Instagram which started in a laundry (because we didn’t have a garage). When a listener pressed the Bluetooth button and was listening to one of five stations in Sydney (Nova. KiiS, TodayFM, TripleJ and ABC 702) AirShr magically recognised the station and the content being played. A short time later, the listener received a notification that their moment had been delivered to the AirShr app.

50 people used AirShr over eight weeks and the results mirrored our first prototype. Listeners used AirShr once per day and achieved the same active listening score (6 out of 10).

These two prototype experiences showed us what people would do unprompted — they would use AirShr once a day to capture all types of content without their favourite radio personality or brand asking them to.

We had also proved that our technology enables realtime interactivity between listeners and radio stations. Now realtime polls between a presenter and hundreds of thousands of their listeners can be cast in an instant. Imagine your favourite breakfast show starting at 6am and the presenters saying “Good morning Sydney, AirShr NOW to let me know if you’re there!”. Instantly the presenter sees how many people are tuning in and they start a dialogue that involves curated content based on how the audience responds. This isn’t the future, it’s now.

Obsessing over listener experience exposed our business model and who our customers are

So much of what we’ve achieved has come from an unrelenting obsession about the listener experience. Capturing a moment that inspired a listener for reasons only know to them in way that helps them remember in a seamless and elegant way has helped us discover that whilst listeners are our users, they are not our customer.

Radio broadcasters are our valued customers. In building AirShr we have also helped broadcasters to digitally extend all the components that go into producing radio that would otherwise end up ‘on the cutting room floor’. This important point of leverage means that the audio and visual elements of a show are now reused and richly presented to a listener each time they AirShr a moment. For the first time in the history of the medium, AirShr shows radio who is listening and what they like in real-time, extraordinary insight to complement the industry’s existing understanding of its listeners. And much like our obsession with listener experience, our laser-like customer focus has paid dividends, the most notable being the support customers provide to scaling AirShr across their wide-reaching audiences.

This combination makes for a marketplace business model where AirShr enables a seamless digital experience between terrestrial radio broadcasters and their listeners.

Focusing on a single and personal pain point has helped us secure seed investment, an Australian Government Accelerating Commercialisation grant, acknowledgement as a Top10 startup in Asia and more importantly our first national broadcast partner, Grant Broadcasters.

On 26 October 2015 “AirShr NOW” will be heard for the first time in Wollongong via Grant Broadcasters’ WaveFM. It’s an exciting milestone that is a result of an incredible collaboration between the AirShr and Grant Broadcasters teams.

Today, as was the case from day one, AirShr’s mission is to make life insanely simple to remember and it starts with radio.

It’s just about time to listen differently to radio, are you ready?