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Introducing Pulse Labs, a Platform for Voice Designers

L-R Abhishek Suthan, Maria Karaivanova, Dylan Zwick,  – not pictured – Akansha Mehta

Today we are very excited to announce our investment in Pulse Labs, a startup that is helping designers and developers understand how real people interact with their voice applications – and how to leverage this understanding to build better apps. We are joined in the $2.5 million seed round by the Amazon Alexa Fund, Bezos Expeditions and Techstars Ventures.  We are joined in the $2.5 million seed round by Amazon Alexa Fund, Bezos Expeditions and Techstars Ventures.

Each year the team at Madrona develops and presents investment themes that we revisit frequently and use to guide our investment strategy. One of the areas we are very excited about, is the emergence of new user interfaces that enable multi sense interactions between humans and technology. Over the past few years, voice has become a natural extension of how humans interact with technology and thus, the next frontier for application developers. According to Google and Bing, one in four searches is conducted by talking, not typing, a figure comScore predicts will reach 50 percent by 2020.

We believe the shift in human-computer interaction towards voice will be as fundamental as the shift from the command line to the mouse click, or the shift from type to touch in mobile computing. This shift will be as pertinent for the enterprise as it is for consumers, and in fact will serve to further blur the lines between productivity and social communication. Having Amazon in our backyard is a great way to interact at the start with technologies like these – and we were happy to become closely involved with the Alexa Accelerator Powered by Techstars that ran last year in Seattle.

When we first met Abhishek, Akansha and Dylan, the co-founders of Pulse Labs at the Alexa Accelerator last year, we knew right away that they were building something special. It was their second week at the Accelerator, and they only had a prototype but it was addressing a huge need for anyone building voice applications. Fast forward six months, and the Pulse team launched a platform to help brands understand how real people interact with their voice applications through a rigorous process of live testing and data analysis. They enable voice app developers, or voice designers as they are typically called, to quickly see how consumers want to interact with their app and get data on which prompts work and which don’t. In that short time, they’ve assisted in the successful launch of more than 20 Alexa skills for top brands, and they are just getting started.

You may be wondering what’s so different about voice apps. Turns out that developing apps for voice requires a significantly different process than app development on other platforms. As workflows and interactions shift away from the more traditional platforms like mobile and mediums shift from touch and type to speech, voice designers face a whole new set of decisions and there is a lot of room for error and interpretation. Moreover, users have different expectations regarding how a voice app responds, and apps live and die based on how well their designers understood and accommodated these expectations when building the skill or action. (Alexa dubs voice applications for their platform ‘skills’ while Google calls theirs ‘actions’).

Let’s take this example: “Would you like fries or a shake with that?” It’s a question asked over an intercom thousands of times each day, and the teenagers who are asking don’t think twice about it. But, if you’re designing a program to handle orders on avoice platform, you’ll need to think long and hard about it. You may expect the customer to answer with “fries” or “shake, please”, choosing one option or the other, but what if the answer is “yes”? Does that mean fries, a shake, or both?

Understanding these types of interactions and equipping voice designers with the right solutions is the guiding mission of Pulse Labs. With 56 million smart speakers expected to sell in 2018, according to Canalys, this need is only going to rapidly increase as will voice commerce. The experts from investment firm Mizuho Bank predict that Amazon Alexa powered Echo smart speaker alone will account for $7 billion in voice transactions—or vcommerce in 2020. It is for all these reasons, that we are excited to back the Pulse Labs team.

Pulse is extending their product to Google Actions in the coming months and if you are a voice designer looking for a new challenge, send them a note, they are hiring!

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