Voice: the next wave and how to surf it

I was at Draper University last summer, doing my ‘Hero Training’ and we had Keith Teare come as guest speaker. He said something along the lines of:

“The world goes in waves. And every next wave kills the previous one.

So if you are riding the old wave — you are in trouble. If you are riding no wave — you are in even bigger trouble.

When you think about starting a company, you have to take in the context of the time you’re in.”

Just think about it:

First we had the dotcom bubble. Then the Web 2.0 when social networks and websites like YouTube came to life (and guys like Gary Vaynerchuk becoming rich). Then in 2007–2008 the AppStore emerged and changed everything once again.

But there is more.

Two years later came Mr.Blockchain and the hype around Bitcoin that’s still going (less after ‘The Crash’ from 21k in December ’17). Simultaneously we saw chatbots emerge and great projects like Chatfuel on the market. And now we have voice apps and Alexa Skills — the next frontier. The world goes in waves.

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The world goes in waves, wohoo!

Each new wave comes faster than the previous one due to the accelerating speed of change in the world. That’s good news for us, entrepreneurs (or wantapreneurs, rather) because the right time to start a company is at the beginning of a new wave. In this way, entrepreneurs are more like surfers, waiting for the perfect moment.

And to make things clear: waves are not the same as ‘hype’. Hype is nothing more than noise and distraction — something that only a short-term thinker would pursue. Bitcoin is hype, blockchain is not.

Hence, there shouldn’t be any stress about not ‘getting the thing’. Missed the current opportunity? You’ll get the next one. Just like waves in the sea. If you encounter a surfer that cries about a ‘missed wave’ in the ocean, you would probably give him the number of your psychiatrist. Just in case.

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The guy that cried that he ‘missed the wave’.

I am too young to remember the dotcom (I am 20, remember?), but during my life I witnessed 3–4 waves come and go, not trying to get up and ride them. I was just watching.

I remember living in Palo-Alto with my family as a kid, seeing the first iPhone come out and being in the first Apple Store on the planet in Cupertino. I remember the first games, the first apps, and the empty AppStore. How cool it would be to go back to those times and build ‘Angry Birds’.

I remember when I first learned about Bitcoin in 2011 and thought it was a scam. How cool it would be to go back and start mining it, just for the hell of it.

I remember when chatbots emerged and I thought it was a stupid idea to try to build them. Still think so, ha-ha.

And now there is voice. A wave so young (only 50k skills on the market!), and so lucrative. It would be a crime not to try to ride it. And I am in the right age, mindset and resource to try and just get on it. Fuck it if I’ll fall off my surfboard and get salt water in my eyes. It’ll be fun!

I really believe that voice interfaces (not particularly Alexa or Google Assistant or Yandex.Station, although they might) will change the world. There are 2 main reasons:

  1. It’s fundamentally more natural to us as homo sapiens thank the clunky visual ‘desktop interface’
  2. It saves time and erases friction

That’s it. Anything that fits these two criteria, is sure here to stay. Seriously: I bought Yandex.Station with ‘Alice’ last week and I already miss it while commuting somewhere! It becomes a part of your life so easily simply because it’s so natural and so frictionless.

There are 35 million Alexa Echo Dots sold in 2018. 35-fucking-million! That’s a lot. In 36–48 months we’ll have 90% market penetration with EACH AND EVERY HOUSEHOLD having a voice-operated-device. That’s crazy.

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Now, the way to think about voice from an entrepreneurial perspective:

— Do I believe it to be true that every family will have Aunt Alexa in their home in 3–4 years that tells bedtime stories to their kids, reminds them of what needs to be done and sets alarm clocks for 8 am each morning? Yup.

— Now what is the RIGHT strategy for me to be a part of this movement?

I see 3 ways of riding the wave of voice. Maybe there are more, but that’s all I thought of for now:

  1. B2B. Become a client-service agency or studio that creates voice software interfaces and skills (i.e. apps for Alexa or other platforms) for big clients (like BMW, Mercedes, Pizza Hut, McDonalds). Easiest to start, 0 upfront costs. You would come to these guys and ask them: “What does your business sound like?”. Creepy. And cool.
  2. B2C. Become a production company that creates awesome skills for the market, for end consumers. Core team competencies: voice UX design and creative dialogue writing. Imagine being in 2008 and starting Rovio Games. Wow.
  3. Platform. Probably the smartest of all 3 (because it scales fast) is to allow people, brands, influencers and entrepreneurs to create their own skills with an easy-to-use software. Kind of like Chatfuel for Alexa Skills. Huge growth potential.

I guess that the right answer lies somewhere in the middle, in the form of combining all of these points together in a one big company. Or there is a 4th way which I am not aware of right now.

It would probably be a good idea to combine B2B and B2C, as you need cash to survive until mass adoption comes (in case you don’t raise a seed round) or until you build your ‘big hit’ skill that’ll explode like Angry Birds.

I do know one thing though: the market is still very young, nobody knows anything. Those who say they do, lie. But it will all become very evident in 36–48 months to everyone, and it’ll be very late.

Building Alexa Skills isn’t hard. Finding people who can code isn’t hard. What’s hard (and most important) is to come up with an awesome vision for this thing. And that’s what I am currently working on.

To close up this Medium post, I’ll give you one more quote from Keith Teare talking to us at DraperU:

“Investors are not investing in the past (social network for X….), nor in the present that feels very modern (blockchain, AI). They are investing in the near future. Not in the distant (flying cars), but in the near future.

Investors invest in invisible children, that are already there. Third tremester babies.

The near future is already there. It’s just not seen.
The job of the entrepreneur is to
make it seen.

And I believe that voice is that near future that is hard to see.

I would be glad to discuss my ideas on Alexa Skills, and what companies might be built in this area with anyone who’s interested (there aren’t many of us, you know!)

Just hit me up on Facebook. Or email me: sergey@faldinmedia.ru

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Making sense of the world and teaching others. | Subscribe here: https://www.faldin.blog | Reach out: faldin.sergey@gmail.com

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