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Podcast with Peter Peng: The Future of Voice Commerce

For the episode audio, please check out our podcast page.

 

Peter Peng is the CEO and founder of Jetson AI. He has over 10 years of experience leading companies both software and hardware. He has a passion for crafting new user experiences surrounding emerging technologies, and he was also formerly the head of marketing and design at UniKey Technologies where he was the first in the world to unlock a smart lock with Google glass in early 2014, using a visual and voice interfaces. 

How Peter Peng Got into Voice Search

I’ve always been a technologist. Right out of college I opened my own software development company where we built software for startups. 

Then, as emerging technology started to happen, namely IOT (Internet of Things), I got a job at UniKey technologies. We shipped the first mass-market smart lock. We partnered with Kwikset, which is the largest North American lock manufacturer. 

In order to land the job at Unikey I went to the CEO’s office with a Google Glass because at that time, in 2014,  I was part of the Google Glass Explorer Program, and I said, “This is the future of how people are going to unlock doors: with voice and visual technology.”

So that’s really how I got started working on voice technology. He hired me right away and a week later he have me lead the entire development team during a hackathon in order to see if we can use voice to unlock the actual doors. 

We were really trying to understand what the capabilities of voice are beyond just controlling your smart home. 

So kind of like the reason why I got started with Jetson was really just to solve a personal problem that I had with Alexa when it first came out.

The Limited Alexa Experience Creates a Need

When I first got the Amazon Echo, I was really excited to buy something from it and, just like millions of other Americans, I thought I could probably buy anything of Amazon with the Alexa, but, that was simply untrue. 

I remember once I was trying to order a toothpaste and I go: “Alexa order me toothpaste.” And all she did was give me that one-shot recommendation. 

She didn’t ask me if I wanted whitening or cavity protection, how many tubes, what size, all of those things that are indicative of an e-Commerce type of experience. And so I was like: “OK, well, I guess I’ll just use this thing to check the weather and listen to music.”

Why Jetson Is the Better Voice Assitant Alternative

The problem still plagued me. So what I ended up doing early on with the prototype is I took IBM Watson’s technology and I ended up being able to hijack the Alexa. 

And then I had an hour-long conversation with him and I was like “Wow, this actually really feels like real AI.” 

I created a pizza ordering demo with IBM Watson technology and the Alexa. And then I took that same platform and I did the same thing with a mobile ordering app for McDonald’s as a prototype. 

I then took that prototype. I was living in Florida at the time I built this thing in my bedroom. I went up to New York City and I was able to successfully raise my first million dollars to really bring the product to life. 

We ended up moving away from IBM Watson technology and then building our own platform called Jetson which really lets us have that multi-step conversation to pretty much transact on the advanced product or advanced product catalog. We managed to really bring the true utility to the voice assistance of today.

How Does Jetson Become the Shopify of Voice Commerce

At first I built out the technology for the ability to add that extra layer of intelligence to the ordering experience. But then we realized we’re actually a business, not just the technology. So we had to really make the Shopify of voice commerce. That is a really easy way for businesses of any size, whether you’re a small mom and pop or an enterprise business to easily come on Jetson’s platform and create a voice first marketplace in a matter of minutes. 

A lot of voice commerce companies today have the agency model. They have the core technology, but they’ll charge 500,000 to a million dollars just to build this technology out for one company. But what we’ve done was focused on scaling that.

We’ve created a really easy way to go online: you’d need to sign up with Jetson and then really just add products to our backend. And we also allow the ability to train those products on our back end as well. 

And the end user doesn’t have to figure out how to create spaghetti dialogues, and try to create their own voice store. Everything with Jetson is pretty turnkey. And what’s really cool is you can have one-click integration with your Shopify store and you get done with it in a matter of minutes. 

We’ve recently struck a partnership with Delivery.com. So we have now over 10,000 restaurants and 1.1 billion products on our marketplace for users to be able to be able to order food from pretty much any state in America. 

That really works well with the COVID application because e-commerce and food delivery has been soaring because of a need to stay quarantine and stay away from some of the brick and mortar. 

The Comfort of the Omni-Chanel Conversational Cloud

And it’s not just voice it’s an Omni channel platform. So it’s a voice it’s SMS text, it’s Facebook Messenger. It’s really that same conversational cloud that can disseminate in multiple channels and act as a new sales channel for your brand. 

If you look at the early days of Amazon: they were just selling books, but they’re one of the first to sell books on the Internet, which was a brand new channel. And they were able to build their brand that way because they dominated that channel. 

We look at voice the same way. It’s a new channel which is much more convenient. It provides an ideal user experience because as technology gets more and more complex it’s harder to use these touchscreen interfaces or the keyboard and the mouse.

Why Naming a Voice Commerce Platform Jetson? 

If you think about 2020, we think about the future. And I think about the Jetsons – the cartoon. I named the project Jetson after that cartoon, because it really talks about the fully autonomous future. 

It’s really that ideal user experience that people want. It wasn’t until recently that speech recognition technology started reaching about 95 to 98% accuracy levels. So that’s where we’re starting to see that the proliferation of the voice assistant is going to match that of the mobile device and even the personal computer. 

If we look at smart speaker adoption today I believe there’s over 150 million smart speakers in American homes. Look at the rate of adoption: it’s even outpaced the adoption of mobile technology at a multiple. Voice is starting to be integrated in almost every facet of your daily life. And what we aim to be is that intelligent commerce platform that allows for easy onboarding and selling the products and services on that platform.

The COVID-19 Impact on Jetson

When we started Jetson in 2017, I was trying to get investment from traditional venture capitalists.  They’re saying: “Voice is too early”.  Even enterprises were interested in voice, but they just kept saying it was too early. 

I got discouraged a lot. Luckily I was able to develop this technology over the years, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 where we started to see that voice is now. It’s no longer too early because with the spread of COVID people become cautious of how exposed to COVID they’ve become with these touch devices. And if we can add that true utility of being able to buy things on voice and order things on voice, then it limits the surface of exposure to COVID and really limiting the spread of the virus over time.

Now we’re starting to sign up more enterprise partnerships. We just signed on with Postmates. And then we also just signed with Chally, which has over 8,000 restaurants. 

We built something into Jetson’s mobile application where you can scan that QR code, and then you can just talk the Jetson on the mobile device and it can take an order without even having a waiter there.

Automation is definitely coming in. We certainly believe that the interface for humans to interact with AI technology will be voice as they start to converge.

What Are the Three Pain Points of Voice SEO 

It’s really all about developing a voice strategy and really choosing the right tool to see what works and what doesn’t work. So the reason why we made Jetson so turnkey and focused on scalability is because voice is definitely a new interface and there’s going to be a lot of businesses that don’t want to invest millions of dollars to see if this is going to work or not. 

Jetson technology is only $49 a month, so they can easily sign up, they can add their products, they can sell some of their bestsellers and see how they can promote that to their existing customer base to really start to drive engagement. Voice it’s really about understanding what are the three pain points:

Discoverability is the first pain point. 

Engagement is the second pain point. 

Then how do you generate revenues is a third pain point. 

Voice Search Optimization – The Basics 

So with Jetsons platform at first we were just developing one-off Alexa skills for different brands using our technology. But now we’ve created an entire marketplace that allows you to search. It’ll pull up information based off of your inherent passive data that you’ve use to purchase before. That really helps us hyper-personalize that experience. 

Building out our own voice search engine where we have control over that is really important. And with our platform, it allows you to add keywords for voice search as well. So it’s almost what we call voice SEO.

Brands need to think about how their customers are going to find them. And then start thinking about what those keywords are and how they can optimize for the voice SEO types of keywords. That’s the discoverability part. 

The engagement part is: how will you get your existing customers to start to engage with voice. With Jetsons platform, one part of it is, being able to create your deal of the day. We have a deals platform that brands can utilize to drive incentive for visiting them on their voice store.

The third one is revenue. That’s why we created Jetson: to offer a really easy way for brands to just start uploading products and start selling on voice and answer questions like: “Should we increase the bottom line?”, or “ Should we continue to invest in voice?”, or “What is our return on investment?” 

Voice SEO Offers First-Mover Advantage

What brands really have to think about is the first-mover advantage. So the companies and the enterprises that have first-mover advantage have an opportunity to reinvent their brand or grow in a space where this acts as a new sales channel and an automated sales channel.

I believe the millennial generation is definitely adopting voice at light speed. We are even seeing babies or toddlers use Google assistant. 

Right now everyone has a mobile device that’s voice enabled. Televisions are becoming more voice enabled. Now voice is also moving into cars. Obviously the smart speakers are in everyone’s home. I definitely think that the smart speaker will replace the home telephone at some level

The ‘Voice Match’ to Help with Voice Authentication Issues

Right now the technology is a little bit limited from that side. Fom Alexa and Google they do have something called the Voice Match and they are working on voice authentication as well. It’s really based off of biometrics. That’s really going to allow for the multi-user access to be able to purchase whatever they want. 

With Jetson you can create your own Jetson account and then log in with Jetson. Everyone will have their own account. But once we can tap into the multi-user authentication that really just opens it up for anyone to be able to walk in and use any device and still get a hyper personalized experience. 

We’re also seeing that in the use of mobile technology. They call this multimodal authentication. So if you have your smartphone on you it can read your Bluetooth. It can pair that and it can know if that’s you who‘s making that order. 

So it doesn’t need to be just voice biometrics. It could be a combination of different types of biometrics that provide that that layer of authentication for the end user. 

I see that being more prevalent as voice technology starts to gain more traction with the mass market. I do know that there are companies working on that type of authentication. Even Jetson has a few pads in the voice authentication space as well.

The Mass Adoption of Voice Search – The Data Gathering

With the AI industry data is a really big problem. So that’s actually one of the main reasons why Jetson focused on voice commerce and really making an easy turnkey way for a ton of businesses to get online and really start to gather some of that anonymized voice data so that we can train the AI, make it more intelligent over time. 

One of Jetson’s patents that we filed was for that voice metadata layer, where we would be able to capture that data, have it classified using a self-driving data classification engine and the self-driving decision classification engine, and then being able to give you the most hyper-personalized response so that you feel a greater connection to the voice assistant that you’re talking to. 

So your voice assistant would be almost like your personal assistant. At first you hire a personal assistant and then you have to train them, and then over time they just know everything about you. That’s how Jetson will tailor that experience for hyper personalization to the end customer.

Machine-Learning vs AI in Voice Search

Where we are with AI technology is that it’s very much still rules-based. It uses a lot of machine learning. Once we start to gather that data we can start to give rise to what we call artificial general intelligence, which is AI with human-level thinking. 

As we start to aggregate “the consciousness” of everyone globally, we’ll start to proliferate the platform. We also believe that AI has some sort of regulations as well, so that data is used only to help you and not hurt you. That’s what Jetson is about.

It’s definitely a long ways away from there. I would say it’s like several years out. Take for instance Jetson’s logo: it looks like a brain and half of it is pink and half of it is white. I designed that logo and it really symbolizes the balance that we need to strike between man and machine in order to have a really good relationship with AI. 

It represents how AI and automation can add to our quality of life.  It’s really all about how strengthening that relationship and that perfect balance between man and machine matters, so that one doesn’t overtake the other as we move forward.

Jetson’s Funding and Early Challenges

I didn’t realize that the journey was going to be so difficult. When I moved up to New York City, I got kind of lucky. I was at a networking event. I was renting a desk at a co-working space and there I met an investor in real estate. I showed them the demo and they were really impressed. They gave me my first million. 

We built out this platform, but we just kept being too early. We kept seeing that the accuracy of ordering and things like that was really tough as well. So we have to move over a lot of those hurdles as well.

And then we also saw that the payments space in voice was very fragmented as well as we started to integrate the different enterprise technologies into our platform. We ended up having to create Jensen Pay. I never thought we’d have to be a FinTech company, but it’s really essential that you can use one account to pay over any conversational channel, almost like the PayPal of conversational commerce. 

We had to build out a lot of different technologies.  Revenue in the earlier days was tough. Like how did we commercialize this and how do we make money with this? That was something that a lot of VCs couldn’t get past. Luckily, I did have that first initial investor, and then I was able to raise a lot of additional $2.5 million over the past couple of years for Jetson without any substantial revenues in the beginning.

It’s really about proving out that voice technology is being able to get orders on the platform. And then just networking, meeting a bunch of angel investors that would then put in money. And then also what we did was a regulation crowd funding. 

In, in October we raised a $1.1 million, and that was almost out of a flute because one of my friends that worked at this crowd funding platform called Microventures said: “Hey, I think your platform would do well, you want to just try it?” We’re just going to try to raise like a hundred thousand dollars. So I tried it and the initial launch of it, the trajectory to which the campaign was going, moved so fast, we had to move it up to a $1.1 million. 

And then we raised that: a really a record breaking time, we oversubscribed it to almost $2 million. And so there are still investors today that haven’t been able to get in on that latest round. But actually this week we’ll be launching what they call it regulation A+, which is a larger form of path funding, which allows us to raise up to $50 million over any 12 month period. 

So now we’re raising another $5 million round through the regulation A+, and the past investors in the industry that didn’t get in can now get in on Jetson’s technology as well. 

How Jetson Got their First 1000 Customers 

We built a platform and we were using our technology to build one-off Alexa skills. That’s really how we got our first hundred customers.  

The CEO of delivery.com. gave us access to his API in order to use that, so that we could start to onboard these first hundred customers. Eventually what we did is build out our own marketplace where we now have control over discoverability and everything like that. Now we have over 10,000 merchants on our database.

We continually sign up more and more customers as well through a lot of the content marketing that we do. It’s really a lot of is the thought leadership that we put out around voice commerce. Because we are definitely an early mover in what we do. 

We’ve seen the ups and downs of everything. It’s really about how do we provide that value proposition, sell the opportunity of voice and position ourselves properly through our content. So we put out a lot of blog posts. I’ve been doing a lot of podcasts lately. So it’s really about being able to just really establish yourself as a thought leader and really help define where the space is going and creating that market. 

How Voice Search Pairs with Emotional Intelligence

Today it’s really about changing human behavior. That’s one of the hardest things. And you really have to make that user experience more compelling, easier and more convenient than the traditional method of how people are doing things today. 

If it’s faster to do it on mobile, people would just stay on mobile. That requires us to continually look at our data and optimize our conversation, but then also making it scalable as well. 

There are a lot of restaurants and companies out there that have custom brands and keywords, that don’t get picked up by Alexa or Google Assistant, or the NLP. That’s why Jetson’s platform allows you to train it on the back end: so that you can have custom branded items that can be sold. 

It comes down to what is the best user experience for the person that’s using the product. So based off of your demographic, maybe you would like Jetson to sound different or talk to you in different way. Those are the things that we are starting to look at as well. 

We try to help the end user find a connection with the the voice assistant that they’re using. So it requires a lot of stitching together of different technologies and also creating our own. Eventually what we want is for our technology to have emotional intelligence and things like that. 

Voice Commerce Builds up on Sonic Branding 

In the voice industry sonic branding is a new topic. They probably started talking about that over the past year. What’s great about Jetson’s platform is we’re now looking at a way that you could just upload your own voice files as well to our platform, to have that type of customized experience.

There’s definitely a lot of things that are happening in the voice industry that people aren’t seeing yet. I’ve look at it as like interactive radio in a way where you can talk to the voice of your choice or you want to engage with a brand that makes you feel a certain way, right? 

Because that’s essentially what brands are. Everyone says the same thing, but how does that brand make you feel? And that’s why you decide to buy, right? So if you can utilize Sonic branding in your market strategy or your voice strategy that can help increase conversions when it comes to voice commerce.

Voice Commerce Will Spread to Every Connected Device

The opportunities are endless and we’re not very far away from that at all. I could just be walking past my refrigerator and I can order groceries from a connected fridge that is voice enabled. Or if there’s a light fixture that’s voice enabled, I can order a new light bulb. Or I can order new batteries for my smoke detectors that are voice enabled. 

I believe in the future almost every connected device or IOT device is going to have a speaker and a microphone associated with that. Because if you really look at it a lot of these IOT devices are already connected, but there’s no touchscreen or there’s no keyboard and mouse for these devices, so how will you interact with them?

I truly believe that voice will allow for that frictionless future that we’re looking for.

Smart TVs Team Up with Voice Search

Another area where brands should start to look at is smart TV. It is another interface that we’re going to be able to create around. Especially as you’re like watching Netflix and you’re like: “Oh, I really liked that couch. I want to buy that couch.”  So there’s metadata connected to that couch too. And there’s voice enabled with the storefront. It can order it for you. Right then and there.

There’s a lot that brands can do to take advantage of voice. I think today’s society, we are a society just with our heads down looking at our mobile device and it’s a little discerning to me.

What I like about this voice technology is that we’re humanizing technology a little bit more. Our heads are up, we can live life a little bit better and really start to engage with the world around us. 

Balancing Personal and Professional Life

I was living in New York and built a company there. But when it happened, everyone was working from home and I was already dating my wife. I got married recently. She used to come to New York being cold here, and the COVID spread it all went crazy. I ended up moving over to Los Angeles, opening up a second office here, and I’m really just enjoying the sunshine and building a company at the same time. As an entrepreneur work-life balance is always a tough one for me. So being married really helps ground me and helps me stay in balance.

This is kind of the next chapter of Jetson and there’s an opportunity to be able to do everything that I want. I’m super happy here out in Southern California. I do see that a lot of people here in LA love using voice. So I definitely think this is a next really good geographic market to start to penetrate as well using our technology.

How Can You Get in Touch with Peter Peng 

You can go to www.jetson.ai

Thank you so much, and we’ll talk to you soon