Three years ago yesterday, I got a message from my brother on Facebook saying to check out a news article. It was the announcement of the Amazon Echo. Of course, a flutter of emotions went over me and the whole company was sent into DEFCON 5. We went through many different scenarios and courses of action and ended up having a very late night following the announcement.
After pitching the idea of the Ubi to dozens of VC’s, we had heard many reasons why voice would never work and more importantly who is going to come out with competitive products. Interestingly, not one of the VC’s had identified Amazon as a potential competitor. However, after Amazon announced the Echo, it made perfect sense for them to be in this business. Now, we were facing a competitor with endless resources and it’s own channel for selling the product… and it didn’t have a need to make money off of the hardware.
In weighing all of the options available to us to respond, we ended up releasing a very Canadian response… muted, careful, and a bit snooty. It was also my first Medium post (see “Ubi Speaks, Amazon Echoes”). Originally, I had been looking to go out with guns blazing and how we were the underdog to rally around. However, by that point we had already been looking at new modes of revenue and business models outside of consumer electronic hardware. Not having a sober second thought it’s probably not a good idea for a future prospects.
Since then, we have been dancing around the giants and trying not to get stepped on. Google, Apple, and dozens of companies have Ubi-like products and this has now helped us rather than lead to our demise. Voice went from a fringe interface to common and now part of pop culture. However, there’s still a lot of opportunity ahead.
Of the strategies that we looked back on November 6, 2014, there was pivot, fight, or sell. However, we were already looking at a new model by that point, so Amazon’s entry hurried us along that path. We did insert a bit of snark into our response that, at the time, the Ubi was the only voice-first product that you could actually buy on Amazon.
Three years on, Alexa and AVS have been a big benefit to UCIC, allowing us to apply our skills in voice first devices into a new market. And this is still early. In three years from now, voice is going is going to be standard and required.