News that Will I Am’s tech startup I.am+ is making a voice assistant to rival Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant may not have investors running to sell shares in the three tech-giants.
After all, the company’s foto.sosho iPhone camera case, Puls and Dial smartwatches, and Buttons Bluetooth headphones haven’t been commercial hits – and in some cases, have been the subject of critical derision.
News that I.am+ has raised $117m for its latest creative/tech endeavour, however, may give you pause for thought. Reuters reports that the total includes an $89m round that closed in March, from a group of backers including Salesforce’s investment arm.
That’s helped Will I Am build his company up to 300+ people and start working on a voice-assistant called Omega, which is already being used by German telco Deutsche Telekom for a customer-support chatbot.
“I wanted to create something that allows us to do many things. There’s so much you can do with a voice platform,” he told Reuters, positioning Omega much more as a business-to-business tool than anything consumer or music-related. “One of those things is handling hundreds of thousands of customers’ inquiries about their data plans simultaneously. If it can do that, your imagination’s the limit.”
Taking on the big guns of the voice-assistant world is still a big ask for any startup: i.am+ may have 300 staff, but Amazon has 5,000 people working on Alexa alone, according to its last update in September. But for now, Amazon, Google and Apple do seem to be training their sights mainly on the consumer market, so the direct rival for Omega may be something like Microsoft’s Cortana instead.
In any case, the funding news is a reminder that as much as many of us have questioned Will I Am’s gadgets in the past, the early Beats investor’s business brain should not be underestimated.