Will Voice End the Smartphone Era? John Goscha of Native Voice

Summary of Episode

#66: John Goscha, founder and CEO of Native Voice, joins Ethan to discuss how his startup harmonizes various AI assistants. John highlights how voice assistants like Siri and Alexa need to focus on quality user experience to succeed in the ambient computing era. He also predicts that devices like headphones will be integrated with voice assistants to enable seamless human-device interaction. 

About the Guest:

John Goscha is the founder and CEO of Native Voice, a company that's bringing all of your AI assistants together in harmony. John has a long history with entrepreneurship and has started several companies prior to Native Voice. He's currently chairman of the board at Lucidity Lights and a board member at a nonprofit called For All Moon Kind.

Podcast Episode Notes

[03:07] John started with online sales of golf clubs in High School, using spam email to build a 6-figure business. This resulted in the R7 driver which became a best-seller.

[06:30] Voice assistants need to improve and move towards ambient computing for a seamless, natural experience across devices.

[10:26] Early on, an investor misunderstood a pitch about dry erase paint, John’s previous startup, and did not invest. The takeaway; communication is important.

[14:12] Fundraising: treat it like a sales CRM, follow up, take out disinterested parties early. Don't raise money in sequence, homework is key, warm intros from trusted founders are the best. Create "deal heat" to signal urgency, get that first term sheet to attract more investors.

[20:30] Focus on building a real business with revenue, profitability, and growth rates. Be realistic about valuations, focus on the value at the end, and try to raise money at reasonable terms to get ahead of the flood of fundraising later this year. Don't be afraid of a down round as it can help reset valuations and be more attractive for future funding rounds.

[26:18] The pair discuss the future of voice as an input in technology and devices, including SEO concerns and the shift towards voice search. 

[28:49] Voice technology is on an upslope with conversational AI improving its capabilities, making it more reliable to understand user intent and create a seamless experience. John’s prediction is smart speakers will have incredible new capabilities in the coming months or even years.

[34:40] The pair discuss the attachment to various computing styles and its relation to cognitive load as well as generational divides. 

[38:21] The future of technology is a combination of devices, with voice assistants being more seamlessly integrated into everyday life, making services available on various devices. Will this replace the smartphone?

[44:19] The power of data ownership; data mining to understand preferences; and a shift towards intuitive interactions in the next year.

[45:58] Native Voice launched on three SkullCandy devices, with more coming this summer. iHeart is another exclusive partner and new brands will launch. An automotive accessory with a large retailer will come this year.

[48:58] Keep trying and don't give up. Pivoting is important.

Full Interview Transcript

Ethan Peyton: Hey everybody and welcome to the Startup Savant podcast. I'm your host, Ethan, and this is a show about the stories, challenges and triumphs of fast scaling startups and the founders who run them. 

Our guest on the show today is John Goscha, founder and CEO of Native Voice, a company that's bringing all of your AI assistants together in harmony. John has a long history with entrepreneurship and has started several companies prior to Native Voice. He's currently chairman of the board at Lucidity Lights and a board member at a nonprofit called For All Moon Kind. And you know, each of these businesses could probably fill an entire episode all on their own, but we just don't have the time to focus on them. So we're gonna put the links to those in the show notes and you can go check them out on your own time. 

And there's a ton that I wanna get into with John, but before I start, I wanna ask a favor of you. We would love it if you shared this podcast with your friends. Everyone here at Startup Savant puts in a ton of time, effort and love into the show, and we wanna share it with as many people as possible. So pull off to the side of the road safely, find that share button on your podcast app and rocket this episode over to your two best friends. I promise they'll appreciate you for the gift. All right, that's enough from me. Let's get some words from John Goscha of Native Voice. John, how are you doing today?

John Goscha: Excellent, thanks for having me.

Ethan Peyton: Thanks for coming on. This is gonna be a lot of fun. In the research, I stumbled pretty hard on, you know, on your thoughts on AI and voice and that sort of thing. And we're definitely gonna jump into a bunch of that later in this episode. But before we do, can you give us just a little bit of background on yourself and tell us the story of how entrepreneurship entered into your life?

John Goscha: Sure, so I guess it's in my blood if you will. And so my father was an entrepreneur, my grandfather was an entrepreneur. And so I probably learned more playing on the floor of my dad's office growing up than I really realized. But I love consumer tech, I love consumer technology. And so I've been fortunate to start three companies in the past, all different technologies but in that same consumer tech space. But... I find that there's a gap between technology and market. And so a lot of technologies don't make it to market or don't make it to market in the right way. And so I love thinking about the application of technology. And so what kind of new technology, what big problem can it solve? And so that gap is where I've spent most of my career. 

Ethan Peyton: I think that sounds like a pretty good place to find opportunities, is to go out to those CES events and find the newest technology that isn't making its way into the consumer's pocket. So yeah, good on you. There was a business that you started in high school, and it turned into a six-figure business, which not a lot of high schoolers can talk about. Can you give us a story of your high school business?

John Goscha: Sure, well first of all it made me trouble for my parents because when your parents can't take your car away and when they say you know my rules are under my roof and you say well I'll get my own roof it caused…

Ethan Peyton: Right.

John Goscha: …for kind of a troublesome teenager so sorry mom and dad but yeah so my golf company you know originally started making golf clubs and you know you could just buy the components and put them together in your garage and I discovered that I could start selling these clubs online. And so at the time you could send like a million emails for $10. So yes, I was an early spammer, sorry everyone. But it did generate a lot of traffic for my golf club business and it got to the point where I couldn't make the clubs. We had too many orders and so I had a nice system set up where the orders would come in, they would automatically get faxed to golf club, custom club makers around the city and they would ship out the products. So my job at that point was just doing marketing and running credit cards. And so that was the origin of the company. But I decided that I didn't know about venture capital and that people would give you millions of dollars to go to start companies. I thought you had to save up your money. And so I saved up my money until I could start designing my own golf club. And so we created a design that actually ended up becoming the, what was the R7 driver from TaylorMade.

Ethan Peyton: Really?

John Goscha: And for the golfers out there, yeah, if you remember the Big Bertha, that was the number one selling driver in the market. And the R7 displaced the Big Bertha. So that was a big deal and it became the most winning club on the PGA Tour and the best selling driver in the US and Europe. So really happy to see that design kind of take flight, but that was…

Ethan Peyton: Take flight, fantastic.

John Goscha: …the golf business.

Ethan Peyton: You know, that's the driver that I have in my bag, is an R7.

John Goscha: Oh no way.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, it is. 

John Goscha: Yeah.

Ethan Peyton: Now, I don't know if it's designed perfectly because I can't swing it worth a crap. So I think you're gonna need to go back and try again to make my golf swing a little better.

John Goscha: Yeah, yeah, we can go back to the golf business. It's a fun business, but you also need to become a good golfer. Those two things don't mix together, startups and playing a lot of golf.

Ethan Peyton: That's what I hear. All right, so you mentioned VCs in there and that's actually something we're gonna get into as well. So I'm just gonna skip ahead and let's talk about Native Voice. What is Native Voice?

John Goscha: So Native Voice, we're a software company and we build conversational AIs and voice assistants. And we connect them to our software, which today is on over a million audio devices in the market. And so we allow end users to talk to their favorite products, their favorite services, without having to pull out their phone.

Ethan Peyton: That's a pretty simple explanation. And we're going to talk about how you got into simple explanations here in a little bit. Can you tell us what's the problem that Native Voice is solving? I mean, I have Siri on my phone. She sometimes does stuff. What's the problem that you are fixing with this product?

John Goscha: Well, I'll start with the problem you mentioned, is a lot of the voice assistants, as we call them, haven't been very good. People say, oh, Siri doesn't do a great job, or Alexa, it's not that smart. And so one of the problems that these voice assistants have had is they try to do it all. And so by going a mile wide, they can only go an inch deep. And we've all had a... kind of a lackluster experience. And so the first problem we're solving is for the end user, where when you want something on the tip of your tongue, you wanna be able to say it and get it instantly, and you want it to work every single time. And so, bringing that quality bar up to the expectation, I think is job number one. 

But if we, maybe kind of zoom out for a minute to the higher level, the bigger picture, I think that we're moving out of the smartphone era. and into what a lot of people call the ambient computing era. And so I think we're going to look back at all of us looking down at our phones and photos of that and say, wow, that was a really strange time. And so at the highest level with human communication, we have two eyes, two ears, and a mouth. And that's how we communicate with one another. Even in this conversation, there's some visual communication through body language. But most of the communication here is audio. 

And so I think it's strange that we've been interacting with computers using our fingers for decades, with mice and keyboards and touchscreens. And so if we fast forward this movie, five years, 10 years, 20 years, I believe that we'll have a seamless experience across all of our brands, all of our services, where you'll be walking down the street wearing a pair of headphones, be able to call the particular service, a particular product, whatever you might need. Be able to get in your car, put your headphones away, pick up that same conversation right where you left off, get home, walk in the living room and the same thing. 

And so I think we're moving out of this era where the smartphone is the center of the universe, and we're all gonna have more devices in our lives, whether those devices have screens, microphones, speakers, but all of those devices we'll interact with in a more natural way. in a head-up, eyes-and-ears open experience. And so that is the big problem that we want to solve or we want to enable, but we've got to start with the small steps. And so we can kind of unpack that here in greater detail, but we want to be able to enable this future of computing, this ambient experience, so we're all untethered from this little window into our digital experience and have our digital world combined with our physical world in a seamless, natural way where you don't even really notice it. It's there to serve you. You're not always having to be in it.

Ethan Peyton: Right, and yeah, just like what you said, we're gonna unpack this a lot further. I have a lot of cuckoo thoughts on this that I need you to disprove for me. And we're just gonna go down that rabbit hole here in a minute. But what I wanna do before that is you mentioned VC, and I know that for Native Voice, you raised some funds through VC. 

And in your profile, which people can find over at startupsavant.com/podcast, you mentioned an interaction with a potential investor that maybe was going good and then maybe it wasn't going good and maybe they just had a little bit of a hard time understanding. Can you tell us the story of this investor?

John Goscha: So I think the investor you're speaking of is actually back with my first company IdeaPaint, but it was actually pretty interesting and tell me if this is what you're thinking of. But I'm there with the VC, I'm nervous, give my pitch and they're loving it. They go, oh my gosh, absolutely, this is the best idea ever, we're in. And so we keep having this discussion going on and on. And so my first company... I invented dry erase paint. So very briefly, if you have a written on a whiteboard, imagine having paint that you can paint on your wall and turns your wall into a giant whiteboard. And so as I'm giving my pitch, the investor stops me and goes, hold on, wait, you make paint you can write on? I go, yeah. And he goes, oh my gosh, that's even better. 

We're definitely in. I go, well, I just think to myself, you know, what were you thinking about? that I did before that. So this investor ended up not investing, by the way. So I think that says a little something about investors and how to judge reactions. But yeah, it was interesting where I thought I was on the right track and then you find out that the investor's thinking something completely different. And so that communication, just making sure that you can say it very, very succinctly and someone can get it instantly. is super important because that's not just with investors, that's with customers and users, all of the above, but kind of a funny way to learn that lesson.

Ethan Peyton: So was that succinctness and clarity kind of the main lesson that you learned from this interaction?

John Goscha: Yes, and that what I expected from investors is different than reality. A lot of times we can go into this as much as you'd like, but those that seem very, very enthusiastic in your first meeting, a lot of times never respond to you again. I've had that interaction a number of times. I think there's some folks that are like that. There's other folks who just ask questions and questions and more requests, and it just never ends. And those investors are the ones that don't invest either. 

And so what I've learned is, one, you've got to be in front of the right person, the right decision maker. And if you are, they know if they want to invest within the first 10 or 15 minutes of meeting you. Yes, there's going to be diligence. Yes, there's going to be questions, but it's going to be very much them leaning in, wanting to spend time with you, not just, hey, send me this, send me that. It's going to be more genuine interest. And when I look back, I can see that, okay, that person was genuinely interested from the moment I met them. It wasn't just something that was too much. or something that just seemed to be never-ending, do this, do that, fetch the witch's broom. And so I think that was maybe an additional learning from that particular experience.

Ethan Peyton: That's a pretty huge learning. It sounds like you have a really good idea of what, you know, what to kind of look out for to see an investor that might wish to be fishing or, you know, wasting your time or something like that. What changed in your pitching process or your communication process that has allowed you to, you know, parse those things out to have a more efficient and effective raise process at this point?

John Goscha: Good question. So it's hard to tell, but I'd say for me, I run fundraising like a sales CRM. And a lot of folks do it this way. But you've got to follow up, but if they're not getting back to you, they're not interested. So take them out of the funnel. But I think one mistake that a lot of founders make is they raise money in sequence. So they'll talk to a few investors. Some will say no. Some will say they're interested. And they'll talk to a few more. And you end up with this kind of elongated process where you're always searching for intros and you're taking the intro that you can get as you find them. 

And I find that creates a problem where... If the first group doesn't say yes, by the time you get down the line, all the investors talk and they're like, oh, yeah, I spoke with John three months ago about this. And the risk is you start looking a little stale. And so if people have heard that you've been out raising money for a little while and now that becomes a new barrier. And so you got to create this, I guess, what I'll call deal heat. And you've got to create this, I've got to have it. So this is back to what a lot of people talk about, where, you know, fear and greed, those are two pretty powerful, you know, buttons in us as humans. 

And so the better way that one of my investors actually taught me more recently is, you know, one, do your homework. Figure out where there's a very good fit. And that way you're talking to a more narrow group of people who are more likely to say yes. But do a lot of homework, make sure that they fit your stage, they are interested in your space. If they invested in a company like yours before, you don't have to sell them on the market, for instance. You can get further faster that way. 

But then ask for all your intros and figure out who knows who. You've gotta get a warm intro. And the best intro comes from another founder. That founder that they've invested in, they trust. They say, yeah, you gotta talk to this John guy, that's best. But your advisors, your investors, your bankers do a great job of making those intros. But line them all up and say, okay, next Thursday and Friday, I'd like everyone to send their emails. And so that way they all go out at the same time and you get everyone back. And now you have the investors all talking saying, oh, yeah, I'm talking to John tomorrow. Oh, I just talked to him. Oh, yeah. And so it starts to feel like the deal is hot. And…

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

John Goscha: …that's part of the problem in raising money is... the longer the investor waits, the more it is to their favor because they can see the next card, maybe you're running out of money and gonna get more desperate. And so there's not a lot of reason to invest now. And so creating that deal heat of, being able to get to that first term sheet, that's the big hurdle. I call it term sheet hell. Until you have that first term sheet, it's just trying to create that heat. But then once you have that first term sheet, You wanna have enough people who you've talked to or familiar with where you can call up and say, hey, I've got a term sheet. I love you. Would you love to join the round or offer a competing term sheet? And before you know it, you'll have three, four, five, like my last round, six term sheets…

Ethan Peyton: Wow.

John Goscha: …all at the same time. And so that was a different day. That was like a year and a half ago where the market was different. But just creating that deal, that's a process that I learned more recently that has been a... a big improvement in my experience.

Ethan Peyton: So if you get multiple term sheets, is it kind of like you have pick of the litter or can you at that point like create kind of like a, you know, highest and best offer type of situation? Can you pit them against each other and kind of create some competition between the different investors?

John Goscha: Yes, that's the idea. What I like to do is increase the size of the round.

Ethan Peyton: Okay.

John Goscha: And let's make this more of a party, where you'll hear this from others, but I've never talked to a lot of founders that said, oh, I wish I didn't take the money. It always takes longer. It always takes more. And so, you can't do this with everyone in the group. You do have to make some choices and you want to create some competition, of course. But this is, at the end of the day, it comes down to people. A lot of, there's a lot of money out there. There's a lot of people that have money, but it's the people behind that money that really build businesses…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

John Goscha: …and help you build your company. And so you may find a situation where you have an investor who's really good at this and can help you hear an investor that's really good at this. So try to combine them. And so I've had a couple of rounds where, my last company, I went out to raise 15 million. and we ended up closing on 50.

Ethan Peyton: Nice.

John Goscha: And so just to be able to kind of upsize it, try to float the valuation with that, but use some of the momentum you have to do more because I think that with a startup, these things are binary, they're ones or zeros, and you wanna make sure you get to the next milestone, get to the next stage, but be careful about valuation. You're setting expectations. So if you start going too far with it, you're kind of getting yourself into trouble because you're setting a bar that's too high to achieve. So as you do that, you just have to be realistic of what you can really get done so you don't paint yourself into a corner.

Ethan Peyton: Well, and I think we're seeing a lot of companies that kind of have painted themselves into a corner. You know, we're hearing with all this banking stuff that's going on and the risk-free rates of return being so high that we've seen valuations like really, really fall. And…

John Goscha: Yeah.

Ethan Peyton: …some people say that that's kind of like falling back to reality and some people say that it's just falling. But with all that being the case, what are the things, the specific things that you feel like you're going to need to change the next time you, that you go to raise another round?

John Goscha: Yeah, so from my perspective, it's been healthy. I'm one of those that's falling back to reality. It was a fun 10 years when

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

John Goscha: money was free and you could raise $100 million for a flying car, pretty incredible ideas that you could get substantial capital for. But we're getting back to fundamentals. This is about building a real business. What's the revenue? What's the profitability? What's the customer base? What's the growth rate? And so that certainly is what the market is looking for, is those fundamentals, those growth rates, show that you have product market fit, real customers, all of those things that really are foundational for a business. And so what I have told other founders and the way I think about it is, valuations have fallen. And I think that there's a lot of founders that are clinging to that old valuation. and haven't really come to grips with the new reality. And it's the number at the end that really matters. 

The valuation on paper, you can't go to McDonald's with your founder stock and buy a cheeseburger. It's the value at the end that really matters. So my focus and suggestion has been focus on the valuation at the end. And again, these companies are winners or losers. Make sure you're on the winning side. Make sure you're a one and not a zero. And take a realistic valuation because there's a lot of companies that are waiting. And I think we're gonna have a flood of fundraising here later this year as companies start to run out of money and they start getting desperate. And so if you can raise money, try to do it to get yourself well into next year, even 2025 if you can. because, and then do it at terms that are reasonable. One challenge I've run into in the market is VCs don't want to upset their friends by giving a down round.

Ethan Peyton: Right.

John Goscha: And I think there's a lot of founders in that situation where if a VC wants to do the deal, they'll do the deal. Whether it's a down round or not, but there is some hesitancy around, oh, I don't want to get involved in a down round. And I understand there's some complexity around. a lot of things on the cap table when you do a down round. But being able to reset your valuation back to reality, if you have an opportunity to do that, I think it's in your best interest. Because now you're at a point where you can go exceed expectations and go raise a nice up round and be more attractive when you need to go raise your next round. So if you can try to get a round done at a reasonable valuation to kind of reset things. I think that's a better choice than trying to chase the up-round and then finding yourself running out of money and being more desperate.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, it's hard to operate without cash, that's for sure.

John Goscha: That's oxygen.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, I want to go back to something you mentioned. Back in these past 10 years, I think you said you could raise $100 million on a flying car. But now I'm hearing, you know, back to basics. Let's hit the fundamentals. Let's make a solid, profitable business, that sort of thing. I want to ask you to kind of look into your crystal ball, and this is definitely not the last time I'm going to ask you to look into your crystal ball today. What do you, I mean, do you think that the fact that we aren't seeing as high evaluations or just the fact that money for these wilder ideas that may not make as much sense on paper until, you know, five, 10, 15 years down the road, new technology needs to drive them, do you think that we are going to see a slowing pace of innovation as long as money is more expensive?

John Goscha: It's a good question because I don't think having these big ideas get funded is a bad thing. I mean, it was an incredible time where you could get some big ideas that need a lot of capital funded, and I think those are some incredible opportunities. We'll see how many pan out from the SPACs and other bets that were taken, but I don't think that we're going to see a slowdown in innovation. I think that entrepreneurs are scrappy. I think that innovation will continue to bubble up. I think the quality of that innovation will be higher. And so good ideas will get funded. Good businesses will get funded. 

But we're going into an incredible time where we have new technologies that... are enhancing our lives and are improving the way we do things. And so I think that we still have technologies like AI, like robotics, other industries, biotech, that have quite a bit of innovation that has been built up from the university level all the way through that will continue to flow through that system. And so I think that there'll be less big ideas that get funded. But I do think that we'll still see a high level of innovation. And I just think the quality of the companies and the quality of the innovations will probably be just a bit higher because there's not as much opportunity. You've got to really stand out to get to the top.

Ethan Peyton: I like the optimism. Thank you for bringing that today. All right, I wanna move into the thing that I'm just so excited about and that's talking about AI and voice and really just kind of trying to figure out what this future is going to look like and we're gonna go back to the crystal ball and we'll probably both be super wrong and the idea that…

John Goscha: Yeah.

Ethan Peyton: …we'll prevail is something that we could have never even imagined. but let me give a little bit of backstory on kind of where I'm coming from here. You all work in voice, voice as an input into many different mediums, technologies, devices, phones, smart speakers, cars, all that good stuff. 

In the mid-20 teens, smart speakers, I think it was 2014 that the first smart speaker was released. And then I remember specifically like 2016, 2017, that there were two holiday times that were like, smart speakers were the thing. Like go get a two pack of the Alexa kit or the Google box or whatever they were called. And I was pretty heavy in SEO at that time. And there was a conversation that was going on in the SEO world that people were scared, SEOs were scared that the tide was shifting away from text search to voice search and that it didn't matter, basically, an SEO, you can be position one, position two, position three, and all those are fine because you're going to get traffic on any of those positions. 

But in a world where there is one answer to the one question, you have to be number one. And so people were really scared that everything was going to shift to voice. And obviously that, you know, some of that shift has happened, but you know, now there's kind of a joke in the world that smart speakers have just become expensive kitchen timers. And so I now see, you know, you're here, you're making, you know, investments into innovations in this voice as an input space. And so you clearly have a different vantage point into the world of voice. What do you see as the future of voice?

John Goscha: So I agree with you that voice has become, you know, yesterday's news a bit stale, but we've gone through the hype cycle. And so I think what you just described there was the peak of the hype cycle of, oh my gosh, this is going to take over the world, back down to, okay, this is a joke. And we're now coming out of that hype cycle. So when I started my company, I started it near the bottom of that hype cycle. It always takes time for the innovation to actually catch up to the expectation. 

And so what I find incredibly interesting is, you know, in the last six months, 12 months, we've seen conversational AI, which, you know, I'm hearing is kind of the new word for voice, you know, voices old conversational AI is new. It's, it's all the same thing. But, you know, now we have. technical innovations that allow those devices to be much better. And so you mentioned it's an expensive timer. Well, yeah, you look at what people did with Alexa and Siri and Google, and it was pretty basic things. You know, what's the weather? What time is it? You know, play this particular song. But the capabilities of the technology were pretty limited. 

And so I'll quote an advisor of mine, Larry Hecht. So if Larry, if you're listening, hope you don't mind I'm quoting you up here, but he said, you know, look, John, 10 years ago, the technology innovation was that ASR, so speech to text got to be better than 95%. And so for the first time, we could take what someone said and have a computer turn into text very, very reliably. And that is what gave us Alexa and Siri and some of those other innovations. But now we can understand what the person meant. 

So what is their intent? What is that really, you know, what's the essence of what they're asking for? And so when you experience talking to, you know, Alexa, for example, you know, you would ask things and, you know, she wouldn't be able to do it. Didn't understand or I can't do that. And so you have this kind of categorization where, you know, they're trying to get you into a category so they can actually get you deeper to understand the use case that you're going after. But now we can actually understand at the top level. And so I think that you'll see here in the coming months and even years, probably faster than years, but just an incredible increase in the capability of a voice assistant. 

And so, yes, those smart speakers have kind of become yesterday's news, but I think they're gonna be getting some pretty incredible capabilities where you can ask for something throughout your day. If you think about all the apps on your phone, and unlocking your phone, going to the app, trying to find the thing you want, just be able to say it and get it. I think that's the future that we're headed towards, but we've been living through that hype cycle and are now on that up slope where the technology's caught up to fulfill the expectation.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, I think that, you know, seeing voice as being the entry model into finding different things on the phone, it's always been interesting to me to see how people use a thing or how people find a thing. The CEO of this company, and he loves it when I tell this story, he always used to go to these conferences and people would say, what do you do? And he would say, do you have a phone? And the people are like, of course I have a phone. I'm a human. And so they'd pull out their phone and they, and he would say, okay, look up this, you know, this term or whatever it was. And this is where the interesting thing started for me. Cause I got to, you know, witness so many of these different interactions. And some people would pull up a browser and they would type it in the browser. Some people would, you know, click on the little, the like widget or whatever, the Google widget and type it in there. Some people would say it into their phone. It was just really interesting to see the different ways that people interacted with the technology to achieve the same result, which actually I think is gonna bring us back around to ambient computing, which you mentioned earlier. Could you give us kind of a tidy definition of what ambient computing is?

John Goscha: Yes, and I want to go back to your comment, but ambient computing to me is the ability to interact with compute power throughout your day seamlessly on multiple devices. And so for me, it's not having a window into your digital world in your pocket. Yes, I think we'll have displays in our pockets. We'll have more displays in our life. But the technology is fully integrated into our life. 

And so you're able to, within arm's reach and within a simple word, be able to get what you want when you want it. It's intuitive, it's responsive, and it kind of fades into the background. And so the technology is there to serve you. You're not having to reach out to it and find it and grab it and pull in the thing you want. It's simply available to you. And it's not calling for your attention. It's there at your service. And so I think there's a shift in my mind when it comes to ambient computing is, yes, the availability, but also just the interaction that we have with that compute power.

Ethan Peyton: I agree and I've got some more thoughts on this, but you mentioned that you wanted to go back to my do you have a phone comment.

John Goscha: Oh well, you know, the way we think about it and I think about it is, you know, in terms of cognitive load. So cognitive load, you think about any task that you do, you know, on your phone or elsewhere, it takes a certain amount of physical energy and a certain amount of mental energy. And so I think that people will choose the path that gives them what they want with the least amount of cognitive load. And so there's a cost for switching and a cost for learning. 

So with a lot of things, you'll swipe open your phone and just go do it. Even though you can do it on voice and it's easier, the delta isn't big enough. And so I think there's got to be a big enough delta between the old way and the new way. And that new way has to be so much easier. It has to be less cognitive load for you to make that change. And so that's how I think about, in terms of your comments around lots of people do things in different ways. I think that we will gravitate to the way that is easiest, so long as the Delta is greatest. But I also think that it's generational. And so I look at kids, they're much more likely to interact with a voice assistant. I look at my mom, she doesn't know how to turn Bluetooth on or off on her phone. She only knows how to do it through Siri. Because our generation got... smartphones when we were old enough to use them. 

And so we know how to go to the settings and find this and find that. But, you know, for my mom, she never learned the settings. She just did it through Siri. And so I also think that we have a generational shift where, you know, we have that switching cost because we know how to do it. And doing it the new way needs to be that much better. But for people who never learned the old way, they're going to start out with the new way. You know. off the bat. So I do think that we'll see this throughout, you know, this shift over a generation.

Ethan Peyton: All right, so here's where I wanna get wild. If we wanna think about specifically just cell phones, not even like computers or TVs or radios or any of that, just cell phones, you know, they truly act as an interface medium between humans and technology. And this has been an evolving thing since, you know, original cell phones in the 80s had number buttons. as an input and they had sound as an output. In the 2000s, maybe in the late 90s, it became, the input was still buttons and it was still number buttons, but the output became kind of a low resolution screen where you could see your contacts, you could play Snake. You could do things that you needed to do on a tiny little screen. 

Obviously when the iPhone came out in 2007, and the input was changed to a touch screen, which allowed for full color and a large enough screen that you could actually see things, the outputs became more visual in nature. And things really haven't changed a whole lot between that original iPhone in 2007 to what we have today, except for you've got things like Bluetooth and other sorts of pairing mechanisms to where you can give a multitude of inputs into the device, but it's giving you largely a lot of the same outputs. So all those words being said, what do you think is going to replace the cell phone as our main interface with technology? And when do you think that this change is going to start happening?

John Goscha: Oh, that's a hard question. I mean, the short answer is I don't know. But I think there's some really interesting things where some of the folks over at Humane, there's been a lot of speculation over what they're developing. Some of the former iPhone developers that developed the iPhone with Steve Jobs are advancing beyond the smartphone. 

But for me, I think it's a combination of devices. I don't think that the smartphone is going away anytime soon. I think that you'll have a display in your pocket that you'll pull out and want to view things and interact with. Maybe there's other ways to do that. But I think that you'll have interactions with more devices in your life. 

And so for example, skull candy headphones, like the device I'm wearing right now. So we just launched on a million Skullcandy headphones in the market, giving those devices access to voice assistants and conversational AIs. And so, in that experience, rather than pulling out your phone and pulling up your running app and finding your running playlist, I think you're gonna leave your phone in your pocket and say, hey Strava, start my run. Hey, iHeart, play my workout playlist. And you'll be off. And so, as you're running or you're doing other things, you're not gonna wanna pull out your phone at times. 

I mean, there are certain things that are certainly best for visual displays and other things that are best for audio interactions. But I think that we're gonna have higher availability to those services that give us what we want. The apps on our phone will start to be available in more places. I think you'll get in your car and you'll be able to ask your car, you know, how many more miles until I need to charge? You know, turn on the windshield wipers, but also be able to ask things that are outside the car, you know, Dunkin' Donuts, you know, have my coffee ready, you know, my favorite here at the next exit. And, you know, like magic, you'll walk in the store and be ready for you. And so just making... those systems that are, you know, some of them are available today, you know, others are getting built and being improved, but making those available. And so that's been the core of Native Voice. 

And what we do is, you know, of course, helping brands build their voice assistant or their conversational AI, like we did for iHeart, like we're doing for the largest audio library in the country and one of the largest weather companies in the country, you know, building out that interaction and helping them. But lots of people will build interesting conversational AIs and voice interactions. But being able to make that available and seamless on your device. And so like we did with Skullcandy, being able to have the availability of any of the services, whether you're a Google user or an Alexa user or you want to talk directly to iHeart Radio because their service is better and does a better job at giving you what you want. 

Just having that available is, I think, the shift that we've made. I think we're likely to see. And I think we'll see that it's happening right now. I don't think we're going to wake up in a month and our phones are going to be obsolete. I think it's going to be a progression over time where we start getting more devices, they have more capabilities. But I have a hard time imagining in five or 10 years that we're all going to get on the subway and everyone's going to be standing there just looking down at their phones in the same way. So I think that's changing pretty rapidly.

Ethan Peyton: All right, so then, so you are working with audio. devices and audio as an input. Do you, I mean, we obviously saw Google Glass kind of input and output in the early 2010s or maybe it was the late 2000s, I'm not sure which, but clearly that didn't go over too well. And so I think, but I think that people weren't ready for that. And this whole concept of like, If you are one step ahead of the game, then you're a genius. But if you're two or more steps ahead of the game, then you're an insane person. So I'm about to prove that I must be an insane person. How long do you think until something like a Neuralink exists and the human race just merges with AI?

John Goscha: You have interesting questions and ones I don't have great answers to. But the thing you write about is, I had a smart investor tell me once, he goes, John, you can never be late, but it's too expensive to be too early. And so timing really matters. And in this company, I spent a lot of time working to understand, okay, is this the right time for this? But I do think that... We are headed towards more brain machine interaction. A friend of mine runs a company in Boston called Neuroble that can sense what you're thinking and you can…

Ethan Peyton: Hmm.

John Goscha: …trigger different actions. And so that technology is certainly there, certainly happening. I think we'll start to see the beginnings of that here in the next couple of years, just knowing some of the folks and working on that technology and where their products are at. But we're pretty far off from having a... a full human mind compute seamless connection in all of us. I don't know how long that will take, but I guess we'll continue to keep an eye on it.

Ethan Peyton: Darn. I was hoping that by next year I could be a cyborg who knew everything and would live forever.

John Goscha: Well I think that the thing you can look forward to that is happening right now is, the incredible work that's happening at OpenAI and other places with large language models is, now we can use our personal data to get better responses, better interactions. And so I'm a big advocate of… your data is your data. You own it, you control it. In fact, I think it will be one of our biggest assets in the future. But it was very hard to mine that data to really understand this is what the person wants. A lot of advertising companies and social media companies have done a good job of serving up things that are relevant for us.

Ethan Peyton: Yes.

John Goscha: But when I look at the recent revolution, the last six months, I think within the next year, we're going to see a pretty incredible shift where our data with permission can be made available to understand our preferences and what we want at a higher level that gives us better interactions. And so when you say, bring me a car, you're not gonna have to put in your address and say it's an UberX and this and that, it's gonna understand these things. So it's gonna be much more of an intuitive interaction. And so I think you can look forward to that over the next year. I think that is a step change in the technology capabilities that we're all recently been discovering.

Ethan Peyton: All right, well, I'll reel in my insanity just a little bit so we can get back to reality. Tell us what's next for Native Voice. What are we gonna see in the next three or six or 12 months?

John Goscha: Yeah, so super excited about our recent launch of Skullcandy. So we launched on Skull IQ devices. So three devices in market, the Push, Active, the Grind, and the Grind Fuels. And so those are in market now. And then we do have additional devices coming this summer from Skullcandy as well. So Skullcandy is the second best selling headphone in the country, second only to Apple, which is pretty incredible, but great products, great value. So happy to be there. I'm really happy that we recently launched Hey I Heart, and we built Hey I Heart, it's exclusive to us. And we have a couple of additional big brands that we all will recognize launching here in the coming months. 

But also this year, I'm really excited about launching an automotive accessory with one of the largest retailers in the world. And so I think the automotive space is really interesting from a use case where when you're driving, you don't wanna be looking down at your phone. And there's so much that you want to be able to do when you're on the go in a car environment. And so with what's happening in the EV space, and I see a lot of the electric cars are going voice first as an interface, and doing multi-voice. And so I think that's an exciting market for us. So I think you can expect to see an automotive accessory from us with, or that we enable an automotive accessory from a large retailer this year as well.

Ethan Peyton: What's multi-voice?

John Goscha: Yeah, sorry. So multi-voice is the ability to talk to more than one smart assistant or conversational AI on a device. So being able to be listening to iHeart and midstream say, Alexa, has my package been delivered yet? And Alexa will chime in and give you the answer and then kind of fade away without you ever having to skip a beat. And so just this idea of you're not talking to one voice assistant. you're able to have this seamless interaction across multiple brands, multiple services.

Ethan Peyton: Gotcha, that's pretty cool. So I ride a motorcycle when the weather is good enough here in Ann Arbor, so about three days out of the year. And obviously I don't have hands for phone access and even voice might be kind of difficult, but I recently just bought a, I believe they're called a Cardo voice audio, Bluetooth to my phone, that sort of thing. So maybe, here in the next couple of years, we'll see some native voice on my little Cardo in my helmet. 

John Goscha: There you go.

Ethan Peyton: Then of course you can work on the heads up display on the inside of my visor as well. And then that'll be pretty fun.

John Goscha: Well, yeah, we'll get right on it. Have Cardo give us a call. We'll start there. But yeah, we've got a lot of work to do.

Ethan Peyton: I'll let them know.

Ethan Peyton: All right, I'm gonna ask you my favorite question. What is your number one piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs?

John Goscha: So I guess mine would be…there's a lot of advice. I've made a lot of mistakes, probably too many more than I'm willing to admit. But my biggest advice, I think, is you don't fail until you give up. And so when I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, they say, oh, well, the market changed, or this happened, this happened. And yes, you got to pivot. Yes, you got to change. But these companies only go out of business. You run out of money and you give up. And so being able to figure out when you're doing the wrong thing very, very quickly and switch to the right thing, that's what this is all about. So it's a trial and error process, but as long as you don't give up, you'll eventually get there.

Ethan Peyton: I think that is pretty solid advice. John, this has been a ton of fun. I've got one last question for you. Where can people connect with you online and how can our listeners support Native Voice besides telling Cardo to give you a call?

John Goscha: Excellent, yeah, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or any of the social networks. You can also give me an email if you'd like, jgoscha@nativevoice.ai.

Ethan Peyton: Awesome. We're going to put all the links to everything that we talked about today at Startupsavant.com slash podcast. So folks, if you're looking for anything, you can find it there. John, thank you so much for coming on. I'm going to give you the last word.

John Goscha: So I think my last word for your entrepreneurs out there would be find that first customer. That's what this is all about. It's about making someone happy, filling a need. And so when you're thinking about your business and what you need to do and wake up tomorrow is find someone, just one person that wants what you're doing and will pay you for it. And so once you find one, you'll find two, you'll find 10, 100, 100,000. That will come. So start with one. It's really that simple. It seems daunting and there's all these other things that people get caught up in, but find one customer and once you have that customer, everything else will build on top of it.

Ethan Peyton: John, thanks for coming on.

John Goscha: Thanks for having me.

Expand to view full transcript

Tell Us Your Startup Story

Are you a startup founder and want to share your entrepreneurial journey with our readers? Click below to contact us today!

Request an Interview

More on Native Voice

Native Voice logo.

Native Voice Profile

Native Voice is an AI startup that enables users to communicate with brands using a virtual assistant library.

Read More

Native Voice founder.

Shaping the Future of Voice Technology

John Goscha, founder of Native Voice, launched the AI startup to seamlessly transition between voice computing services. This is their origin story.

Read More