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VocalIQ, with Hermann Hauser and Blaise Thomson

Even Hermann Hauser didn’t expect this Cambridge University spin-out to spin quite this fast.

Within a year of Amadeus’ seed investment, VocalIQ had been acquired in a trade deal that provided its venture backers with 10 times money.

This is a story about great positioning, good timing, and the power of voice.

In this podcast transcript, we delve into the remarkable journey of VocalIQ, a Cambridge University spin-out, which saw a 10X return on investment within a year of Amadeus Capital Partners’ seed investment. This extraordinary tale unfolds through the insights of Hermann Hauser, co-founder of Amadeus Capital Partners, and Blaze Thompson, former CEO of Vocal IQ before its acquisition by Apple in 2015.

Vocal IQ’s Genesis (0:36-2:56)
Blaze Thompson recounts the origins of VocalIQ, which emerged from Cambridge University’s engineering department in 2006. Their pioneering ideas focused on optimizing conversations with machine agents, even before Siri was launched in 2011. They honed techniques to track conversation uncertainty and optimize the questions posed by AI agents, treating the conversation as a strategic game.

Founding VocalIQ (2:57-3:39)
In 2011, Steve Young, Blaze Thompson, and Kai decided to establish VocalIQ. Initially, it was an experimental venture, exploring concepts with potential business impact and grants applications.

Early Years and Pre-Amadeus Funding (3:40-4:51)
VocalIQ saw limited action until the end of 2014. Blaze recalls that, at the time, they were engaging with multiple venture capitalists, including Hermann Hauser. Their product development and revenue generation were nascent.

Hermann’s Interest (4:52-6:45)
Hermann Hauser, a well-known figure in Cambridge’s tech ecosystem, had a longstanding interest in voice technology. His previous successful collaborations with Steve Young made investing in VocalIQ an easy decision. Despite early skepticism about voice tech, Hermann saw its potential.

Investment and Early Growth (6:46-9:54)
Amadeus Capital Partners led the investment round, with Cambridge Enterprise also participating. The funds primarily fueled product and technology development rather than immediate sales and marketing efforts. Blaze acknowledges that they managed to meet their early business plan, which was a pleasant surprise.

Apple’s Entry (9:55-11:47)
Blaze and Hermann discuss the unexpected entry of Apple into the picture. Apple’s interest in VocalIQ emerged when the company was preparing for its next investment round. The impending acquisition by Apple created a sense of urgency.

Apple’s Approach and Acquihire (11:48-13:52)
Blaze explains that their prior engagements with major companies laid the groundwork for Apple’s interest. Once the opportunity presented itself, the acquisition moved swiftly, focusing on acquiring VocalIQ’s technology and talent pool.

Embracing Complexity (13:53-15:25)
Blaze emphasizes that voice technology’s complexity offers vast opportunities. While current voice interfaces serve many, there’s immense untapped potential. Voice technology involves multiple tasks, from speech recognition to natural language processing and dialogue management.

Startup Advantage (15:26-16:36)
The complexity of voice technology makes it a suitable space for startups. Small companies can bring creative solutions to the table, especially when addressing intricate problems. However, access to data remains a challenge.

Impact of Data (16:37-17:44)
Blaze shares his recent interest in privacy-preserving machine learning, aiming to enable companies to share data while protecting privacy. Data access can empower smaller groups with access to valuable resources.

Amadeus’s Role in the Voice Ecosystem (17:45-18:54)
Hermann highlights that there’s still ample room for innovation in the voice technology field. Amadeus Capital Partners continues to invest in voice-related companies, such as PolyAI, contributing to the ongoing development of voice interfaces.

Conclusion (18:55-End)
In conclusion, the journey of VocalIQ serves as a testament to the power of innovation and timing in the tech world. As voice technology evolves, it offers new horizons for startups and established players alike, promising transformative changes in how we interact with AI-driven systems.