Monday, January 8, 2007
Interview with John Pollard, CEO of Jott Networks
John Pollard is CEO of Jott Networks (www.jott.com), a Seattle-based company that has just launched an interesting cell phone service that allow you to call a phone number, leave a message, and have that message transcribed and sent to your email and a to-do list. We spoke with John about the firm, and asked him to tell us about the service.
Northwest Innovation: What is Jott Networks?
John Pollard: Jott Networks is a startup in Seattle, focused on using voice -- your own voice -- to simplify life. Very specifically, you can use any cell phone -- not just a smart phone or a blackberry -- to make a simple, toll free call, and we allow you to create messages in email, SMS, text, and To-Dos with your voice. We take your voice, and transcribe it into text automatically, and deliver it to where you want. Basically, it's hands free productivity, unlocking messaging and saving To-Dos in scenarios where you don't want to be thumb typing or don't have access to a keyboard. It's gigantic, because we work on any phone. It's free, and there are no downloads. One guy who reviewed it recently said it was obscenely simple.
Northwest Innovation: The technology around voice recognition is known to be pretty problematic, how are you dealing with that?
John Pollard: We looked at the problem, and said -- what do we want to do here? Did we want to spend five years trying to perfect speech recognition in a very, very difficult scenario, or do we want to be immediately useful? We wanted to be immediately useful. The scenario is difficult -- you can use any phone, it doesn't require an hour of training, and you could say any word in any context. You can say anything you want. We wanted it to be inherently simple and super easy to adopt, given those hurdles--usability hurdles, if you will. So we use a combination of human and machine based speech recognition. We decided from the get-go that it's not about a technology exercise for our own intellectual stimulation, but being useful.
Northwest Innovation: I imagine that takes some amount of manpower to achieve?
John Pollard: We have a mix, and that will shift over time. There's some pretty interesting innovation we'll do against that. People want to message in any language they want, include proper nouns like names, and don't want to have a very specific syntax with their voice. They want to speak naturally. We think we've come up with a great solution.
Northwest Innovation: Talk a little bit about your venture backing--how long have you been around?
John Pollard: We started back in April of 2006, so we are relatively new. Our funding is from three world class sources. One is Ackerley Partners, these guys are widely known media investors. Chris Ackerley and the rest of them are well known in the media field, particularly advertising. The second group is Draper Richards. Bill Draper and Howard Hartenbaum are legends in the valley, primarily from their investments like Hotmail and Overture and Skype. The third party is Atomico investments out of london. They have some people who are world class, global operators, and know how to roll out massive scale information systems. We're incredibly excited about the group. Our strategy has been not to raise too much money, but rather to raise enough to get going, and build the product out to where we can really get tight on some scenarios, understand customers, and what they want to do, before going out and raising more money, which we'll be doing in several months.
Northwest Innovation: Is the service available yet?
John Pollard: We actually took the covers off Jott back on December 8th. We were a little quite about it, but wanted to make sure the customer experience was excellent. It's been out there for about a month, including the holiday period. You can go to Jott.com, signup is super trivial--all you need is a phone number and email address, a quick validation of your phone and email, and you're off. Literally, in a couple of minutes you can start Jotting. The two key scenarios are leaving self To-Dos -- you can really easily do that with Jott. The second is called Jottcast, which allows you to say who you'd like to message to, very simply. It recognizes who you want to send to, hears your message, and delivers it in email and text. It works beautifully.
Northwest Innovation: What's the business model for the service?
John Pollard: It's free right now. We knew coming into this we'd have to tighten up the customer proposition - what people value most out of model. Fundamentally, this will allow us to make money in future .The transcription works, and for certain scenarios that is a very valuable asset. One way or another, they will pay for that long term--whether that's through advertising or something else. People Jott about what matters to them, the things they need to get done, or don't want to forget. These are not trivial items--they're important to them. We'll often times be able to associate highly relevant advertising with that--not a bunch of flashing lights, and not distracting. If we can help them accomplish things they are Jotting, we'll be able to paid for that. We're very optimistic about that.
The frequency of usage of Jott is part of the dynamic which is cool. It's not something you come back to once a month--it's something you repeatedly think about. That customer relationship will also allow us to have some interesting business model options.
Northwest Innovation: Thanks for the interview!