TLabs Showcase on startups featuring San Jose-based Siri.
Author’s note: Occasionally I find technologies that are interesting but not directly travel-related. So during a discussion with Dan Waters, director of business development for Siri, I thought the company would be a good candidate for a TLabs Showcase because, although they don’t consider themselves a travel app and are a few years old, they have incredible relevance to people looking for and booking local services.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Siri is a consumer Â internet service, available over the web and on mobile phones, which provides an intelligent interface to wide variety of services such as finding and booking restaurants, movies, local events, travel services, and other tasks of interest to mobile users.Â The product -Â Siri Virtual Personal Assistant – allows the user to state their request in speech, typing, or selecting from choices, and executes multiple third party services to help complete the task (e.g., find and book a restaurant, find and buy tickets to events, etc).
Siri is a new way to interact with the Internet on your mobile phone. Like a real assistant, Siri helps you get things done.Â What makes Siri unique is that it understands natural language, accomplishes tasks and adapts to userâ€™s individual preferences over time.Â Siri leverages many services and technologies to accomplish the task requested.
You can ask Siri questions naturally, just as you would ask your assistant, â€śWill it rain today?â€ť or, â€śGet me a table at a good Italian restaurant.â€ťÂ Through the streamlined interface, you wonâ€™t have to weed through web pages to get movie tickets or call a cab. Over time, Siri will get to know you and, with your explicit permission, personalize your results.
Additionally, Siri is created by an all-star team of designers and engineers drawn from Google, Yahoo, Apple, Motorola, Netscape, eBay, RealTravel, SRI, NASA, and Xerox PARC.
- Dag Kittlaus – co-founder and CEO.Â A serial innovator and consumer wireless internet veteran of 10 years in Scandinavia and the US, Kittlaus is working on creating his third consecutive mobile internet product with over a million users. HeÂ has held leadership roles as VP of Consumer Internet Services at Scandinavian telecom giant Telenor Mobile, and several consumer product groups at Motorola including GM of xProducts and founder and GM of Motorola’s Interactive Media Group. He conceived and launched Screen3, a breakthrough consumer mobile application currently used by millions of users and adopted by Cingular, China Mobile, and Telefonica.
- Adam Cheyer – co-founder and VP of engineering. HeÂ joined the company from SRI, where he was the program Â director in SRI’s Artificial Intelligence Center and chief architect of the CALO/PAL project. A pioneer in the areas of distributed computing, intelligent agents, and advanced user interfaces, Cheyer is the author of more than fifty peer-reviewed publications and nine patents. He was previously the VP of engineering at Dejima and the VP of engineering at Verticalnet. He is also a founding member of Change.org and Genetic Finance, LLC.
- Tom Gruber – co-founder, CTO, and VP design. Gruber is aÂ recognized expert in artificial intelligence, intelligent interfaces, and semantic technologies. He was a founder and CTO of RealTravel, a knowledge sharing site for travel; a founder and CTO of Intraspect, a collaborative knowledge management application for business; and a founder and chief scientist at Consider Solutions. Products designed by Gruber are used by millions of consumer and professional users. He was a pioneering researcher at Stanford in the use of web for knowledge sharing and semantic integration, and helped establish the technical foundations of the Semantic Web.Â Gruber has served as advisor to SocialText, LinkedIn, Powerset, and others.
- Gummi Hafsteinsson -Â VP product. HafsteinssonÂ joined the company from Google, where he led the product development of several of Google’s most successful mobile initiatives, such as Google Maps for mobile and Google Search by voice. Prior to joining Google, Gummi founded and ran a company called Dimon Software that produced mobile enterprise connectivity software designed to enable enterprises to access corporate IT systems from any mobile device.Â Gummi holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and an Electrical and Computer Engineering degree from the University of Iceland.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
Siri was born out of SRI’s CALO Project, the largest Artificial Intelligence project in U.S. history. (CALO stands for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes). Made possible by a $150 million DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) investment, the CALO Project included 25 research organizations and institutions and spanned 5 years. Siri is bringing the benefits of this technology to the public in the first mainstream consumer application of a virtual personal assistant.
Siri, Inc. was founded in 2007 and is based in San Jose, California. Siri is venture-backed by investors including The Li Ka Shing Foundation, Menlo Ventures, Morganthaler Ventures, and SRI International. Siriâ€™s Series A round of funding was $8.5 million in 2007, and Siri recently closed a Series B round of $15.5 million for a total of $24 million.
What problem are you trying to solve?
The Siri personal assistant is a breakthrough in how consumers discover and use online services.Â Users interact with Siri in plain English, and Siri interprets the natural language in the context of dialog history, location, time-of-day and learned preferences to return personalized and action-oriented results.Â Siri removes the friction of searching across multiple sites, creating accounts, filling forms and manually collating results.Â In short, Siri brings the best of the Internet service ecology to a single, easy to use interface that scales from mobile phone to desktop web and into the future of Internet-enabled devices.
Here is a demo:
Describe the business, core products and services?
- Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) represent the next generation interaction paradigm for the Internet. In today’s paradigm, we follow links on search results. With a VPA, we interact by having a conversation. We tell the assistant what we want to do, and it applies multiple services and information sources to help accomplish our task. Like a real assistant, a VPA is personal; it uses information about an individual’s preferences and interaction history to help solve specific tasks, and it gets better with experience.Â Siri is the first mainstream consumer application of a Virtual Personal Assistant. Siri is an intelligent software agent designed to have a back-and-forth conversational interaction with you as it helps you get tasks done. The three main technical components behind Siri’s differentiation correspond to the essential qualities of an assistant: a conversational interface, personal context awareness and service delegation.
- You can converse with Siri through combinations of spoken requests, typed keywords and phrases, or graphical user interface requests. As you express what you want to do in the way most comfortable to you, Siri applies a patented algorithm to sift through multitudes of possible interpretations, applying what it knows about your location, the time, your preferences, and your task context to determine the most probable understanding of your intent. Your dialog with Siri is displayed in an innovative user interface that leverages a hybrid of familiar chat-style and search-result interface paradigms, optimized for small form factors and limited bandwidth environments.
Personal Context Awareness:
- A virtual assistant gives different answers depending on individual preferences and personal context (place, time, history), and if you give it permission, learns more about you so that it can shorten your time-to-task. Information you teach Siri in one domain (e.g. movies) is applied automatically to opportunities rising from other domains. Any personal information you provide Siri is stored in a highly secure, PCI-compliant co-location center, and used only with your explicit permission to accelerate your task completion.
- An assistant can reason about what specific set of resources or services would best be combined to help you accomplish a particular task. Siri’s patented service delegation algorithms combine numerous attributes about each service provider, including quality scores, fine-grained ratings for specific capabilities, speed measures, and geographic constraints, to plan and execute an optimized strategy for handling your request. Live data is pulled fresh from source sites and world-changing actions are handled in a transaction-safe manner. For example, in a restaurant selection task, Siri integrates information from many sources (local business directories, geospatial databases, restaurant guides, restaurant review sources, menu sites, online reservation services and the user’s own favorites) to show results that meet the user’s natural language request.
What can Siri do today?
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
The current version of Siri is built for the iPhone 3GS and the iPod Touch and works only in the US.Â Soon, Siri will run on iPhone 3G and additional mobile platforms, as well, including RIM and Android OS devices.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Yes, Siri recently launched on iPhone through Appleâ€™s iTunes App Store after two years of development and one year of Alpha testing of approximately 300 users.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
The business model is a mix of advertising, CPA monetization and transaction revenue share.Â The target market is people who want to get things done on the Internet, with an early focus on users of smart phones.Â The addressable market is all of Internet-enabled consumers, on desktop and over mobile networks.
SWOT analysis â€“ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
Siri’s competitive landscape includes direct competition in the personal assistant space and “cooptition” in related spaces of location-based services and search.
The personal assistant space is being addressed by two start-ups, Siri and Rearden Commerce.Â While Siri is free to consumers and captures revenue through advertising/CPA/transaction business models, Rearden targets the enterprise market and employee use.Â Both Siri and Rearden address travel and entertainment services, but Siri also provides local search and social services.Â Siri is based on modern Internet APIs and is not tied to specific enterprise infrastructure or proprietary travel service arrangements.
Founded in 1999 before the dot-com crash, Rearden has raised $200 million. American Express and JP Morgan Chase each own a 10% stake.Â Rearden claims its service is used by 2,500 American Express business customers and is available to 1.6 million employees. Rearden says Chase plans to start the service for its card members, soon.
Founded in December 2007, Siri is born from a $200 million government research program to create a “personal cognitive assistant that learns and self-improves”.
A key differentiator for the personal assistant is Siri’s Conversational Interface, which makes finding and using the best services on the Internet as simple as navigating a conversation.Â Users can just state what they what to do in natural language, using speech or text input.Â For example, a user might say “get me a table for 4 at a fine Italian restaurant tonight near my office”, and Siri will understand the intent, translate it into calls to online restaurant databases, review sites and reservation services, and return the result in a simple, streamlined result.Â The user then simply confirms their choice, and Siri then executes the transaction through Internet-based APIs to reserve a table and send directions to their guests.
The space of Internet Search, particularly when it is combined with speech input and location-based services, has overlapping functionality with Siri. Again, Siri partners with search services as a way to help users solve information retrieval problems not addressed by other APIs.Â Nonetheless, mobile search providers are offering event and movie listings, local directory lookup and other services provided by Siri.
Who advised you your idea isnâ€™t going to be successful and why didnâ€™t you listen to them?
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
One million active Siri users.