With rumors swirling that consumer technology giant Apple is preparing to launch a sophisticated voice command feature at its developer conference next week in San Francisco, voice recognition technology may finally be ready for mass market consumption. San Jose, Calif.-based voice recognition startup SoundHound is more than ready for the technology’s time in the spotlight.
SoundHound’s Founder and CEO Keyvan Mohajer launched three profitable companies before he graduated from college. After completing his undergraduate work at the University of Toronto in 2000, Mohajer did some soul-searching to think about what to do next. “I realized that though I’m an entrepreneur and I like to start things, I’m also really passionate about technology. Some of my earlier companies were very successful, but they weren’t exactly high-tech,” he told me in a recent interview. “So I decided to get my Ph.D. in a deeper technology field and apply what I learned to start a really high-tech company.”
When Mohajer decided to go high-tech, he went big. He enrolled in Stanford’s graduate electrical engineering department, where he very quickly found his next big opportunity. “I realized that we are going to one day talk to our computers,” he said. “That day is going to come, and it’s going to come within my lifetime.” Mohajer dedicated his doctoral studies to voice recognition technology, and founded SoundHound two years before he received his Ph.D. in 2007.
Currently, SoundHound’s specialty is delivering information about music. Users can sing or hum a tune into its SoundHound app and the app returns the song name, as well as other information. Last week, the company released its Hound app, which can identify when a user says the name of an artist or album.
The slightly frivolous-seeming “name that tune” aspects of SoundHound’s applications belie the seriousness of the technology and business underneath it all. SoundHound has raised $16 million in venture capital and currently has 55 full-time employees. Investors have been attracted to the company by the future potential of SoundHound’s core technology, Mohajer told me. “We own all of our technology, while a lot of other apps in this space license their core technology,” he said. “We built everything in-house and we own all of our intellectual property.
I asked Mohajer if SoundHound’s proprietary technology and team of razor-sharp Ph.D.s has attracted interest from larger companies like Apple, who could incorporate voice search into its iTunes operations, or Internet radio website Pandora. The CEO demurred from talking about his company’s specific exit options, but pointed out that SoundHound’s board of directors includes Larry Marcus, who was the first investor in Pandora and currently sits on Pandora’s board. He also implied that in the right hands, the company’s technology could be employed for a much wider variety of uses. “We’re only in the music vertical now… but we argue that there’s a big demand for the future of computation devices that rely on voice recognition,” he said. “I’ve learned that it’s very important not to think about an exit and an outcome, and to just find something that you really enjoy doing.”