Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Get this. For years, I’ve been paying thousands of dollars a month to have every one of my interviews transcribed. And you might say, Andrew, why bother?
And I could tell you that it’s good for search engine optimization, Bubba bod, and truthfully, I don’t care that much about search engine optimization. I care much more about user experience. I know that as a podcast listener, sometimes I’m running, listening to a podcast. I hear something useful and the only way I could get it again is if I stopped my run, write it down and just break the whole experience to take that note or.
I have to go back and then try to scrub through the frickin podcast and get to the, and why, what do these people do? They created a show for me so that I could be entertained. No, what they’re trying to do is educate me, give me some useful resources, but they totally blown it because there’s no way for me to follow up.
So I pay for a transcript. So the, my audience, if they hear something great, they can go and pull it out. So if they decide, I don’t want to listen to one of Andrew’s interviews, I could get it transcribed anyway. That’s why I pay for it. Then I heard about this company, Otter, go check him out at Otter AI, people told me it’s automated.
They charge under, I forget the number. It was under 50 bucks. It was 10, 20 bucks. I forget. It didn’t even matter. It was so small. I just said, there’s no way it’s going to work. I just missed it. And then I just missed it and then I just missed it. And then someone else on my team went and signed us up to Otter AI, despite me saying we don’t need them used it for zoom meetings because we were having meetings on zoom and they wanted notes without having to go back and transcribe or look, I said, this is so great.
W how’d you do it? They said, I just connected Otter to zoom. I said, that’s amazing how much it is, how much it’s going to cost us. That’s too much money. They told me a few bucks. I said, great. Let’s stick with it. This Frick, I’m basically doing a commercial from Otter Sam. I got Sam Liang. He’s the founder of Otter.
He’s smiling and nodding. As I’m saying this, I I’m just excited about your software. I’ll tell you. We used you for podcast transcripts so that our audience has a good experience, but I’ll tell you the wackiest little use case for me with Otter. I was talking with this entrepreneur whose company I invested in.
He was relaying information to me over coffee, and I wanted to make sure that what he said I got right. Dude, Sam. I put Otter on my phone. I put it right in the table, in the middle of the street where it’s just like a block off of market street in San Francisco. You know how loud that is. Right. I put it right in front of us.
I say, this is just going to record us and transcribe it. So I have notes I’m I I’m accurate. Cause I forget little details. Sometimes he’s talking, the thing is recording his name and actually called him speaker too. And exactly what he says in real time. I talk, it says speaker one in real time. This is amazing.
Anyway. Software is amazing, really cost pennies on the dollar compared to the competition. I invited the founder here to talk about how he built it. I want to find out about the previous company that he built and sold to a subsidiary of Alibaba. And I want to find out if it even matters, if it’s software so good, because Google is constantly on it, this whole transcription, uh, kick.
All right. We’re going to find out about how Sam Leon did this. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re doing any kind of payroll, you need to know about Gusto. Go check them out at gusto.com/mixergy. And the second, when you’re building a website, go to HostGator, check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy.
Sam. Good to have you here.
Sam: Great to be here. Thank you, Andrew. Thank you for your enthusiasm.
Andrew: Are you guys making any money from this you’re charging people like me only 10, 20 bucks a month. I was paying hundreds, thousands, actually, among are you making how much money you bring in and talk to me revenue.
Sam: Hmm. Uh, we cannot disclose our, um, revenue number at this moment, but I can tell you that. A business has been growing super fast. We have actually doubled our revenue three times this year. Um, that’s eight times growth so far.
Andrew: By the way I have your revenue here. It’s pretty impressive considering how little you’re charging, but since you told it to us in private, we’re going to keep your, um, keep your confidence. Let me understand though, the growth rate this year 2020 happened because.
Sam: Because I think that, uh, some people say this is just a big cost of COVID. Um, I think COVID provides some tailwind push. Uh, it definitely helps accelerate the adoption, but the main reason I see is that people realize that Harbor Otter, um, you’ve been even better, uh, with, uh, working from home situation with remote work, uh, online education.
Um, people discover that they’re overwhelmed by the amount of information they’re getting, uh, with back to back zoom meetings, when the Kobe happened, people thought, Oh, um, I don’t have to commute. It saved me two hours a day. It turned out that those two hours are shifted to zoom meetings. So people are having even more meetings then pre COVID.
So, um, how do people handle that? And also, you know, you don’t meet people in person these days. Uh, communication is hard. Collaboration is hard. Um, how do you keep people on the same page?
Andrew: Here’s what I think is happening. More people are obviously shifting over to zoom. My whole family is on zoom all the time. I actually have two business, internet connections now because we’re all using zoom at the same time. When people are on zoom, they want to take notes on the meetings. It’s a distraction to take notes while people are talking.
And so what you guys have is a plugin. I mentioned the little connection that we made when we started with Otter, it’s now even more sophisticated as I talk, I’m getting a little distracted because I’m seeing a hotter transcribe my words in real time on my screen. And when you shifted turns yours. And so my hunches, as more people are shifting to zoom meetings, instead of in-person meetings, a percentage of them, we’re saying we want this transcribed and you guys are now the number one transcription service for, for zoom. That’s it?
Sam: That’s true. w without Otter, when you were in the meeting, you’re pretty stressed. people telling you, you know, a thousand different things, people have to take notes, like crazy to, uh, just make sure they don’t forget things. Um, it’s especially difficult in a more sophisticated situation where people discussing, for example, a lot of numbers and I myself cannot remember more than three numbers at the time.
You know, when people tell me 10 20 numbers, uh, is really hard for me to, uh, process with Augur live notes actually makes it easier. Um, I see the health food transcript right in front of me that the 10 numbers, 20 numbers, right in front of me, it helped me process the information much better. I
Sam: don’t remember anything.
I can scroll back and you know, what did that guy say? 10 minutes ago? I can quickly find it.
Andrew: that I’m somebody who has to see things to fully understand them. That’s why I’m always carrying around this Apple pencil so that I could take notes in calls. I see you’re saying that there are some people who need to see the information to fully understand it. And for them having live transcription, like this is helpful.
All right. Let me understand this. The focus of this interview is to understand how you got here. Our producer asked you about your childhood, where you entrepreneurial you. What were you like? You’re one of the you guys who didn’t tell us anything about what you were like when you were growing up. Can you give me a little insight into who the young Sam was?
Where did you grow up? What was life like? What were you passionate about?
Sam: Um, I grew up in China, uh, based in China. Um, it was near the end of the cultural revolution. I still remember those days. Um, actually even food, uh, was, uh, not sufficient. Yeah. So, um, remember I was hungry all the time, uh, because it just, um, uh, luckily, um, my parents, um, you know, I’m super grateful. My parents are teachers, professors, uh, um, in, uh, paid university.
Um, they get a little bit better. Um, supply and then other people, uh, in, in China. Uh, and also I get me, you know, immersed in that academic, uh, Imerman. So. So I grew up, uh, in Beijing. I went to college in Beijing and then I came to after college, went to graduate school here, um, went to university of Arizona first, um, in Tucson.
So it’s a great city,
Andrew: scholarship or were you able to
Sam: with scholarship. Yeah.
Andrew: Okay. You, you ended up being an engineer at Cisco and then is it troubles network and Google?
Sam: Yeah, yeah. Later on also, um, because my parents are professors, I, I, my initial dream was to become a professor myself. So I had to get a PhD to achieve that. Um, so, um, after working a couple of years, I decided to quit my job and went to Stanford. Uh, I did my PhD in electrical engineering. Um, and then at that moment I learned that, wow.
Um, you know, there’s so many startups that have been funded by Stanford graduates and then of course, in Silicon Valley, they’re, they’re all kind of a startup success stories. I said, okay, maybe I could do a startup someday. Um, um, at first, yeah, after Stanford working at Cisco, then joined Google. Um, I was leading Google map, location service for four years, 2006 to 2010.
And our team actually build the initial blue dot system on Google mobile map. Uh, where I a blue dot shows your car location and help you navigate. I was actually leading the pack end location platform to provide that. Location service. Uh, it was really a fun experience. No, it build something that was, um, uh, being used by billions of people.
So it was, we were handling huge amount of data at that time, but, you know, I said, you know, it really wants to build a startup. So I quit Google in 2010, um, and build a mobile startup first in Palo Alto. Um, and, uh, we built a, uh, mobile location, contextual system, and yeah, that company was later acquired by Ali-Baba successfully.
Andrew: The idea for, and the company was called, um, where is it? It’s, uh, a low har mobile. Why the R at the end of Aloha, what does it a low har mean?
Sam: Aloha, obviously that’s the hello in, uh, Hawaii. Um, and, uh, it’s, uh, let’s just play with that word. I really like, uh, Hawaii of STI and most people do. Um, and I just added the letter R at the end. Um, so that, um, You know, it’s, it’s a short name. Um, and it’s unique. Um, you can search for it easily, uncle going to find our website now.
So start with the letter a, which has, you know, the first thing, the alphabet, obviously,
Andrew: And your idea for that was what was the, what was the thought that made you decide to go and launch a low har.
Sam: Um, uh, in tinted tan, uh, it’s a obvious concept today, but in back in 2010, it was still a taboo, um, to automatically track location and analyze the location information to personalize a Merle mobile experience. Um, so we build some technologies to automatically get location, um, all the time without burning the mobile phones or battery, which is actually a very difficult thing to do.
We call it the persistent sensing use. Uh, some very sophisticated algorism to sense data from multiple sensors on the mobile device, too.
Andrew: the GPS was the natural one. What Google did that was innovative also was they analyze the wifi routers as they were passing with their Google maps cars. Right. And understanding where a location based on that. Am I right? What else did, what other insight did you have?
Sam: we actually use many other sensors, the extra hump urometer Bluetooth or wifi, obviously. Um, and we were able to build that system extremely efficient way. Um, the Google actually didn’t was not able to do that until many years later. We were actually able to do it on both iPhone and Android. So yeah, that, that was a little hard.
It was really fun. Um, but after our little heart,
Andrew: Let’s let’s not pass on a little heart. I’m fascinated by this company. Your realization was, companies are going to want to understand location within their apps. They don’t have my meaning. You Sam’s, um, understanding of how to do that without burning through the battery and getting, getting accurate data.
I’m going to be the location company, providing the, the. The infrastructure support for these businesses that need to know location. Right.
Sam: Yeah, we, we build a platform. We provide an API for people to, uh, build their own, uh, uh, location, um, uh, intelligent applications using in our SDK. So we, we have lot of apps using our system. And we also build our own app called place me in place, us that help people, help people, uh, like, uh, stay connected.
For example, place us allows your family members. To see everyone’s location in real time and notify each other when, um, you know, the child allowed to school or, um, you know, my wife went to the, uh, grocery store. So that may be, I say, Hey, um, remember to, you know, buy cheese for me.
Andrew: How long did it take you from leaving Google till the time you were able to actually create a fully working version of the software? Yeah.
Sam: Uh, we built a prototype in the first year, uh, without any funding, actually the first year had a $0 salary, $0 funding. Um, and, uh, it was just coding at home most of the time. Uh, although, um, after a few months, uh, I started to talk to a B CS, uh, at that moment it’s actually the, uh, the concept was actually very scary to a lot of people.
Um, because, you know, say, Hey, uh, privacy intuition is too creepy. Nobody will ever use it. Uh, and also tactically, nobody believe we can do it without telling the battery in a couple hours. Um, but, uh, you know, we managed to do it, uh, pitched, I don’t remember maybe dozens of VCs. Nobody believed me. Um, until I showed this to this guy called Tim Draper. Um, and once he saw the demo, he said, Oh my goodness, um, this is exactly what I want. I want a LifeLock for myself. So, um, it’s, it’s a, it’s interesting. Sometimes you just, you know, meet somebody who will resonate with your instantly. So that’s, uh, he gave me a EIR position at the FDA. So gave me a big, huge office in his office building.
So I moved in there, um, and, uh, continue incubating,
Andrew: Uh, but EIR is entrepreneur in residence. That’s usually when they just put you in and they say, maybe you’ll go and work for one of the companies that we’ve invested in. Maybe you’ll help us analyze businesses. Right. It’s just hangout. We’ll figure out what to do with you. So he wasn’t even thinking this was a company yet.
Were you thinking this was a company.
Sam: I was thinking is a company, but at that moment, uh, I only myself and, uh, uh, my co-founder was working with suite part-time. Um, so at that time it just, you know, there was no business plan yet. Um, just a very rough. Prototype at that time. Um, so team said, you know, come in, uh, give you an office, just, you know, we’ll chat.
Um, so I get to meet his team, um, just hanging around and, and, you know, sometime they asked me about some kind of startups they are looking at. Um, but most of the time it was focusing on building a low heart system. Sorry.
Andrew: was one of the little insights that allowed you to make maybe the big insight that allowed you to make, um, to get people’s location without draining their batteries? What did you realize that others did not realize.
Sam: there are many things, you know, you, if you keep your GPS on all the time, there’s no way you can’t, um, keep your battery be longer than a few hours. The key insight is to turn off GPS. Um, Whenever possible without losing the information. So it’s sort of one simple insight. I said, you know, even if I keep the system on 24 hours a day, most people don’t move 24 hour, 24 hours.
So most of the time you’re not moving. Most of the time you’re stationary. So the key thing is to automatically detect a, when you are not moving then turned off. Um, and even if you are moving a highway, you know, the, uh, we don’t have to use GPS every sec. Um, so you can actually interpolate between data points.
So, um, so motion, wifi, Bluetooth, and all those sensors can be used to
Andrew: That’s why when I said GPS and wifi, you made sure to interrupt me and say, and accelerometer and Bluetooth. I understand now, accelerometer, Bluetooth. What did Bluetooth help you do?
Sam: Yeah, Bluetooth is, um, you know, when it can also tell you the environment, um, you know, whether other Bluetooth devices are wrong to you, um, that it can give some signal whether the, uh, user is a movie or not.
Andrew: Mm. Got it. Okay. All right. I want to come back and understand why you didn’t make a low heart into its own standalone consumer app and decided that you were going to be the infrastructure company. But first, let me tell you about Gusto. You probably had a point Sam where you’re not doing your own payroll, right.
Sam: Uh, yeah, we use another, uh, company service to manage all the payroll.
Andrew: I’m going to tell you why now is a great, and maybe even the perfect time to switch to Gusto the problem that many people who are listening to us are going to have in 2021 is their employees are going to be spread out all over the country, right? Different taxes, different systems of making sure that everyone gets paid no matter where they are.
The other problem is. It’s not just employees. You just have contractors too, who are 10 90 nines. How do you make sure that everybody, no matter where they are is paid, gets taken care of properly, no matter what city, no matter what state they’re in no matter. Even whether they’re contractors or employees.
Well, that’s what Gusto is all about. And now is the time to switch so that you start 20, 21 on a new page with brand new system that handles. The world as it’s happening in this more dispersed way. And the other nice thing about Gusto is something that I can’t really communicate in a podcast ad for you.
And that is that it just works beautifully. You know, you and I, when we use software that just works well and works in a modern, modern way. That feels good for us. Imagine how it feels to the people you’re paying to have an experience that is sane. That is new. That is modern. That is clean. That actually works.
Well, that’s what you’re going to confer on. The people who work for you. I keep saying people who work for you because I want to be clear. This is not just for hourly people, salary people, not just for employees at all. It’s also for your contractors and they give you so much paper checks. They give you unlimited payrolls auto, um, uh, auto autumn.
It’s set up in an automatic, set it and forget it way. It allows you to basically take care of your people as, as well as you’d like them to be taken care of. And reduce the agita that you have Gusto. You probably have heard about them forever. They’re one of these stories, Silicon Valley companies. Now people are talking about the business.
I want you to know the service by going to gusto.com/mixergy Y Combinator back company. You’ve heard about them now is the time to do it. Go talk to them, go check them out. Before 2021 email@example.com slash M I N E R G Y. gusto.com/mixergy. And, um, Oh, they’ve got a special offer on that page, but you know what?
I hate to get into the legal ease of it. I want to, I want you to go and experience the service because it’s a great service. Not because they have some kind of discount for you, but you’ll get the, you’ll get a really nice benefit as you’ll see. If you go to gusto.com/mixergy, Sam, why don’t you turn your business into a consumer-based business created, put it in the app store and become a huge success that everyone loves.
Sam: Well, that’s an a lesson I learned, uh, from a low heart. That’s why other, where beauty, otter.ai in a different way. Um, you know, other, uh, at a low heart and not to be honest at that moment, I, I wasn’t, I didn’t know what kind of, uh, consumer product, um, will be a successful. So we did a couple of them. Uh, it went okay.
It didn’t go like crazy. Um,
Andrew: Great consumer facing apps.
Sam: yeah, we who created those two apps, one is called a place me and the other one is called a place us. Paste me. It’s a person note location, a journal app. When you travel, you can, um, uh, you know, keep track of all your trails. Uh, it can be really useful when you were, um, you know, friends or Hawaii can be really interesting and also on a daily basis, a
Andrew: I do that. Google maps. Now I know that people think it’s a privacy intrusion. I get it. It absolutely is a privacy concern, but the benefits far outweigh any of the concerns that I have to be able to go back and say, where was I a week ago? And Olivia took me, ah, got it. I have it. What was the path that we took when we rode our bikes?
Got it. Um, so you, you went that way. It didn’t work out. And I understand how did, how did it go when you decided you were going to be built into other people’s apps with Aloha?
Sam: So actually one we’re good at we’re good at, um, uh, technologies. We’re good at getting accurate location. And, uh, as we already discussed doing it in a very powering fish and way. was the most efficient, most accurate at that time. So, um, the Google actually didn’t do it in Google map on too many years later, we actually did it way earlier than them.
Andrew: customers as an engineer? What did you do to sell.
Sam: Yeah, that’s the part I w I wasn’t good at. Um, but, um, for a low har, um, it, it got quite some traction. Um, you know, some people started using the consumer app first, um, and also we got quite some courage, uh, in the news of tech crunch Forbes. Um, and there, there are other intrepreneurs who came to us. Um, to ask for the SDK, we actually powered a few interesting companies.
Andrew: Because they read about you in the news.
Sam: They read about us in the news, or what did they, they heard about us as through their social network. Yeah. But, um, yeah, we actually learned a lot, uh, from the first startup. That’s why we’re, um, we figured out the new way to build honor. Um,
Andrew: me, Sam. I want to spend a little bit more time just closing this out and then we’ll get into Otter, but let me take a moment to talk to you about Otter due to, as you’re talking, it’s just mesmerizing to watch it transcribed. I just, I just said, dude, as you’re talking, the fricking thing did dude, and then put a comma as you’re talking, it’s more grammatically correct.
That most of the people I talked to. And I don’t mean to insult you. You got an accent, it’s picking up your accent beautifully. If I scroll up and I look at the way that you said a low har it understood a low heart and not only did it understand it, it put the timestamp on it for when we talked about it.
This thing is amazing. It’s, it’s just, it’s amazing. It actually makes me get chills as I watch it. And I know I’m a user who’s experienced this before. All right. Um,
Andrew: just never seen this in real time. Like this in a meeting.
Sam: Yeah, I, this is why we are, you know, 10 times more excited about Otter than our first startup, where, you know, we did, again, learned a lot of lessons. Um, you know, with honor it is a consumer facing product, um, where a user can sign up for free, uh, and use a lot of, uh, Uh, three minutes, actually, we provide the most generous plan probably on the planet as far as.
Andrew: I think most people who are listening to us are going to be using you for free and never pay you for months. I used you for free other people on my team were paying. I was using new for free and I was using it for meetings. All right, we’ll come back to Otter in a second. Why did you decide to sell Aloha?
Sam: Um, it was, um, as I mentioned that we, we didn’t figure out how to be viewed a successful consumer product. Um, and, um, we just got some really good offers that we cannot refuse. So we say, Hey, uh, yeah, we, we also saw, you know, when we worked with audio Baba, you know, they, uh, they have a huge user base. Um, they can definitely help us get our system into, you know, millions or tens of millions.
So users much faster than we could do. So.
Andrew: You sold to auto Navis. Am I right about that?
Sam: Uh, Alto. Navy? Yeah,
Andrew: add on auto navvy.
Sam: Navy. Yeah. It’s um, it’s um, uh, it’s part of Ali Baba.
Andrew: I’m guessing you’re not going to tell me how much you sold for, but it’s public. I, I went and I looked at the sec filings. I saw your head, just do a turn. As I said, that isn’t a public knowledge. I’ll tell you what I, what I read you. You can tell me if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Okay. I’m watching your face.
I’ve suddenly feel that the energy changing in the whole conversation, you don’t even want me to read from the sec filings.
Sam: Actually, I didn’t see it. Uh, I thought there was a
Andrew: You thought it was private.
Sam: yes. Private. Yeah.
Andrew: Can I read what I said? Or am I going to, am I going to make you feel so uncomfortable that I’m gonna lose you for the rest of the conversation?
Sam: Maybe we don’t cover that.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I’ll I’ll hold off. It’s it’s it’s in there. You did really well from, from the cell.
Sam: Uh, wait, we did well. Uh it’s it’s not crazy. Um, it’s um, you know, we have a bigger predator figure dream now.
Andrew: I will say this, that the, it was the cash portion. I’m going to say that $29,214 in cash. I said, what is, what is that about? And then there was, uh, equity in a business. I see already from your face. You want me to step away from this whole conversation. It’s not worth going into the numbers on it, but fair to say you did well.
You stayed with the company for a little bit. Did your life change at all? Sam? Did you become a, did you do anything for yourself? Do you buy yourself a house? Did you get yourself out of the Bay area for a little bit?
Sam: Um, just, I will say a little bit, it just paints it, it gave us more confidence. Um, you know, that that’s the first startup we did, um, learned a lot. We also met a lot of interesting people. So it just gave us the foundation to do something bigger.
Andrew: Okay. And the problem that you saw was, as you told our producer, you were in a lot of meetings and you experienced a problem. What’s the problem as you experienced it.
Sam: The main thing is that I can remember things. Um, you know, I talked to so many people talk to me. We see these costumers. Uh, we do a lot of interviews to recruit internally. We have tons of meetings. Uh, obviously they’re very fast paced and we, uh, product meetings, engineering meetings, um, business sales, marketing meetings.
I can’t remember things. Um, it’s also, I find it hard to, um, Convey the information to our other team members after meeting, you know, I talked with this customer, I want to share what they ask with our team. Um, sometimes I remember only two things out of the five things they asked. Um, so in say, Hey, you know why isn’t there a to, to help me.
Then I realized that with, tons of meetings this day, um, where, 99.99, 9% of the boy’s data, um, are on lost. Um, the, if you look at the world, uh, people talk so much, um, there’s a lot more research saying that a person in their lifetime may speak a few hundred million words. Uh, one number I saw was 800 million words in their lifetime.
So if you think about it, you know, this tremendous of information there, uh, where did that go?
Andrew: And so you’re saying, I think I want to capture that somehow. Did you do any kind of test at first to see if you can do transcription in real time?
Sam: We did test in back in 2016 and one, when we started with accurate test it, um, the Google voice API, we tested Microsoft with tests, Amazon. IBM, to be honest, none of them worked well. Um, the accuracy was low. Uh, and they didn’t do real time. You have to record it first and then send the recording to them.
And then after some time they gave you the transcripts that were full of errors. Um, so we say, Hey, you know, they, they, they don’t work well, what can we do? We say, that’s do it ourselves. So it was.
Andrew: Original look, there are these APIs out there. These brilliant companies are working on it and they’re making it into a service. All I want to do is make the version of their service available for people like me when they’re in meetings. And then it didn’t work. And you said I’m smarter than them. These companies that are creating API, why, what was your insight at this point that made you say you could do better job than me than they can.
Sam: Well, it was in some sense, insane. Um, say, how can we, uh, like a starving startup do things better than Google or Microsoft was, you know, infinite amount of resource there. So sometimes you have to believe in yourself. Sometimes you just have to do something crazy. We say, Hey, let’s do it ourselves. Uh, we, maybe we can do better.
Andrew: Sam. What’s the part, what’s the part, you know, how you told me earlier about how you, one of the realizations you had in your mat, in your location software was that you don’t need to understand. You don’t need to use GPS all the time. That’s what burns through battery. If people are standing still just stop using GPS, what was some of the insights that you had into real time?
Sam: Um, yeah, the key thing is, uh, the, when we’d view, when we were building a low har important principle, it’s about contextual intelligence. Contextual intelligence, meaning that you’re not just using the GPS of alone, you’re using a lot of other information to help infer, uh, location and, um, uh, the impairment without using GPS.
Um, so when you do speech recognition, This is, you know, again, this is a non-perfect yet, but it was, you know, are still working on it. It’s when you do speech recognition, the context is actually important. You’re not just listening to every single word as a, I said a word it’s in the sentence. It’s um, It’s depends on the topics you’re talking about.
And also after we hear a person, a few times, the system can build a model for that person about the topics they usually discuss the words they usually use. Um, you know, this is still in progress. It’s not a, not a finished, uh, system, but that’s the concept. How do you take the mentors of the context?
Andrew: That makes so much sense. Do you know what? I don’t know why other voice devices don’t understand this. I’ll give you an example. I’m someone who sometimes wants his articles read by my iPhone. For some reason, the iPhone will, Oh, we’ll get. W will not understand words in context. So for example, it might say, as it’s reading an article to me might say yesterday, he read a book about and keep on going, well, if it’s yesterday, it’s still the same word REA D but it should be pronounced, read a book, you know, but it doesn’t understand the context.
It doesn’t know that yesterday should signal that the word read is past not present and you’re right. Otter does that. And then the other thing about Otter that I noticed is. If I say it, if I fix it and if I use it a few times, it gets smarter about me versus the human transcription services that we use would always get words like Y Combinator wrong.
Now we use Y Combinator over and over again, but there’s no way to say to the next human being who’s does my transcript understand? Y Combinator is a word that we use. Here’s how it’s re there’s no way to do it with you. It does it.
Sam: Yeah, I am watching our transcript right now. I see Y Combinator. Uh, transcribed correctly. Yeah. Um, there’s a part of the context. Um, we are constantly learning new words, new phrases as well, obviously a Y Combinator, uh, didn’t exist. Um, when did they start? Um, you know, 20 years ago, I don’t think they existed.
Um, So that that’s a new phrase. A new phrases are being invented every day. Um, and, uh, acronyms, um, COVID 19 for example is not a popular word.
Andrew: They got that, right. It not only got it right, right now in our transcript, it also has it all in uppercase letters, the way that, um, I’ve been seeing in the news. So that’s, that’s one of your insights. What about this? As you’re going into this, you can clearly see Google cares about this space.
Tremendously. Why go into a space competing with Google when you know how smart they are, how aggressive they can be on pricing, where you at all worried about that.
Sam: Well, this is the, uh, David challenging, the Gleiss, um, the. Oh, my word, uh, is a little bit weird, uh, accent, but the, uh, I think that’s the fun part. You know, this is one thing I learned from my PhD advisor at Stanford. You know, he has been telling me all the time, Sam, you’ve got to think big, um, don’t trust, try to solve a small problem, solve a big problem.
That that’s where you can make a big impact in the world. So when, when we, again, when we pass through the Google API and Microsoft API and it found they didn’t work well with that, wow, this is a huge opportunity for us. And, uh, they couldn’t do it. Uh, well, you know, it’s a chance for us to, to do something better.
Um, so, um, of course it’s very risky. Um, but you know, that’s, that’s what stimulated us. That’s what excited us.
Andrew: What’s the big vision. What’s the one that makes the whole challenging Goliath part worth it.
Sam: Well, maybe we can show, we can wear smarter. We can do something better with, you know,
Andrew: how did you envision this? This would be used for more than just zoom meetings in your mind, right? More than just put it down to coffee. When you think about long-term vision for Otter, what is that?
Sam: Short term, it’s all about virtual meetings. Um, that’s what, you know, most Nottage workers, uh, spend most of their time. Um, so we want to help them. Um, it’ll make their meeting experience better, make their teamwork better, collaborate, better, more productive, you know, stay on the same page. Longer term. I see this honor will be everywhere, will be always on.
It’s very scary in the sense that. A lot of people get really nervous when I say this honor, I see in, I don’t know when five or 10 years will be always on, in the sense where it’s on your Apple watch. It’s only a wearable device, a wearable, um, uh, close in Otter. Or listen all the time, but it doesn’t mean they were shared that they don’t have Facebook or Twitter.
This is in the first place a system to help the user themselves adherence the environment. He hears all the conversation is and understands you maybe even better than yourself. It knows.
Andrew: it does what with this, what does Otter do with all this transcription of everyday life?
Sam: Well, it ender stand the conversations you’re having with other people. It can analyze it and make a recommendation for yourself, create reminders for yourself. Um, it knows the action items you need to take based on the conversation you had with other people.
Andrew: Yeah, I think I’m, I think I’m getting it. Tell me if this makes sense for you. The other day we were sitting on the couch. My wife said, so, um, I didn’t get you a present. I said, okay, that’s totally fine. Um, you said, but you got me a present, right? It’s this Fanny pack for hiking? I said, yeah, she said that should be from the kids.
Maybe you should get me something else. And I wanted in the worst way to write down or set a reminder by Olivia present. Instead I nodded like I already got her one. What you’re imagining is if this is on my wrist, if it’s on a wearable of another type, if it’s in my, uh, Amazon speaker or what the Google speaker, whatever, it should be, something I can go back and say, what did she say that we want, let me go through and see it.
And now, or even better, maybe I don’t even go through it. It just understands the context of gift and a to-do and it adds it to do to my. Uh, to my to-do list. That’s your, your big vision? Okay. Let me take a moment. I, that brings up a question for me and it’s not a, um, a privacy issue. I think privacy issues have been discussed.
My big question then is why are you creating consumer-facing app then instead of building it into everything that already exists, let me take a moment. Talk about my, my second sponsor, and then we’ll come back into this. My second sponsor is a company called HostGator for starting websites. Sam, you think big, you think these big visions of products that could be embedded into other people’s products?
I think there’s some people who are listening, we’re saying, all right, where do I even start? If I want to start something small right now, let me give them a suggestion. Sam, two things. Number one, actually, I’m going to give you one big dramatic idea that you can take and apply to lots of different things.
And you can use HostGator to host a website for it. The idea is, is right now, there are a lot of businesses who are trying to cut costs because we’re going into a recession for some businesses. You could imagine somebody whose whole job is I’m going to come into your business and I’m going to analyze it and show you where you could save money.
Imagine if that’s the idea that you have people whoever’s out there listening to me, you haven’t had an idea. Just go, go to hostgator.com/mixergy, get an inexpensive website and start offering that as a service to people. Number two, similar related services. What if you can analyze the stack, the software stack that runs their businesses and.
Suggest ways to improve. So maybe they’re using an old CRM, but you know, better CRM. Then you could show them how to use all these different services that you can offer businesses to save them money or make them more efficient or easy businesses to get started. And the first thing you need, when you start an idea, whether it’s this business idea or something else is a website to show people that you exist to give them confidence that they could trust you.
At this point, a website is like putting on a nice shirt in the past. You’d put on a nice shirt today. Nobody cares about what you’re wearing. But they do care about what your business is wearing on the web. And the way to do that is to go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Get the lowest price that HostGator has for starting a website and get going.
It’s super easy, incredibly fast, and you’ll get a low, low price from a dependable company by going to hostgator.com/mixergy. I come back to this sound, why consumer-facing product? Why is it an app? Why is it this, this thing that I have to interact with instead of embedding it into others? Why not an API?
Sam: Because right now, there are no other product that provide this kind of, uh, meeting notes service. So we figured that we have to build it ourselves and we want the design, the user experience design the, um, the user facing features that people can use in the most convenient way.
Andrew: you want to show us what could be done, but in the future, are you imagining that this is going to be a standalone app? Or is this going to be an API that businesses paid to access?
Sam: It is. Yeah, it’s, it’s already a standalone product. Um, it’s available through a web interface. You can use Otter and authored on the AI right away inside of your browser. For example, you ran a zoom meeting or a Google meet meeting or WebEx or a Microsoft team meeting on your laptop. You can turn on auditors side by side and transcribe live. Transcribe your words to meetings in real time honor is also available, um, mobile devices on your iPhone, iPad and dry phone and dry pad.
Um, so that either some people use it, um, doing a zoom meeting just to put a turnout out on their iPhone, uh, during the day. So many things are, you know, as you mentioned earlier, if you meet someone in a restaurant or a Starbucks or in a conference room after COVID let people meet again in person. They can use Otter, um, on their mobile device or their laptops.
Andrew: but I I’ve got to say what I, where I would like to see Otter go is I would like to see podcast apps like overcast, just pay you guys a fee, integrate your service and give me live transcripts or transcripts in general for all the podcasts I listen to, I would like my theme, my WordPress theme for Mixergy to automatically, if we just upload a file.
Just transcribe it for us through API and put it on the site instead of us transcribing, downloading it, putting it on the site. What I’m trying to say is I would love for you to be the backend almost invisible and just do it for me. But is that the version of the business that you see or do you want more, more of the app and web interface to be the experience?
Sam: Um, you can actually already upload your podcast to other and transplant and honor. Um, we see that, uh, short term, um, we are more excited about, um, providing the service to users directly because the. A lot of interesting functionalities and, and in particular, the collaborative part, which we see are even more interesting than the single user use case.
Because when you have a meeting, um, by definition, you’re meeting with, uh, other people. So it is a social activity. So when you’re having a meeting, the meeting notes is not just useful for yourself. It’s useful for all the meeting, uh, uh, attendees. And oftentimes the inflammation there is also useful for a broader audience beyond the people who are present in the meeting.
Um, it’s just, uh, especially true for, um, in the corporate meetings, uh, you know, your engineering team, B team, your product team meeting, and also. Uh, for externally facing meetings like customer cause, um, you know, for me, uh, VC cause, uh, or other business partner, cause. These, these, um, uh, information is useful for my own team, uh, you know, for them to hear from customer directly or from business partners directly.
So how do I share this in the best way with our team to help communicate better?
Andrew: Sam, I’m sorry to interrupt. I get excited about Otter. So I got to jump in a lot of times, people will at the end of a meeting, email, a link, um, I’m a, uh, an LP in the hustle fund. I love Eric. He record the zoom meetings and then he sends them over to us. What am I supposed to do? Listen to an hour and a half of his meeting, where in the beginning, he’s just chatting, eating with people.
And then I have to fast forward. I don’t want that. What I would rather he do is say here’s an Otter link. It costs us 20 bucks a month to have all these things transcribed. Here’s an Otter link. And then maybe someone on his team he’s gotten assistance and he’s got, um, an interns just go and use the highlight feature, highlight the parts that he wants me to pay attention to.
And then I could hit play and listen to those if I want to, or just skim and read and hit play on the things that I want to understand. Right. You’re saying right. As we’re saying this, this is the vision.
Sam: Yes. Yes. We rarely see people doing that. Um, they highlight things and they tell their, uh, their team members say, Hey, just look at my highlights. That’s all you need to do. Um, you don’t have to spend an hour listening to everything, you know, maybe two or three minutes is, is, is enough for you to get all the important parts from this, this call.
Andrew: Right. And then if you want to skim around and find others, you skim around and find others, and then I’ll tell you something else. Sam, I prefer the people give me a link to their Otter page and not to, uh, to a transcript that they get from Otter by getting the, you know, the PDF or the text. Here’s why sometimes context and people’s exp the way that people talk matters.
Like I asked the founder, I asked the founder of Zendesk. Do you mind if I ask you about your, your wife? And he said, can I ask you about your wife? He said, no. And then I said, really? He goes, no. And then he moved on. I could, you can’t get the context until you listen to him and see, he’s uncomfortable with Andrew asking about his wife, move on, just seeing the word.
No. Makes you feel like he doesn’t mind if I talk about it, you know what I mean? I want to hit play
Sam: Yeah. The, the, the sentiment, uh, intonation, uh, also matters. Um, the, um, the, um, Longer term, uh, the AI will learn. What’s important for you. Uh, it could automatically highlight things for you, um, but it will still take a few years. Um, it’s, uh, it’s a very subjective process.
Andrew: How did you get customers what’s been working for you for getting users?
Sam: Um, it’s a, where’s a mouse is the most powerful, um, in when people use honor that tell their friends and colleagues. And also when they use Audrey in the zoom meeting. Um, they basically are telling everybody about Otter because, you know, if you have 10 people on the call, all of them get access to the audit.
So once they start seeing it, they, you know, many of them get excited and they decide to sign up and start using other for their own meetings. So, uh, viral growth it’s the best way. Um, so, um, Yeah, we, we have the basic plan, the pro plan, um, and also for business, uh, they buy the business plan for their own team.
So in a similar seminar way, they buy zoom plan or a Slack for their team. It’s getting adopted in enterprises as well.
Andrew: It looks like the basic version gives you 600 meetings. That’s 10 hours for free.
Andrew: Um, Your advisor. Let me close out with this. Um, this is tell me if I’m pronouncing his last name. Right David Cheriton. He was the first check into Google.
Sam: He wrote the very first a hundred thousand dollar check to Larry Page and Sergei to start a Google. Yes.
Andrew: From what I understand, multi-billionaire incredibly flake lives of frugal, basic life. What did you learn from him?
Sam: I mentioned, you know, think in bed, um, and don’t be afraid of, um, doing something different. It’s um, doing something controversial that that’s his style. Um, and,
Andrew: How do you see that coming across from him?
Sam: Wow. He usually have contrarian views against the conventional wisdom.
Andrew: For example.
Sam: Um, one example was actually the way he, um, look at the, uh, computer net networking technologies. Um, I don’t remember what year at one point, I think, um, people were, uh, excited about a technology called ATM, um, and, and he came out and say, Hey, that that’s the wrong thing to do.
Um, either now will be the future. Um, after a few years, um, it was proven. Right. Um, and, um, and he actually built a company himself, uh, with ND backlog shine, um, long time ago, even before I joined Google. Um, uh, even before I started at Stanford, it’s got a grand net. Um, they, and a company was acquired by Cisco, uh, with a big check.
Um, so that’s just one example of many other things he would do very differently.
Andrew: What, what do you, what’s the controversial move with daughter?
Sam: wow. That’s the we say, Hey, we’re going to capture all your voice that scared a lot of people.
Andrew: That makes sense. All right. For anyone who wants to go check it out, it’s otter.ai. I’ll tell you one more use case for me. Sometimes people will send me a YouTube video and say to really understand what I’m about. You should watch this YouTube video. I don’t have patience for that. What I do is I download the YouTube video and then I upload it to Otter.
And then about 10 minutes later, I have the whole transcript and I can just quickly scroll through it and see what I need to see. All right. I obviously love it. I get no payment from Otter. There’s no way they could pay me. Their prices are so freaking low. There’s no, there’s no margin to give anyone an incentive to talk about them.
They just have to create a good software and it is good. It’s an otter.ai. And I want to thank my two sponsors who made this interview happen, Sam? I know we’re running over. Thanks for spending the extra time I could see, I could see that you’ve got other things coming on. I’ll just close it out by saying if you’re paying people in 2021 and beyond go check out gusto.com/mixergy.
Even if you’re not ready to switch, at least know what’s out there so that when you get frustrated in the future, you’ll say, ah, Gusto. Andrew told me about it so much better. I need to leave this headache payment for your people and receiving payment by your people should not be a headache to deal with.
Go to gusto.com/mixergy and see how good that experience can be. And when you’re ready to start a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Sam. Thanks so much for being here.
Sam: Thank you Andrew for having me here.
Andrew: Thanks, bye everyone.