Thoughts

Why I joined Voiceflow

Emily Lonetto
|
December 4, 2019

Movements don’t happen very often

We, as humans (myself included), don’t always like change. In fact, most of us veer away from change. We seek comfort, convenience, and optimize to be better at the things that we know. In fact, the same thirst that drives both human curiosity and invention is often muted by fear of failure.

Yet despite the faithful security of what’s familiar, sometimes the allure of a new challenge or opportunity becomes too strong to ignore.

Enter Voiceflow

Earlier this year, I made an important decision. I made the decision to take a bet on something new; to take a chance on myself, and to work on something few have tried before. In July, I said goodbye to my amazing team at Clio and decided to join Voiceflow as their new Head of Growth.

“Why?”

“Because I believe voice design will change the way we interact with technology. Because I believe that we’re only starting to discover the possibilities, and I want to be a part of that journey.”

“Voice?… like the Amazon Alexa and Google Home things?”

“Sort of — we’re making it easier for people to do more with those devices. Create better experiences for their users, and build amazing new projects for people to explore.”

“So like, turning on the lights? Or playing music?”

“Not just that — anything really! Like creating easier ways for people to interact with IVRs, challenging designers to think more conversationally, or to make technology more accessible through voice.”

“Oh… sure, voice.”

In the past, I’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of inspiring leaders, teammates, mentors, and friends on countless challenges and growth opportunities. The thing is, every one of those challenges existed in a space that had already been defined or easily explained — a space where my growth goals revolved around either:

a) stealing other people’s piece of the pie

b) building a better pie with better ingredients or

c) convincing someone that only “kind of” likes pie, to really LOVE pie.

Unlike in my previous roles, at Voiceflow, I wasn’t just tasked with gaining marketshare; I was forced to define the very market I was going after. Sure, Voice in some way was defined… but it still wasn’t nearly large enough to approach in the same manner. Voice was still very much half-baked — you could smell it… but it was still forming. In fact, the Voice space was so early in its development that it could still be shaped, moulded, or experimented with at scale.

Ignoring all of the pie analogies here, Voice was something new. It was something different, and something that had all the ingredients of something amazing. Heck — it even had an audience of people peeking in to see when it would be done… but it wasn’t defined by its form. At least, just yet.

I took a bet on a team

They’re young.
They’re hungry.
They’re going to win.

I chose Voiceflow, not only because of the product or the industry … but because of the people.

They want to win, but more importantly — they care. They care deeply about the users they’re building for, the problems they’re solving; and most importantly, they lead through the community they’ve grown. They’re focused on not only making the best product for their creators but cultivating a community of creators that level up the industry as a whole.

And it didn’t stop there. Looking past the passion in their voices and the hours they put into getting to know their users… it was their ego-less leadership and genuine want to build something meaningful that got me excited.

A quick search on Twitter or Facebook, and you’ll be able to find hundreds of posts celebrating the amazing things people have built on Voiceflow. Endless questions and answers provided by the team and personal shoutouts to the creators that make it all possible.

A few minutes in a room with any of them can quickly turn a non-believer or voice skeptic into an inspired creator.

A chance for modern invention.

We all want to invent something new, create a new way of doing things or build something meaningful.

In the past, I spent years making products better, improving customer journeys, and optimizing for user engagement, activation, and retention. Even with that experience, this was something entirely different.

Voiceflow presented a brand new opportunity. A chance to define a new paradigm for creatives: a new way to inform the way we consume and interact with technology. More importantly, it proposed a challenge. A challenge to make technology more accessible, more conversational, and less restricted by the screens we’ve grown to rely on.

Voieflow forced me to choose: keep optimizing or try building something new? And for the first time in a long time, the path was unclear but the decision was crystal.

I took a bet on Voice

Based on the headlines alone, it’s clear the voice industry is hot. There are skeptics, fans, and neutrals… sure, but most importantly — there’s potential.

As someone that started their career by building things on top of new technologies and teaching themselves how to design, code, and grow — this challenge hit me hard.

I wanted to empower creators to do more and let their imagination become a reality. I wanted to help people work faster, create more, and teach creators to build in a new interface. I wanted to help grow something that even I — my team — or anyone really for that matter, had done before. Voiceflow represented an opportunity to do just that.

Voice has brought communities and people together for generations.

From utterances to first words, the spoken word has always been compelling and memorable. Parents freak out over the first words their kids speak. Kids learn how to ask questions (a lot) before they ever learn how to write, let alone type… and strings of sentences and words are what form relationships, businesses, and history.

Voice is in its infancy, and the best is yet to come.

Although Voice is new in its technological form, it is one of the most natural interfaces we’ve ever come across. Unlike laptops, cellphones, or other GUI interfaces, voice is accessible to anyone that knows how to speak — not just those that know how to read, write, or type. If you were to put an Amazon Alexa or Google Home in the middle of a crowded room — everyone already has a controller — their voice.

You don’t necessarily need to teach someone how to speak, but instead, you just need to show them what to speak. This fundamentally makes the platform more accessible but also introduces new challenges (exciting ones, at that).

Voice is in the desktop era, pre-google

Much like the internet and mobile — there’s some work to be done in the early days.

Let’s take a walk back in time for a second

When the internet first launched, early adopters and innovators jumped at the opportunity to build in this brand new virtual space. They dug around and learned a new language. Developers began creating pages and designing new web experiences in what was otherwise a blank canvas. These were the early days of website development.

The issue early on, however, was the scarcity of education around “how to build” or “what to build”. It’s important to note that even if you had a base level of information or curiosity, the internet was difficult to navigate. People were restricted to word of mouth and had a hard time discovering websites that they didn’t already know.

In short, people were creating websites and pages online — but unless someone already knew the name of their page, there was no real way of finding it.

This behaviour isn’t far off from how we used to navigate the world. Remember when you needed to get to know someone (by chance), learn their address, and ask for directions from random strangers if you got lost?

Introducing maps. Then you had to go and write down someone’s address. Buy a map of their area, learn how to read the map, and then have someone (or yourself) navigate there.

Introducing mapquest. You had to type in the address, print out (or memorize) the steps, and get to your final destination.

Introducing GPS. Enter in an address in your car, no need for printing, and get navigation announced live while in transit…

And the process continued to improve with Google Maps, reviews, Waze, shortcuts etc.

Voice introduces similar challenges — except unlike the early internet or the example of maps and navigation, Voice doesn’t have the same learning curve or barrier to entry.

Today’s state of voice consists of a few dedicated voice teams, innovation teams, and a growing horde of hobbyists — all of whom are building and actively thinking about creating voice experiences.

These Voice experiences can be anything from Alexa Skills and Google Projects to reimagining IVR systems (i.e. when you call your bank and have to click 1–9 while being forced to listen to country music on hold) or accessibility design.

People are building, but not everyone knows what to make, how to discover, or what the world of voice has to offer. Much like the early days of the internet, mobile apps and more… there isn’t a lack-of-curiosity, there’s a lack of expertise.

“Platform shifts happen once in a decade, interface shifts happen once in a career.”

Simply put, the opportunity with Voiceflow isn’t restricted to the tool itself. Our mission isn’t just to make it easier for people to build voice interfaces. It’s a matter of making it easier for the curious to seek and find inspiration. It’s about making it easier for people to discover things that they don’t know. It’s about making it easier for creators to learn, share, and push the boundaries of a new paradigm.

It’s the ultimate growth challenge. One without an immediate end goal, an obvious OKR, or any of the jargon I once buried myself in. Voiceflow is building something that doesn’t just fit into the world as we know it but challenges it to be better — to do more, to think differently.

And that’s why I joined Voiceflow.

Because I too, want to be better, do more, and learn to think differently.

If you’re curious to see how Voiceflow is making voice design more accessible to creators everywhere, check us out – otherwise, stay tuned for what comes next.