Nithya Thadani is the CEO of RAIN, a voice technology company that has just raised $3 million in a series A. Rain has been created voice solutions using the Alexa and Google Home APIs for the last five years for companies like Starbucks, BlackRock, Nestle, Nike, and MasterCard.
RAIN is focused on going beyond the leading edge of voice AI to solve the problems of the deskless workforce with solutions leveraging specialized capabilities from brand-owned virtual assistants.
Why have deskless workers been so chronically underserved from a technology perspective?
For many deskless workers, operating budgets are razor-thin, and technology developers may be wary of prospective customers’ willingness to invest in new tools. These workers may also be tough sells about the value a new technology will yield when things have historically been done another way (i.e., if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it). And in all too many cases, general products are developed without taking the unique needs and pain points of the end-users into account at a nuanced level, thereby limiting the upside of adopting them. For highly specific jobs, general-purpose solutions simply don’t work.
Has Rain Identified Challenges to Productive Use of Voice in the Workforce?
Delivering purpose-built solutions also means hardware can matter as much as software. Context matters when thinking through the types of devices and the types of computing that are required to get the job done. For example, a production line manager on a loud factory floor needs solutions that account for ambient noise. An oil rig technician whose job takes them off the grid needs an edge computing solution to call up specs and plans. Not only that but also a device that’s running on an intrinsically safe handset, lest they risk blowing up the whole operation.
There is also the need voice assistants to understand unique terms. For a voice solution to accurately interpret industry-specific jargon (“Can I turn a PVC 90-degree-long sweep elbow slightly towards its side?”), it needs to parse it correctly and retrieve an accurate, helpful answer. General-purpose solutions won’t cut it; purpose-built, domain-specific knowledge corpuses will.
What are Brand-Owned Virtual Assistants?
RAIN defines Owned Virtual Assistants as digital agents that operate under the control of one company or brand, delivered primarily through touch points they control, with a specialized set of functions unique to their brand owner.
Technically speaking, RAIN conceives of OVAs as having a few key attributes. They’re conversationally-modeled, channel-agnostic, and their “brains” (business logic and knowledge domains) can live independently from their modes of expression (e.g., the touchpoints where a consumer will use it).
Conversationally-modeled means voice and/or chat interfaces, with multi-modal (audio + visual) affordances.
Channel agnostic means having a disposition for scale vs. a platform preference and a technical approach that is flexible enough to support it.
Independent brain means a centralized hub for the code and logic of the assistant, enabling consistency across touch points. It also means non-reliance on the native development restrictions of MVA platforms.
What Has RAIN Learned About What is Needed With Brand-Owned Virtual Assistants?
Brands have jumped at the emergence of voice as a scaled, big-tech-enabled channel to reach consumers–in the comfort of their homes, in their cars, or even on their person. Amazon, Google, and Samsung have all courted brand investment in 3rd-party app presences on their platforms in the forms of “skills, ” “actions,” and “capsules.” Thousands of leading brands have responded by building 3rd party voice apps (many of which RAIN has conceived, designed and built). The result is a bloated marketplace—there are over 100,000 apps in the Alexa Skills Store— with a staggering variance in quality, from a strategic standpoint (e.g., is this voice app really going to drive a brand’s business objectives?) but also in terms of design and development polish (e.g., what does it do, and how well does it work?). It’s not easy to define and execute well on a great use case for voice. Even more difficult, as many brands have learned, is getting people to find it and to come back to it regularly.
Brands are beholden to MVAs on their always evolving technical and design constraints for third parties (e.g., screen-optimized voice experiences), as well as their first party product roadmaps, where first-party functionalities (e.g., default music streaming services) could easily usurp 3rd-party apps whenever a platform sees fit..
How Will RAIN Provide Value?
RAIN can help Brands gain control and increased productivity from their voice solutions. RAIN has and will focus on learning exactly how things are being done in the field, factory and deeply understand usage and use cases. RAIN has already been creating at the leading edge using the mainstream voice systems and leveraing APIs integrate them with hardware, software and custom coding. RAIN will now supercharge these efforts with our neuromorphic algorithms and greater resources from our funding.
End of Interview. Press Release on Fund Raise Below
RAIN raises $3M Series A to improve productivity for the deskless workforce
December 16, 2020 (New York) – RAIN, a global leader in voice and conversational AI, today announced it has closed a $3 million Series A investment led by Stanley Ventures.
RAIN has years of experience building conversational AI interfaces for leading companies including Nestle, Blackrock, Marriott, Starbucks and Nike. The investment will build on this foundation to enable RAIN to create conversational AI solutions for the “deskless workforce” – whose labor powers industries like agriculture, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing – with the goals of streamlining laborious processes and increasing enterprise productivity.
“Voice AI has been making waves in consumer technology for some time now. We have long been focused on how that same technology can dramatically simplify and enhance professional workflows,” said Nithya Thadani, CEO of RAIN, “How does a worker input data while wearing gloves – or check inventory without taking their eyes off a customer? It requires purpose-built solutions that leverage the hardware and infrastructure that workers use on the job.”
The deskless workforce, whose eyes and hands are often preoccupied in daily tasks, stands to disproportionately benefit from voice-enabled, conversational tools. Despite being 80% of the global workforce, deskless workers have been woefully underserved in terms of technologies that would make their jobs easier, safer, or more productive. Today, only a fraction of the $300B that is spent on business software each year has gone to the deskless workforce, while only 1% of enterprise software funding has gone toward deskless worker solutions.
As most of these essential workers cannot work from home, the pandemic has added further challenges to their safety. Gartner has estimated that by 2023, a quarter of worker interactions with software will be mediated by voice.
“We’re excited by RAIN’s vision and how their voice assistance technology can transform productivity across a wide range of industries and use cases,” said Michael Mahan, Managing Director at Stanley Ventures. “We’re thrilled to take the next step in supporting RAIN’s innovation roadmap to develop voice-based solutions for the deskless workforce.”
Contactless, voice-first solutions hold great potential in situations where hands and eyes are otherwise occupied. Voice excels at speedy information entry or retrieval, where a simple uttered sentence can accomplish a task far faster than hunting through menus and typing on keyboards. And the infrastructure is flexible – you can voice-enable an existing device, website, or mobile app.
This effort also comes on the heels of many large companies investing in custom productivity-centered voice AI solutions in retail, healthcare, commercial real estate, and more. These assistants offer companies greater control over data, functionalities, devices, and channels of distribution.
For more information, contact Jon Phillips at RLM PR; Jon Phillips
RAIN is an industry leader in voice and conversational AI. RAIN builds voice technology software, defines voice strategies, and designs conversational experiences. Over the last five years, RAIN has helped dozens of F500 companies build voice solutions, including Nike, Nestle, Blackrock, Marriott, Starbucks, and Headspace. RAIN serves on the advisory councils for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
About Stanley Ventures
STANLEY Ventures is the corporate venture arm of Stanley Black & Decker. STANLEY Ventures partners with the company’s businesses to drive innovation and push the boundaries of what’s possible through strategic investments in startups who are developing technologies that redefine industries. They are “For Those Who Make the World Innovative.”