This startup is navigating a new way for marketers to interact with customers, optimizing feedback and giving better, more secure service in a win-win for both sides
Innovation is more than creating something new from scratch. Sometimes it is finding a new and surprising way to repurpose existing technology in a way that nobody else has thought to try before, adding your own twist to the application.
This is what Dov-E has succeeded in doing with sound, taking ultrasonic sound waves and turning them into a new method of sending data between mobile devices and regular old speakers.
Speakers are all around us, whether they are on devices like TV screens, registers, and even vending machines. With the rapid growth of mobile phone ownership, we now walk around with microphones in our pockets that are capable of picking up what those speakers are throwing down.
Recognizing the untapped potential for industries ranging from advertising to security, the Dov-E (data over voice encoding) team has developed an embeddable SDK for their clients’ apps on iOS and Android that can recognize who the users are, where they are, and which messages they have been exposed to.
Whenever a user has the app on their phone and comes within proximity of devices that are setup to communicate with the phone through their speakers, then the company with Dov-E’s technology in their app will be able to communicate and collect specific details of data on that user. This can work over short range protocols or longer ones, depending on the needs of the client.
Practically in the commerce space, this could be used for driving sales and gauging the effectiveness of ad campaigns.
Picture the following scenario.
You are sitting at home watching a TV show. Then an advertisement for Coca Cola comes on and you hear it, and of course you now have cola on your brain. You then leave to go to meet up with friends and get thirsty on the way. You pass a corner store and all of a sudden receive a notification with an offer for a discount on a can of Coke. When you go into the store to buy the drink, you find that you can pay with your mobile. Mission accomplished and thirst quenched.
This can be a game changer for Coke and other businesses, knowing which of their campaigns are being seen and where, hopefully boosting sales. It answers questions from marketing teams about which offers are actually leading to people taking action. Moreover, they are able to accomplish all of the same tasks without the need for NFC (which is lacking from Apple devices) or QR technologies installed on the devices. Even Wi-Fi is only necessary for connecting with the servers.
No additional hardware necessities makes this a much more scalable and cost effective option for clients. The potential for receiving feedback and achieving on the spot responses are endless, especially when compared with the spray and pray methods of traditional advertising.
The sounds sent from the speakers are inaudible and do not interfere with the sound. When the app is enabled with Dov-E’s software, it can run constantly on a passive mode, allowing for 24/7 use, explains the company’s business development manager Kristina Barger in a conversation at their offices in Pangyo outside of Seoul.
Dove-E was founded in 2013 by CEO Yehuda Yehudai, Server Architect Noam Ben Ari, and Mobile Architect Nir Palombo. Since then, they have managed to gain the support of some pretty big players like Microsoft Ventures as an accelerator, Visa Europe Collab, Amdocs, and Intel.
They have received funding so far from Curious Minds and Janvest Capital Partners, a US-based VC known for backing strong Israeli cyber security companies and other deep technology ventures.
A move towards Asia: getting their feet on the ground in influential markets
While the team is Israeli in origin, they have already made big steps towards the Asian market, taking part in the K-Startup Challenge initiative to bring foreign startups to work for three month period of acceleration.
Home to major companies like Samsung and LG, it is also a source of technology advancement. Part of what brought Dov-E out to Korea was the extensive dominance of speakers and mobile devices, making for a very fertile testing ground for the company.
Mobile use is so dominant in Seoul, that there are lanes on the sidewalk where it is forbidden to walk in while staring at your phone. More generally, the Koreans appear to be very open to trying out new technologies and taking part in the field of digitally induced commerce. Just walking through the glitzy streets of Gangnam or on the immaculate subway with video ads for new mobile games running on the screens in between announcing the stops, you get a sense that people there are very open to playing along with the commercial game that is necessary to let the new phase of marketing play out effectively.
Korea is also a relatively comfortable place to work in for foreign businesses, due in part to the strong IT infrastructure, standardized legal system and a general respect for IP. Some of the visa bureaucracy can be a bit onerous at times, but in talking with a number of entrepreneurs and others who now call Seoul home, it is more of an annoyance than a pitfall.
While Korea’s demanding education system has produced a steady stream of qualified tech workers, there is now a sense that instead of sending them off to a life-long career at Samsung, that this may in fact be the time to expand their horizons. One option that the government has put some of their stock into is in developing a stronger ecosystem. This drive to encourage diversification in the economy was a prime factor behind the K-Startup Challenge, which brought in companies from abroad to set up shop in Pangyo, and share some of the innovative spirit with the local scene.
Geektime will be issuing more reports on the companies that we met with in South Korea, along with interviews with some of the personalities that are leading the charge for new ideas and diversity in the market.
Barger says that in Korea they are trying to introduce their technology into the K-Pop market. She explains that Korea is the biggest cultural exporter for Asia, bringing their influence throughout the South East and China. The content, either the plasticky pop stars, movies, and associated brands of cosmetics and fashion are a big business not only in Korea, but throughout the region. The potential for boosting sales through user engagement via Dov-E’s tech is very appealing.
In case you have never seen or heard of K-Pop, it is like a factory produced train wreck that you cannot look away from. Check out a couple of music videos to get a sense of the bubble gum that seems to be sticking around.
A stepping stone to China
Speaking with a variety of companies, they have chosen to set up shop in Korea while setting their sights on the much larger market in nearby China. Breaking into that market takes on average two years, making connections and finding partners.
Barger tells Geektime that they are already in China and are working with the payment branch of Alibaba, Taobao, on a way to implement payments, putting them way ahead in the race for a place in one of the most desired markets on the planets.
Along with China, Barger points out that their solution could be applied in other large markets like India and Africa, where the level of connectivity is not always so certain but Dov-E’s primary messaging feature could still be active.
Alternative uses for the technology
One of the directions that the company is exploring is how their recognition capabilities can be used in authentication. In the case where the user bought the Coke, the point of sale device at the register was able to recognize their device, knowing that it was them. So while Dov-E’s technology was not directly involved in transferring the funds – a service avenue that they have thus far decided not to pursue directly, preferring that the payment go through the client’s app – they were instrumental in identifying the user and giving the ok for the payment to go ahead.
This ability to communicate directly with a user’s mobile device could have significant applications for Two Factor authentication solutions that are used for accessing your bank and other sensitive accounts online. While Google and services like LastPass have apps that generate codes on your phone, Dov-E could provide a much more user friendly method of carrying this out securely, without the need for the user to access a separate app.
Looking forward, Barger sees various public safety or services uses for their silent messaging system. She points out that messages of dangerous weather like tornados or even air raid warnings for people to get to shelters could be sent through their technology.
Is this the wave of the future?
Dov-E has created a powerful way for sellers and others to reach out to customers with their calls to action, while picking up on solid feedback. The trick here for merchants will be to not over do it. The tools to reach out to customers wherever they may be, comes with responsibility not to annoy. Nobody wants a situation where their phone is buzzing with every step they take down the street.
Some folks have expressed concern over passive listening by apps, basically leaving the microphone open on the device to pick up on signals. While perhaps there are less worries that these apps are recording our conversations through the open mics, there are legitimate issues about leaving a door open on our phones open to receiving potentially dangerous communication from hacker or on a more benign level, the fact that it adds yet another way to pick up on our locations that we may or may not want to have companies collecting information on us.
Dov-E is not alone in their use of microphones for purposes other than talking on the phone. LISNR offers a similar service and has picked up big partners like Cisco, Intel, and Visa. Then there are the more common B2C focused apps like Shazam that help us figure out what that song on the radio is so that we can buy it through them later on iTunes or another music store.
In an article in Wired on technologies using ultrasonic sound waves for tracking, Lily Hay Newman cites how companies like Silverpush and Shopkick faced pushback for their use of beacons for tracking users and sending them push notifications.
It is worth remembering that the technology only picks up on information for the apps that the user has already agreed to download to their phones. Also, other than simply marking that a user with the relevant apps was in a certain place and may have seen a certain message, Dov-E does not collect any other data on the user and the tokens disappear after their one-time use. The only personally identifying data that is transferred to the company will be the details that the user has already entered themselves into the individual apps. In my mind, these precautions minimize any significant concerns that I might have for my privacy.
The key here will be for the app makers, either companies like Coke or my bank, to be upfront and transparent about what they are doing. My sense is that most people will actually be pretty alright with this kind of arrangement if they can see how it benefits them, and not just the brands. While some in the privacy conscious community will always be skeptical of technologies that implement more data collection or tracking features, the public at large are far more concerned with receiving better services that they find to be useful.
Navigation app Waze is probably a good example of an app that does tracking and push notifications with ads, that has become viewed as extremely useful and accepted by the public. Nearly every driver in Israel can be seen with Waze open over their dashboards, with people seeing the tracking and pop ups aspect as a fair bargain in exchange for beating rush hour.
As more of our lives and the industry continues the march towards mobile, Dov-E is building the backbone of the infrastructure that will help the cogs run smoother, promoting efficiency and convenience to both consumer and their clients. Consumers should begin to expect more embedded technologies in their phones as brands and others try to get the most out of their interactions with users. Hopefully, Dov-E will be able to mark themselves as a leader in this space, laying out best practices for others to follow after them.