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Ep. 6: Mike Coney of Voci Technologies

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Summer of 50 PGH Tech Stories

Voci Technologies made headlines this spring when it was acquired by Medallia. The great news is that Voci is staying in Pittsburgh and growing its workforce to keep pioneering its speech transcription technology. Mike Coney gives us all of the details. #50PGHSummerStories is powered by Comcast, and we're raising awareness fo Beyondthe Laptops.org.

Transcription:

So glad you are here watching. Yes, it is, again our summer of 50 Pittsburgh tech stories. This is Jonathan Kersting hanging out with our friends at Comcast making all this storytelling happen. And we had an awesome story happen here way back in the spring that I thought man I want to circle back on this and make sure we keep getting the word out because way back in spring, Bucci technologies was acquired by Medallia really big acquisition and really good for the city. Because the remaining here they're gonna keep they're gonna continue to grow and keep kicking butt and it just goes to show you that even through a pandemic, cool things like company acquisitions can happen. And we're talking to Mike Coney here today, who leads up Voci. And Mike, welcome to the show today. Thanks for being part of it. I know you're just on tech vibe with us a few weeks ago, we were so glad to get the details. We have a whole new audience here for you a little bit of video going on too. And yeah, so I'm just I'm excited to dive a little deeper into what this really means. Details about the technology you guys work on is just absolutely amazing. And I remember this, just getting started off, like way back in like 2010. And to see how you guys have kind of moved this thing along has been really cool. It definitely counts as one of our hottest stories of the summer here without a doubt. Thanks for being part of it.

Yeah, thanks, Jonathan. Always a pleasure. And it feels like it's a weekly thing now with us. Hopefully it doesn't end here. So it's like what the heck What the heck? So let's start with the beginning real quick, give our listeners a little background about like Voci and kind of its what it's supposed to do and how it does it and kind of like how it was conceptualized and then how they will grow into be this really cool company that was a an acquisition target.

Yeah, so you know, Voci was really kind of a great local Pittsburgh story right? Spun out of CMU, and we draw a lot of talent from our first of our founders are from CMU, and then a Lot of the core engineers in the early days were from CMU, we still recruit from both CMU and pet, depending on the requirements, so, you know, Voci, what Voci does is we build a speech to text engine. So we've all familiar with, you know, different devices that listen to us and perform on voice command. So Alexa is a good example of a speech to text engine of more commercial grade. What butchy builds is a very powerful enterprise grade speech to text engine. And so we power the enterprise. So we're installed in law, very large contact centers. Yeah, we use a lot of the techniques around art from artificial intelligence, machine learning, neural networks, all very deep, you know, deep learning technologies that allow us to get really super high accuracy. fast response times very scalable architecture to deploy our product within these large context centers. So that's that's kind of in a nutshell what we do. And we've grown now to about 65 people in Pittsburgh and just opened up a brand new office. Great timing, you gotta close it down. It's a great time for that. But I was just on a call with, we had an all hands call with Medallia, our recent acquisition, and now they're our owner. And we're now a wholly owned subsidiary of the debt battalion in which basically, oh, they're their voice division. And they're committed to the Pittsburgh area excited they already had 15 people in the area. So now they have a home to come to assuming we get back to the office.

Now they got an awesome office because your office is beautiful. And that's just fantastic. Because when you say that they're keeping it here in Pittsburgh. That just makes my heart sing because That, that just makes it such a great story because you know that so many times people they buy they want this the technology behind it like no one agreed back at our home turf, wherever that may be like, no, they know Pittsburgh's the secret sauce would make Voci work.

Yeah. And we are part you bring up a good point. We are part of the technology stack, right? So we'll be integrated into their customer experience platform  Medallia Voice. So we'll be in the brand, the Voci brand will live on we'll still have our partner ecosystem. They want us to build out that, that those those relationships with other partners. So yeah, it's an exciting time at bocce. We're really excited about Medallia and the culture of leadership. It was just a great fit for us all the way around. I mean all the way around. And getting back to I mean, your technology is so powerful that it makes everything looks simple. With what you guys do and I I learned how you guys are integrated into college. centers and so forth. Like, it makes it possible for someone in a call center to actually understand what I'm saying, because I speak so quickly. And so that they're able to actually better communicate the customer. So it creates a better customer experience. And then it creates the more data upon that. So they've learned how to answer different types of calls based on how calls were handled and so forth. It just seems like like there's so much that goes on with with your technology. And through that, that has Pittsburg roots, to me is just so cool.

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's, it's phenomenal. And I think what companies large enterprises are finding out is there's tremendous value in the voice data. And if you can go in and use data mining techniques, and extract that data, whether it's emotion sentiment, next, next, action, coaching, QA, all these different kind of use cases out there. And I'll be honest with the word scratching the surface, I know the scary cool part of it, right?

Because we start talking about The agreeable detect emotion and sentiment. I mean, that's getting super powerful. So like, they know when I'm ticked off because my cable bill is too high. Right. Right.

Right. And, you know, we could there's a, we have advanced AI guys, you know, PhD level folks coming out of CMU, we're doing research right now on, on on, it's not just speech to text, the transcription, right, just looking at transcripts, it's really what's behind the voice. And there's a lot of data that suggests we can we can really mind the what's happening with someone's voice over time. Even given health benefits, you know, like I said, you know, whether that person person has potential to churn, you know, if they're, you know, maybe they're using some language over time talking about the renewal rate talking about different offerings that that that customer or that supplier might have. So there's really a lot you can you can glean from someone's voice and It's powerful and challenging this super hot we're solving really hard problems. And then we have to do it in foreign languages. Oh my goodness. You're reading this Okay, now my mind is blown like holy crap. How many languages can you guys do you guys working right now?

So our our focus was North America, right so we handled but and it gets really complicated quick but right now we're focused on North American English and Spanish, French, North American French, so you got Canadian, French and then we're now have a pipeline developed for three additional actually four different additional languages will do a Mia, English, Italian German and Spanish so kind of the bigger languages within the European continent and the added we'll go into Asia pack we also do Australian English and South American English how Pittsburgh Windsor. We do it we do. Yeah, we do the Pittsburgh, maybe not as bad. But we, I'll tell you what, Jonathan, I've listened to some audio before and you're like, and you think about it, if someone's in their car with the dog barking, or these are the kids in the back fighting over the hot dogs and stuff. I mean, and some and you're, you know, nobody's sitting in a perfect environment talking to their contact center to talk about there's no reason at all right.

Yeah, so the agent quality is usually pretty good because they're in a, you know, they're in a controlled environment. And it's, it's can be quiet, whereas you've got this background noise on the other side. So we have technologies and techniques to go in and clean up that audio. Right. And we can do a real time. So we're not talking about sending it off to a supercomputer and running advanced techniques. We're doing it's all real time in real time, deliver real time coaching and analysis to customers. When they It that is see that is just so cool to know that you can work that quickly. I can understand why you're hiring the best and the brightest and like Carnegie Mellon and from Pitt to be working on these things. Tell me more about like, the positions that you're hiring for. Cuz I think once again, that's me. It's so exciting that you're required. You're staying in Pittsburgh, and you're hiring more people, because you had some really tough problems to solve like this. Yeah.

Well, we're hiring right now for, you know, full stack developers. And we are a technology play. So we do have limited, you know, the usual business kind of function, sales, marketing, back office finance, that type of things. But across the board right now, we're looking for customer facing support engineers that have you know, Java experience, and then an obviously C programming experience on the on the back end. But yeah, I mean, anybody with any kind of technical background, and then when you start talking about more advanced degreed positions, We're starting to get into things like speech and analysis and AI machine learning deep neural networks, and the pool for available talent and is highly competitive for those folks. It's got to be crying. And we recruit from all over the world. So we don't really with today's world of virtual office support, and we were well set up for that, you know, working virtually, we've got people in Canada, umea, even in New Zealand, supporting our products worldwide. So, hey, look, if they got the right background, you know, we hope they can come to Pittsburgh and be in Pittsburgh and support the local office, but we're going to hire the best talent we can around the world.

And that's the beautiful thing about the world. I mean, with anything that kind of really came out into the whole COVID thing is the fact that we can all work very, very efficiently remotely. So why not be able to hire someone wherever they may be? Because they have the skills. You're looking forward to move. Ricky Medallia forward. I mean, that's just the amazing opportunity for you guys.

Yeah, exactly. And if you know, we'll probably have right now. Currently, we've got got about two to three engineering positions open finish. Now, you know, but 2020 has gone by pretty quickly. Yeah, about the end of this year. And we'll start putting together the plans for next year. But it's definitely making investments in language services, building our language models, transcription services, so we hire a lot of foreign speakers, right people that know. And that's, that's where PIP comes into play. They've got some really good language services, interesting programs. We've got a very robust intern program. We've I think, right now we've got over five interns from CMU combined, working online with services. So you know, we've hired we have to hire French, German, Italian, Spanish, so any language that we're developing currently in the pipeline, we need somebody who can speak those languages, not necessarily write the models, but to be able to understand the transcripts, right, that skill set, right. It's more of a QA kind of quality control to create, create, monitor those trends. scripts, but we do need those foreign language speakers. The good news is we got we've got people from China, India, already working in very diverse work environment at bocce. So we've got those languages covered, whether it's, you know, China, but you know, in India have a lot of different variants of their of their language, right. So you don't just say we've got Chinese covered, you've got to get, you know, certain. Yeah, exactly that Mandarin and then you got all the other different variants. So it's a very time consuming, expensive operation. And that's why Medallia brings to the table, their commitment and support the build out those language services. It seems like the acquisition has made sense for both parties involved. I mean, they want to have the best technology they can't go develop, try to mimic and get around your patents and stuff like that. And you're looking for a partner to see to bring in the money and the resources so you can then get to all these different languages, it seems to all work together. And tell me a little bit about like, just the whole trajectory. I mean, you got a nice series A and Series B round, you raise those. And then obviously you start going towards this acquisition part of what part of this was kind of happening during the whole COVID thing was getting like a little freaky where it's like, oh, my God, like, we know, we're closing the deal on this thing. This is like in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, I mean, he proposed to do like this global pandemic.

Tell us about that. Yeah, it was challenging. You know, it is you probably realize, Jonathan, these these things take time, right. And so the conversations with Medallia started probably 6,7,8 months ago. They were looking to do make those decisions, whether it was a build versus buy, maybe partner first and then look at an acquisition later. We were it was a competitive dynamic. We're competing against some other speech to text vendors. So they had done a lot of due diligence prior to COVID in kind of early 2020, and then We got kind of down to the finish line. And that's when the pandemic really hit the shutdown travel the offices, so rightly so everything kind of got put on hold, hey, let's take care of, you know, the partners, customers, employees, let's, let's keep our powder dry, and then then they can so a lot of the hard work was done right that's called it 95% of it was done. And then what's been really challenging and I think hats off to Medallia's acquisition group and their HR department is really onboarding the OT folks right I mean, that starts you gotta get these people integrated into the Medallia machine for crying out loud.

Yeah, so you know, you do usually would fly in to the all hands kickoffs needs, all that has to be done virtually. So, we got through it. They did a great job. Getting all the Voci people integrated, new benefits package new, a new 401 Ks and all the benefits. Where they got, you know, Medallia brought a lot to the table from a benefits perspective. And we're in a competitive dynamic. We're right down the street, we got Facebook, we got Google up in the bakery district area, Baker square, we've got we got some a lot of high tech companies we have to compete for with talent. So Medallia brought a lot to the table, quote from a brand perspective and benefits. And, you know, I think, you know, when we ended, and they really support the work from home, they were well positioned for that. So not a lot of, you know, probably the biggest challenge for us was just, we had a pretty close knit team, and great offices and people were drawn to it. So you know, you kind of you change, you adapt, we know you do virtual hands, zoom meetings and zoom cocktail hours, not the same. But check it out. It's hard to the good news is I don't have to throw up my credit card bar anymore. Yeah, but get through it I think by fall or to feel that kind of timeframe, we'll probably be back in the offices in whatever capacity that that modality decides is, is a safe and prudent way to go.

Sounds exciting and like I said this was really one of these really great stories is that as this was announced I mean everyone's just just reeling with the whole COVID thing and it is still realize that during all this that when it Pittsburgh's like top tech companies, you know, it has this really cool positive acquisition it lifted our spirits a little bit thing like no matter what happens Pittsburgh continues to innovate Pittsburgh continues to find ways to make things happen. And I just can't congratulate you guys enough on this because, man, it just goes to show you can build something really cool here in Pittsburgh and move it forward. It's simple.

Oh, absolutely. And I think there's, there's more to come from technology and I think we're gonna you know, you know, my goal is to make sure this division is a standout division within bocce or within the data. Right to the bocce brand will live on and we drive. If you think about it, Medallia is very well positioned the enterprise. So all these big enterprises are looking for some sort some sort of a speech solution. So they can run that additional analytics on what's happening, what's being said about in these contact centers. So we're excited. And it's it's onward and upward for us.

That's what I want to hear. So my last question today is my Comcast question today. Because as we do this series, we're all about trying to raise some money for the neighborhood allies beyond the laptops, and it's just good to be on the laptops.org. And you can make a small donation there. And it's a great way to helping to get laptops in the students hands. And so I want to get your insights on ways that we can help bridge the digital divide in Pittsburgh and beyond any thoughts on that like?

Yeah, I mean, I think getting our employees, you know, involved in some of these initiatives, we're all you know, seeing what's going on out there, and they in You know, on the on the, you know, with a lot of the different you know, COVID hits and then we've got in Medallia is very focused on some of these initiatives right now we're focused on in supporting Black Lives Matter. And we're doing a lot of, you know, corporate initiatives around that to the extent we get our employee base involved. And, and we've got 60 people here in Pittsburgh and, and supporting these local charities and we were all for that whatever I could do to help and provide that kind of support. We're all in so you know, we can work with the team and, and people are excited to help and they're looking for causes. I think it just feels like there's more that we can do. And we just need forums like this to help you know, kind of push us over and provide the focus that we can bring to the table.

That's what it's all about. Can't thank you enough for taking the time to talk to us might come from voting. technology's division of Medallia you're always voting in my heart to me. Simple as that which I'm glad to brand continues here in Pittsburgh. You guys have done some amazing work over the years. And that's such success. I know it's only get bigger and better you guys were awesome, man. I just love it. Thanks, Jonathan. We appreciate your support. Absolutely. Hey, this is Jonathan Kersting once again in trying to tell the 50 cool stories in Pittsburgh tech ecosystem with Comcast keep coming back for more everybody.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai