When Google Translate came out in 2006 the world was quietly excited for the potential of language translation technology. Today, that potential has been realized. Waverly Labs, through their newest product Pilot, has developed the first ever wearable translation earpiece that translates in real time. Inspired by the frustrations of not being able to communicate across languages and borders, the language tech company has been growing rapidly. With $5M in pre-orders, the Pilot is set to officially launch shortly. Available to translate Russian, Arabic, Spanish and French and more languages to come, Waverly Labs is looking to create a world without language barriers.
AlleyWatch spoke with CEO and founder Andrew Ochoa about the company and where they plan to go next.
Tell us about the product or service.
Waverly Labs is an innovative consumer products company at the convergence of wearable technology and speech translation. We’re developing Pilot, the world’s first translating earpiece. Using speech recognition, machine translation and noise cancellation microphones within our earpiece, Pilot can interpret what someone is speaking and translate the conversation into the users ear.
How is it different?
Our company is at the forefront of speech translation products, and our Pilot earpiece is the first translating earpiece that allows multiple people to have a fluid conversation without interruption.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
Our customers are highly diverse and include professionals in the education, medical, international business, hospitality and security industries. It’s also extremely encouraging when a user messages us to exclaim how Pilot will help them speak with family members that speak a different language. Those personal stories have a huge impact on how we shape our product development roadmap.
What is the business model?
Currently you can pre-order Pilot at a competitive price of $249, however in the future we plan to explore opportunities to monetize our language offerings through downloaded language packs or other premium features.
What inspired the business?
Years ago our founding team was really inspired by the wave of wearable technology that was coming out of the startup community and we had a vision for how voice technologies would impact that landscape. Even then we wanted to do something that would solve a global challenge, and since we came from different backgrounds and spoke different languages, that’s how the idea for Pilot was born.
According to data which languages are the most in demand for translation from one to another?
Plenty of research suggests that Europe will have a greater need than any other region for language services because of the continents highly diverse makeup comparative to the rest of the world. And although most of our current customers are from North America, we have an equally large amount of interest for Mandarin Chinese and other Southeast Asian languages.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
This fall we will begin shipping the first units to our preorder customers, and through the holiday season we anticipate shipping over 26,000 units. Over this period we will use the opportunity to monitor the user experience and build a roadmap for the next set of feature improvements, after which we’ll begin shipping the next batch of units throughout the spring.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
Maybe I took this for granted from too many good experiences in the past, but a piece of advice I wish I had was how the wrong hire can completely derail a team’s mission. I always look for expertise, passion and culture fit when hiring, but a lesson I’ve learned is that culture fit is almost more important than the other two criteria. Having a nucleus to build a team around instead of throwing a bunch of experts in a room together would have saved us from several tumultuous experiences.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
Working at New Lab in Brooklyn provides us an incredible network for collaboration, but one team we’ve been interested in exploring opportunities with outside of our current network would be Leo de Luna’s team at Microsoft Ventures. One of our speech translation experts has a background within their research group and we’re curious to see how our technology stacks up with their systems.
Why did you launch in New York?
When I launched Waverly Labs I was living in Austin, Texas. The weather was sunny, the festivals were aplenty and the tacos were amazing. Then I came to New York for a week visit and in those few days I was blown away by how much more robust the New York tech scene was compared to ATX. When I arrived back home at the end of my trip, I sold all of my belongings and booked a one way ticket back to NYC within three weeks.
Where is your favorite fall destination in the city?
Just before the weather gets too cold and days get too short, there’s a small Williamsburg park on the East River that overlooks Manhattan from the East with the most amazing dusk colors.