Thursday, August 11 2022
A screenshot shows the interface of the Yoodli AI platform. (Photo Yoodli)

If you’re intimidated by the thought of giving a speech, going to a job interview, or toasting a wedding, a Seattle startup called Yoodli might have what you need: a compatible software platform. with AI that analyzes your performance and gives you advice for improvement – without passing judgment.

Today, the company is exiting stealth mode, opening the waitlist for early access to their beta product and announcing a $ 1 million pre-seed funding round from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. of Seattle and the Madrona Venture Group.

Yoodli is a spin-off from the institute’s incubation program, also known as AI2. Two of the founders – Varun Puri and Esha Joshi – are entrepreneurs in residence of AI2. The third founder is Ehsan Hoque, co-director of the Rochester Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Rochester.

All three rely on their personal experience to enter the world of startups. Puri, for example, grew up in India, led special projects at Alphabet, and led operations in Africa for a GoogleX connectivity initiative. He saw many instances where smart techs didn’t get the recognition they deserved because they struggled to communicate effectively.

The founders of Yoodli with the Seattle skyline in the background
The founders of Yoodli are Ehsan Hoque, Esha Joshi and Varun Puri. (Photo Yoodli)

“The reason I started this was to help this kid back in India or Kenya access opportunities that he might not otherwise have access to because of the way he speaks or presents. something, whatever his technical skills, ”he told GeekWire. “This is definitely North Star’s goal.”

Joshi said the problem can be particularly intimidating for women in tech.

“As a female engineer in a male-dominated industry, I felt like I had to put even more effort into getting people to take me seriously,” said Joshi, who spent several years at Apple. and is the chief technology officer of Yoodli, in a press release. “Nerves and doubts before a presentation can be overwhelming, and the feeling of successfully speaking in front of an audience is a huge confidence booster. Our platform takes you from the nerves to the confident personality you need to achieve your goals.

Hoque has decades of research experience creating AI interfaces to improve the skills of the workforce. One particularly relevant project for Yoodli is using AI to help healthcare professionals prepare for end-of-life conversations with patients.

Yoodli’s software platform records users as they make their presentations, then indicates where they could speak more clearly, reduce “ums” and other filler words, and improve their use of eye contact and gestures. Users can also solicit feedback from colleagues and connect with an expert coach.

Software versions can be customized for a wide range of applications. “They help people prepare for any substantive conversation, whether it’s talking with a reporter, a salary negotiation, a job interview, or a tough date,” Puri said.

Puri admitted to using the software to prepare for his interview with GeekWire. “It gives me a lot of feedback on my verbal and non-verbal communication: my posture, my gestures, my tone, tone, intonation, when I go a little fast, where I insist on things and so on” , did he declare. “We are still testing various elements of the discourse on which it would be interesting to comment. “

So far, the Yoodli team has tested the first prototypes with only a few users. Starting today, the team is opening the waiting list for people wishing to register for the beta test. “Right now we’re just trying to optimize for learning and experimentation,” Puri said. He expects a commercial product to be available in early 2022.

Yoodli may look suspiciously similar to Hooli, the fictional tech company from the HBO series “Silicon Valley” – but Puri cites a different source for the name.

“Yoodli is a game of ‘yodeling’, which is a vocal exercise used by most speech-language coaches,” he said in an email. “We think Yoodli has a fun, eye-catching ring and represents our playful corporate culture (try quickly repeating Yoodli three times, you’ll end up smiling). We help people overcome their greatest fear, so the brand needs to sound and feel welcoming. In fact, we call our employees yoodlers.

And the ranks of the yoodlers are growing, in part thanks to the million dollar boost. “I won’t go into the numbers because people are still signing up,” Puri said.

“We’re trying to find amazing AI engineers and full-stack developers,” he said, “and if they’re interested in working at the intersection of NLP [natural language processing], speech and computer vision, we are a small, disjointed and very fast growing team that is supported by big players in the Pacific Northwest.

Matt McIlwain, Managing Director of Madrona, said Yoodli offers “a tremendous opportunity to use AI as a means to improve human social and cognitive skills.”

“We love supporting exciting teams from day one, and this team has the passion, technical and industry experience that keeps us coming to work every day,” said McIlwain. “And make introductions! “

McIlwain and Madrona investor Ishani Ummat today set out their take on Yoodli in a blog post.

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