Chainsaw Product Highlights Risks for Brands Rushing into Voice Industry
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Doug Schumacher, founder of voice and audio creative studio Arrovox.
A dubitable voice product that garnered early VC investment is being taken off the market. The investigative journalism arm of Voicbot.ai has taken a closer look at this remarkable story. There were doubtful murmurs when the concept of a voice-enabled chainsaw was first revealed back in 2017. But sometimes, the rising tide of a fast-moving industry lifts all barriers to good judgment.
Chat n’ Cut
The “Chat n’ Cut”, as it was named, had humble beginnings. According to the ‘origins’ story on the brand’s now defunct website, the two founders, both advertising copywriters, had apparently polished off a case of Lumberjack Stout beer after work one Friday night and started brainstorming voice product ideas. In their inebriated state, the Escheresque connection between chainsaws and the voice industry became a direct path to startup stardom.
Sources close to the founders suggest that upon waking the day after their brainstorming binge, no hangover of any magnitude could keep the two from pursuing their newfound dream. Perhaps most surprising, they secured $1 million in funding with little more than a conversation flow diagram. Wil Gamble, CEO of seed funding firm Gamble & Shock, explained their logic for investing in the company:
“So many legacy industries were digitizing. We figured if the taxi and office rental businesses could be appified, well, it seemed like the chainsaw industry was ripe for the picking. Add to that the rapidly emerging voice space and, well, what’s not to love?”
And, while hindsight is 20/20, it seems there were a number of questionable decisions made along the way. The initial target market was the lumber industry. Early field tests were conducted with a logging firm in Veneta, Oregon, and a problem quickly surfaced. While it was easy to turn the chainsaw on by voice command, after it was started, the chainsaw motor noise overwhelmed the mic, and no additional user commands could be picked up.
“It was just weird,” said a field crew boss at the firm who asked to remain anonymous. “Usually, when the ‘jacks are out at work, all you hear is the buzz of the saws and falling trees. But this time, all you could hear was the saw, and then a bellowing voice of one of the ‘jacks screaming “Hey Chat ‘n Cut”, trying to shout commands above the chainsaw noise.”
Chain of Fools
Field reviews were understandably bad. But what might have seemed a clear and obvious alarm was misinterpreted by the brand’s market research consultancy. Instead of viewing the research as an indication the Chat ‘n Cut was not a professional grade product, they instead took it as an indicator the product should be repackaged and sold to the consumer market.
We got in touch with the former director of marketing for Chat ‘n Cut to get a sense of how that strategy played out. Apparently, things didn’t go well. Under a blanket of anonymity, she noted that while the OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) were initially focused on metrics like CPS (Cost Per Sale) and NPS (Net Promoter Score), the company soon transitioned to the CPMWM metric (Customers Per Thousand who were Wounded or Maimed).
Voicebot’s investigative reporting team was able to source a key document that indicates management should never have sent this product to the market. The sample dialog flow had plenty of branching leaving us to wonder if there was an actual “happy path” that Chat ‘n Cuts entry-level conversation designers could agree on. It was also heavily edited to add new error states associated with unintelligible speech.
The voice industry remains promising, and we present this story in complete objectivity. While the personal injury attorneys and media feast on the carrion of this derailed initiative, keep in mind the lessons learned from our ancestral early-stage technology ventures. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Just in case you have read this far and still think this is something that really exists or you are a personal injury lawyer hoping that this really exists, we assure you, it does not. We hope it provided you with a smile and respite from all the seriousness around us everywhere.