Smart Home Voice Assistant Startup Josh.AI Closes $11M Funding Round
Smart home voice automation startup Josh.ai has raised $11 million in a Series A funding round. The startup bills its platform as a premium, privacy-centered alternative to what Amazon, Google, or Apple offer, with minimal data sent to the cloud.
Josh.ai runs its eponymous voice assistant through its Josh Micro smart speakers. The AI is connected to whatever devices are available, and the entire system can be run by voice or through an iOS app. When the company began operating in 2015, it focused solely on software, with its platform operated through a Mac Mini. After closing an $8 million funding round in 2017, the startup began to work on the hardware side of the equation.
“We set out to be purely in software development, but we realized we were getting stuck as a software company integrating with Echo and others,” Josh.ai CEO Alex Capecelatro told Voicebot in an interview. “Building hardware allowed us to go a lot deeper into privacy. Now, it lets us not go into the cloud for much of anything. Everything runs on the microprocessor.”
The platform can handle any number of smart lighting, environmental controls, security, and entertainment devices, thanks to partnerships with the manufacturers. Capecelatro described Sonos as Josh’s number one integration partner, but pretty much any Internet of Things device can be part of the network. The AI is designed to understand what people want based on context and can run multiple commands from a single request. That’s part of what sets Josh apart from its competitors.
“All of the commands are based on context,” Capecelatro said. “For instance, if you say ‘turn it up,’ it will look at what it might refer to and what you’ve said recently. If a lightbulb is at 50% it will likely make it brighter. We’ve also been stringing mobile commands together for years. Google is only just starting to catch up to that now.”
Another difference from its competitors is that Josh Micros and the accompanying voice assistant are not sold directly to consumers. Josh.ai sells them wholesale, and they are an option for people hiring home builders or utility installers. Though it makes for a pricier setup than buying an Echo or Nest, the price point fits with Josh’s typical users.
“We sell through network installers and have about 500 certified,” Capecelatro said. “They install typically eight or nine [Micros] on average, up to around 50 or 60 for a 400,000 or 500,000 square-foot home. The basic level is about $1,000 for one Micro. Five Micros might be two to five grand.”
While the startup has raised $22 million in total, Capecelatro said he could not disclose who the investors are, and the type of investment means the names aren’t in the SEC filings either. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the privacy aspect of Josh.ai and its independence from the major tech brands were major factors in attracting interest from the investors, according to Capecelatro. With the new funding, Josh.ai plans to grow the company’s team and develop the next generation of Josh Micro. Capecelatro mentioned that the current COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a more cautious growth strategy. Still, for now, it has not affected the startup’s plans for creating better smart speakers and software.
“The next version of Micro will have more microphones and better performance,” Capecelatro said. “We’ll also be scaling the team, especially tech support. Eventually, tech support will be the largest part of the company. Also, [Josh] is currently only in English, but we have lots of requests to go international, which would mean teaching [the AI] new languages.