The influencer category has seen the most turnover since 2019. The top two influencers from last year have left the industry. Gary Vaynerchuk still speaks about voice as an important user interface on occasion, but he shut down the VaynerSmart group that focused on voice in early 2020 and is more likely to discuss TikTok these days than Alexa. Dave Isbitski, as the first Alexa evangelist, podcast host, and frequent conference speaker, was, for many people, the face of the industry in the early days. However, he moved over to a new role in AWS earlier this year and left the Alexa team. With that said, many other influencers have stepped in to take their place.
We also decided to include a few executives shaping the future of the industry by the products that are rolled out. The devices have influenced the industry’s direction as much or more than any influential individual. So, leading off our list this year is Jing Kun from Baidu. Not well known in the U.S., Baidu’s DuerOS voice assistant is available on more than 400 million devices and new smart home products are introduced directly from Baidu each year. Dave Limp oversees Amazon’s Alexa product portfolio, and not only does this include smart speakers, but also the Echo Frames smart glasses, Echo Buds wireless earbuds, Alexa Automotive, and more. Finally, Rick Osterloh is head of devices and services at Google ranging from Pixel and Nest to the Stadia gaming service. Google Assistant and Duplex are proliferating throughout the device portfolio, and Osterloh is shaping that dissemination.
Other returnees include Joan Palmiter Bajorek of Women in Voice and the two top conference organizers for the industry, Bradley Metrock, and Pete Erickson. We also greatly expanded our list this year based on the hundreds of nominations submitted. Bios of the 2020 honorees are listed below.
To learn more about the selection methodology and honorees in the other categories, go here: Go to Overview
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // David Limp is SVP of devices and services at Amazon and in that role has led efforts to bring Alexa everywhere. Amazon has largely set the tone for the most recent round of voice assistant adoption and pioneered entirely consumer electronics device categories of smart speakers and smart displays. While Amazon may be Alexa-first, the devices are particularly key to the distribution strategy in the home. Under Limp’s leadership, Amazon has also moved aggressively to have Alexa incorporated into a wide variety of third-party consumer devices ranging from microwave ovens and automobiles to smart home devices and smart speakers. The Amazon team has recently moved into established product categories such as hearables, wearables, and supporting mobile apps. When you talk about influence, Amazon has established new places for voice assistant access and is continually breaking down boundaries and resetting expectations. Limp has been open to trying just about anything (Echo Loop anyone?) and shaped how people think about where and how consumers will employ Alexa in everyday life.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Rick Osterloh is SVP of devices and services at Google, where he oversees the product lines for Pixel, Nest, Home, and a variety of other offerings that provide access to the world’s most widely used voice assistant. He was instrumental in rebranding the Google Home product line as Nest to create more marketing continuity among Google’s smart home products. Osterloh and his team have also aggressively expanded its products to smart displays, a redesign of the flagship smart speaker, and added wearable devices to the portfolio with the Fitbit acquisition in 2019. Of course, there is also Android. Google is battling Amazon in the home on one flank and its long-time rival Apple for personal mobile devices on the other. Its current efforts seem squarely focused on mobile with the recent expansion of App Actions that will bring Google Assistant more easily into existing mobile apps. Instead of creating a new organization to promote Google Assistant, Osterloh’s challenge has been more about coordinating and extending Google’s vast assets across devices and services to continually increase the value of the Assistant. Google’s global consumer reach, innovation around new capabilities such as Google Duplex, and pioneering features for multi-modal voice assistant interactions are key influences on how the industry is evolving.
WHY SHE MADE THE LIST // Dr. Joan Palmiter Bajorek is the Founder of Women in Voice, an international nonprofit that provides programs in 15 countries supporting women working in the voice technology industry. The organization recently celebrated its second anniversary, named a new advisory board, and added its 20th chapter. Bajorek has a Ph.D. in speech language technology from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree in linguistics from UC Davis. She has worked at Nuance as a speech technologist and conversation experience designer, with Applause as a voice technical specialist and several other organizations as a researcher. She recently finished up a stint as entrepreneur in residence at WeWork in the first half of 2020.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Bradley Metrock, founder and CEO of Score Publishing and Project Voice, is a tireless promoter of voice-first technologies, startups, and everyday voice applications. He is best known for the VoiceFirst Events conferences that include Project Voice, Digital Book World, Voice of the Car, Voice of Healthcare, Voice of Money, and several others. He also founded the podcast network VoiceFirst.FM and has personally hosted the popular show “This Week in Voice” since 2017. In 2019, Metrock also published the book “Amazon Alexa: More Than Just Weather & Music,” which highlighted 200 ways to use Alexa.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Pete Erickson is the founder of Modev, which has run the VOICE conference, the largest voice industry event, since 2018. In January 2020, Modev hosted Voice @ CES, the industry’s first focused event at the world’s largest tech trade show. It then served up a non-stop online event with 170 speakers, Voice Global, which seemed perfectly timed for the pandemic era. The company also launched Voice Talks in 2020 to maintain connectivity among the voice community each month with a produced event of featured speakers and conversations. Modev was founded in 2009 to serve the needs of 25,000 mobile developers, and Erickson used that experience to begin serving the voice AI industry in 2017.
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Michal Stanislawek and Karol Stryja were already well known in Poland as leaders in voice AI and media and were building a reputation more broadly in Europe at the onset of 2020. That was before the global pandemic changed the ability of people to meet in person. However, Stanislawek and Stryja decided that the industry still needed an impromptu way to stay connected, and #VoiceLunch was born. The organization now has chapters in several countries and even topical interest groups. The main VoiceLunch group has already hosted more than 50 online events, which may be at lunchtime, dinner, late-night, or early morning depending on what time zone you live in. Stanislawek is co-founder and CEO of Utter.one a voice experience development shop and CTO of MediaAtmos. Stryja is chief commercial officer at Utter.one and CEO of The Podcast Makers.
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // VUX World started as a podcast and became an agency. Co-founded by Kane Simms and Dustin Coates in 2018, VUX World has attracted a dedicated podcast audience in the voice industry around user experience design and voice app development. Simms has a background in digital transformation services and writing and now works full-time to design and develop voice experiences for clients. Coates is a product manager at Algolia, where among other responsibilities, he is the lead for voice search. He was named an Alexa Champion in 2020. Coates’ software development background is a perfect balance with Simms’ focus on design when they run joint interviews on VUX World.
Listen to Kane Simms on the Voicebot Podcast
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Brian Roemmele is a widely followed voice-first (did he coin that term?) influencer on Quora and Twitter, where he is very active sharing information and answering questions. He also likes to research to include the development of a voice assistant named Alfred (and some new ones this year), which occasionally make appearances in Twitter videos. Roemmele has articulated an interesting vision of the future of voice assistants in what he calls the Intelligence Amplifier and Wisdom Keeper. The Intelligence Amplifier records your life in real-time and instantly enables you to retrieve any information from your life experiences as needed. The Wisdom Keeper will be your manifestation while you are not there and represent you both in life and afterward. Roemmele writes at Multiplex about various topics, many of which deal with voice, payment technologies, and commerce.
WHY SHE MADE THE LIST // Noelle Silver is well known for her work at Amazon as a senior architect and evangelist for Alexa, along with her later work in the Microsoft Cognitive Services team for Applied AI. Last year, Silver joined NPR as vice president of digital technology, where she worked with one of the leading users of voice technology channels. More recently, she took her experience over to HackerU, where she is now Head of Instruction for data science, analytics, and full-stack web development. Silver spent 11 years at IBM earlier in her career, followed by time at Pivotal and VMware. She is a frequent conference speaker, both in-person (when we did such things) and online, and is also the founder of both the AI Leadership Institute and WomenIn.AI.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Dr. Teri Fisher is among the hardest working people in voice. He recently published his 1,000th episode of the Voice in Canada flash briefing and podcast, hosts the Voice First Health podcast, and launched the Voice Den online reality show in 2020. It is worth noting that Fisher is a practicing physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia so he accomplishes all of his initiatives around voice in his “free time.” Fisher is a sought-after speaker around the intersection of voice technology and healthcare and an Alexa Champion.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Carl Robinson is also known as VoiceTechCarl on Twitter. That moniker comes from his role as host of the Voice Tech Podcast, where Robinson has racked up 80 episodes that typically focus on topics of interest to developers. In 2020, Robinson also co-founded Rumble Studio, a SaaS solution that enables content marketers to record and publish audio as quickly as a blog post. It is an asynchronous interview system driven by text-to-speech AI technology.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Danny Bernstein is managing director of partnerships for Google Assistant. He was the host of the Google Assistant developer day in 2020 and has been leading efforts to build out the voice developer community both for the Assistant on smart home devices and Android smartphones. The smartphone is a particular focus with the recent general availability release of Google Assistant App Actions. Google was fairly quiet in its developer outreach before Bernstein took over the responsibility in 2019. Since then, Google was a lead sponsor for Voice @ CES, active at Project Voice, the founding sponsor of Voice Talks, and has worked directly with numerous agencies and developers. That activity is expected to continue in 2021 as Google looks to expand its voice developer ecosystem and solidify its early gains in global voice assistant use.
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Susan and Scot Westwater founded Pragmatic Digital in 2019 to help brands become more discoverable through voice channels. Susan serves as CEO and has a background in digital and content marketing, while Scot brings his experience as a user experience designer to the voice industry as chief content officer. They co-authored “Voice Strategy: Creating Useful and Usable Voice Experiences” in 2019 and have been popular speakers at voice industry conferences in addition to client work. Earlier in 2020, the Westwaters co-founded VoiceMastersAI with the London-based team of Vixen Labs. VoiceMastersAI offers a six-week, instructor-led online course for marketers, experience designers, and business owners on voice strategy.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // James Vlahos literally wrote the book on the voice industry. His book, Talk to Me, chronicles the rise of voice technologies over five decades arriving at today’s world of chatbots and consumer voice assistants. A former journalist for more than 20 years, Vlhahos has written for WIRED, The New York Times, Popular Science, and National Geographic Adventure, among others. His interest in conversational technologies was piqued after interviewing PullString founder Oren Jacob for an article. That experience led him to create DADBOT, a conversational chatbot avatar of his late father, based on many hours of interviews conducted before his passing in 2017. The effort included his own time developing the interaction model using PullString’s software and sorting through a dozen hours and more than 200 pages of interview transcripts from conversations with his father. Vlahos ultimately decided to take what he’d learned from creating DADBOT to launch HereAfter, which develops similar multimodal chatbots that can retell life stories and answer common questions about someone in your family.
WHY SHE MADE THE LIST // VoiceBrew offers a daily email newsletter for consumers to educate them about how to get the most out of their Alexa experience. The newsletter is sent to thousands of consumers with tips, tricks, and suggestions ranging from mastering features and settings to Alexa skills to try. Katherine Prescott founded VoiceBrew in 2019 after a career in finance at Morgan Stanley and Highbridge Capital Management and is carving out a unique role as a coach for consumers on how to incorporate voice assistant benefits into daily life.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Florian Hollandt is a solutions architect for Alexa Amazon and the former product manager for Jovo. He is well regarded for his expertise in Alexa skill development and enthusiastic evangelism of Alexa in Europe. Hollandt is also an experience Alexa skill builder with titles such as Dice Game, Black Twelve, and Decision Coach. Prior to joining Amazon, he also regularly reviewed Alexa skills (particularly games) and offered developer tips in his Medium blog.