Voice AI startup SoundHound has tapped a chief revenue officer and is poised to expand its finance team as it looks to turn up the volume on its sales and marketing with the help of a special purpose acquisition (SPAC) deal.
In the wake of ex-Hewlett Packard exec Nitesh Sharan joining SoundHound as its chief financial officer in the fall, the company is again growing its C-suite by nabbing Zubin Irani, the former CEO of the technology firm cPrime Inc., a subsidiary of ALTEN. The move also comes about two months after the company announced it would go public via a SPAC in a transaction which values the company at $2.1 billion. It is poised to close later this quarter.
The deal will unlock liquidity and about $244 million in proceeds that the company can tap to plow into marketing and sales that will get its voice command technology and platform into more companies, Sharan told CFO Dive. Irani is charged with overseeing sales and marketing growth that is aimed at capturing a bigger piece of what is projected to be a $160 billion voice AI market.
Sharan sees Irani's hiring and the focus on sales as the logical next stage of the company’s development.The company has over 200 patents and has built great technology, but to date it has largely worked with just a handful of business development resources, Sharan said. That is changing. “We know that for us the number one use of proceeds from the transaction will be sales and marketing...we believe it's the right next step for us as we scale."
The company is forecasting substantial acceleration. Gross revenue is projected to rise from an estimated $20 million in 2021 to $110 million in 2023 and up to over $1 billion in 2026, according to a company presentation.
Irani, who oversaw a tenfold increase in revenue at cPrime, sees the voice AI market as ripe for expansion. SoundHound already has a range of customers that include auto companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and KIA as well as Mastercard, Deutsche Telekom and Snap, among others. Irani aims to make sure companies that want the technology are aware of SoundHound while also educating companies about the technology’s possibilities.
“The market for voice is growing rapidly,” said Irani, who also previously worked as a director in DIRECTV’s eCommerce business unit. “There’s a wave of adoption happening. Our job is to help companies activate voice...go from a static product to a voice-enabled product that's active and breathing."
To be sure, there’s some stiff competition in the space. Amazon and a number of tech giants have used their formidable resources to gain an edge in voice AI. SoundHound doesn’t have the same consumer brand recognition as some. Its platform is often invisible to users accessing it through an automobile’s onboard computer systems or other products. But Sharan said that that appeals to many companies who want to bring their own voice to their customers.
Irani will report directly to SoundHound’s CEO Keyvan Mohajer but will work with Sharan, who sees Irani as a partner in growth.
At the same time, Sharan is also planning to grow his finance team. He expects his group's headcount to rise to 15 or 20 this year from 13. He's looking to fill positions in accounting and investor relations and have someone that will focus on software revenue issues in conjunction with Irani’s group, he said.
“We’re investing in all the pillars of the finance function to get us from private to public-ready,” he said. “I would say we’re midstream through that journey.”
As for why it made sense for SoundHound to take the sometimes controversial SPAC route, Sharan said it was partly a matter of timing.
The company does not have the scale that's generally needed to go the traditional IPO route and would likely have had to raise another round of funding. “It made more sense for us to go through the more seamless SPAC process rather than waiting a couple years,” he said.
SoundHound reached a merger agreement with blank-check company Archimedes Tech SPAC Partners Co. last year.