The Sounds of Science: How Endel’s Audio Environments are Helping Shape the Future of Ambient Computing
Marion Desmazieres Jun 12, 2020
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Endel is an audio technology that helps users calm their mind or boost their productivity simply through the power of sound. The Berlin-based startup creates personalized sound environments, based on circadian rhythms, the time of day, as well as the user’s heart rate and location. Simply activate the app on your smartphone or start the skill on your Alexa device by saying, “Alexa, open Endel”, and the user is offered a customized sound environment that promises to enhance the ability to sleep, relax, or focus.

The team behind the app has a history of bringing creativity to the digital space – the six cofounders’ first venture, Bubl, was a suite of art and education apps for children. After their company was acquired by kids’ app developer Fox & Sheep, the team had time to consider what they wanted to do next.

“We were always very inspired by Brian Eno’s idea of generative music,” cofounder and CEO Oleg Stavitsky explained. “And then we started to see a number of trends converge around that: the smart speaker revolution, the popularity of ‘functional music’ playlists on Spotify, as well as the growing customer interest in mindfulness. We thought there was a product to build on the crossroads of all these trends.”

Finding Their Rhythm

The team – a collection of artists, musicians, and technologists – started to explore the neuroscience of music, reading countless white papers about the influence of sound on human cognition. In late 2017, they began to work with a Russian physicist who had authored a book on music, to help build out the science behind what would become the Endel app.

“The first thing he said was, ‘It has to be personalized. It can’t be just the same song or the same playlist for every person,’” Stavitsky said. “Just look at how many sleep playlists you could find on Spotify right now. But people are looking for something more bespoke, something more focused, something that is scientifically proven to work as opposed to just some playlist that has been thrown together by an editor who thinks that this music might help you focus. So we started exploring the science of circadian rhythms to personalize the soundscapes, and built this really beautiful prototype.”

Soon, the Endel team was introduced to Techstars Music Accelerator, a program focused on helping early-stage companies using technology to solve for problems in the music and entertainment space. After getting into the prestigious accelerator the Endel team moved to Los Angeles in February 2018 to participate in the three-month program, offering mentorship, networking opportunities, and a $120,000 investment.

By August, Endel had closed their seed round, with Avex Group (Japan’s largest music corporation), Kima Ventures, and Amazon's Alexa Fund, among the investors. The Alexa Fund provides up to $200 million dollars in venture capital funding to companies that are fueling voice technology innovation. Within several months they were seeing hundreds of thousands of monthly downloads and tangible revenue.

“At Endel, we believe we need technology that makes our lives better without having to do anything” Stavitsky said. “Recent world events have increased the need for stress reduction and this round of funding has enabled us to do what we can to bring customers feelings of safety, comfort and togetherness.”

Voices Carry

Endel’s app is based around ambient sounds, but through its collaboration with the Alexa Fund, Endel has also begun to focus on a different sound – that of the human voice. “Voice is essential for us in planning for the future of Endel,” Stavitsky explained. “Every time our team meets to talk about product strategy, it becomes even clearer that there is no version of the future for Endel that does not involve Alexa and voice.”

As ambient computing becomes more prevalent at home, at work and on-the-go, Endel envisions engineering not just sound environments, but environments as a whole. Imagine as you walk home from the office, Alexa could offer, “I see you just had ten meetings, why don’t I help you unwind?” As the slow jams kick in, future iterations of the Endel skill could use Alexa to change the lights, temperature, and soundscape to await your arrival home, all set to specific, highly personalized settings. For Endel, this intersection of experiences is where Alexa becomes central to their roadmap. It is through Alexa that Endel envisions centralizing and controlling all these interfaces.

“That’s where Alexa and voice become central to our entire roadmap. It’s through Alexa that we control all of these interfaces,” Stavitsky said.

Stavitsky was first struck by the power of cross-device capabilities, as well as the voice interface, when he purchased an Amazon Fire TV Stick for the office, for R&D purposes. “I logged in with my Amazon credentials, pressed the button, and said ‘Alexa, start Endel,’ thinking it would ask me to activate the skill and go through a setup. But all of a sudden our full interface just appeared on the TV – because we support APL [Alexa Presentation Language]. The whole team was just amazed. And that’s when the power of Alexa being built into all sorts of devices really hit me. That’s when I understood how all of this was going to work.”

The Alexa Fund Offers Endel More than Financial Backing

In March 2019, Endel introduced their Alexa skill which suggests the best activities and accompanying soundscapes based on circadian rhythms.

Today, they’re working to make the Endel Alexa skill even more powerful, with version 2.0 expected this summer. By collaborating with the Alexa Fund and the Alexa skills team, Endel receives valuable insights and feedback as the team builds out their Alexa skill. “It’s incredibly valuable to have someone guiding you when you work with Amazon. And the Alexa Fund has really done that for us,” Stavitsky said. 

Sound Investment

Acting as a guide for the Endel team, the Alexa Fund has also made introductions to several teams at Amazon. In addition, investors and potential partners are more willing to meet, according to Stavitsky, when they learn that the Alexa Fund and Amazon are supporting the company.

Given the global anxiety around the coronavirus, the Endel team is seeing the power their soundscapes can have. “People are under constant stress, they can’t focus, or they’re working at home, or they can’t sleep, and those are all perfect times when Endel can help them,” Stavitsky said.

 “We couldn’t be happier to have the Alexa Fund on our cap table,” Stavitsky said. “It allows me to just call someone on the team and tell them, ‘Hey guys, we’re going to reboot our Alexa skill.’ And the first thing they’ll ask is ‘How can we help you?’”

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