Data over sound: Growth and connectivity for small businesses

Moran Lerner, CEO of Chirp, discusses how he went about transforming his tech company with data over sound technology.

I first got involved with Chirp, a specialist in data over sound communications, in late 2015 when I approached the company with my vision of where I felt this company and technology could go in order to establish its global footprint.

I’ve founded and run a number of tech businesses over the last 25 years, and continue to stay actively involved in many spaces including nanotechnologies, voice technology, computational and artificial intelligence and microelectromechanical systems technology. I understood what it would take to transform a tech company and align the team in order to grow and thrive as a business. But mainly I was excited to be involved in something so innovative, and a company whose origins were rooted in genuine enthusiasm for technology and connectivity.

The idea behind the technology came out of years of research by a group of computer scientists and acoustic technologists at University College London. Their focus was to understand gaps in connectivity between machines while ‘humanising’ the interaction, and their research was focused on allowing interactive communications between machine and machine and human to machine.

I saw massive potential, and so 2015 marked the beginning of a journey in which team restructuring, targeted business focus and the external communication and continual education of the market on what DoS (data over sound) has to offer would begin.

The Formative Five: The importance of foundation years and teamwork

Looking back at the history of our company, I, like any other entrepreneur involved in a start-up/SME, can tell you that the formative years of a business are when you must grapple with the identity and foundations of your firm. It would be accurate to say that the Chirp of 2017 is light years away from the business we were back then.

In the beginning, our product was launched as an app for consumers to share basic things like photos, links and other bits of data – and we did this for four years. Unfortunately from a business point of view, the set up was not sustainable and would have required too much investment to obtain the scale of revenues we were looking to achieve – so we made the executive decision to change tact.

The four years as a B2C app gave us valuable insight into how people engaged with the technology, what they liked and didn’t like, and most importantly we were able to discern the technology’s reliability and robustness in the real world.

What the team achieved in a short space of time is testament to what real dedication and hard work can achieve. We had very limited resources – six people at the time – tasked with rebuilding and expanding our product to be enterprise ready for a global market. We had little funding to work with, very little time to make it or break it, but we had what every other company dreams of– a team of exceptional people.

Within three months the team had created a technology that was market-ready. We secured a contract with Activision Skylanders (the largest toys-to-life game in the world) which set us on the path of developing a wide suite of products on the market. Millions of people use our technology every day from ticketing on public transport in India (Shuttl) to toys (Hijinx Alive Beat Bugs), as well as through a partnership with Amazon on Alexa, all of which play to our overarching aim of encouraging connectivity.

The healthy nature of competition

Competition, when approached in a measured and healthy way, can be a determining factor that drives you and your business on throughout every stage of the company life cycle. However, when considering the market space within which you operate, it’s important to correctly identify who your competition actually is.

It is easy to think that data over sound is a great replacement for current standard technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE or NFC, and several players in our space heavily promote that the death of these technologies is nigh. But when you actually understand the physics and characteristics of sound, you realise that what we deal in is a completely different type of connectivity technology.

There are indeed a number of scenarios where sound is better than Bluetooth, NFC, or even QR codes. This is especially true in some industrial manufacturing settings where RF technologies are restricted or prohibited for reasons of interference with RF frequencies. But, ultimately we always carefully assess whether Chirp is better than other technologies for a specific solution or whether it is best used just to complement other technologies, such as instant and seamless login to a Wi-Fi network.

Often the key to standing out in a crowded market space, or staying ahead of those companies you see as competition, is to offer a service that is not limited and develop a technology that goes beyond the normal parameters of the space you operate in.

What does give us a lot of comfort though is that, as I mentioned above, our company and technology today are light years away, and ahead, of where were back in 2011, but our nearest rivals have only recently achieved parity with where our technology was all those years ago. This in itself shows us that the path we have taken, and the incredible progress our team has made, have put Chirp in a strong position for the future.

Shock and surprise: The twists and turns of the journey

There are always surprises along the way, new revelations in the technology, and new ways to apply your service for specific clients which continues to delight and challenge those involved in a growth business.

Sound is relatively new, and most of the players in this space focus on less than a handful of uses which has left an enormous untapped market. But the ubiquity of sound is growing exponentially each year, with more and more companies developing products and solutions around these technologies. We go out of our way to work closely with other tech, which is how we developed our wide suite of platform-compatible SDKs and continue to open new doors and maximise the potential of new partnerships.

DoS technology can be used in innovative ways to solve real business problems in sectors such as interactive toys, authentication, ticketing, gaming, broadcast, robotics, industrial diagnostics, home automation, education (Chirp is widely used in classrooms all over the world today), advertising and promotions, loyalty, payments and other financial services. The list just goes on and on and it is the roll out potential that drives us as an SME.

Though this tech is still at a fledgling stage, it is certainly well on its way to becoming ubiquitous to the benefit of IT managers and developers in all sectors. At the current rate it will be right up there with the other types of technology soon enough – and that makes the journey all the more fun.

Moran Lerner is CEO of Chirp

Further reading on data

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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