Voice + The Future of User Generated Content

As UGC evolves from video-driven experiences to voice, what tools are needed?

One of my favorite themes to invest in over the last 15 years has been Vertical User Generated Content. In a world before ubiquitous wifi, streaming video, or creator tools, text-based user generated content emerged as the top of funnel for marketplaces of fragmented, offline supply (UGC 1.0). Video ushered in another era (UGC 2.0) and we are in the early innings of seeing voice-driven experiences catalyzing the growth of new social and consumer businesses (UGC 3.0)

As I spend more time on voice-driven platforms, I can’t help but wonder how will the next wave of UGC opportunities look different? Can voice impact the ‘path to purchase’ in e-commerce? When and how does the market tip? And what infrastructure is needed to get there?

The Case of Viator

To better test and evolve my own frameworks, I look to the past.

As an example, consider TripAdvisor (FY19A: $1.5Bn of revenue, $437M EBITDA), or Viator — foundational internet businesses emerging from the first wave of UGC in travel as a vertical.

While lesser known to most, Viator quietly scaled to serve +1.5M customers across +1000 destinations with +220 employees on less than $30M of total preference raised during a 15 year run. Quite the run!

So what made that efficiency and reach possible for a startup founded in Australia 25 years ago?

Looking back, text-based UGC was often ‘productized’ via unique, high-fidelity user reviews (ie. Yelp). In the case of Viator, the business amassed +600,000 verified reviews by travelers that in turn drove +10M monthly visitors; visitors who came to the platform for discovering, and ultimately booking local activities.

Conversion was driven by a mix of economic incentives once on platform (a low-price guarantee), differentiated convenience (a 24/7 multilingual call center), real-time availability (~75% of their inventory bookable within 24 hrs), supreme service, and proprietary expert destination content placed alongside their ‘closed loop’ user generated postings. The team deftly reinvested their UGC assets into a number of local language sites, growing to serve other international markets and +2,000 travel affiliates (airlines, hotels, loyalty platforms etc).

But how does any of this relate to voice?

On the surface, ‘what good looks like’ for Viator’s supply side was simple: deliver bookings volume to their partners and provide them with online tools including an overarching connectivity platform. However, what’s less discussed (and less simple) is what it takes to recruit your initial supply. Your first believers.

For Viator, that meant building a platform for local operators which included:

  • a Content Management System — enabling, say, easy upkeep of on-site photos
  • a supplier extranet — enabling inventory management
  • supplier APIs — enabling live bookings via direct integrations with vendors

Which brings me to Voice. Today, we find ourselves in the early stages of a new wave of voice-centric applications; and, if history rhymes, I’d bet that a form of supplier APIs emerge to unlock the market.These will be multi-modal and initially delivered B2B2C. A good example is Speechly:

While I am not an investor in Speechly, I recognize that Supply APIs have been core to each wave of UGC’s foundational businesses. And as history suggests, I believe that will hold true for the next. So if you’re a developer working with voice APIs let’s chat.

It’s about time…my fingers are tired from the last 20 years!

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