By Ryan Velez
Many people think of Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am for his music, but it’s important to note that he is also an entrepreneur, and Business Insider reports that he has made a big bet on his most significant business venture yet.
The tech startup, called I.am+, has raised $117 million in venture funding, the company told Reuters on Monday as it announced its entry into the corporate computing market with a voice assistant for customer service.
Originally founded in 2012, the company originally focused on consumer electronics devices such as headphones. The new direction, which is compared to services like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, is a sharp departure for the 300-employee strong company.
Its most recent funding round, an $89 million investment by a group including Salesforce Ventures, closed in March but had not been previously announced.
“I wanted to create something that allows us to do many things,” said will.i.am, founder and chief executive of the company, in a telephone interview with Reuters. “There’s so much you can do with a voice platform.”.
To be clear, will.i.am is far from the first celebrity to use investments and their own startups to enter the tech arena. Names from Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Alba, and Joe Montana have all done the same. What is notable is that they tend to focus on consumer technology. This makes sense, as the celebrity name may be able to carry the most weight with this group. However, Omega, the name for the electronic assistant, is different in that it is focused on businesses.
I.am+’s first enterprise customer is Deutsche Telekom AG , the German telecommunications giant and parent company of T-Mobile. Since July, the company has been using Omega to power an AI customer support chatbot and it plans to add a voice phone system soon, i.am+ said. However, customer support is just the type of the iceberg for Omega, according to will.i.am. The current plan is to try and use the technology to build several more enterprise voice AI products.
“One of those things is handling hundreds of thousands of customers’ inquiries about their data plans simultaneously,” will.i.am said. “If it can do that, your imagination's the limit.”