Seattle entrepreneur Ford Davidson has been around the startup block a few times, selling his phone backup service Dashwire to HTC in 2011 and then raising cash for enterprise software startup Coolr in 2014.
But Davidson — who started his career as a product manager on the Windows Mobile team at Microsoft and shut down Coolr earlier this year — is taking his entrepreneurial talents in a much different direction for his next gig.
He’s landed a role as principal product manager on Amazon’s fast-growing Alexa team, certainly a change of course for a guy who is accustomed to working on small startup teams.
I asked Davidson why he wanted to leave the startup life behind, and he offered a few explanations.
“I think the opportunity with hands-free, far-field voice services offer the same excitement as smartphones did 15 years ago,” said Davidson in an email. “It’s a new category, and I want to be part of the innovations that propel it forward.”
The Amazon Echo, which is powered by the Alexa voice assistant, has caught the world by storm, surprising many with its success. According to a research report in May, consumer awareness of the Echo reached almost 50 percent by the end of last year, up from about 20 percent in March 2015. And, now with the holiday season fast approaching, some think the Echo could be one of the hottest gifts. Amazon has big plans for Alexa, and just this week GeekWire reported that the company had secured a patent to put the artificial intelligence engine into small drones.
Davidson said Alexa represents an exciting opportunity, one he did not want to pass up.
But won’t he miss the energy of a startup? Not really.
“Amazon is an entrepreneurial company, and being part of Alexa is like being in a startup in a sense,” he said. “It’s a new category, exciting product, and offers some similar challenges of a startup.”
Amazon’s ability to stay entrepreneurial, even as it has grown to nearly 270,000 employees, is certainly phenomenal.
But some have wondered in recent months — including folks like me — whether companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and others are taking some of the wind out of the Seattle startup sails.
Davidson doesn’t necessarily think so.
“Seattle has a lot of opportunity right now, and it’s an exciting place to be as a tech entrepreneur. I think it just depends on what you’re looking for,” he said. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs at Amazon, even ones that may not be thought of as entrepreneurs just because they have been there for a while. Amazon is working on many interesting things, and is an attractive place for people who want to work on those types of innovations.”