Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the size of the funding round.
Roxy, a Seattle startup that offers a customizable voice assistant and touch screen smart speaker for the hotel industry, said it has raised $2.2 million in a seed round.
Hotel and real estate investment firm AJ Capital Partners recently invested $1 million and Cooper Manning, the older brother of famed NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, put in another $100,000. The round also includes $1.1 million raised earlier this year from Betaworks, a New York City startup studio, and Chinese investment firm Genesis Capital, among others.
Guests can issue commands through the voice-activated speaker, also named Roxy, to order room service, get more towels, and other typical hotel tasks. Roxy then relays the message to the front desk without anyone having to make a phone call.
Roxy works with hotels to add custom commands that are easier for guests and plan for more comprehensive capabilities than other speech-enabled assistants. The company also recently added a “small talk engine,” that can conduct basic conversations and help get people up to speed about Roxy’s capabilities, Cam Urban, one of the co-founders of Roxy told GeekWire.
“How to properly educate guests is actually the most important thing we’ve learned so far,” Urban said. “In many hotels this will be the first speech enabled device a guest interacts with and they may only be staying in the hotel for 18 hours. It’s key to get education right immediately when guests encounter the device for the first time.”
Here is a look at the device in action:
In addition to the focus on hotels, Roxy can do other things typically associated with smart speakers, such as music, weather, alarms and timers. In recent months, Roxy has upgraded the devices speakers and added an activation button that can be used in lieu of the wake word.
Urban has started several companies in his career, including Jellyfish Art, before becoming a program manager with Microsoft Azure. Co-founder Peng “Michael” Shao was a leader on the cloud speech team at Amazon focused on the voice-activated technology that powers Alexa. Le “Grace” Huang, another co-founder, has an undergraduate degree in automation and spent four years as a web developer at Amazon, working on projects like Amazon Coins and the Kindle Device Store.
The three founders crossed paths at the University of Washington by chance about two years ago, when they were each looking for new career directions. Shao and Huang had left Amazon, and they were working on an app to communicate with cars via voice commands at the UW CoMotion innovation hub. Urban, who had recently left Microsoft and was working on a new project of his own, toured the facility and was introduced to his future co-founders.
In recent months, the company has added two more people to bring its headcount to five. In September, Roxy brought in Barry Roitblat to be its vice president of engineering. Roitblat spent the last nine years at VoiceBox Technologies, most recently as vice president of engineering. John Stepan, now Roxy’s customer success manager, spent close to eight years as guest services supervisor at Hotel Sorrento in Seattle.
Roxy’s focus on businesses rather than consumers has differentiated it from the rest of the smart speaker market, where tech giants like Amazon, Google and others are battling it out. But Amazon is bringing its smart speaker line to the business world, following today’s announcement for a business-focused version of its digital brain Alexa. And Amazon inked a deal with the Wynn Las Vegas to install Echo speakers in more than 4,700 rooms.