November 19, 2018

How Bottle Rocket is Defining and Serving the Connected Lifestyle

An interview with Calvin Carter, Founder & CEO of Bottle Rocket

If you live and work in the technology space in Dallas, I’m guessing you might have heard of Bottle Rocket. But I’ll also wager a guess that you might not really know us. Officially born in 2008, the day after Steve Jobs opened up the App Store to third-party developers, we quickly became a leader in the world of mobile application development. Ten years later, just as the industry has continued to evolve at a mind-numbing pace, so has Bottle Rocket. And if you are still looking for the Bottle Rocket you might have once met, you may not even recognize us.

Today, more than ever, customers are in control. And digitally enabled experiences have created a new normal for all industries. Digital technology is a double-edged sword….the threat of potential disruption by competitors is only slightly as scary as the need to spark innovation and create a path for your company’s future. It’s no secret that digital native companies have generated 80% of the growth in market capitalization in the last 10 years (source: World Economic Forum, September 2018). Change is hard. But it’s only going to get harder. And that’s where we can help.

At Bottle Rocket, we are in the business of transformation. As experts at the intersection of people and technology, we create powerful, preeminent connected experiences that enable today’s Connected Lifestyle. What exactly do we mean by that? Let’s ask our own Founder and CEO, Calvin Carter.

So Calvin, how do you define the Connected Lifestyle?

If you look back at our first decade, it was about apps, new devices and form factors and new uses for mobile technology such as mobile OS’s being used for streaming players like Apple TV or Android TV. This impacted how we did everything. It was an important foundational time for us and our industry, but it’s over now.

The word “mobile” has failed us. Yes, it’s true, much of what we build is based on technology born from the mobile revolution, the world has gotten much more complicated than that.  So, a couple of years ago I started trying to define a new word to replace mobile. One that better described the new complexity and multi-platform, multi-experience, multi-use, multi-skilled and multi-everything reality in front of us. I couldn’t find one word, but I found two “Connected Lifestyle.”

The Connected Lifestyle is an ecosystem. It’s the way you deposit your checks. The way you get reservations at a restaurant, get a ride, board your plane, track your health, manage your finances, teach your children, spend money and make money. It’s no longer a collection of a few devices that I use for specific things. This is now an ecosystem with a full spectrum of devices, technologies and interactions that include what was formerly known as mobile, with in-home streaming players, AR and VR, AI and ML, voice, touch and click. All of it together. Everything you see in front of you as a human in this time. That’s the Connected Lifestyle.

And it’s complicated. Very complicated. I often say that it’s easy to make things hard and hard to make things easy. We’re in the business of ideating, designing, building and evolving preeminent experiences that are dead simple to use. Dead simple.

We were successful in our first decade because we knew everything about mobile. Now we must open ourselves to doing things differently as we follow our user and learn everything we can about the Connected Lifestyle. This is our company’s digital transformation. Just as every other company out there, we too must evolve.

What are the factors causing companies to start investing in Digital Transformation and the Connected Lifestyle?

It’s different for the early adopters, wait and see and wait and dies in each industry. For example, some QSR’s jumped in early to experiment, then later invested big time to get way out ahead and benefitted greatly from this move.

In every disruption, there are winners and losers. The early adopters moved and proved there is an ROI. The “wait and see’s” are following in mass right now in almost every industry. Unfortunately, the wait and die’s will likely do just that.

But the reason I think there has been such as a big uptick in investments in Digital Transformation and the Connected Lifestyle is 1) it’s no longer an experiment, it’s the new normal, and 2) C-suite executives are users too and they now have personal experiences as they entered the Connected Lifestyle.

People don’t compare their banking experience to another banking experience. They compare it to every other super amazing digital experience that they use on a daily basis. Their Starbucks, Uber, Hotel Tonight, Instagram and Slack experiences. C-suite execs are waking up realizing how hard it is to do business with them. If you can’t engage a brand through YOUR Connected Lifestyle, that brand could very quickly become obsolete.

For mobile, Bottle Rocket has an unprecedented four Apple Hall of fame awards to demonstrate unbelievable success. What will Bottle Rocket use as measures of success in Digital Transformation and The Connected Lifestyle?

Oh boy, I could go on for an hour on this one, but a few key examples come to mind. I’ve removed the client names to protect the innocent.

One of our largest accounts is posting 30% year over year growth in their Connected Lifestyle experiences. That’s a huge number, but it’s a REALLY huge number when I tell you that they have users have made billions of dollars’ worth of purchases on the platform. But this isn’t easy. The business is super complicated, and there are always setbacks. But our collective teams have been able to show demonstrable value in spite of any holdups.

For another Bottle Rocket client, our teams ideated, designed, and are developing a paradigm-shifting Connected Experience in an industry that isn’t known for being disruptive. This experience puts the control in the hands of the user, allows them to move faster, and control their own destiny. This literally would not be possible if it weren’t for the uber-connectedness of today’s consumers and our ability to tackle complex problems and create simple solutions.

Finally, I’ll mention yet another Bottle Rocket client that is on the verge of really shaking up an industry. This client, with a modest budget, came to us to find a completely new way to do an old, time-consuming, and highly involved and risky task. A once manual task that with the help technology has the potential to actually save lives. I know I’m being purposefully vague, but for this client, we had to come up with a Connected Experience that had never before been imagined. And one that would literally change how an age-old industry handles a very common task.

Thank you to Calvin for sharing his insights, wisdom, and thoughts about where Bottle Rocket and the Connected Lifestyle is headed. Stay tuned for more on this ever-changing topic.

March 21, 2018

Creating your Voice Assistant Strategy

This piece was originally published at Forbes.com.

Voice interactions with digital devices are not new. Dragon's Naturally Speaking has been around since the late 1990s, and speech-to-text in some capacity has been on almost every device available since then. What has changed are the integrations and capabilities and, of course, the accuracy. Alexa is now able to order almost anything from Amazon, Siri can send messages and set up reminders and Cortana opens desktop applications and sends emails. The Google Assistant, for which I develop apps at Bottle Rocket, aims to provide a lot of this same functionality, with a few enhancements along the way.

NOW IS THE TIME

The number of voice interactions is growing exponentially, and the opportunities for companies to get in front of users are following suit. As accuracy and capabilities grow, so does consumer demand across every platform. When people look at new Internet of Things (IoT) devices, they're expecting integration with Alexa or Google Home. It's becoming more common for family members to ask their favorite voice assistant to play the music they want, instead of loading up their music app and searching for it manually. Even children are learning that talking to the assistant can result in faster answers than a browser search, even if the results are the same. If you want to create a voice-based app for your company, now is the time to start working on it.

CHOOSE YOUR PATH

When people think about your company, what do they think about as the primary interaction? This is a good place to start when building a voice-based app. If you’re a national food chain that focuses on delivery, your voice app needs to let people order food. If you’re not sure what people might want, ask your support channels about the users they connect with. They will likely know the top three requests off the top of their head.

Besides responding to user requests, you can also use a voice app to educate customers about other products and services you have. Maybe you want people to think about larger catering orders for their office, not just family-size orders. You can mention that as one option in the conversation, much like you would present it as an option in a smartphone app.

You’ll want to meet user’s basic expectations about your brand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer new ideas that help guide users to new areas or experiences. Regardless of which way the user goes, you’ll need to help them finish the task at hand or offer a way out if they feel like they’ve gone too far. If they get stuck, you can provide options on how to answer the current question, but you also should let them exit a conversation or start over if they decide they really don’t want to do something.

HOW MACHINE LEARNING FITS IN

Google has doubled down on using machine learning in all their products, and their assistant backend, Dialog Flow, is no exception. The best example is the machine learning of triggering phrases that start various actions. Many examples are entered, such as “start an order,” “place an order” and “I want to order,” and then Dialog Flow creates models based on these entries to help find the ordering activity. Then, even when someone says “Make an order,” the model will determine that the user probably wants to start the ordering activity. This means that users don’t have to spend as much time learning how to use the app.

But what if the user says something that doesn’t match any specific action? Your app won’t know what to do. This happens all the time in normal conversation -- we’re just used to dealing with it, and voice apps have contingencies for this. The Google Assistant calls these “fallback” actions. Maybe your Assistant should say “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.” It could also provide a list of valid options for the question it asked. For example, the list of toppings you allow that you were expecting the user to pick from. To make it more natural, you can vary these responses, so the user doesn't hear "I'm sorry, please repeat that" over and over.

Finally, all of the phrases people say to your app that aren’t understood are saved and sorted, so that later you can decide what to do with them. You can help train the AI model on new phrases you want to trigger existing actions, or you might create an action that helps explain to the user why it can’t do a common request that you’re seeing. Even more than that, you can see what people are requesting and use that to build your future roadmap.

A MORE PERSONAL INTERACTION

When it comes to voice interfaces, there is no wrong input, only unexpected input. People are going to say random things, and you have to be prepared for it. I’ve learned that the tools have gotten a lot better in the past year, and we’re seeing even more improvement on the horizon. Voice apps can help users accomplish the tasks they want quickly, but it can also be a tool to educate users on what’s possible.

People are looking for ways to have a more personal experience with technology, one that feels custom-tailored to their unique needs. Voice interactions can provide this if they really listen to the customer and take advantage of all the interactions you have across all your users. Your company or brand now has a very personal way to talk to your customers, so think about the personality you want to present and how you can help them, and you’re likely to end up as a trusted advisor.

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