“Voice skins” have become a very popular feature for AI-based voice assistants, to help personalize some of the more anodyne aspects of helpful, yet also kind of bland and robotic, speaking voices you get on services like Alexa. Now a startup that is building voice skins for different companies to use across their services, and for third parties to create and apply as well, is raising some funding to fuel its growth.
LOVO, the Berkeley, California-based artificial intelligence (AI) voice & synthetic speech tool developer, this week closed a $4.5 million pre-Series A round led by South Korean Kakao Entertainment along with Kakao Investment and LG CNS, an IT solution affiliate of LG Group.
Its previous investor SkyDeck Fund and a private investor, vice president of finance at DoorDash, Michael Kim, also joined the funding.
The proceeds will be used to propel its research and development in artificial intelligence and synthetic speech and grow the team.
“We plan on hiring heavily across all functions, from machine learning, artificial intelligence and product development to marketing and business development. The fund will also be allocated to securing resources such as GPUs and CPUs," co-founder and chief operating officer Tom Lee told TechCrunch.
LOVO, founded in November 2019, has 17 people, including both co-founders, chief executive office Charlie Choi and COO Lee.
The company plans to double down on improving LOVO’s AI model, enhance its AI voices and develop a better product that surpasses any that exists in the current market, Lee said.
“Our goal is to be a global leader in providing AI voices that touches people’s hearts and emotions. We want to democratize limitations of content production. We want to be the platform for all things voice-related,” Lee said.
With the mission, LOVO allows enterprises and individual content creators to generate voiceover content for using in marketing, e-learning, customer support, movies, games, chatbots and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
“Since our launch a little over a year ago, users have created over 5 million voice content on our platform,” co-founder and CEO Choi said.
LOVO launched its first product LOVO Studio last year, which provides an easy-to-use application for individuals and businesses to find the voice they want, produce and publish their voiceover content. Developers can utilize LOVO’s Voiceover API to turn text into speeches in real-time, integrated into their applications. Users also can create their own AI voices by simply reading 15 minutes of script via LOVO’s DIY Voice Cloning service.
LOVO owns more than 200 voice skins that provide users with voices categorized by language, style and situation suited for their various needs.
The global text to speech (TTS) market is estimated at $3 billion, with the global voiceover market at around $10 billion, according to Lee. The Global TTS market is projected to increase $5.61 billion by 2028, from $1.94 billion in 2020, based on Research Interviewer’s report published in August 2021.
LOVO already secured 50,000 users and more than 50 enterprise customers, including the U.S.-based J.B. Hunt, Bouncer, CPA Canada, LG CNS and South Korea’s Shinhan Bank, Lee mentioned.
LOVO’s four core markets are marketing, education, movies and games in entertainment and AR/VR, Lee said. The movie "Spiral," the latest film of the Saw Series, features LOVO’s voice in the film, he noted.
It is expected that LOVO will create additional synergies in the entertainment industry in the wake of the latest funding from a South Korean entertainment firm.
VP of CEO Vision Office at Kakao Entertainment J.H. Ryu said, “I’m excited for LOVO’s synergies with Kakao Entertainment’s future endeavors in the entertainment vertical, especially with web novels and music,” Ryu also added, “AI technology is opening the doors to a new market for audio content, and we expect a future where an individual’s voice will be utilized effectively as an intellectual property and as an asset.”
Founding partner at SkyDeck Fund Chon Tang said, “Audio is uniquely engaging as a form of information but also difficult to produce, especially at scale. LOVO’s artificial intelligence-based synthesis platform has consistently out-performed other cloud-based solutions in quality and cost.”
LOVO is also preparing to penetrate further to international markets. “We have a strong presence in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and are getting signals from the rest of Europe, South America and Asia,” Lee said. LOVO has an office in South Korea and is looking to expand into Europe soon, Lee added.