Amazon’s voice-enabled smart speakers can order a pizza, play your favorite song on command, set timers, and do plenty of other ordinary tasks. Now, Boston startup Mylestone aims to help make Alexa your personal memory bank.
The company has created a new “skill” for Alexa—that’s Amazon’s term for the growing library of software tools built for Alexa devices (pictured above), such as the Echo—that can call up memories of special moments and loved ones, living or dead. Mylestone uses a combination of artificial intelligence software and human workers to create “compelling narratives” based on user-submitted photos, videos, or audio files, and social media data.
It’s a new direction for Mylestone, which is led by serial entrepreneur and investor Dave Balter. And today the company announced it has raised $2.5 million in new funding to see where the idea leads.
“My personal belief is people have a need to know that their full memories—not a picture is worth a thousand words, but the thousand words [themselves]—are available somewhere,” Balter says. And making the “actual memories” accessible on command—“that’s magical,” he says.
The new funding round was led by True Ventures, with contributions from earlier backers Founder Collective, Boston Seed Capital (where Balter is a venture partner), Converge Venture Partners, and MergeLane. Mylestone has now raised $4.5 million total from investors.
Balter incorporated the company in January 2016 as Mylestoned, but it has since dropped the “d” from its name. (More on that in a minute.)
Balter has been obsessed with death for months, and he started the company to try and change the way we memorialize the dearly departed, using technology to enrich the experience. The company is part of a growing group of startups working on new business approaches to death in the digital age—call it “deathtech.”
The original version of Mylestone’s product involved assembling online collections of short tributes to the deceased. The company intended to allow people to upload photos, videos, audio, and other features to augment the homages, and enable the recollection of memories based on triggers like dates, events, and visiting certain locations.
“In the last year, we spent a long time asking people to give us stories,” Balter says. “But when you push them on that, they find it complex and difficult. The big ‘aha’ for us was, well, what if we gave them the stories?”
Balter says the new approach is “less a pivot, and more like a big leap.”
“Our theme has not changed,” he continues. “We believe there’s a better way to memorialize” people.
What’s more, rather than focusing solely on remembering those who have passed on, Mylestone is now offering the living a chance to store memories, whether it’s moments from their wedding, conversations with their children, or fun moments in the office. Or perhaps capturing grandma’s thoughts to preserve them for when she’s gone. Ultimately, it’s about storing moments and pieces of ourselves, both for our enjoyment and for the benefit of family, friends, and descendants, Balter says.
“Memorializing the deceased and memorializing the living have really merged,” Balter says. “It’s all part of preservation of self, maybe because we won’t be here forever.”
Mylestoned dropped the “d” from its name in part because of that additional focus on the living—it no longer wanted to emphasize the past tense, Balter says. The other reason is the name Mylestoned created confusion for some people who wondered if it had something to do with marijuana. It “became too much of a habit of people asking us what it meant,” he adds.
Now, armed with a new product and what it hopes is a clearer name, Mylestone will see if it can build a loyal following. I tried out Mylestone’s new offering, and found it to be interesting—and slightly creepy.
I submitted three photos from my birthday celebration earlier this month: dessert at Boston restaurant Barcelona Wine Bar, and packages of goodies mailed to me by my aunt and my best friend.
From those photos, Mylestone generated three short stories, each inflected with a bit of charm and humor. I listened to the “memories” at home on my Amazon Echo Dot device. Here’s what Alexa read to me:
—“Nothing says acknowledging another birthday in Boston by celebrating it within the warm confines of Barcelona. From the moment we walked in, it felt like we had died and gone into tapas heaven. And whatever you do, do not forget that delicious lava cake for the birthday boy. As they say in the real Barcelona, feliz cumpleaños.”
—“It was easy for Jeff to feel heartbroken on the first Valentine’s Day he spent so far away from Wisconsin, until a care pack loaded with Midwestern love came in the mail. Sometimes the Bay State and the Badger State couldn’t feel further apart. But microwaveable mac ‘n cheese, sour cream Pringles, and … Next Page »