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Catherine's full bioAnita Borg

1 What motivated you to start Soliloquy?

2 Could you tell us a little about the previous companies you founded?

3 What inspired you to get started in the tech industry?

4 Did you look for a mentor when you were an engineer or when you started your first business?

5 Are you currently mentoring anyone?

6 What advice do you have for young women just starting out in technology?

7 What direction are you planning for the future?

8 Can you describe your average day at Soliloquy, if there is such a thing?

9 When will voice recognition be good enough to allow me to stop typing these messages?

10 IBM was pushing voice technology heavily a few years ago. How was this enthusiasm received by consumers?

11 What in your opinion is the first real growth channel for voice recognition?

12 Would you share an overview of your product launch schedule with us?

13 How will the Microsoft break up affect what you are doing with Soliloquy?

14 You spent some time in Hong Kong, any thoughts on the Asian market with regard to personalization and localization, and voice recognition?

15 Other than online shopping, how do you envision the use of voice technology on the Web?

16 How will voice recognition impact customer service reps.? Will they become obsolete?

17 What is the toughest experience you've had in your career and how did you get through it?

18 Is it documented anywhere that women or men are more inclined to use voice recognition tech?

19 What do you think it will take for Soliloquy's technology to become mainstream?

20 Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our audience?

Catherine Winchester, Co-Founder & CEO, Soliloquy, Inc.

Our special guest today is Catherine Winchester, Co-Founder and CEO of Soliloquy, Inc., an innovator of speech recognition systems. This technology enables natural language front-ends for database systems and two-way dialogue through the Web, with a focus on e-commerce and customer service solutions.

Catherine was most recently the President and CEO of Wanderlust Interactive, a New York-based company which she founded in 1993 with $9 million in start-up capital and saw through to the initial public offering in March 1996. Before Wanderlust, she lived for seven years in Hong Kong where in 1989 she founded InterOptica Publishing Ltd., one of the world's first interactive multimedia publishing companies.

Catherine has a BA in Computer Science from Barnard College, Columbia University. She spent the first four years of her career as a systems engineer.

And now please welcome Catherine Winchester!

Catherine: Hello!

Moderator: Hello Catherine. We are so pleased that you could join us today.

Catherine: I am thrilled to be back again on GirlGeeks. And it is a lovely day in New York.

Moderator: It's beautiful in the Bay Area too. Before we take questions from the audience, would you tell us a little bit about what motivated you to start Soliloquy?

Catherine: After founding two companies and being an entrepreneur for nine years, I didn't know how to do anything else!

Moderator: Could you tell us a little about the previous companies you founded?

Catherine: My vision was that in the future everyone would interact with the Web by speaking in their own words rather than the non-intuitive way of clicking around. Right now we allow shoppers to hold conversations with Web sites by typing in natural language, but our technology also supports voice, which will be ubiquitous in a couple of years, especially. Because broadband and wireless are becoming widespread.

guest-Jackie asks: What inspired you to get started in the tech industry?

Catherine: In 1980 when I started at Columbia, it was the first year they were offering Computer Science as a degree, and I thought to myself, "Hey, I bet computers are going to be really big and important in the future, so maybe I should choose this as my major." Just a lucky hunch.

guest-Elizabeth says: Did you look for a mentor when you were an engineer or did you look for one when you started your first business?

Catherine: I would have loved to have had a mentor, but I never really did. I ended up learning a lot by doing, and by making a lot of mistakes. It would have helped a lot to have had someone to turn to, but in 1989 when I started my first company, I did not know anyone else who had a company or was an entrepreneur. It was extremely unusual then. Now of course we have a different world.

Moderator: At GirlGeeks, we realize the importance of mentoring. Are you currently mentoring anyone?

Catherine: Not formally, but I would love to do so. I love helping to the extent that I can. My email is cwinchester@soliloquy.com if anyone wants to contact me.

Moderator: Thank you for sharing that information with our audience.

guest-Jill asks: What advice do you have for young women who are just starting out in technology?

Catherine: Forget about the fact that you are a woman. Just do the best job you can. Gender is irrelevant unless you think otherwise, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy — glass ceilings and all that. Why are there so few female CEOs and CTOs? No good reason, except for women placing limits on themselves.

Moderator: That is so true. What direction are you planning for the future?

Catherine: I set up Soliloquy to be a long-term venture for myself, and I surround myself with people I love working with and socializing with and generally hanging out with. We are like a big family here, so I want to build this company into a major operation. I am having fun every day (ok, most days).

guest-Wanda says: Can you describe your average day at Soliloquy, if there is such a thing?

Catherine: We have about 60 people now, and we are in a big loft on Park Avenue at 20th Street.

The engineers (including 12 PhDs) work long hours designing and coding while the business and market people run around frantically doing deals.

Never a dull moment! Almost every night there is a business dinner or Internet party that I have to go to, or rather, that I want to go to. So work and play are all rolled into one. As we say, Soliloquy is not just a job — it's a lifestyle.

Moderator: Sounds hectic, but rewarding.

Catherine: No doubt!

guest-Petulia asks: When will voice recognition be good enough to allow me to stop typing (slowly!) these messages?

Catherine: Voice recognition works well now as long as you limit the knowledge domain to, say, gardening or wine or Greece or astrophysics.

That way the system knows what to expect and can be much smarter. When you try to be very general purpose, it is much weaker. That's why dictation software doesn't work at 99.99-percent because you could be talking about any topic in the world, and that is too difficult a problem to solve. That's why we are creating specific products - PC Expert, Stock Expert, House Expert, etc. which allow you to ask questions on specific topics, and it does a much better job than if we tried to be generic.

Moderator: That's very interesting... and leads us into our next audience question.

guest-Flanders says: IBM was pushing voice technology heavily a few years ago. How was this enthusiasm received by consumers?

Catherine: A few hundred thousand dictation packages were sold about two to three years ago. Then the sales dried up or at least plateaued because many people were frustrated.

Moderator: So now that the technology is better, what in your opinion is the first real growth channel for voice recognition?

Catherine: Telephones and wireless devices, where there is no or little visual screen real estate, so other input methods are required. Voice is the obvious one. What we do takes it a step further because voice recognition is the ears.

But we are the brain. We use the output of a voice recognizer like IBM's, which gives us dumb text, but we figure out the actual meaning of what a person is saying, and we allow them to hold two-way conversations, so it's not just simple one-way voice commands. That's easy to do, but iterative dialogues are NOT easy!

guest-Jo says: Catherine, would you share an overview of your product launch schedule with us?

Catherine: We launched Notebook Expert on ShopAcer in February. We launch on CNET in two weeks. After that we have Hewlett Packard and Hardware Street, but the dates are up in the air for those right now.

Moderator: Sounds like you have a lot of exciting things planned for the future.

Catherine: Never a dull moment!

Moderator: We look forward to watching your innovations.

Catherine: I love technology because it changes SO rapidly and is so exciting.

Moderator: Speaking of future developments....

guest-Flanders says: How will the Microsoft break up affect what you are doing with Soliloquy? Are you prepared for a multi-platform revolution?

Catherine: I think it would be better for us small companies if Microsoft were to stay together - a big behemoth that can't improvise easily or compete with us. Whereas if they broke up into lots of baby Bills, each would grow rapidly but be nimble enough to compete with the smaller guys.

But a multi-platform future is definitely in the cards, and we are helping to create that future here at Soliloquy with our next generation user interfaces that allow people to hold intelligent conversations with all those different devices, as if we were talking to a real person but in fact this is much smarter in many ways.

Moderator: That's an interesting perspective.

guest-EZGuest asks: The hot topics for the Internet are personalization and localization. You spent some time in Hong Kong, any thoughts on the Asian market with regard to these topics and voice recognition?

Catherine: Typing in Chinese is non-trivial, so voice recognition for Asian languages is even more important than it is for European languages.

As for personalization, once people are allowed to interact with the Web using their own words, saying what they want rather than having to click around hoping to find things, personalization takes on a whole new meaning because we can learn so much more about what a shopper is looking for when they are asking for it in their own words.

Moderator: Other than online shopping, how do you envision the use of voice technology on the Web?

Catherine: We happen to be focused on shopping because you have to choose your niche, but I think all areas of the Web will use voice.

So you can give simple commands like go to Viacom's Web site, or open a new window, these are one-way voice commands, but you will also be able to hold actual conversations which makes voice even more useful.

Moderator: Another audience member would like to know how voice recognition will impact customer service reps. Will they become obsolete?

Catherine: Merchants will save millions of dollars by using technology rather than people to handle basic queries. However, they will never get rid of all the people. Perhaps 80-percent of all calls will be able to be handled by automated systems, but the other 20-percent will still require humans.

Moderator: Good to know that there is still a place for real people.

guest-Emily says: What is the toughest experience you ever had in your career life? How did you make it through and what did you learn from it?

Catherine: This is my third company. The toughest thing for each of the previous two was knowing when to move along and hand over the reins to the next guy, even when you know that your work has been done and the business model has changed or whatever and you need to go and figure out the next brilliant idea and start a company around that.

The transition is very difficult. I have some real horror stories, but I can't go into those in this public venue! Suffice it to say that I have quite a few war wounds to show for it all.

Moderator: It is hard to disengage, but I'm sure that passion is what drives you to succeed.

guest-Petulia asks: Is it documented anywhere that women or men more inclined to use voice reco tech?

Catherine: I have never read any statistics, but our surveys tell us that women prefer our products and using natural language over men by about 10%.

It's like the cartoon in the New Yorker last week where the woman says to the man "You won't even ask the GPS for driving directions!"

Moderator: That's funny and true! Catherine, we are almost out of time, but we would like to take a final question from an audience member.

Moderator: What do you think it will take for Soliloquy's technology to become mainstream?

Catherine: That's a good one. People love using natural language. It is so much more intuitive for us all. That the more they have the opportunity to use it, they will, and the sites will see the demand and they will all eventually add it in. Just like wallets and one-click shopping and all the other features that were initially rare, but have since become mainstream because people love using them and come to demand them.

Moderator: Catherine, before we go, do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our audience?

Catherine: It's great to be a woman in technology. Just forget that you are one!

Moderator: Catherine, thanks so much for participating in our chat.

 
 
 
 


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