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How a New Start-up Wants to Revolutionize the Audio World

By Christina Hertel

The audio sector is booming and poses new challenges to companies. Two Munich-based firms have therefore founded the agency "Wake Word." Their approach is ambitious: they want to advise brands as well as develop new technologies and their own content – they are determined to cover everything.

A former factory in the English Garden boasting high ceilings, large windows, black lamps and a pool outside: this is where Sven Rühlicke and Ruben Schulze-Fröhlich have been working since August to set up a media company that will change the audio world. "Wake Word" is the name of the "first and only full-service voice agency" in Germany. After working at Antenne Bayern for many years, Sven Rühlicke and Ruben Schulze-Fröhlich came up with the relatively simple idea. Wake Word goes beyond offering audio content such as new podcasts by providing consulting and solution development for all aspects of the voice and audio sector. “In a world where communication through loudspeakers is becoming increasingly common, companies are faced with numerous new challenges,” Sven Rühlicke declares. How, for example, can a company be found online if a user depends on a straightforward virtual assistant that lacks Google’s ability to provide thousands of answers? Or, how can a brand be remembered if there is no visible logo?

Sven Rühlicke and Ruben Schulze-Fröhlich of Wake Word

A New Boom: One in Every Three People Listen to Podcasts

The timing for a new voice and audio agency is promising: according to a study by the Radio Marketing Service RMS, smart speakers have reached 50 million users worldwide within a year–four times faster than the Internet. Statistics predict that by 2020 every other Internet search will be carried out by voice command. Meanwhile, the podcast boom has been strong since 2012. Today, one in every three people listen to stories and interviews on a regular basis. However, similar to the decline in number of television viewers that tune into the news every evening at 8 o’clock, there will be fewer people that listen to the radio at home in the future. Radio stations are no longer the only platforms providing audio material. Publishers such as Hansa, journals such as Zeit Online, and streaming platforms such as Spotify are now producing their own content.

These Innovations Implemented at Antenne Bayern By Rühlicke and Schulze-Fröhlich

Rühlicke and Schulze-Fröhlich worked for the radio station Antenne Bayern before they started their own project. Rühlicke, an employee of 17 years, created the radio station’s digital strategy and oversaw the podcast label lautgut. Schulze-Fröhlich created the true crime podcast Dunkle Heimat and the voice app Song Duell. “More and more people asked us for advice," says Schulze-Fröhlich. And this is how the new idea was born. "It didn‘t feel like a risk, but like a huge opportunity," says Rühlicke. "In the worst-case scenario, the whole thing would have been a decent-paying and highly instructive internship in which we learned how to write business plans, acquire customers, pitch ideas, and meet investors." Wake Word has three sponsors, but Rühlicke and Schulze-Fröhlich prefer to keep them secret. Sony Music, Garbor Steingart’s Morningbriefing Podcast, and Axel Springer Publishing House rank among their clients. Rühlicke and Schulze-Fröhlich additionally provide the voice app for the journal Bildzeitung’s football podcast Phrasenmäher.

From Driving to Cooking: All Areas of Life Could Change

Rühlicke and Schulze-Fröhlich have one in-house employee and two developers that work from home. They need at least ten employees to become a relevant agency, says Rühlicke. How quickly Wake Word grows to this size depends on how fast the company gains new clients and how fast publishers, broadcasters, and other companies such as automobile manufacturers and food producers understand the potential that virtual assistants have to become the next digital revolution.

Rühlicke and Schulze-Fröhlich have identified its many potential users. This could include the active businessperson who listens to stock reports while driving, the amateur chef looking for inspiration for a new dish as they share with the virtual assistant the ingredients left in the fridge, or the athlete who doesn't want to reach for their smartphone to understand the steps of the upcoming exercise. "Technically," says Schulze-Fröhlich, "voice control could change all areas of life." This means, for example, that brands could need their own voice and their own sounds, just like a visual logo. They may also have to brainstorm ways on how to gain visibility. Rühlicke and Schulze-Fröhlich started collaboration with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LMU) in order to tackle all these questions.

Wake Word stands for service, search engine optimization, technology, consulting, and content. Rühlicke and Ruben-Fröhlich want to make podcasts and create what they call "Netflix for the ears." "We're sure," says Rühlicke, "that our full-service approach will fill a big gap." What matters now is whether they manage to achieve their objective.