Will Mayo: The Innovation Interview

Will Mayo, Founder and CEO of SpokenLayer shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and audio communications.

Will’s passion for audio finds its origins in a childhood solution: born dyslexic, Will overcame his barrier to written information by absorbing books as read and recorded by his father, Geoff. Inspired by this experience, and intimately understanding the power of the human voice, Will started working on SpokenLayer after graduating from college, hoping to make the world’s largest body of written information – the Internet – more accessible to as many people as possible.

Will is a graduate of Lehigh University, where he earned his BA in Electrical Engineering and MA in Computer Engineering with a concentration in Ergonomic Product Design. He has worked professionally at Intel, where he designed server processor internals, and Goldman Sachs, where he produced new visualization and analysis technologies for traders on the floor of the NYSE.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

To me, innovation is the seemingly simple process of tackling a problem in a completely new way. To some extent, it’s about taking things that are separate and combining them to produce something greater. It’s also a sensibility – the perspective of working in the service of something better and bigger than myself.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Frankly, innovation should be at the forefront of every industry’s minds. Nothing truly valuable or meaningful can be gained if you’re never challenging yourself at any given point of time. This is a philosophy that I’ve accepted as central to my life, and I believe it should be equally central to my company and to every industry out there.

The world moves really fast. We need to be brave to maneuver it. There’s nothing as powerful and as growing as being happily uncomfortable. Innovation comes from taking risks and intentionally putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Don’t be afraid to fail. From failure comes growth and change.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

“Feedback is a gift, not a demand for change.” That’s a consistent message from Corey Ford, who runs Matter.vc and has been an amazing mentor to me. It’s pushed me to maintain an open and transparent culture and one that feeds on creating great honest relationships.

“Innovation happens outside the comfort zone. So get uncomfortable.” I don’t remember where I got that from specifically, but it’s a life lesson that has stuck with me for a long time.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

A big achievement for me was writing a successful 150-page Master’s thesis despite having a learning disability.

For context: I’m dyslexic, and I was at a 3rd grade reading level when I was entering 6th grade — so I’ve fought hard to get where I am today. I learned a lot on that journey that can benefit way more than just me, and I’m working to replicate the lessons I’ve learned on a much wider level with media, education, music, and technology.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital. We’re all heading in that direction. I wouldn’t have created SpokenLayer if I didn’t believe that the future of the written word is digital.

That said, there’s always a place for physical publications. But it’s more niche – more art-house than commercial. And the two can definitely play together.

Take Newsweek: they recently revived their print magazine to complement their digital operations, but I think the real consumer focus is going to be rooted firmly in their online presence.

What was the inspiration for SpokenLayer and why did you decide to build it now?

Bedtime stories! My dad was on the road a lot when I was growing up, he was a TV director. Because of that, he couldn’t always read to me at night. So when he traveled, he would carry books, cassettes, and a boombox with him, recording stories in hotel rooms and using a teaspoon and a teacup to indicate the turning of a page. That way, not only could he still read to me every night, but it started my relationship with technology as way to support intimate storytelling.

I decided to build it now because, up until this point, the technology just wasn’t there. But now, because of the proliferation of crowdsourcing and the availability of cloud computing for distribution and scaling, we have the necessary infrastructure to build out the product. Beyond that, there’s also a huge demand for audio now. We are increasingly shifting into mobile as tech consumers, and we’re working to meet that growing user behavior.

As consumers start to adopt wearable technologies and the screen shrinks, there becomes an inherent need for audio content. How are you working with publishers to take advantage of this trend, and what are consumers saying about the new format?

At SpokenLayer, we’re all about data, and we’re all about being attentive to user behavior. So with publishers, it’s really important that we work closely with them to figure out how consumers are reacting to audio and in what way, and then optimize for it.

Consumers have been taking it well. We’re seeing a steady increase in activity and engagement, and we’re really excited about where this goes.

Are you currently working with any publishers to integrate your API into their apps? If so, what types of experiences have these publishers been creating and what have the engagement rates been?

Publishers will be integrating our platform into their experience, and we’ll be working hard to help them take advantage of our platform and leverage audio effectively. We haven’t yet launched powering native mobile apps yet so we don’t have engagement rates.

Since listening to a radio is big part of spending time in the car, how do you envision the connected car evolving and what role will SpokenLayer play in creating unique fulfilling experiences for drivers?

The Connected Car is inevitable. The entire user experience of a driver being in a car is largely mediated by a digital interface – the key is to figure out what the common language between the car’s digital ecosystem and the human occupants is going to be, the same way that we figured out that the most effective way to navigate the Internet is through a browser.

Sticking to that motif of a common language, I firmly believe SpokenLayer is going to play a huge part in how the Internet communicates to the driver and passengers through the connected car.

How are you planning to scale SpokenLayer?

One of the main drivers for us to scale up is to partner with strong content providers and leverage their audiences towards audio consumption. Another way is to connect the community of audio-centric audiences with those content providers.