If you’re going to take on Apple, you’d better bring out the big guns.
That’s what Doppler Labs, maker of the Here One wireless earbuds, did this month with two key hires with impressive pedigrees. Rich Heye, a former VP at Amazon’s hardware lab, will be the startup’s new CTO. Sofia Velastegui, a top engineer at Alphabet’s connected appliance company Nest, will be chief product officer.
The two join COO Brian Hall, who came to Doppler late last year after a more than 20-year run at Microsoft, where he most recently worked on Surface and HoloLens. The new hires round out an exec team with impressive and diverse resumés.
Doppler’s first major product, the Here One, launched in February. The $US300 earbuds can stream audio from your smartphone, but the real standout feature is their ability to filter out extraneous noise or boost the volume when someone is talking to you. In theory, you should be able to wear Here One even when you’re not listening to music and have the earbuds augment your overall listening experience. The company hasn’t disclosed sales, but did say it had more than 10,000 pre-orders for the Here One.
As CTO, Heye will bring his expertise in chip technology to Doppler labs as the company works on new products with more computing power and better battery life. Heye’s last job was at Amazon’s Lab 126, the California-based office where the company makes everything from Kindles to the Echo. Heye was in charge of vision chips for the ill-fated Fire Phone, which could track a user’s head movements to create a 3D effect on the screen.
After the Fire Phone flop, Heye left Amazon in 2015 and took some time off. A tech veteran who has worked at Apple, AMD, and SanDisk over the years, Heye said in an interview that he was intrigued by Doppler’s vision and how the company was able to ship its first product with a team of just a few dozen people.
Velastegui comes to Doppler from Nest, where she was a rising star inside the company working on the technology to support current products and future products in the company’s roadmap. In fact, Business Insider recently named Velastegui one of the most powerful female engineers in tech and we’ve heard that there was a lot of disappointment internally at Nest after losing her.
“I have to be very excited about a product and it has to be disruptive,” Velastegui said of her decision to leave Nest and join Doppler Labs. “I was blown away how they were able to do AirPods features and so much more.”
As CPO, Velastegui will have to figure out how to provide customers with more updates and features to the Here One as the holiday shopping season approaches and how to launch future versions of the Here One earbuds.
Doppler Labs has a larger ambition than just letting you stream music to wireless earbuds and filtering out extra noise. The company wants to build an entire computing platform based on audio, and is in talks with other companies to potentially figure out how to get a digital assistant inside one of its ear-computers.
CEO Noah Kraft and Heye wouldn’t say which companies Doppler was talking to about digital assistants, but there are only a handful with the expertise — Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. Microsoft recently partnered with Harman Kardon to put its Cortana assistant inside a WiFi speaker. Amazon’s Alexa has made its way into third-party speakers, smart thermostats, and even cars. Apple has already built Siri into the AirPods, and it’s highly unlikely it would licence the technology to a third party like Doppler.
The ultimate vision is to create a platform for “hearable” computing where you don’t have to take your smartphone out as often to check for notifications or get information from a digital assistant. It’s a lot like the the future we saw in the movie “Her.”