How We Brought the Resilient Nature of Evi to Life
To offer the world’s first consumer-accessible artificial intelligence
To demonstrate unique value; to be acquired by industry giant
Evi was a conversation-driven mobile search engine created by True Knowledge, a technology company headquartered in Cambridge, England. While superficially similar to Siri, Evi had several distinct improvements over Siri, including the ability to combine two independent concepts into a third new concept and the ability to add personalized information to her database. True Knowledge was keen to successfully launch Evi in the US to attract attention from potential acquiring companies, such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.
The challenge was that search was a highly-competitive space, with Siri being the current mobile leader. Since success in the iTunes Store was critical and Apple was loath to feature competitive technologies, the launch strategy had to be very carefully-planned.
Given Siri’s dominance, Stuart McFaul knew a bold strategy was mandated… but with safety valves built in to deal with potential problems. He and his team cheekily launched Evi as “Siri’s smarter sister,” calling out her superior intelligence. In addition, rather than announce her arrival broadly, he decided to launch only in one outlet – TechCrunch – knowing that a comprehensive piece in TC would be repeated throughout other industry media.
The strategy worked perfectly. The TechCrunch piece and follow-on coverage in other tech media triggered an onslaught of organic downloads in both the US and UK, making Evi the #1 downloaded app for nearly a month. But Evi’s success raised Apple’s hackles. At the end of the month – on a Thursday afternoon – True Knowledge was told by Apple that Evi would be removed from the iTunes store on the following Monday. The reason: Evi was “too similar” to Siri.
Based on past Apple history, Stuart had foreseen this likelihood; he knew that Evi had to be resilient enough to hold up to such an attack. That evening, he returned to the same TechCrunch reporter with a brief he’d pre-prepared demonstrating the multiple times Apple had acted in restraint of trade with other similar decisions that removed popular apps from iTunes.
The resulting TechCrunch exposé on Apple’s behavior and subsequent social media explosion brought such antipathy towards the company that – on Monday – Apple backed off its plan to remove Evi. However, the media attention catapulted Evi to the top of iTunes and Google Play stores for another month.
The media coverage not only motivated Apple, but the other potential acquirers to meet with True Knowledge. Within a few short months, Amazon became the winning suitor, acquiring the company for $26 million and securing the technology that later became Alexa’s brain.
In thanks for Stuart McFaul’s work, True Knowledge added his bio to Evi’s AI and – for several years – every time you asked Alexa who he was, she was glad to tell you.