Rafi Haladjian is a pioneer and always has been. First passed by the Minitel, Rafi Haladjian launched the first Internet operator in France, before deploying antennas on the roofs of buildings to improve connectivity, well before 3G.
Then, with Violet, he created the Nabaztag, a connected rabbit that could talk all day long to share the news, read your latest emails, or announce the weather: “It was a bit of an illustration par l’absurd, he explains to Maddyness. We wanted to show that if we can even connect rabbits, by definition we will be able to connect everything else”.
It will then be necessary to wait almost 10 years to see the emergence of voice assistants from Amazon, Google or Apple.
Ever faster and more personalized access to information
With Juice, Rafi Haladjian wants to explore the next step, that of a reality augmented by audio. He will readily admit that all these bricks are part of the same story, that of ever faster and more personalized access to information. “Initially, we lived in a desert where access to knowledge was difficult. Afterwards, we had oases at home which was the minitel, where you had to take your camel and go to the oasis when you were thirsty. Afterwards, we had more and more water with the arrival of the Internet, then ADSL… until we had water everywhere and through everything. But this story is not over. We might have the impression that it is over since we have a smartphone, but we only have it in our pocket”.
He then describes to us the need to “check your phone”, an action that requires you to stop the action in progress to check your screen. Rafi Haladjian has a vision of an internet that blows information into our ears when we need it.
A sort of Jiminy Cricket who would come and give the information at the right time. A close assistant, always ready to whisper relevant information in your ear, to summarize the biography of the person you are about to meet, to give you their latest news and to find their latest tweet, all in a few seconds to provide valuable context ahead of the meeting.
The comparison with Jiminy Cricket is also still written in the name of the startup. If the name of Pinocchio’s good conscience was not possible for intellectual property reasons, Rafi Haladjian first reduced this name to the initials “JC” before adding three small letters to it to avoid any messianic connotation: Juice was born.
The origin of an idea
“It’s kind of the goal to have a voice like Scarlett Johansson’s speaking in your ear like in Herhe lets go before joking. We are also in talks with Scarlett. Spike Jonze’s film was not however a source of inspiration for Rafi Haladjian, who saw it, well after having had this idea.
The real story dates from 2017 and is a little less glamorous than the first, since it comes from a dinner with one of his friends, Félix, 65, who admitted to him needing a hearing aid. At that time, the AirPods did not yet exist and Rafi Haladjian finds himself fascinated by the hearing aid which he immediately anticipates as being able to accommodate augmented reality. He has the image of an object that could whisper personalized information in his ear. The beginnings of Juice are laid.
When innovation comes from meeting an old man and his hearing aid.
The Dream Team that falls on him
Rafi Haladjian, however, does not immediately get to work. Such a project requires a solid team with highly sought-after skills in the world of work. His dream team will however fall to him from the sky. Rafi Haladjian has known Stéphane Dadian for a long time: “He’s the son of a friend… whom I knew when he was young and who suddenly wasn’t as young (27 years old). He told me that he was studying robotics and NLP (NDA: Natural Language Processing) at the University of Michigan and that he was now working in Silicon Valley in a voicetech startup, notably with Louis Monier . He asked me to come and see him.
Rafi Haladjian makes the trip driven by curiosity and by this name: Louis Monier, the co-founder and CTO of Altavista, the pre-Google-era search engine that is considered one of the gurus of artificial intelligence . He then discovers a project that tries to calculate the nutritional value of a news item, based on the principle that the world is overwhelmed with information, and that the sorting will have to be done between the useful information of the moment and the rest.
The project is notably developed by Arié Selinger, a 23-year-old genius who graduated from MIT where he specializes in Data Science and does research at the Operational Research Center (MIT ORC). The current passes quickly and Rafi Haladjian quickly sees that the technology developed could serve as a driving force for his idea of Jiminy Cricket. Stéphane and Arié offer to join him in Paris to set up Juice, with Louis Monier among the partners. His dream team is complete.
A long-term vision
If the Juice application is already available on the Apple and Google stores, the experience is still far from the vision of an augmented reality audio assistant. A vision that is not so far from us according to Rafi Haladjian: “Technically, there is work… but none of the bricks have to be invented. But what is long and time consuming is public education. First of all, you have to create people’s trust, create habits with long listening sessions”.
From this side, Juice makes his way. From an average of twenty minutes of listening per day, the application rose to forty in September. And users typically return three times a day for four days a week. “It was the most difficult exercise to achieve: to be part of people’s routine”.
The startup has now set itself the goal of reaching 100,000 users by the end of the year (the number of users is currently between 20,000 and 50,000) and will launch its English version in the coming months to get there. But the other challenge is to deliver this vision of a Jiminy Cricket 2.0.
Exaltation as a driving force
When asked about entrepreneurship and his advice to young entrepreneurs, a mischievous smile appears on his lips: “I used to say to entrepreneurs, and to my children, this sentence of John Paul II: “Do not be afraid!” You don’t have to ask too many questions. We have to go. In fact, whatever problem you imagine will not happen. But lots of other things are going to happen to you, so you’ll see when the time comes. There is no way to anticipate them. And generally speaking, it will be three times worse than you think”.
“But from the moment your engine is above all the excitement. You have to believe in what you do, but believe not so much in the sense of: “I’m going to make a fortune with this”, but in the sense of this thing there is interesting, the real word is exhilarating… it’s this what I want to do. And it’s this exhilaration that gets you up in the morning to “overwork” it. And that’s going to make you a good product that, in the end, is going to make people resent it and give you money.
“Actually, the thing is, the money comes if you do your job well.”
“It’s quite moral in fact at the finish. But to do your job well, you have to like it. And the good thing about exaltation is even if it wouldn’t work, because sometimes it doesn’t work… at least you have the satisfaction of having done something that amused you. Imagine that you do something that you don’t like and that, moreover, it doesn’t work”.
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Juice: an audio augmented reality, imagined by the dad of the Nabaztags
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