TL;DR: Welcome to the first Rhetoric.app newsletter. Ivan and I are building a SaaS application to improve spoken communication and reduce bad habits (think filler words, speaking too fast, rambling, etc.). Subscribe to follow along as we build in public.
👋 Hey everyone,
A couple of years ago a colleague, Tammy, asked me to stop by her team’s “Lunch ‘n Learn” to give a short presentation about what my team was working on. The environment was casual - a small group of familiar co-workers sitting around a conference room table. As I fumbled with the cords to share my screen to the room, Tammy asked: “Do you mind if I record this session for those who can’t make the meeting?”
“Sure”, I replied. I spoke for 10 minutes and answered questions for an additional 5 minutes. The conversation was engaging, productive, and lighthearted. I moved on to my next meeting of the day.
The following day, Tammy sent me an email thanking me for presenting. In it, she included a link to the recording of the presentation. I cringed: This is what I sound like?! I flinched at every um, like, you know, and yea...so that echoed through my headphones. I listened as my relaxed voice during the presentation deteriorated into a fast-paced stream of consciousness during the Q&A. “Slow down!”, I thought to myself.
It was not a “bad” presentation by any means. But there was plenty of room for improvement.
Think about the last professional email you sent. How many times did you read it over to check for grammar and clarity? Did spell-check catch anything for you? While written communication allows for real-time quality checks and iterative improvements before it sees the light of day, the majority of spoken communication is improvised. Even rehearsed speech can be riddled with filler words, presentation anxiety, and rambling. However, as the pandemic transitioned our lives into an online environment, an opportunity has emerged to bring a real-time speech coach to all presentations and meetings.
Ivan and I are starting a company to improve spoken communication and undo the bad speech habits we have developed over time.
🧭 Let’s catch you up
10/02 → Ivan and I hop on a call to catch up (we worked together at Lyft from 2017 - 2019)
10/02 → Call transitions into an email chain
10/29 → Email chain turns into a follow up call
11/01 → Follow up call turns into a brainstorm document
12/01 → Brainstorm document turns into a Notion workspace
12/15 → Engineering roadmap finalized in Notion and shared with potential contractors
01/05 → Incorporation papers drawn up
01/08 → Engineering contractor proposals received and reviewed
01/13 → Realization that this journey may actually be interesting to others → start a newsletter.
🙋 Um, so like, what are you guys actually working on?
For the aspiring leader, Rhetoric is an application that provides real-time feedback on spoken communication to develop into a more confident, empathetic, and persuasive communicator. Our mission is to enable personal growth, unlock efficiency, and promote powerful habits through artificial intelligence.
🛠️ How does it work?
The application will ingest metadata from the speaker’s microphone and use speech-to-text APIs to analyze and identify speaking habits. An algorithm will synthesize feedback and seamlessly notify the user of potential improvements in real-time. A deep learning component will improve individual speech recognition, allowing for personalized recommendations and feedback. The MVP will be quite simple:
A sample of features...
🚦 Filler words (e.g., “like”, “um”, “and so”, “you know”)
🥁 Words per minute (e.g., 200 wpm)
⏱️ Rambling (e.g., uninterrupted speech for >Xmin)
🎷 Tone (e.g., confidence, empathy)
🏳️🌈 Gender / Orientation phrases (e.g., “you guys”)
We also aim to build a dedicated community of avid users motivated to become better communicators. In the coming weeks, we will launch a Discord community to aggregate feedback, brainstorm features, and discuss presentation skills.
⏭️ What’s next?
Our next few sprints will be packed with developing and testing the MVP product, conducting 2+ user interviews per week, integrating Retool admin dashboards, and kicking off the Rhetoric community.
This newsletter will be sent out on Sunday evenings at the end of each sprint and will:
review the completed tasks from the sprint, detailing wins (large or small), blockers, and interesting discussions
deep dive into the various products we use: Notion, Bootstrap, Speech to Text APIs, Stackbit, Retool, Freshpaint, Intercom, Mailchimp, and many more
link to recorded videos of Ivan and I’s weekly 1:1
discuss financing, corporate structure, and fundraising
summarize user interviews and community building initiatives
We have also assigned names to our engineering sprints based on our favorite speakers and speeches. Our first sprint starts on Monday, January 18th, and in remembrance of the work and rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., we have named it “I have a dream”.
Stick around this newsletter and we’ll keep you updated on when the waiting list opens up. Much more to come:
sprint #1, “I have a dream” look back
culture & guiding principles
Raman is a graduate student at the Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. Prior to Northwestern, Raman led Data Science teams at Lyft and worked in data analytics consulting.
Ivan is the founder of Tango.vc, where he invests in artificial intelligence and robotics startups. He was an early employee at Facebook and Dropbox and sold his second startup, YesGraph, to Lyft in 2017.