With Melt app, Shane Wey rediscovers the power of voice

Shane Wey’s epiphany came after some tinkering on social media. He’d been uploading to Facebook audio clips of his own thoughts from SoundCloud, a social media site where users such as bands, podcasters and artists post and share audio clips. Feedback from friends and acquaintances told him that he was on to something—people were responding to hearing his ideas online in his own voice. Some more experimentation led to the development of an audio-based micro-blogging platform designed for mobile devices. Download Melt to reply.

The popularity of short, pithy voice recordings pushed out into the world via social networks quickly turned into the startup Melt, a company Wey (B.S.’10 EECS) co-founded with Jason Lew, a friend from his Cupertino high school.

Wey’s parents are both engineers, so when it came time to choose what to study in college, he says engineering was “a default choice.” He started taking some philosophy courses to flesh out the humanities requirements and kept taking them after the requirements were met. He ended up graduating in 2010 as a double major in EECS and philosophy.

“It turns out that studying the two disciplines is a lot more logical than I initially thought,” Wey says. “Philosophy is all about understanding how arguments are constructed. Arguments have pillars that hold them up. If you want to support an argument, you add more pillars; if you want to refute it, you pull some of those pillars out. From that standpoint, it is a lot like engineering.”

After graduation, Wey took a job as a tech consultant, but working in a large company was not to his liking, so he and Lew started talking about quitting their corporate jobs. Almost a year passed. “Little by little,” Wey says, “we became entranced by the idea of a startup.” Wey found himself in an existential quandary, ‘if not now, then when?’

“So we decided to quit our jobs and try it,” he says.

Their first big project was an event service they worked on for months. After some feedback from would-be investors, they went back to the drawing board and started doing some rapid user testing on dozens of different ideas. The one that stuck was Melt, what Wey calls “a kind of Twitter for voice.”

Melt launched in May as an iPhone app. They now have over 300 users and are growing steadily. “The most prominent usage is from people who are recording their reflections on their day,” Wey says. But there are new uses emerging every day: an author in London posts book reviews, a Dominican couple posts romantic thoughts they are having about one another. Jetset Times recently covered Melt, saying the social voice recorder was a good tool for on-the-go travelers.

“We wanted to give people a blank canvas to talk about whatever they want to,” Wey says. The mobile-based app platform lets users record up to three minutes of audio at a time, but Wey says that most recordings are much shorter.

As they build the service, Wey says he is surprised by the feedback he continues to get on the power of hearing people’s voices. “Voice has a sincerity that is getting lost on the Internet,” Wey says. Unlike snarky comments or one-liners that land off target, Wey says, “It’s harder to be misunderstood, and it’s hard to hide behind your voice.”

The short-term goal for the Melt team is to get accepted to a startup incubator program, which could lead to mentors and networking connections. Longer term, they would like to attract financing and figure out how to follow their expansion with a revenue stream. But for now, Wey says, “We are focusing on steady growth and engagement. Building a vibrant community is really our  number-one priority.”

Topics: EECS, Computing