Amazon reportedly met with the creator of an Echo-like device in 2013 before launching its own now-dominant smart speaker 2 years later

Amazon reportedly met with the creator of an Echo-like device in 2013 before launching its own now-dominant smart speaker 2 years later
Ubi computer device developers (left to right) Mahyar Fotoohi, Amin Abdossalami and Leor Grebler at their Richmond Hill offices in 2014.Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images/Business Insider
  • Amazon reportedly met with multiple startups over the years for apparent talk of acquisitions and investments only to develop similar products of their own, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
  • One of the companies was Ubi, a voice-activated device that landed on the market in 2012 and was strikingly similar to the Amazon Echo, which launched in 2015.
  • Ubi creator Leor Grebler said he believed Amazon wished to acquire his company when he met with execs in 2013 for a demo of his device, at which time he also disclosed proprietary information.
  • Amazon went quiet following the meeting, and in late 2014, the firm's Echo plans were unveiled.
  • It launched in 2015, and 70% of smart speaker users in the US now opt for the Amazon Echo.

Amazon has reportedly met with multiple tech entrepreneurs over the years to apparently discuss acquisitions and investments only to turn around and create strikingly similar products of their own, per a Thursday Wall Street Journal report.

One of those entrepreneurs was Leor Grebler, who launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 and raised $36,000 for his voice-activated Ubi device. It landed on the market well ahead of Amazon Echo's mid-2015 debut.

Grebler told the outlet he began meeting with Amazon in late 2012 to discuss his technology, with the impression that Amazon may have wanted to acquire Ubi or at least license the tech. Shortly after in 2013, he conducted a demo of his device and disclosed proprietary information in a meeting with a group of Amazon execs, which included two who would later be found to be involved in the Echo speaker project, Grebler told the Journal.

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"They saw all the things we wanted to do with the device [like] music and shopping," Grebler told the WSJ. "It was almost a road map for the product."

Prior to the demo, Amazon told Grebler it would be terminating its nondisclosure agreement, which both parties signed earlier on. Grebler told the outlet the move gave him the impression that Amazon was more seriously considering acquiring Ubi.


Amazon went radio silent following the meeting, and news later surfaced in late 2014 that Amazon was planning to unveil its Echo device, which later hit the market in June 2015. Grebler said he lacked the funds to take Amazon to court.

An Amazon spokesperson told the WSJ that the company began tinkering with plans for its Echo device well before it met with Grebler in regards to Ubi.

According to an eMarketer report from early 2020, nearly 70% of smart speaker consumers opt for Amazon's Echo device, landing the Seattle-based firm as the market leader.

The report comes as Amazon and the rest of the Big Four — Google, Facebook, and Apple — gear up for an antitrust hearing on Monday in which they'll testify before Congress. The hearing is being held to investigate whether or not the four goliaths' anti-competitive business practices have helped them gain a monopolistic grip on their respective markets.

Read the full report on the Wall Street Journal here.