European Business: Endel recently signed a deal with Warner Music to release twenty albums this year, while all your “musicians” and “songwriters” are software engineers and algorithms. Would you consider Endel to be actual music – and if not, what is it?
Oleg Stavitsky: We do not call Endel music. In fact, we call it functional sound, because it is not designed to be consciously listened to. Its purpose is to play in the background and affect your cognitive state. Currently, users can choose one of three moods – focus, relax and sleep – and Endel will help them get into that emotional space. This is achieved by creating a sound environment which is tailored to a number of inputs to which these soundscapes are highly adaptive: the time of day, the weather, the user’s heart rate and movement, among a few other factors.
European Business: What scientific insights is your approach based on?
Oleg Stavitsky: One of the underlying scientific principles of Endel is the circadian rhythm: Your body goes through certain phases throughout the day, which is the reason you tend to feel awake in the morning, a bit drowsy at noon and alert again towards the evening. This rhythm is regulated by an internal clock inside your body. There are variations in that clock, though, which can make it lose its pace: It shifts with age and the time of year and it is also highly dependent on the amount of light you’re getting.
Endel is also based on the vast body of research on the neuroscientific properties of how certain scales, frequencies and tones influence your cognitive state. By using these sounds and tones to your advantage, we can help you focus, relax or sleep.
European Business: As you mentioned, Endel customizes its sounds for its individual users, based on their current activity, heart rate and the time of day. How did you decide what kinds of sounds are suitable for an intense work session on a cloudy morning or for relaxing in the afternoon sun?
Oleg Stavitsky: Let me give you an example: Let’s say you want to focus on a task right now, and from your GPS location, your local weather report and the time of day, we know that it is currently pretty cloudy at your place. This means that you are not getting enough light, and because you’re not getting enough light, you’re not performing at your optimal best. Our focus mode will then compensate that lack of daylight. Additionally, we might be able to detect that you’re trying to focus right now, but with a heart rate of 100 bpm, you appear quite stressed. Endel will then provide you with specific sounds that will calm you and help you concentrate on the task at hand.
We are currently working on factoring in other elements, especially your calendar, which would allow us to understand how busy your day is. We could then make a judgment on what kind of mode we need to place you in at any given moment.
Our goal is to engineer environments completely, and not just provide you with sound environments. Oleg Stavitsky
European Business: Does that mean that more and more customized factors will lead to a completely individual Endel experience in the long run?
Oleg Stavitsky: Our big idea goes even further than that: Our goal is to engineer environments completely, and not just provide you with sound environments. By the end of the year, Endel is going to be integrated into all kinds of platforms, and once we’ll have begun to collect and evaluate all the user data which will come with that, we will understand the context of your day, and we will be able to control many more things about your environment than merely the sound. We want to be able to control the lighting and the temperature in your room and even a few more aspects to design your optimal personal space. We are currently in talks with many consumer electronics providers, mobility companies and hotels, because we believe that our technology can truly shine once we’ll be able to collect all the data we need. We might actually be the only company that doesn’t collect your data to show you ads, but to actually make your life better.
European Business: Up until now, you have entered into partnerships with renowned international companies like Amazon and Warner Music. However, although you are headquartered in Berlin, you don’t have any German partners. Are foreign companies more open to Endel than domestic ones?
Vlad Pinskij: Actually, we are currently in negotiations with two major German corporations, but, funnily enough, the contact was not initially made via their German headquarters but through their foreign subsidiaries. Even when you have a good product, it is not easy for German companies to get ahead and I am astonished that, while the response abroad has been extremely positive, here in Germany we are often beating at closed doors.
I am astonished that, while the response abroad has been extremely positive, here in Germany we are often beating at closed doors. Vlad Pinskij
We would, for example, like very much to cooperate with medical insurers because our technology can be used as a preventative stress management tool: Endel helps people fall sleep, Endel supports the ability to concentrate. If we think this through to the end, then medical insurers would spend less on days lost to stress-related disorders if their customers used Endel. However, so far, we have received no response to our efforts to open a dialogue - despite the fact that Barmer and TK, the two biggest medical insurers in Germany, are already moving in this direction. However, it seems as if the insurers would rather try and sell their own technology than take an objective view of the most effective measure. That should be their priority if they truly want to achieve the best results for their customers.
European Business: Despite these obstacles, you have nevertheless chosen to locate your headquarters in Berlin. Why is that?
Vlad Pinskij: I am a Berliner through and through and have passionately argued the case for my city, even with my partners. Quality of life is fantastic here and there is a well-developed network for start-ups. However, the much vaunted programme of state support makes applicants jump through far more hoops than are admitted to in public. The bureaucratic hurdles that must be overcome to secure public funding are formidable while the chances of success are far from certain and the entire process is too time-consuming - time that must be diverted from operative tasks. Don’t get me started on bank loans. At the end of the day, it is much simpler to find an investor.
Interview: Julian Miller | Pictures: Endel