The Future of Communication Technology: Pete Erickson of Modev On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Connect and Communicate With Each Other

Our flagship event and network of properties is called VOICE, which focuses on voice-tech, AI, conversational interfaces such as chatbots, avatars and audio interfaces. Most people now have a voice assistant in their homes and almost all have them activated on their smartphones. This new interface is at the forefront of multiple technology platforms, including but not limited to Smartspeakers, Televisions, Laptops/Desktops, Smartphones, Appliances, Cars/Trucks, Wearables, AR/VR and more. We can speak at 150 words per minute and type about 40 words per minute, even much less than that on small devices. Therefore, speaking vs. typing reduces friction and time. There are so many other benefits across use cases and industries, including Healthcare, Retail, Transportation and Banking which are all making major transformations to add voice/chat/AI interfaces.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pete Erickson, Founder and CEO of Modev.

As founder and CEO of Modev, Pete Erickson believes that human connection is vital in the era of digital transformation. Over the past decade he has turned that belief into a mission of finding creative ways to bring the tech industry together. Under Pete’s leadership, Modev organizes some of the world’s top events, including VOICE Summit, VOICE Global and VOICE Talks with more than 100,000 attendees annually. Modev is a global team of more than 40 creatives, marketers and producers.

Pete contributes regularly to national news outlets, including NPR, CBS, NBC. He serves as the on-air “Tech Expert” for Fox 5 DC where he provides commentary on technology news that impacts consumers.

Modev is based in Arlington, Va. where Pete resides with his wife, two kids, and dog Maisey.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’m the fifth child in a family of ten, so organizing events with a lot of people and moving parts comes natural to me. I was always attracted to leadership roles in school, coached teams and organized large social events in my 20’s and 30’s. In 2008 I moved from my hometown of Seattle to the Washington, DC-area to marry my now wife Sabrina. It was after this move, and finding myself seeking my next career, that I decided to turn my natural desire for community into a vocation. Today, I am thrilled to be a success story. It all started with a single Meetup with 12 developers on January 21, 2009 that later grew into a global organization with more than 150,000 attendees to our events and conferences over the years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I got my first big break at the age of 18. I was already a programmer and could write my own games for the Apple II computer. Costco had opened its very first store in Seattle in 1984 and because I was “good at computers” I was hired to run their IBM-based cash register, which meant I arrived at the warehouse at 5 a.m., downloaded all the updated pricing data from a mainframe, and then programmed that data into each register in time for the store opening. This was a hugely influential job for me at a young age as I witnessed firsthand as Costco disrupted the supply chain for the grocery industry which ended up revolutionizing shopping across the U.S. I worked for Costco for five years through college and still value that experience and the relationships that I built with many of the company’s founders. Costco was more than a store, it was a community of staff and customers that shared a common belief and love of the experience. This stuck with me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love the book the “Four Agreements” and the first agreement is “Don’t make assumptions.” I love this quote and try to live my life by it in my personal and professional relationships. It really helps us take care not to react by what we think we might know, because most of the time, we are wrong.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Yes, after moving from Seattle to Washington, DC, I was in search of the local tech community and quickly realized there was a need to start one around the fast-growing iTunes app store. This led me to start Modev, which at the time was a mobile developer Meetup. I also started an app developer contest series called “Disruptathon,” where a tech attorney Sanjay Beri who was in attendance at that first event called me the next day to tell me how he loved the event and wanted to help me grow the series and Modev. He had also moved to the DC-area from Seattle, so we had a shared love of the Northwest and common sporting teams. Sanjay’s law firm became one of our most important early sponsors, and he helped me establish my LLC and continued to act as my guiding counsel until his untimely death in January 2021 at the age of 42. Sanjay was a dedicated supporter and became one of the best friends I would meet through Modev. Most recently, we worked on some of our most important legal contract and Intellectual Property initiatives. The last time we spoke was about business matters in December. Sanjay shared that his 10-year battle with cancer had taken a bit of a bad turn, but he believed he would get through it. Sadly, he couldn’t and today I count my blessings that Sanjay attended one of my early events and took me under his wing to ensure I was successful in my new city.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Community building is a worthy pursuit and we have an opportunity to leverage our positions to improve society in many ways. Here are some ways I’ve leveraged the platform I’ve built to improve lives:

We offer “no-questions-asked scholarships” to every paid event we produce. This initiative resulted in thousands of scholarships over the past several years with recipients receiving access to skills training, jobs, and more importantly, a sense of belonging to everyone who wishes to attend our events.

We have scheduled multiple keynote talks from speakers of all abilities, ages and gender to ensure all voices are represented. Here are a few examples:

Tommy Sheedy was just 11 years old when we invited him to provide the closing keynote at our 2012 ModevEast event.

Christina Mallon is a designer, who lost the use of her arms due to ALS, delivered a moving keynote at VOICE 2019. My late mother died of ALS and I felt like having Christina’s voice was important to talk about inclusive design.

We invited the Bruce Street School for the deaf to attend VOICE Summit and gave scholarships to all of their students and their teachers. During our keynote session, after some welcome words, the students were able to meet the Mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka. This powerful moment watching the kids light up was one of the highlights of my career. The room of more than 1,000 attendees all stood and gave the kids a round of deaf applause by waving their hands for the kids at the table.

We also had a deaf developer for Prudential Financial, Thomas Chappell lead one of our keynotes at VOICE in addition to this panel titled “What if you don’t have a voice.”

We featured blind developer Sina Barham as the closing keynote at our 2019 Spinnaker Summit to help developers understand the importance of writing their code for all users.

Today, I am on the board of advisors for Women in Voice, a global non-profit that was started by a scholarship recipient to our 2018 VOICE Summit. It’s one of my great joys to give back and help others build strong communities of belonging.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Our flagship event and network of properties is called VOICE, which focuses on voice-tech, AI, conversational interfaces such as chatbots, avatars and audio interfaces. Most people now have a voice assistant in their homes and almost all have them activated on their smartphones. This new interface is at the forefront of multiple technology platforms, including but not limited to Smartspeakers, Televisions, Laptops/Desktops, Smartphones, Appliances, Cars/Trucks, Wearables, AR/VR and more. We can speak at 150 words per minute and type about 40 words per minute, even much less than that on small devices. Therefore, speaking vs. typing reduces friction and time. There are so many other benefits across use cases and industries, including Healthcare, Retail, Transportation and Banking which are all making major transformations to add voice/chat/AI interfaces.

How do you think this might change the world?

There’s an immediate accessibility benefit to voice tech. Our “VOICE Talks” show alone has featured many guests attesting to the benefits and the democratization of access via voice. But there are also countless examples of how voice is changing the way we interact with our devices, applications and each other.

Healthcare benefits across multiple areas with a voice interface — how providers record their care sessions, how patients can ask for assistance, how such interfaces can help provide diagnostics and more.

The audio interface with devices such as wearables, headphones, AR/VR devices is going to drive these technologies and revolutionize gaming, entertainment, navigation, commerce and more.

My in laws are in their 80’s and can easily drop in on any of their kids and grandkids via Amazon Alexa. Google Assistant also has an easy communication interface between family, friends and workmates.

Driving is now safer through voice interfaces as drivers are not distracted by looking down at buttons and nobs.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

One of the big challenge areas of this technology is unintended bias in our AI algorithms. We can already see this when our device in the kitchen can’t hear my wife sometimes and it’s very frustrating for her. But there are far more challenging areas such as what a device can record in a home and whether that data can be accessed in a legal proceeding. We all have recorders wherever there is a voice interface and this opens the door to many privacy challenges as well. These are all going to be major policy areas in the years ahead.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

In 2011, we held a Meetup for developers to talk about the new iPhone feature called “Siri”. While Siri was not available for developers to leverage in their apps, one of our Meetups was focused on the ways that a voice interface could help improve user experience in their apps. This Meetup stayed with me and when Amazon released Alexa in 2015 and prepared for an API, I was fortunate enough to be called on by them to help drive the product’s go-to- market strategy. I knew that developers would be hungry to get access to a voice-first interface and produced one of the very first developer workshops for Alexa in 2016. We would then go on to conduct a 10-city training tour in 2017 with training for about 2,000 developers, designers, publishers and brands how to build an Amazon Alexa Skill. We knew the interest was there and we hit that tipping point in 2017 which allowed us to launch our VOICE Summit in the summer of 2018, where we expected 1,500 and gathered close to 3,000. In 2019 attendance would grow to 4,500.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Widespread adoption of voice-tech is already there. Our goal is to ensure a healthy industry that’s inclusive and building technology for all.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

The big innovation for us in the face of the pandemic is VOICE Talks. Instead of simply creating a virtual event, we created a new multi-segment talk show. Again, we were expecting about 1000 registrations for the first event and we ended up hitting 13,000. We would go on to garner more than 100,000 email subscribers by year end and we’re now delivering 10 more episodes in 2021 and we launched a version of the show in India.

This show addresses the needs in the market to grow and engage with the global ecosystem in a way that’s interesting and fun for the community. A talk show has ended up making this possible in a unique way.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The business of community building

I wish I knew more about how sponsorships work early on. I would’ve been able to raise more funds to scale our events and hired more staff to help me out. I did almost every job in the early years and likely could have scaled much more quickly with a better understanding of funding events.

2. Inclusion is the top priority in community building

When we started in 2009 the priorities of accessibility, gender balance, inclusion and racial equity were not front of mind. But I wish we’d gotten ahead of this sooner as it’s now what drives our community initiatives but I can look back and see that this also would’ve really helped us grow while also healing an industry that has a poor track record in these areas.

3. Remote first

We moved to an entirely remote organization in 2015 and this helped us tremendously as we were able to find specialists from around the world who love community building. I wish we’d started as a remote first organization out of the gate, this would’ve really helped me with some of the early challenges we faced.

4. Remove ambiguity through clear contracts.

One area that is a challenge for leaders, especially with smaller teams is that we have to balance between managing teams and holding accountability and being an important part of that team with a good working relationship. What I’ve found is that high goals and critical but so is ensuring a supportive culture that allows for failure but also provides clear expectations. Our contracts with our staff are all very clear, well documented in terms of the job, expectations and deliverables. These contracts allow us to agree in advance on shared goals and know when things aren’t a great fit and we move on as professionals. It took me years to get this right.

5. Keep clean books always

For the first several years of running Modev, I barely managed the books and it was a mess. I am proud that as of about five years ago our Quickbooks are now probably as good or better than most in our industry. We account for every piece of revenue and expense with proper classes and other details. We close out the books each month and answer any questions outstanding. We can now run reports at any time on our business and spot trends or see where we need to focus. This really helps with taxes, our banking relationships and more. Mostly, peace of mind.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am fascinated by the notion of “Accessible First” design. Modev was launched during the “Mobile First” movement and VOICE is living in the “Voice First” era. However, there’s another frontier that I call “Accessible First” design where any physical or digital product should be designed with accessibility in mind first. A great example of this is a shoe that was just released by Nike with accessibility in mind, see the FlyEase here that was assisted in its design by Christina Mallon, the keynote speaker that I cited above from VOICE 2019.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

See our show page for VOICE Talks here. Also please follow me at LinkedIn and Twitter.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.