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New Sonos CEO Raises Possibility of IPO for Retail Expansion

Sonos wants to give consumers more chances to experience its internet-connected speakers in person, said the company’s new CEO Patrick Spence in an interview with Variety on Thursday. This could include opening additional Sonos stores, with Spence acknowledging that a further retail expansion may require raising additional money. “I’m open to all the options on the table,” Spence said when asked whether Sonos may go public, or tap into additional funds from institutional investors.

Sonos opened a first U.S. retail store in New York in July, and Spence revealed that the company has opened multiple shops in China over the past couple of months as well. In addition, Sonos has struck retail partnerships with West Elm and Apple. Spence said that the Apple partnership in particular greatly benefited the company, but argued that shelf space alone isn’t enough to demonstrate how Sonos speakers sound and work. “You are going to see us testing more formats,” Spence said about the company’s retail plans.

Sonos has raised some $325 million in funding from institutional investors; the company is profitable, according to Spence, who said that any new fundraiser or public offering may also be used to reward its almost 1,500 employees.

Spence took over as the CEO of Sonos earlier this month after the company’s founding CEO, John MacFarlane, decided to step back and resign from the company’s board. Sonos made headlines early last year when MacFarlane acknowledged that the company had ignored the rise of voice-controlled speakers like Amazon’s Echo, which led to layoffs and a change in direction.

In August, Sonos announced that it would add Amazon Echo support to its existing speakers, an experience that the company is now testing with a subset of its users, who can now control their Sonos systems with the help of an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. Spence said this week that the partnership between the two companies would eventually go further. Asked whether there will one day be a Sonos speaker that has microphones and Amazon’s Alexa assistant built-in, he said: “Yes, there will be.”

However, Spence said that Sonos doesn’t just want to work with Amazon on voice control: “I’m very confident that we can deliver multiple voice systems to our customers.” Eventually, voice services may be like music services today, he argued, with Sonos offering support for multiple assistants, just like it offers support for a multitude of competing music services. One company that Sonos would like to work with is Google, said Spence. “I’d love to be supporting not only Echo and Dot, but also Google Home.”

This may take some convincing. Amazon and Google have in the past fought bitter fights over emerging platforms, with Amazon stopping to sell products like Google’s Chromecast in October of 2015, and Google executives telling consumer electronics partners last year that they couldn’t run Google’s assistant and competing services like Amazon’s Alexa on the same device.

Spence didn’t comment on specific demands from possible partners, but argued that exclusive deals for voice control don’t make sense in an environment where people may use different phones and platforms. “I don’t think that’s gonna work in the home,” he said.

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