Meet Boston’s Siri: Kathleen Burke, the Voice of Runkeeper
There’s a calming familiarity to Kathleen (Kat) Burke’s voice as she cues her yoga class into savasana. So much so that after the yoga instructor is finished teaching, a trainer approached Burke and asked if they had met before. “I asked her if she uses Runkeeper,” Burke says. “She said, ‘Yes, why?’ and then I told her that I do the voice for the app.”
More than 45 million people use Runkeeper, the Boston-based fitness app that tracks time, distance, pace, and other measurements, making it one of the most popular running apps available worldwide. This makes Burke’s voice one of the most listened to voices on the planet, and yet nobody knew who she was—until now.
Burke, 34, a.k.a. “the Siri of Boston,” is a vocalist who graduated from Berklee in 2002. She currently teaches yoga classes at Corepower Yoga and performs as the lead singer in her band, Alchemilla. So how does one go from being a classically-trained singer to letting you know how fast you ran that last mile?
It all started on a couch in Watertown. In fact, the early days of the company basically started there, too.
Burke’s fiancé, Joe Bondi, 36, is a cofounder of Runkeeper and the company’s CTO (chief technical officer). After meeting Jason Jacobs, the company’s cofounder and CEO, the duo started Runkeeper and used Burke’s apartment, a two-family duplex, as an early office.
“It started in our living room, basically,” Burke says. “In the boot-strap days, our apartment was the Runkeeper office. They wanted [the app to have] voice cues and since I was a trained vocalist and we had home recording studio equipment for the band, we set up a mic in our coat closet and used that as a vocal booth.”
Bondi and Jacobs gave Burke a list of all the different words and phrases they wanted in the app, including the familiar, “activity started,” and then Burke closed the closet door and got to work.
“If I meet people at parties they always ask me to say [activity started],” Burke says. “It’s hilarious.”
After recording all the vocal cues, phrases, heart rate numbers, and everything else they needed, Runkeeper engineers pieced it all together. Burke continues to record updates as needed, she says, including when there are new features that require new words. “Now they are working with foreign languages, so I sit in on those meetings as quality control,” she says.
Burke says that the feedback from the community regarding her voice cues has been great so far, and she’s always open to learning more about being motivational without being too peppy.
“[Runkeeper users] have told me that they like the ways the cues are delivered,” Burke says. “You have to get into certain headspace. I’m not a serious person, but I try to be more direct and serious. Sometimes, people call me ‘the serious Runkeeper lady,'” she says.
Actually, we think “Boston’s Siri” has a nice ring to it.