It’s likely that some of you have heard the old English proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s a phrase that aptly applies to the early beginnings of one small business, co-founded by Alexei Dunayev. Tune in as Alexei joins Brent Leary to discuss how necessity gave birth to the transcription service now known as TranscribeMe.
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?
Alexei Dunayev: I’m a technologist at heart. I’m a software engineer by training. I did an MBA at Stanford and I knew a few of the tricks about what does it takes to have a really successful global technology campaign.
I managed to combine those passions, by starting TranscribeMe.
Small Business Trends: Why did you get in to transcription?
Alexei Dunayev: Myself and my co-founder were actually transcribing a whole bunch of audio content for our wives. My wife is a PhD researcher and my co-founder is married to a lawyer. They were both generating an insane amount of audio recordings. Very quickly we realized that doing transcripts manually is something that does achieve high quality, but takes forever.
When we set out to build TranscribeMe, we invented a hybrid model that combines speech recognition technology with real humans – whom we crowdsource. And so, when we get audio, the first thing we do is run it through speech recognition software that gives us a baseline level of accuracy. Then we slice it into very small micro-tasks. These can be audio segments of anywhere from 10 seconds through to a minute or so in length.
Those go to real people that then correct what the computer’s type. We put it all back together and send it to the to the client. That’s really the magic of the service that we’ve created and it makes it both fast and highly accurate.
Small Business Trends: How do you go about getting the transcribers on board?
Alexei Dunayev: There is a lot of distrust in the community of freelancers. When the first few people went on the forum and said, “Hey, we actually just received money from TranscribeMe – what they promised us. They pay on time and the work was really enjoyable.” We then got a torrent of applications for transcribers and we now have over 5,000 people on our platform.
We didn’t spend a dime on recruiting any of them. It just grew through word of mouth.
Small Business Trends: I assume you’re able to rate each transcriber and the ones that do better get the better opportunities?
Alexei Dunayev: We try to tailor the audio to the transcriber. For example, right now a transcriber processes audio in English and in Spanish. So when we know the language of the audio that is being submitted, we look at the qualifications of the transcribers on our system and we route the audio to the best person who is able to process it. If an audio comes in from a technical conference, we make sure that it gets processed by people with the technical background able to deliver the accuracy on it.
Further, if you record audio using our Smartphone app and you mention to that you’re in Atlanta, we will then try to find transcribers that are geographically close to you, so they would have a good understanding of things like local places and names. We really try to tailor the audio to play to the strength of the transcribers so that you get that perfect quality output.
Small Business Trends: By playing to the strengths of the transcribers, you’re really playing customer happiness aren’t you?
Alexei Dunayev: That’s exactly right. We found customers that work with us really choose to because they care about quality. These are people who run conferences and record business meetings. These are people who really care about one hundred percent quality – people like doctors, lawyers and we work a lot of people in the education space. It’s something that our customers aren’t willing to sacrifice.
The biggest issue with speech recognition systems is, say you have an audio recording that has a hundred words in it and you run it through a computer. You are going to get back approximately a hundred words and you are not going to know which ones are correct and which ones aren’t. It is not like you can tailor the system to say, “Well, only give me the correct words and I’ll fill in the gaps.”
You basically get the same length text, but a whole bunch of text in it is misheard or typed incorrectly. That’s really when you need people to get to what we call the last mile. Using computers in the first place also gives us a lower cost. You don’t have to pay for the cost of having a full-time transcriber working in an office doing the job. That lets us compete and provide a really great service to our customers at a fraction of the cost they would have to pay otherwise.
Small Business Trends: You can cut this up into seconds?
Alexei Dunayev: Our proprietary technology actually came out of the PhD research of one of our founders and it really lets us slice audio very finely so that we can carry out accuracy. We try to slice it usually into sentences and those sentences are essentially the smallest atoms of information that are required to do the transcription.
What we found is, by slicing audio into very small chucks of say 10 seconds-30 seconds, we’re able to maintain the confidentiality. No single transcriber actually has access to the entire audio and that’s a big deal.
Small Business Trends: It is really an interesting approach to a business need that’s been around forever, being able to use the latest and greatest technology to create a new business model.
Alexei Dunayev: It really came out of personal pain-points. There was nothing else that’s out there that could do what we wanted – that could really reach that quality, speed, confidentiality and cost.
Small Business Trends: In the end, do costumers get a chance to rate or rank the transcriptions?
Alexei Dunayev: Right now that is done by the costumer service team and we do reach out to our costumers to see how they feel, how they like their transcript. We have a very significant emphasis on quality mechanisms inside the process that make sure the quality level is perfect. But in the next release that is coming out in June, there is going to be a feature for direct feedback from the customers all the way through to every transcriber that has worked.
Small Business Trends: How quickly have your customers and prospects adapted to this approach?
Alexei Dunayev: We’re finding that a whole bunch of folks joining TranscribeMe have not even used transcription services before and it’s because we make it easy. We have a super user- friendly iPhone app. There’s also an Android app and you can use those apps for free to record meetings and record interviews. The recordings are then stored in the cloud so you’re never going to lose them. If you want to then get it transcribed, that’s just a click away.
So, we try to make the user experience fast, straightforward and as simple as can be.
Small Business Trends: Where can people find TranscribeMe?
This interview on transcription is part of the One on One interview series with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.