Speech-to-text Happy Scribe start-up firm expands

Two DCU students have turned their solution to the time-consuming task of transcribing hours of interviews into a start-up business, attracting more than 4,000 users of the application in five months.

André Bastié and Marc Assens, who are taking part in the UStart, an accelerator programme at DCU’s Ryan Academy, set up Happy Scribe in their living room when they found that there was a huge demand for the service, which converts speech to text from audio files.

Mr Bastié was working on a research project about social entrepreneurs in Ireland as part of his master’s in electronic commerce in DCU.

Having conducted hours of interviews he was not relishing the thought of transcribing the audio.

He spoke to his flatmate, Mr Assens, who was on an Erasmus exchange from a computer science degree at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, and they came up with a solution.

“As you may know it’s a really time-consuming process.

“I came home, and we started to look at different possibilities with Marc, and we came up with this solution which at this stage was just a script on the computer,” Mr Bastié says.

Using the application, he converted the audio transcripts for himself and the rest of his research group.

Within a week they started to receive messages from other researchers and PhD students in DCU who wanted to use the tool for their own research.

“It was really word of mouth in the university,” he says.

When he and Mr Assens realised they had a product, they decided to start a web service online.

A week after releasing the platform online, and a month after its creation at the end of April, Scribe, as it was initially known, was featured on Poynter.org, the website of the renowned American-based journalism institute.

Mr Bastié says they realised the impact of the article when they were in their living room, and the website crashed.

“It was a surprise for us because at the time we had five to 10 users per day. Then we saw there were about 80 people trying to upload files at the same time and that was a direct result of the Poynter article.

“The article went viral in the US and got us a lot of traffic,” he says.

To date, Happy Scribe has had over 4,000 users from more than 50 countries and transcribed more than 230,000 minutes of audio since the application was created at the end of April. A huge part of the appeal of Happy Scribe for students, researchers, and journalists is the low cost, at 0.09 cent per audio minute.

The founders intend to keep the price affordable.

“That was really important to us because one of the reasons that we started Happy Scribe was that as students the other options were not affordable to us.

“We wanted something that is available to the widest number of individuals. That’s the reason we have a low price for the service,” Mr Bastié says.

Using voice recognition, the Happy Scribe application converts one hour of speech in about 20 minutes, saving up to four hours on transcribing.

Happy Scribe is available in more than 119 languages and accents, including nine different dialects in the English language, 20 in Spanish and 15 in Arabic.

Mr Bastié says English is one of the most difficult languages to transcribe because it can change “drastically from one region to another”.

Speaking about the idiosyncratic nature of English spoken in Ireland, he acknowledges with a laugh that “there is no one Irish accent, there are maybe 10 different Irish accents”.

Another feature that sets Happy Scribe apart from its competitors is the application’s text editor which synchronises the text with the audio file.

Mr Assens says they have been able to develop Happy Scribe quickly because he has the technical knowledge while Mr Bastié works on the design.

When Mr Bastié and Mr Assens finish UStart next month they plan to focus full time on the business.

They are currently looking for potential external investment to expand the business worldwide.

Wile the focus is on providing the best solution possible, with a number of improvements set to be released in the coming months, they are also currently working on developing the Spanish and French market.


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