Watching the Startups: Voicemail to Text

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Posted 2008-02-05 Print this article Print

Emerging voicemail-to-text technologies offer flexibility and conveinence for busy professionals, but is the market headed toward mass consumption? Will mobile and Internet carriers be a barrier or a benevolent player in this technology’s ascension?

When the blinking red light on the cell phone or the interrupted dial tone on the fixed line indicates new voicemail, most users would rather deal with it later. Dialing in and wading through messages--searching for the important nuggets--can be a chore, particularly for road warriors.

But the longer you wait, the more dreadful the experience becomes. Messages pile up. Any one of then might hold the key to an important contact or a pending deal.

“Anybody who gets more than five or six voicemails a day understands that voicemail is ridiculous,” says Jason Weissman, principal and founder of Boston Advisors Realty, “I couldn't stand listening for three minutes or more per mail. It is really inefficient for me to check voicemail. I travel a lot and I can’t just sit and be writing down messages all day.”

As indispensable as it is, voicemail is becoming a technological relic in an increasingly text- and search-friendly business environment. If a new rash of start-ups has their way with the wizened technology, however, voicemail will join the textual revolution. These companies are pushing out new voicemail-to-text products that automatically transcribe voicemail and transfer it to the user’s e-mail or SMS repository.

“Voicemail today is a bit of an antique, it hasn't changed in 15 years,” said Dr. Anthony Bladon, chief scientist at the voicemail-to-text vendor CallWave. “You have to call into a number and listen through maybe five messages when all you want to hear is number five.”

SimulScribe and CallWave of Santa Barbara, Calif. are one of three front runners banking on speech to text technology to revolutionize voicemail, joined in the fray by U.K.-based SpinVox. All three vendors hope to address voicemail’s growing irrelevancy in the wake of e-mail, IM and SMS and they believe the market holds great potential to capture mainstream users.

“There used to be so many instances in my business life when I would get a voicemail from someone at ten o’ clock in the morning asking for a quote on a fairly big deal, but that they needed to have a response quickly and I would listen to that voicemail at ten o’ clock at night because I was running around. I was in meetings and never had a chance to listen to voicemail,” said James Siminoff, founder of New York-based SimulScribe, who started the company with the expectation that he wasn’t alone in his frustrations.

Weissman first started using SimulScribe a year and a half ago and six months later encouraged all thirty of his brokers and agents to use the technology as well. He is thrilled with how much time the technology has shaved from his workday so that he can focus on revenue-producing activities.

“I get a lot of voicemail, some days some days I'll get fifty or more, so this creates efficiency and saves a lot of time,” said Weissman. “Its one of the paradigm shifts in how I view technology in my daily routine. It affects me daily. Really, for voicemail intense industries this is essential.”


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