SpinVox: Christina Domecq
Christina Domecq on why SpinVox is not a technology business
Hearing an entrepreneur describe their business as their baby is nothing new. Christina Domecq, co-founder and chief executive of speech-to-text company SpinVox, is no exception. The difference is that her baby has gone from taking its first steps to sprinting straight for the finish line.
Domecq is well accustomed to fielding questions about her company and the technology that makes the speedy voicemail transcription possible for its 10 million customers. But she is also very keen to point out that SpinVox is “not a technology business”.
“We class SpinVox as a service business,” she says, referring to her business partner Daniel Dolton, whom she met in a burger queue as she was climbing Mont Blanc and he was paragliding in Chamonix. “When we begin our story, we talk about solving a problem,” Domecq explains.
The idea for SpinVox came to the Spanish-born, American-educated entrepreneur when she was working with a yacht brokerage firm in Majorca. Domecq found she was getting inundated with voicemail messages and “really couldn’t understand why voicemail wasn’t more simple”. To Domecq, it seemed absurd her voicemails couldn’t appear as a text message allowing her to access the message more easily and respond appropriately.
“I asked Daniel to find me a service that would help me out in converting voice in to text, and lo and behold we found that there wasn’t one,” recalls Domecq.
Today, SpinVox carries out this service for almost 10 million customers worldwide boosting its current turnover expectations to over £50m. The service is supported by 13 carriers in five countries, with an additional 13 due to come on board any day, and supports four different languages. To support exponential growth, employees at SpinVox number around the 400 mark and are spread over four continents.
The speech recognition technology at the core of the business is nothing new; companies such as Nuance and IBM have been touting their wares in this market place for a decade. The difference here is in its application, says Domecq. “A lot of companies set up platforms and they say: ‘Here’s the technology, now you’ve got to figure out what to do with it’. We’ve come at it from the other way round.”
Now, speech recognition technology is not renowned for its accuracy or reliability; it is viewed by some as a technology that has always over promised and under-delivered. How does Domecq deal with suggestions that speech technology is categorised under the heading of ‘forever promise’ along with video conferencing?
“I do think it’s the dawn of voice services but I don’t think it’s the dawn of being able to voice activate the universe if you will. I don’t think we’ll be talking to our cars just yet,” she replies, good-humouredly.
Something that may fail to raise a smile is the threat of a competitor lurking on the horizon. Pioneers of speech technology Nuance announced in April that it has plans to release a voicemail to text service. “It would be silly for me to say it’s not a cause for concern,” admits Domecq. “But it’s also hugely flattering,” she continues.
When Domecq and Doulton conceived of SpinVox they didn’t just create a product, they created a market. “It’s a market that didn’t exist,” Domecq acknowledges modestly. “For Nuance to validate the market by coming to compete in that space is scary on one side for all the obvious reasons, but it’s also very comforting because it means we’re not crazy.”
Nuance isn’t the only company to agree that the SpinVox founders weren’t battling a bout of insanity. Very early on they were able to establish relationships with some major high street retailers in the UK, where the product was born. But making inroads at titans such as the Carphone Warehouse and Dixons Stores Group “wasn’t easy at all”, Domecq concedes. Four years later, big name high street retailers and mobile carriers the world over are clamouring for a piece of the SpinVox pie.
What will happen when and if Nuance enters the market remains unclear. What is clear however, is who will be leading SpinVox into battle if and when that conflict occurs. “I don’t exaggerate when I say that it’s my baby,” says Domecq protectively. “And it’s just beginning to grow up.”