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SpinVox - James Whatley

Staff (Social Media Portal) - 01 May 2009

SpinVox - Profiled


An interview with James Whatley, Social Media Strategist at SpinVox

Social Media Portal (SMP): Briefly, tell us about SpinVox, what is it and what does it do?

James Whatley (JW): SpinVox quite simply, converts voice into text. For example, I could call my own email inbox and speak myself a memo http://www.spinvox.com/memo.html, or dial into Twitter and speak a Tweet https://ping.fm/signup/spinvox/SpinVox logo

Our killer application, SpinVox Voicemail, is what people love us for though. We take your spoken voicemail messages, convert them into text and then deliver them via SMS and/or via email. I love it.

SMP: What was the most challenging part of building the service?

JW: I wasn’t responsible for building the service but the most challenging aspect of what SpinVox has built has to be our ground-breaking Voice Message Conversion System™ (VMCS), which works by combining state-of-the-art speech technologies with a live-learning language process.  Developed by the Cambridge, UK- based SpinVox Advanced Speech Group; VMCS now serves users across five continents in English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian.  

It is this that we have recently opened up to developers via our SpinVox Create API developer programme http://create.spinvox.com/.

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

JW: The shortest answer is anyone who has a mobile phone and wants to receive messages in the easiest format for them – via text or email.

The beauty of the SpinVox service is that as it is a voice driven messaging service it can be applied in so many different ways. For instance – the voice to tweet service (via ping.fm) is great for those that have in car phone systems who don’t want to fall foul of mobile-driving laws. We also have many different types of musicians / sports personalities who use SpinVox blog to update their fan blogs with intimate thoughts/moments during competitions / gigs / events etc.

SMP: How did you initially attract users to your site /service, and how do you do it now?


JW: One of our earlier investors was Carphone Warehouse who promoted the service via their retail stores. Once we had proof of concept we then tweaked our business model, preferring to sell through mobile operators, VoiP companies like Skype, as well as resellers such as Avaya.

Today we employ a variety of ways to attract users, but I firmly believe the best way of attracting users is to build a great product. Once you have that basic principle in place the rest follows. Often, when I receive a converted voicemail via email I’ll send it back to the sender and show them what they said. It’s an amusing thing to do and has resulted in a fair few signups too!

Usually supported by public relations,co-marketing and most importantly word of mouth (WOM).

SMP: What are your low moments of what you have been doing so far?

JW:
Last year I did a lot of travelling, around eight trips in two months and three of those within two weeks. I remember arriving home one night from the airport, with only eight hours to go before I had to leave again with no chance of sleep and an overnight of washing ahead of me! It was worth it in the long run but, next time, I’ll schedule my flights a touch further apart.

SMP: What are your high moments of what you have been doing so far?

JW: Being invited to speak at Nokia OpenLab in Helsinki last September is probably one of my most memorable moments. It was the first event of its kind and Nokia gathered bloggers from all over the world to take part in a three day discussion around Social Media and its place in the world. Quite an honour to be asked as both myself and as a SpinVox representative. That and having my first ever SpinVox Application – Social Networks through SpinVox – nominated for a Guardian Media Award


SMP: Now that you are established, what do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?

JW: We use the allegory of mountain climbing within the walls of SpinVox HQ. Each time we reach the next peak in our sights, we look around for the next. We get the sense that the ultimate goal is close and these next few climbs will be tough and hard. The credit crunch is hitting us all and weathering these times is the challenge, one that SpinVox is more than full equipped to face and one we’ll face with a smile.

SMP: What are the next moves for SpinVox?

JW: Users, users and more users. SpinVox’ goal is to bring voice to text to the whole world. We’ve signed 16 carriers to date and everyday hundreds upon thousands of consumers across the globe are being ‘turned on’ to the wonders of SpinVox.

With this Digital Age around us hurtling us further and further forward, we intend to make sure that the power of the human voice is not forgotten.

SMP: What’s the next big step for social media and networks?

JW: For me, social networks and media have all been about opening things up. Be that in restoring transparency between a business and its consumers; or in lowering barriers to entry on the creation (and consumption) of media both old and new. Moving forward I believe that this perceived openness will grate and grind on some, who will seek to create closed places or ‘Velvet-rope social networks’ – where content isn’t searchable and others can do as they please.

Not much thought as gone into the future of this new, open landscape. I’m intrigued as to what it might bring.

SMP: What’s going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media / technology throughout 2009?

JW: Mass-market adoption. Tipping point is here, it is now and it isn’t going away anytime soon. How the rest of the world adapts to working with these new, global-reaching tools is the most interesting thing that’s happened in decades.

SMP:  What impact is the global recession having and what do you think the best way is to manage it for businesses such as yours?

JW: The global recession forces everyone to evaluate what are the essential components of a business to retain existing customers and staff. We firmly believe that innovation in the UK will be the driving force behind stimulating the economy and SpinVox is in a good place to help breathe efficiencies into communications for both the end user and within organisations as its innovative applications save time and money.

SMP: How does this fit into plans at SpinVox?

JW: We believe that there are still opportunities for the right products. Humans do not stop talking to each other and communicating with each other just because of a financial crisis. Our challenge is to ensure that our business model is attractive to customers, partners and ultimately our users.

SMP: Best way to contact you?

JW: On Twitter – http://twitter.com/whatleydude


Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

JW: Bacon and egg panini with a grande vanilla latte.

SMP:  What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

JW: I carried my girlfriend’s bags home from work.

SMP: How many hours to you work a week?

JW: They say journalists work 24hrs a day, always looking for a story, always aware of what’s going on around them... I’d say that of a good social media technician is not too dissimilar. Constantly switched on, constantly aware...

SMP: If you weren’t running SpinVox what would you be doing?

JW: Well I don’t “run” SpinVox, that is left up to the senior management team which include our award winning CEO, Christina Domecq. I can’t speak on her behalf but aside from giving time to other mobile passions such as product reviews and many more, I’d like to think I’d be teaching brands how to engage with their communities. Online or offline, the days of ‘the customer’ singular are over. The community is where companies should be playing.

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?

JW: A weekend spa break to Whatley Manor in the Cotswolds, last November.

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

JW: Open my laptop, drink my coffee and survey my alerts; Twitter, Google, Emails.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

JW: Flying. Always flying. Why? So I could FLY! Have you ever seen Superman?

SMP: Are there any other sites/s that we should be aware of that relate to the above?

JW: http://ping.fm, http://thereallymobileproject.com and http://dabr.co.uk

SMP: Are there a corporate or personal blog/s we should know about (if there is, you should add this to SMP also)?

JW: Personal http://whatleydude.com and work http://blog.spinvox.com


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