Our speech-to-text technology incorporates deep learning, artificial neural networks, and natural language processing to build sophisticated and personalized models for the legal and higher education sectors. We actually take it one step further by tailoring the technology beyond the domain, down to the individual client level. The result is a highly sophisticated speech recognition that is able to pick up on complex terminology, different speakers and even current events, and then feed this information back so that the technology learns and improves with each use. This ultimately results in a near-perfect transcript with minimal human intervention, dramatically reducing turnaround time and costs.
As part of my series about “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that seem copied from science fiction, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Livne. Tom is the CEO and co-founder of Verbit, an AI-powered transcription and captioning solution based in Tel Aviv, Israel. An entrepreneur at heart, he possesses vast experience with every aspect of the tech startup lifecycle, including go-to-market, product strategy, marketing and fundraising, with a particular emphasis on SaaS business models. Tom’s background is especially strong in leadership and growth management, where he specializes in team building for high tech companies, helping them to expand globally.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Before I found myself in the world of tech startups, I actually began my career in law, where transcripts are essential. I was often unsatisfied with the slow turnaround time and insufficient accuracy of the legal transcripts I received. This stuck in the back of my mind as I moved on to my next professional endeavor as a commercial banking associate. I had always been an entrepreneur at heart, and I decided to take that leap and start my own tech company. Drawing on my prior experience with legal transcription, I felt that this was an important need in the market and that a viable solution could be found with the right technology.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It’s remarkable how any connection you make has the potential to turn into a great opportunity. For example, when I was working in investment banking, the CEO of my former workplace casually introduced me to her brother, who would later become one of our investors and board members at Verbit. In the same vein, two of my university peers later joined me in strategic roles at Verbit. All of this is to say, never underestimate the power of networking. It can shape the direction of your professional career.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Verbit’s speech-to-text technology incorporates deep learning, artificial neural networks, and natural language processing to build sophisticated and personalized models for the legal and higher education sectors. We actually take it one step further by tailoring the technology beyond the domain, down to the individual client level. The result is a highly sophisticated speech recognition that is able to pick up on complex terminology, different speakers and even current events, and then feed this information back so that the technology learns and improves with each use. This ultimately results in a near-perfect transcript with minimal human intervention, dramatically reducing turnaround time and costs.
How do you think this might change the world?
AI-enhanced transcription stands to completely disrupt the legal industry. A legal transcript can take weeks to be delivered to the client. With Verbit’s solution, deposition companies and courts can receive an accurate, workable transcript within days. That’s virtually unheard of in the industry and represents a significant breakthrough.
In the education sector, AI captioning provides unprecedented opportunities for engagement and participation in the classroom, particularly for students with disabilities, who benefit greatly from captioned videos. Verbit’s solution breaks down traditional barriers with the ability to completely revolutionize higher education, both in terms of how students learn, and how instructors teach.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
I’m actually a fan of the show, so this has crossed my mind a few times while watching. I think privacy is the biggest issue that arises from the prevalence of advanced technology. There’s a widespread fear that all of the sensitive information we share with various third parties can leak and become public domain at any moment. This fear isn’t altogether irrational, as there have been several notable massive data breaches that only serve to spread this panic further. AI technology is fueled by data and if that falls into the wrong hands, the results could be disastrous.
There is a sensationalist idea that AI and machine learning technology will inevitably reach a point where it will become more sophisticated than humans. I can’t really make predictions with any certainty as to the viability of this scenario. But, for now, we are in control of the AI and the days of those tables turning are a long way off.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
It really started out as a simple conversation. Think about it — have you ever stopped to consider the sheer volume of voice data that is out there, between all of the audio and video content available online? I was discussing this idea with a friend, and what started out as a casual conversation slowly morphed into the seeds of an idea. He brought up the point of how all of this data is unstructured so it’s virtually useless unless it can be properly captured and structured to be indexed for reference. The only way to achieve that is through converting the audio and video to text, through transcription and captioning. Transcription itself has evolved from being a completely manual process to being automated through automated speech recognition. We saw an opportunity to further enrich the automated process with machine learning, particularly deep learning and natural language processing.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Transcribing audio is time-consuming, often tedious and, as a result, humans are prone to make mistakes when they do it. AI machines excel in precisely these kinds of scenarios. There’s a mistaken belief that no machine, no matter how sophisticated, can match or surpass the accuracy capable of being achieved by a human being. This notion is especially pervasive in highly specialized fields like the legal sector, which is also traditionally resistant to technology adoption. We’re changing these ideas by proving the efficacy of our solution in terms of accuracy, cost and turnaround time. Of course, human intelligence will always be required to supervise the AI and apply advanced reasoning and interpretation. Our mission is to show that the solution streamlines workflows and simplifies lives and, despite being complex, the technology is intuitive and easy to use.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
We’re currently going through a complete rebrand that involves changing our website, logo and messaging strategy. We’re investing in PR, content and online marketing channels.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been very lucky to work with a number of talented individuals over the years who have taken an active interest in my success. I’m particularly grateful towards our investors. They’re really the ones who fuel our vision and give us the ability to do what we do. One of our VCs, in particular, works very closely with me and provides me with hands-on coaching and mentoring sessions. I never want to become complacent, so I see this as a huge factor in my own personal development and that of the company’s.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our technology helps make higher education more accessible for anyone with a desire to learn, in particular, the d/Deaf and hard of hearing community, many of whom would not be able to consume academic video content without transcripts and captions. Obtaining a college degree is a major predictor for success and quality of life. Verbit contributes to removing that traditional barrier and makes it possible for individuals with disabilities to benefit from a college education, and reap the positive outcomes that go along with it.
Our solution also involves an extensive network of freelancers, who edit and review the transcripts that are generated by our AI technology. Through this model, we provide a flexible and rewarding career option for thousands of people. I’ve had some of our transcribers reach out to me personally to thank me for the opportunity that Verbit has provided them.
On a more personal level, I take an active role in mentoring young entrepreneurs. I think it’s incumbent upon me to share knowledge and valuable lessons with the next generation.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You’ll be told that it gets easier with time. It’s actually the opposite, so embrace the challenge and thrive in it.
- Prioritize your first few hires. They will influence the DNA of the whole company.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of good communication. Most problems and failures are a result of miscommunication.
- A good company consists of strong, skilled people and happy customers. With those two, an organization is unstoppable.
- Create a professional, fast-paced and fun internal dynamic for your employees to fully buy in and succeed.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think that human potential is a precious resource. Think about the advancements society could achieve if we could fully harness all of that. We spend about one third our lives asleep. While this is obviously a critical bodily function, imagine what could result if we were able to use that time to our advantage and tap into the most creative and inventive parts of our minds. If we could somehow apply augmented reality (AR) technology to the process of dreaming and be cognizant of the entire process, we would be able to maximize productivity around the clock and truly push all limits. AR is evolving at a torrid pace, so who knows? That kind of innovation may soon be possible. You heard it here first.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorites is “If you can dream it, you can do it,” usually attributed to Walt Disney although it was actually coined by one of his employees. It’s something that resonates with me because it embodies both the intangible and the tangible; the dream and the action. This is something that influences my own personal philosophy and approach to building and leading Verbit into the future. When hunger for success overcomes the fear of failure and you’re willing to put in the work to make it happen, the sky’s the limit.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I take a personal, relationship-based approach to communicating with potential investors. I don’t think a quick elevator pitch can do a company justice, and really capture its essence and competitive edge. But, here goes: We raised $11 million dollars in our seed round, with most of that money still in the bank. We’ve grown from a three-person operation to a staff of 60 and counting. We have over 100 customers, generating millions of dollars in revenue, which has quadrupled since last year. This is all in just 18 months since being founded.