Q&A with SpeechTrans co-founder and CEO John Frei

By Editor March 18, 2011

SpeechTrans logo

SpeechTrans is the maker of speech-to-speech language translation software. The Lyndhurst, NJ –based company was founded in 2010.

SUB: Please briefly describe the service you offer and the technology behind it.

Frei: SpeechTrans provides the world’s most advanced speech-to-speech language translation software, powered by Nuance (maker of Dragon Dictation). SpeechTrans Ultimate currently enables Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) in English, UK English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese, with spoken translations in English, UK English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin), Korean and Arabic.

SUB: What is the primary value proposition you offer your users?

Frei: Elimination of language barriers allowing users to have an improved experience while traveling abroad on vacation, providing a competitive advantage in entering the global economy for business and an exceptional language learning tool to students or people who want to learn a new language.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your primary competition?

Frei: The main competitor in the space as of mid-February is Google, previous competitors are the Carnegie Melon University Spinoff, Jibbigo, and a Belgium Based company by the name of Trippo.

SUB: How do you market your services?

Frei: SpeechTrans is marketed as a service-based language translator. It is a transcription-based service which allows users to purchase additional transcriptions in-app. We are currently an iOS based software, primarily on iTunes and supporting marketing outlets.

SUB: How did the idea for SpeechTrans come about? Was there one specific “aha” moment?

Frei: The idea of SpeechTrans came to me about three years ago, when my younger brother and his fiancé were planning a trip to Switzerland. Having previously lived in Switzerland, my brother was fluent in Swiss-German. His fiancé at the time spent a few hundred dollars on language learning software, which didn’t exist when I originally moved to Switzerland at the age of six. It brought back the memories of dealing with the language barrier and frustration of trying to learn a new language. That’s when I had the first “aha” moment, and came up with the idea of instead of learning a new language, have software allow you to speak in your native language and translate it for you. The second “aha” moment came to me about a year later, when in less than two hours I created the proof of concept on the computer. I was familiar with Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking Software, having used it for business. I also used Google Translate frequently to translate what I wanted to type to new friends in Norway over Skype. I found an open source text-to-speech to enable the audio output. I had all three programs running on my computer at the same time and had to copy and paste from the first to the second, hit translate and copy and paste the translated text to the TTS, but once I heard the spoken German, I was jumping for joy. That definitely, was the “eureka” moment for me.

SUB: What were the first steps you took to founding the company? For example, did you secure financing first, did you assemble a team, build a prototype of the service, etc.?

Frei: The first step was making the Provisional Patent Application. I then got sidetracked with another business venture and the Provisional Patent expired. I came to the point that, if  I didn’t act on this innovative idea and someone else beat me to the punch, I would regret it for the rest of my life. On March 8, 2010 I took on a business partner, formed an LLC, refilled the Provisional Patent Application and immediately began development on the prototype to work on an iPhone platform. We were bootstrapped at the beginning and I knew we would need capital to develop the software on other smartphone platforms as well as marketing, so I began marketing to VCs and Angels in May of 2010.

SUB: Have you accepted outside financing? Do you plan to in the near future?

Frei: We were very fortunate to have family invest once we were strapped. I found NJ Jumpstart Angles Group on angelsoft.net and after 7 months of back and forth from initial meeting, pitch, term sheet and contract negotiations, we closed our series A round on January 14, 2011. Jumpstart has an option to invest additional funding over the next two years and hopefully we will not need to find a series B investor and can continue to grow the company organically.

SUB: Where do you see SpeechTrans in a year from now?

Frei: Hopefully on every smartphone in the world, as it has tremendous utility. You may not need it every day, but similar to a calculator or a calendar, it’s there when you do need it.

SUB: Finally, a question I always ask—as an entrepreneur who has weathered the recent financial crisis, what advice do you have for those just starting a business now?

Frei: It may sound like a contradiction, because most entrepreneurs start a business to make money. Instead of focusing on making money, the best thing an entrepreneur can do is focus on providing the greatest service possible to as many people as possible, success and money will naturally be the result. Facebook is a great example in which they were spending an enormous amount of money to get as many people to logon to their website with no initial return on investment.

SpeechTrans – www.speechtrans.com