Canadian Entrepreneurs - Tom Zaragoza of Vocalmatic

Sep 7, 2019 by Charlie Reese | 7 minute read

Yesterday I sat down with Tom Zaragoza to discuss how he built Vocalmatic - an online service for converting audio to text.

Hi Tom! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hey! My name is Tom Zaragoza. During the day, I’m a software developer at Tulip Retail (I sit right next to you!). At night, I’m busy building Vocalmatic, an automatic transcription platform with my co-founder, Henrique. He recently joined and works out of Vienna, Austria.

Vocalmatic helps people across various industries like film, journalism, and marketing cut down on the time it takes to transcribe their audio content into text. It is powered by speech recognition technology and we offer a place for our users to edit their transcription text online.

What motivated you to get started with Vocalmatic?

"Before Vocalmatic, I spent 8 months working on another project that made a grand total of $0."

There were a lot of lessons learned and I wanted to challenge myself to not let that happen again.

With that failure fresh in my mind, I was on the hunt for the next project. I had a few criteria for selecting what to work on next:

  1. There needed to be a clear path to profitability right from the start. It shouldn’t be difficult to come up with an initial business model around the product.
  2. There should be customers already paying for something similar. The idea was to iterate on the current offerings.
  3. Others should be tackling the same or a similar problem; this validated market demand.

Luckily, I stumbled upon the world of transcriptions and learned that it was a pretty sizeable industry. Plenty of companies exist that do manual transcription or automatic transcription.

On top of that, the timing was perfect. The big tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are in an AI arms race. The byproduct of this was access to a speech-to-text API (not sure what an API is? Check out WTF is an API). This allows developers like myself to simply make API calls and get access to state of the art machine learning models. No need to build a research team!

With that, I had a pretty good idea in front of me that satisfied the above criteria. I limited myself to a month to build an MVP and get it out the door.

What went into building the initial product?

Before the name Vocalmatic, it was called TranscribeFlow. I registered the domain name and started building. It took about 2 weeks of working evenings and weekends to build and launch the initial product.

It was very simple - users entered their email, uploaded their audio files, and to submit the automatic transcription job, they had to pay about $0.10 / per minute. We would then email users a link to the results. There was no user backend / dashboard.

"Initially, a small number of people found their way to the site, but no one converted. Sad face."

Then, I decided to take another route. The second iteration of the product would be to build out a backend. People would get user accounts and could top-up minutes in their account. Upon signing up, users would get 30 minutes free. If they wanted more, they could buy 25 minutes extra for their account. After building this out, I got my first sale. It was validated!

How have you attracted users and grown Vocalmatic?

I was familiar with SEO so I went that route. It’s a very cost effective way to market a product and certainly pays dividends in the long run. There were a few keywords that my competitors weren’t ranking really well for and I saw that as an opportunity to snag some organic traffic from them.

For about a month after building the MVP, I focused on getting ranked in the first page of Google results for certain high-intent (i.e. likely to buy) keywords. Here’s what I did to signal to Google what Vocalmatic was all about:

  1. Posted in support forums or blog comment sections trying to be helpful, adding link backs where I could in a natural, non-spammy way
  2. Created a good number of pages on the website itself that Google could pick up
  3. Wrote quality, relevant content in the Vocalmatic blog
  4. Made a few videos on Youtube talking about Vocalmatic (please don’t look them up)
  5. Made a Vocalmatic Chrome extension that points back to the website
  6. Created profiles all over the Internet that allowed for links back to the website, even if they were no-follow links

What set off the initial flow of people to the site was the Chrome extension. I write more about that here, for those who are interested!

With SEO, it takes a good amount of time to see your return on it. It’s been a year or so since I started and it’s just starting to ramp up.

What’s your business model?

Our business model is simple.

"Users can buy audio to text packages ranging from 30 minutes to 100 hours."

Customers can also subscribe to a monthly account and get access to certain features and get a set amount of hours per month.

Further, we recently launched business subscriptions for businesses that need to perform a high volume of transcriptions.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

As the only person on this project at the start, it was important to split my time 50/50 between product development and marketing. This allowed me to jump between validating that users wanted the solution and developing the product further. I can’t take credit for this, though - it all came from the book Traction, which I highly recommend.

A corollary to this is to consume a lot of content around starting an online side-business and joining communities around the topic. Podcasts, articles, books, forums, and videos all work really well. It can be a bit isolating at times working on your own, so hearing stories from others can be a good way feel connected!

What do you think has had the biggest impact on your sales since you started?

Always make an effort to talk to your users and prioritize customer support.

"The CTO at my previous job said that the technology is not what’s unique, it’s how you treat your customers."

This feeds into your overall branding strategy and is what keeps your customers coming back.

As well, don’t underestimate the power of human psychology. I recently added 2 features to the website that doubled sales this month. The first was starting the process of localizing currencies; I was charging USD initially, and have since added euros and pounds.

The second was an app called Fomo, which shows a popup on the bottom left of the website indicating that someone somewhere purchased from you. It’s social proof at it’s finest!

Do you have any helpful advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs / wantrepreneurs?

Take a long hard look at what your personal and career goals are and how it maps to starting something up. Once you have a better understanding, it should be easier to jump in, get started, and keep going at it.

Once you do get started, use momentum to your advantage. I find that setting a small goal for myself every day helps with pushing through slumps. If I manage to reach my daily goal and have more energy left over, I’ll move onto the next task.

"As you get deeper into your adventure, don’t lose sight of important things like self-care and time with family and friends. It’ll be good for your overall well-being."

And finally, take time to celebrate the small wins. You’re definitely going to run into a lot of walls and it can get exhausting. Looking back on your small wins is one way to fight off the urge to give up!

⚡️Thanks for sharing Tom! ⚡️