“Yap is good,” says the Charlotte-based company’s chief operating officer and co-founder.
Yap provides voice-to-text conversion for mobile phones, using an advanced form of speech recognition. Users can say anything they want, and the platform will send back a textual representation.
Two brothers, Igor and Victor Jablokov, were inspired to create the service after hearing about their kid sister texting on her phone while driving (66 percent of teens do this). The team behind the service has also worked on Apple’s iPod, Honda’s navigational systems and IBM’s ViaVoice.
Victor has an extensive career with more than eight years of operations, R&D, manufacturing, quality, and advanced materials product development experience prior to co-founding Yap.
We caught up with Victor recently to find out more about Yap.
So, what’s up at Yap?
Yap is good. We’re actually in an interesting position right now. We raised our Series A back in September and got into a situation where we started slowly ramping up but never really hit our bursting stage in terms of staffing. And, now with all this craziness in the marketplace, that actually was a good thing and we’re being a lot more methodical.
What about your competitors?
Well, the interesting thing is that a lot of our competitors are actually starting to lay off, which means a lot of good talent is coming in the marketplace right now. In some ways, we are sort of cherry-picking some of the top talent in our space. We’re about 11 full-time right now and expect to add at least four folks in both sales and engineering/research, probably before the end of the year. From there, we’ll go quarter by quarter to see how we progress. Ironically, we expect that through this economic downturn, we actually will experience a growth phase.
Do you see Yap’s growth because of the burst of mobile applications out there?
I think so. I think we’re seeing a shift in the marketplace where voice recognition is becoming more prominent. All of the major players – Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! – all are making investments in this space. We’re kind of sitting in the middle as an independent right now, but we’re seeing a lot of interest in our voicemail-to-text conversion services from a lot of the enterprise players. So I think there’s going to be a lot of movement toward putting out this kind of product in the next year or two.
Any possibilities of selling Yap to one of those major players?
To be honest, we already had a company pop up who wanted to look under the hood, so to speak. It’s still very early for us, and we’re operating in a fashion that we are looking at 12 to 24 months of building. We have plenty of cash, so there’s really no hurry on our part. It’s like the old adage, run the company, build it, and the buyout offer will come – don’t worry about where it’s coming from. And, that’s exactly what we’re doing. At the end of the day, through this downturn, you’re not going to see a whole lot of activity anyway. We’re in a good position right now because we don’t need to try and sell. So, hopefully the market turns around and we’ll come out of it in a stronger position. Then, if we are interested in an acquisition, then we’ll be ready for it. Regardless, there’s no reason why this company can’t be a self-sustaining company and not have to look toward that buyout. We’re not a company with large infrastructure costs. We’re not a company that is just going to burn through a lot of cash. We’re not a company who spends crazy amounts of money just to eat up as much market share as we can. We’re really turning more into an enterprise-type company where we are going to grow progressively and try to get the platform out to where we think is the best niche.
As you plan to grow in the next year, what’s new with your actual product and technology?
First of all, we’re really going to push toward our voicemail platform. I think there are both a need and a want from enterprise consumers to have automated voicemail transcription. There is a lot of interest from both the enterprise level and the carrier space for this product line, and it’s just a matter time for us to win some major deals that will help us become profitable pretty quickly. There are so many opportunities out there, and we’re going to be looking into the entire ecosystem to see where we can generate revenue the quickest. I really think that voicemail, at least in the near term, is the best product line to do that because there’s not really a big consumer shift in behavior that needs to happen to make it successful.
How do you mean?
Literally, people already are used to getting voicemail and getting text messages. And, that’s all that needs to happen. Instead of just listening to your voicemail, get it as a text message or an e-mail versus some of our other products that we are working on right now.
Some of our later stage products like voice search, for instance, may require a little more education on the consumer side before they enter the marketplace. I think the need is there, but you have to get it out there, get it viral and get people to adopt it.
Overall, where do you see the mobile Internet experience heading?
Advertising. Where does mobile advertising play? There’s been a lot of emphasis on that lately. Also, is text messaging dead with the explosion of more smartphones into the market?
No, I don’t think so, and I think it’s just going to grow, especially with a technology like ours that facilitates sending even more text messages. It’s too ingrained right now and still in its adolescent stage in this country. We’re nowhere near the volume that Europe does, so there’s still a lot of growth here. Yes, you see a lot of activity. Yes, you see a lot of marketing noise around iPhones, Blackberries, etc. But, at the end of the day, the majority of the market is still the little flip phones, and that’s really where SMS is the key communication tool for this younger generation.
So, how can a user get Yap?
It will be downloadable application, and we are planning a release in the first quarter to let consumers play with it more for market research from our standpoint. Basically, we want to see what people are saying about it, what we can do with this information, and how useful Yap is to them. We already have prototypes on iPhone, on Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Nokia phones and Java phones as well, so we’re covering the full spectrum. Then, we will slowly roll out apps through our Web site. We’ll probably send out an e-mail campaign announcing how you can get Yap, and we already have a few thousand signed up on our Web site to receive the app once we release it. Hopefully, there will be some kind of viral component where a user will like it, tell their friends about it, and just build it from there.
So, sounds like a big start for you in 2009?
Yes, we’re looking forward to putting it out there to see what people think.