Startup Spotlight Q&A: Deepzen

Taylan Kamis is the CEO and co-founder of DeepZen, an artificial intelligence company focused on publishing and producing audiobooks.
He is an experienced tech leader and entrepreneur. He has consulted with private equity and venture capital-backed tech companies as their CFO and was part of the international online media division leadership team at Microsoft where he led strategy, FP&A and business planning for 50 plus markets.

He is curious about exploring the limits of deep tech and excited by the challenge of applying it in real-life scenarios to make life better for all humans. In his limited free time, he enjoys reading and listening to contemporary politics and economics commentary and supports several education and research charities.

DeepZen is a British company comprised of technical, language and business experts who are bringing a new generation of AI driven voice technology to businesses and individuals.

— In a sentence, what does your company do?

We have developed exclusive AI technology which synthesizes the human voice in order to replicate emotions and intonations. The technology, which is being applied across multiple verticals including book publishing, gaming, podcasting, voiceovers, Apps and education, is revolutionising the way audiobooks and other forms of content, are produced.

— What makes your company/product different in this market?

Our core differentiators are the level of technical and NLP expertise we bring to bear, which results in a more advanced quality of product and therefore a superior listening experience for customers and a more authentic brand representation for clients. We have emphasis and intonation control overlaid with emotion control and additionally pronunciation control through our editing suite, which allows us to adapt our technology to fit our clients’ specific needs. No other player in the market provides this level of a complete technological solution. Our key focus is on simultaneously delivering quality, speed, simplicity and scalability.


— Describe how and when your company came to be. In other words, what was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?

We could see the developing importance of voice across many different sectors, however the ability to create emotion in the human speech wasn’t possible, technically, before 2017 when deep neural networks became more advanced. The aha moment was the realisation that a deep learning based system could generate complete human sounding audio recordings which would overcome the time and financial constraints of doing so at scale through current processes.

— What milestone are you most proud of so far?

We have built our deep learning based end to end technology which identifies the emotions within text and synthesizes the text based on those emotions. We built our editorial tool which gives us the ability to control the synthetic voice in any way we want. We also introduced a library of voices both male and female with different accents. All these things happened in the last 12 months. Additionally, we have signed 4 co-publishing deals in the UK, signed a Worldwide distribution deal and digitally produced tens of books with hundreds more in the pipeline to be delivered this year.

— What are people most excited by?

People are very excited by the product itself and the fact that we have built a system which can read any text as a human would do. Also, the financial and temporal savings have been very exciting for the publishing community; we can significantly reduce the process and complexity of creating audiobooks from an average of 4 weeks to a few days and at a significant cost reduction versus traditional studio production methods.

— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?

We have pursued funding yes.

— What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?

  • Sales KPIs: # of new contracts signed both publishing and non-publishing, the $ value of these contracts; the # of engaged qualified leads in the sales funnel and the average time to conversion on net sales
  • Financial KPIs: Revenue growth and net profit margin
  • Customer KPIs: # of customers gained and retained, market share %, net promoter score

— How do you build and develop talent?

As a small business you need to be very clear on what your key goals are in the upcoming three year window. You then need to recruit in to your company the talent with which you need to build it, whilst ensuring you provide an environment where you can continually develop the talent you have. Employees need to understand the aspirations the company has, the part they play in that success story, i.e. how their role helps to achieve those aspirations and what the development plan is for them within the company. People don’t want to stand still; they want to learn and improve their own skills and knowledge and you need to show them that your company is the right place for them to achieve that.

— How do you manage growth vs sustainability?

We think of our sustainable growth rate as the “ceiling” for sales growth or the most our sales can grow without new financing and without exhausting our cash flow. It is a balance we are very conscious of maintaining at this stage in our lifecycle. Our focus is on choosing the right target verticals with whom to work in order to manage the returns on investment of time and money in an optimal way.

— What are the biggest challenges for the team?

Developing the technology fast enough to meet the demand and to meet our own exacting standards in terms of what we deliver to our clients.

— What’s been the biggest success for the team?

After eighteen months of development of the platform itself, the first range of books are now ready for release, comprising of original and digital narration and produced by DeepZen in collaboration with publishers including Endeavour and Legend Press.

— What advice would you give to other founders?

Increasing areas of our lives are being touched by technology, so to be successful in this space you need to identify a key problem and then believe you can build a solution to that problem in a way which is superior to any other options out there for that customer base. Then it is all in the planning. Your business plan needs to be rock solid and built for sustainable growth. Protect your downsides, quickly identify potential added value and execute.

— Have you been or are you part of a corporate startup program or accelerator? If so, which ones and what have been the benefits?

We are in the Oracle for Startups program. (DeepZen will be one of the startups featured at Oracle OpenWorld Europe taking place Feb. 12 and 13 in London.) We are also in the start-up programs of Google, Amazon, NVIDIA and IBM. The main benefits are the support, advice, engagement and contacts derived from these associations.

Startup Spotlight Q&A: Deepzen was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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