Thursday, June 11, 2009

SDM helps launch voice data search business - SDM Pulse, Summer 2009

By Ben Jiang, SDM ’08, and Cynthia Munoz, SDM ’08

Ben Jiang
SDM ’08
SDM is a fertile environment for budding entrepreneurs, so it is not surprising that our time in the program led us to form our own business. Founded in 2008, nexiwave provides professional conference call services, but as opposed to other conference call providers, it delivers transcriptions for each call—making it possible for users to search voice data.

Our eureka moment was inspired by the SDM program itself, because we were both spending a lot of time talking about our projects by phone. Frustrated by our inability to search our previous conversations, we discovered that no tool was available that allowed people to search their own voice data. We therefore set out to create one—first for the purpose of fulfilling SDM’s thesis requirement.

Several SDM classes helped us with our startup: Product Design and Development, the Human Side of Technology, Systems Engineering, and Technology Strategy were all very useful, familiarizing us with industry trends, intellectual property law, and user-centered product design and development processes.

Our initial research showed us that more than 70 percent of human communication is conducted through voice—in face-to-face conversations, but also via telephone, conference calls, voicemail etc. This means not only that the majority of our communication content is not searchable, but that it is forever lost. We started
work in earnest in May 2008, applying systems thinking to all phases of development.
Cynthia Munoz
SDM ’08

We also assessed user problems and discovered that people have difficulty remembering long conversations and keeping track of details and important elements; most users we interviewed rely on pen and paper note-taking—often transferring notes to a computer later on. We therefore introduced bookmarking features within the audio, which helps people localize important parts of a call.

As a company, our goal is to create useful web conferencing tools focusing especially on the communications
content of a conference call or any call. These tools include:

Conversation Search. This is nexiwave’s key feature.

Automated Speech Recognition. This is the key enabling technology.

Audio Bookmarks. Audio Bookmark allows callers to insert bookmarks into the audio stream by pressing the # key during the call. This is quite useful since a one-hour conference call can produce a 20-page transcript.

Just-in-Time Summary. Users can record a summary simply by staying on the line after the other caller(s) hang up and responding to the system’s automatic offer to record a summary.

After six months of hard work, the next generation of conference call and telephone tools was born. We formed our company in September 2008, and in March our team was named a semifinalist in the 2009 Business Plan Contest, run by MIT’s well-known $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

Although we have now graduated, SDM continues to provide critical support for our venture. Recently, SDM and the Leaders for Global Operations Program began offering nexiwave services to both faculty members and students.

Today nexiwave is being used by both SDM students and the faculty on a daily basis, and we’ve received a lot of constructive feedback. The company is still in expansion mode, making plans for artificial intelligence and internationalization. We are also planning to build a bigger team for testing, marketing, and sales. Stay tuned for continual updates on our progress in the SDM Pulse.
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