COVID-19 has been a challenge for businesses of all kinds. Many have had to readjust strategies and pivot business models to last. While it has been a trying time for many, one company has found success through the pandemic. Trint, an artificial intelligence speech-to-text company, saw record revenue and growth in the first two months of the pandemic and has grown even more since.
In this Q&A, Jeff Kofman, CEO and founder of Trint, shares the company’s origin and mission and speaks in depth on how the company continued to grow throughout COVID-19.
I spent more than 30 years as a TV journalist and a foreign and war correspondent for ABC, CBS and CBC News. During that time, I figure I manually transcribed thousands of hours of interviews, speeches and news. It was the one part of my job that I loathed.
In 2013, when I was the ABC News London Correspondent, I by chance met a team of software engineers who had done some experiments with text and voice. With no particular agenda I asked them, “Why do I have to transcribe manually in the 21st century the way I did in the 20th century–especially when speech-to-text is so accurate?”
Five years later, professionals working in marketing, communications, compliance, HR, branding, law, government and higher education use Trint to make their audio/video content searchable, editable and shareable. In today’s age where communication is dominated by audio and video, that’s gold.
The Series A was used to professionalize and operationalize what had been a pretty bootstrapped team. By 2018, as our revenue grew into the millions and the team was more than 30, I realized I needed some skilled leaders to guide us through the complexity of scaling. The key hire was our COO, Brandon Mensinga, who joined us in January 2019. He’s twice before taken early-stage companies from startup to scaleup. Mensinga and I then hired experienced leaders for our commercial and marketing teams and added a head of people. Within a year, the company was completely transformed. It’s incredibly satisfying to see. We’ve more than doubled the team, which is now at 75 and will soon be 100.
If you have your sights set on a Series B, you probably have 18-24 months between your Series A and Series B to burn down your cash, so you need to work backwards to determine the milestones you need to achieve at each stage along the way. Then you fill that in with financial forecasting and a model for annual recurring revenue, lead generation, pipeline flow, conversion, etc.
You also have to operationalize the sales function in the business to drive growth. You need to create a repeatable sales process so you can scale it really easily. Repeatable and scalable sound similar, but I promise you they’re not the same: You can hire sales people all you want, but that won’t necessarily scale your revenue. You have to start by making the sales machine function in a repeatable way. That way, you can hire any sales rep and consistently deliver predictable incremental revenue.
We’ve always invested our fundraising rounds back into the business. In some ways, the banner months we’ve had during the pandemic have been like a funding round for us, and we’re treating it exactly the same. We’ve invested the additional revenue into growing our employee base: This year we’ve expanded our employee headcount by nearly 50 percent. These hires were made across engineering, product, marketing, sales and support. The most significant hires are our new CTO, Odhrán McConnell, and our new VP of product, Graham Paterson, who both started at the end of July. As we prepare to double our product/engineering teams it’s essential we have leadership in place that can set us up for success.
I’ve got a smart circle of investors and informal advisers I can bounce things off of. But the most useful resource is our leadership team. It’s now stacked with expertise and balanced with different perspectives. We have rigorous discussions about navigating the current crises. I encourage the team to challenge one another. It’s never dull.
We know we sit in a fortunate position. Our revenue has grown because of the pandemic. Collectively we share the view that this is the time to be audacious and now that the company’s leadership, process, structure and vision are in place we agree that we should use these uncertain times to grow our lead in the market and define the space.
During a global crisis, the first thing you need to cover is your team. It’s scary for anyone living through today’s uncertainty. Our entire team has been working remotely for five months and counting and we’ve prioritized culture and community throughout. For the first few months we held virtual Friday night drinks, sometimes a pub quiz or a scavenger hunt, but that’s getting a bit old for everyone. We’ve added daily virtual coffee breaks for anyone who wants to chat with other team members–water cooler conversations have to be facilitated since they can’t happen by chance anymore. We held our recent strategy week via Zoom and sent everyone lunch and snacks to keep them motivated.
It may sound like a cliché, but your team is your most important asset. Take care of it.
If there’s one thing that has changed forever as a result of the pandemic, it’s attitudes toward remote working. Products that can facilitate collaboration between office and home working environments are going to come out on top. Trint has always placed collaboration around audio and video content at the heart of what we do, making it an ideal tool for dispersed teams. As we look to the future, we’ll keep building more ways for teams to collaborate, be more productive and spend their time doing the kind of work that’s most meaningful to them.
The two things that leaders really need to emphasize today are communication and caring. With employees working remotely, it’s essential that we over-communicate to ensure that people know what’s going on, what’s expected.
But I think it’s equally important to keep on top of mental health challenges that remote working has created. Isolation, stress and anxiety are all real. I randomly reach out to team members for chats and updates and I encourage the entire leadership team to do the same. We can’t solve everyone’s personal challenges, but listening and caring are good places to start.
What will the “new normal” of work look like? That’s the multibillion-dollar question that every company and every employee will have to address. What’s clear is that many of us won’t be returning to the office full time. As our company heads to 100 and beyond, I don’t think our new offices in 2021 will have 100 desks and chairs. I think people on some teams will come in two or three days a week.
I don’t want to run a fully remote company. As much as we’ve made it work, I think product innovation, team collaboration and creativity just aren’t as effective over Zoom. I also think that humans are social beings. Part of the reward of a good work environment is the sense of community.
Ultimately, the new normal is only going to succeed if it builds on the best of the old normal: A work environment built on trust and respect. With those foundations we will figure out the new normal together.
Originally published here.
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