Happy Scribe: Taking the pain out of transcription for time-poor writers

25 Sep 2017

From left: Happy Scribe co-founders André Bastié and Marc Assens. Image: Happy Scribe

Our Start-up of the Week is Happy Scribe, creator of a transcription-as-a-service platform for the research and media communities.

“Everything started three months ago in our living room when André was too lazy to transcribe a few interviews for an academic research project in DCU,” explained Happy Scribe co-founder Marc Assens.

Founded by Assens and André Bastié, Happy Scribe is a transcription platform where researchers, journalists, students or writers can upload their interviews and get them automatically transcribed from speech to text in just a few minutes.

‘Don’t be afraid to engage with your users – this enables you to build the product that they need and not the product that you think they need’

“Transcribing audio files is a problem for many researchers and journalists who conduct interviews on a regular basis,” said Assens.

“From our personal experience and the discussions that we had with research and journalist communities, it was evident that this process is extremely time-consuming. Research has found that it takes approximately five hours to transcribe a one-hour interview.”

The market

“Since day one, we’ve mainly focused our work on trying to provide the best experience for researchers, students and journalists,” Assens continued.

“However, the more we discuss with our user, the more we realise that transcribing is a problem faced in a lot of industries.

“One application of our product that we want to work on is dyslexia. We are currently meeting some people to see how we could adapt our current solution to help dyslexics in their day-to-day routine.”

The founders

Assens is currently pursuing an MSc in machine learning and computer vision at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Barcelona. He recently won the Salient360 Computer Vision Challenge at the ICME 2017 conference in Hong Kong.

Bastié is currently finishing a master’s in e-commerce at Dublin City University (DCU). He already has a lot of entrepreneurial experience, having won three start-up competitions in France and Ireland in the last two years. More recently, he worked for Intuit to launch its sales department targeting the French market.

Assens learned how to code at 14 and Bastié launched his first business at the same age.

The technology

Happy Scribe has a novel solution for time-poor writers

Image: Happy Scribe

Happy Scribe uses state-of-the-art machine-learning models to transcribe audio files uploaded by users automatically.

“We also add a punctuation and time-align the text with the audio file,” Assens explained.

“Our ultimate goal is to make the life of our users a bit easier every day. Researchers and journalists spend a significant part of their time transcribing interviews.”

What neither of the founders were prepared for was the response to the platform by time-poor scribes worldwide once word got out.

Happy Scribe has a novel solution for time-poor writers

Image: Happy Scribe

Bastié said: “We started Happy Scribe three months ago in our living room as a little side project.

“Since day one, we have had over 5,000 users from more than 40 countries and, using our platform, they transcribed more than 100,000 minutes of interviews.

“After a week online, the American journal Poynter wrote an article about us. We were in our living room and suddenly, Marc said: ‘André, I don’t understand, everything is down.’

“We were used to having around 70 page views a day and five to 10 files uploaded to our service. We went to check our analytics and saw that the site was collapsed with users trying to upload files at the same time. Of course, we were not ready for that and had to delete most of the jobs.

“Also, we had the fabulous idea to start Happy Scribe during the exam period. That was challenging!”

Start-up courage

Happy Scribe is part of the DCU UStart programme and The Ireland Funds Business Plan competition led by NDRC this year. It has also received a lot of support from the French tech community.

Bastié said: “Dublin is such a vibrant ecosystem. I’ve been myself involved in Startup Grind – an event that I highly recommend – and from my point of view, it has changed a lot over this period. The quality of the events and supports available to start-ups is becoming better and better.

“In addition to these programmes, we were amazed to see how Irish entrepreneurs and academics from DCU supported us since day one.”

Bastié’s advice to fellow start-ups is to be fearless and make the most of the value of being in the EU.

“Don’t be afraid to engage with your users – this enables you to build the product that they need and not the product that you think they need.

“Consider the EU as your playground, don’t restrict yourself to the country you’re from. Marc is Spanish and I’m French, but the company is Irish and a pure ERASMUS product.”

Updated, 12.26pm, 25 September 2017: This article was amended to attribute certain quotes to André Bastié.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years