Transcense is the first mobile app that makes group conversations between deaf & hard-of-hearing people and their hearing peers, finally possible & effortless.
Interview with Pieter Doevendans, Co-Founder of Transcence
My name is Pieter Doevendans and I’m 24 years old. Since August 2013 I’m residing in the Bay Area. First in Berkeley, now in San Mateo. After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Civil engineering at the University of Technology, Eindhoven, I continued my educational path with a Masters in Innovations Sciences (TU/e). As part of my Masters program I went on an International Semester to study at UC Berkeley. Pretty soon I got involved with the Entrepreneurship network in Berkeley, and co-founded two startups. I decided to stay another semester, to work on both my startups, and after one year at UC Berkeley, I took the bet and went all in for Transcense. Now I’m working full time on the customer and business development side of the company.
What does your company do and in what sectors do you work?
Transcense aims to lower the communication barrier between deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and the hearing world. Our goal is to provide solutions that help these people engage in meaningful conversations. To accomplish this, we are currently developing a mobile application that translates group conversations into text. The app connects to the multiple smart devices present in the group. Using speech recognition and speaker identification technologies, the app recognizes who is talking and what the person says, and displays this on your smartphone or tablet. It provides 24/7 autonomy to actively participate in any situation at any moment.
Can you tell me more about the technology behind the product?
We combine state of the art technologies, and build our own layer on top of those technologies. Basically we combine the best speech recognition technology with mobile computing capabilities to deliver a real time transcription that is less than a few seconds. As briefly mentioned, we use the smart devices that are already present in the space. The deaf person comes into a meeting and has the app installed on his/her device. The person will then request the other meeting attendees to join the conversation through their devices, enabling their microphones and creating a distributed microphone array that enhances the voice input signal and identifies speakers. The deaf person now sees a realtime chat with who is speaking and what is being said.
What have you encountered here in the US that is different from your experiences in the Netherlands?
Definitely the risk taking culture. Something that is totally different from the Netherlands is that here in the U.S people dare to take big bets. Where in NL everyone want to do ten cost benefit analysis before investing, here they look at your team and your vision. If they think it’s compelling, you receive millions of dollars to figure out your business. I have to admit that it’s also a little bit ridiculous sometimes, but this culture also makes The Valley so successful. It creates the opportunity for huge successes! What is fun is that when you start raising money, and you propose a number that for the average European is seemingly high, investors or mentors don’t look up and are surprised if it’s less than 6 figures.
What makes you a Dutch entrepreneur? What did you bring from the Netherlands?
What I brought with me from home is some realism into that world that I described above. Also something we call “Hollandse Nuchterheid”. I’m not sure how to describe this concept best, but it’s basically having a very grounded/down to earth way of approaching things. For me this approach helps a lot when I get tons of inputs from my environment every day. You can talk to 5 different investors, advisors, mentors on one day, and they will all have their own strategy and focus points. It can be very distracting and misleading to follow these high level individuals. As the Dutch are famous for it’s important to keep your head above the water and focus on the things that really matter.
Why are you based here in the Bay Area? What are the advantages of being in Silicon Valley?
I think the reason for being in the Valley is already touched upon. Let me start with the disadvantage. Coders and hackers are super expensive because there is such a high demand. They are easily twice as expensive as in NL, let alone eastern European countries for example. Office space is another major cost driver. So in terms of burn rate, you can expect to go much faster with your money. That said, the Valley has the money. Every day entrepreneurs from all over the world come to the Valley to meet investors and get their business funded. This place is literally a money magnet. Not only does it lead to a very high concentration of investors, but moreover, awesome entrepreneurs, engineers, and many other things. This is really the epicenter of the world when it comes to tech startups. Of course there are also the big companies like Google, Facebook, Linkedin, and many more that house world’s best people. If you spend you whole day going to meet ups, speaker sessions, hackathons etc. you will still miss 90% of them.
One more big advantage. The weather! The sun is always up here. Winters are soft and Summers are nice and mild.
What are your biggest accomplishments?
We started our adventure by winning the Startup Weekend Berkeley. By itself not so impressive, but the fact that in 50 hours we hacked an analog mouse and using plexiglas, strings, elastic bands, we build a device that could voice out “I can Talk” using sign language. We successfully ran through Steve Blank’s Lean Launch Pad class at UC Berkeley. In April 2014 we had an interview with the famous accelerator Y Combinator. We did not get into the program, because our technology was only two weeks old at that point. Currently we find ourselves in Adam Draper’s Boost VC, accelerator program. On the 30th of October we will be pitching for 100-150 investors on demo day.
Why do you think your product is so successful here?
The Transcense product can be successful anywhere. We focus on a niche market that really needs what we are developing. Based on the story of my co-founder, Thibault, who was born in a deaf family, and my other co-founder, Skinner Cheng, who is deaf himself, we are extremely motivated to make something that 360 million people on this planet really need. Using the Lean methodology, we interviewed over 300 people to get a much better idea of what the real pains and needs for D/deaf and hard of hearing individuals are. The result is a product that addresses a real need, and once available will be adopted by many, not only in the U.S.
What does helps our product is what I mentioned earlier. The people around you and the many other resources here.
What are your ambitions for your company?
We want to make Transcense as easy and accessible as possible to ensure a seamless integration with people’s lives. When this is accomplished we want to build it out to serve more use cases. Transcense has to become a solution for everyone, at any place, and any time. Our goal is to provide it as a 24/7 service that gives autonomy to it’s user. Starting with the U.S, we want to expand our markets over the rest of the world.
What is the best advice you can give to Dutch startups considering coming to the US?
The best advice is “Just do it”. It’s a big step but you will land softly here. There is soo much going on that it is almost impossible not to find your spot. Do know that your burn rate will multiply by two when you start hiring local talent and renting office space in San Francisco or nearby. Depending on your stage, figure out what you want to get out of it. If you are early stage and could use help in growing your business, check out the numerous accelerator and incubator programs. If you are a little further along, do you really need to be here, or can you just send your CEO over for a month to get your startup the investment (of course it’s always good to be closer to the source of your money)?