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Nuance Communications Buys SpinVox, Which Converts Voice Mail to Text
Thursday, 31 December 2009 00:00

SpinVox, a former high-flying British start-up that developed a system for converting telephone voice-mail messages to text, has been sold to an American software provider for less than a quarter of the valuation it once commanded.

The buyer, Nuance Communications, a company in Burlington, Mass., that makes voice recognition software, said last week that it had acquired SpinVox, based in London, for $102.5 million in cash and stock. In 2008, Christina Domecq, the chief executive of SpinVox, told Reuters that the company was valued at $500 million, based on financing it had secured from institutional investors.

Since then, SpinVox has run into trouble. Last summer, the BBC reported that rather than using software to convert answering machine messages to mobile text messages or e-mail messages, SpinVox was relying on human beings in telephone call centers. The report resulted in a big public relations problem for the company, raising questions not only about the level of sophistication of SpinVox’s technology, but also about potential privacy breaches.

In a subsequent interview with The Sunday Times of London, Ms. Domecq, who had been considered one of the most successful high-technology entrepreneurs in Britain, acknowledged that the company had relied on some “human intervention.” But she said that after issues with new customers were worked out, the system was “85 percent to 90 percent fully automated.”

SpinVox was started in 2005 by Ms. Domecq, a scion of the Domecq sherry family of Spain, and Daniel Doulton, a technology executive, with backing from investors like Charles Dunstone, the chief executive of Carphone Warehouse, the mobile-phone retailer and broadband provider.

Lately, SpinVox has faced increased competition. In addition to Nuance, which provides a similar service, another company offering voice-to-text systems is Google. Voice-to-text conversion is one of a number of features offered by Google Voice, introduced in the United States in March.

SpinVox has a more international reach, however, working with a number of major telecommunications providers around the world, including Rogers Wireless of Canada, Vodafone and Movistar in Spain, Telstra of Australia and Vodacom of South Africa. The service works in English and several other languages, including French, German and Spanish.

 

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