I decided to write this post after being told by several mentors, friends, and team members that, as a company, we should be more vocal about what we have accomplished and what we plan on accomplishing. Maybe I’m tooting our own horn here a bit, but I am really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve, how we’ve done it, and where we plan on going. This is the story of never dreaming “too big.”
When I met my wife Tania, she was an aspiring voice actress. She had been taken advantage of by people claiming to be talent agents and ran into lots of middlemen trying to get a piece of the "voice over pie": casting directors, managers, recording studios, paymasters, and, of course, agents. We set out to solve the problem ourselves and founded our first company in 2003. Our original vision was to help aspiring actors take control of their careers by building a fair marketplace where every voice actor would have an equal chance of getting started. For months, we worked nights and weekends. Finally, we launched Voice123, the first marketplace for the voice over industry. Fortunately, it worked. Within a few months, we had significant traction. So much in fact, that we were able to bootstrap our company. That’s right, we have never raised venture capital.
Traditional online marketplaces have limitations, though. Most of them attract newbies and scare away professionals. In most of them, only the winner of a contest makes money. We wanted to be better than that. We wanted to innovate. As such, we decided to build a better type of marketplace. We programmed the first flow control mechanism to limit the flow of offers for a buyer in a marketplace environment. We call it SmartCast. When a client posts a project, SmartCast systematically invites voice actors to audition, starting with the voice actors best suited for the project based on statistical data, i.e. how well their profile matches that client’s needs, their rankings, historical quotes, marketplace behavior, etc. The algorithms are quite sophisticated, as you can see in the patent here. Clients get great auditions right away and voice actors don’t waste time auditioning for projects they aren’t likely to be hired for.
Tania, Lucho, and I then founded Bunny Inc. With VoiceBunny, our first service, we were the first to pay artists for participating in online contests even if they didn’t win, thus attracting more established professionals to our marketplaces.We were the first ones to build an end-to-end crowdsourcing marketplace, where the experience of the client could be controlled with predictable pricing, quality, and timing. All of those bets paid off. We built the largest database of voice artists ever assembled. Today we have over 150,000 artists in our platform and over 100,000 clients, including the likes of Pixar, History Channel, and Pandora.
Building a great global service requires a great globally-minded team. I’m Colombian. Unfortunately, Colombia is not known for its globally-competitive infrastructure, innovation, and mindset. In fact, many fellow Colombian entrepreneurs have opted to migrate out of Colombia to build teams in other countries. Tania and I didn’t give up that easily. We were the first global tech startup in Colombia. We co-founded BogoTech, the first tech innovation community in Latin America (alongside Palermo Valley). We also co-founded BogoDev, the largest software development community in Colombia. With the objective of sharing our love of innovation, we decided not to have a private office in Bogota. Instead, we built the first tech co-working space in Colombia and the first one, globally, that also offered structured classes about tech entrepreneurship.
Most recently, we built a world-class client services team in Bogotá (read more about how we did it here). It’s because of all of the above that we were the first recipients of the MIT Technology Review’s “Top Colombian Innovators of the Year” award in 2012. This year, we were listed as the second most-valuable Colombian startup in The World Startup Report’s “Internet Hall of Fame” paper and is the only one that’s still independent.
What’s next for us? We are dreaming bigger. We are innovating and experimenting more than ever before: new marketplace dynamics, new technologies, new algorithms, new client experiences, and other new ideas we cannot publicly talk about just yet.
As you can see, we like to be number one... and we’re just getting started.
P.S. We are hiring overachievers. Join us!
P.P.S. If I got a fact wrong, please let me know. I wrote this post to the best of my knowledge, but it may have mistakes.
P.P.P.S. Thanks to Tara Tyler for reading and commenting on drafts of this article.