On the up · 1 November 2017

Turning 30 years of war zone reporting into a transcription software startup

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Jeff Kofman reporting on the Libyan Revolution near Sirt, Libya in June 2011

Jeff Kofman is an Emmy-award winning war correspondent turned tech entrepreneur whose AI-powered transcription software startup, Trint, was created based on his own struggles from 30 years as a broadcast journalist.

After establishing himself across US and Canadian television networks as a foreign and war correspondent, Kofman left his job as ABC News London correspondent to build a business that, he hopes, will alleviate the burden of transcription for journalists around the world.

Trint’s platform merges a text editor with an audio and video player to let users search and verify the content generated – in Kofman’s own words, “hours of work are reduced to minutes”.

Business Advice sat down with Kofman to find out how his previous career inspired his new venture, and why a dictionary entry could be a significant indicator of success.

  1. Who are you and what’s your business?

I spent more than 30 years reporting for US and Canadian network television from around the world as a foreign correspondent and war correspondent. It was about as exciting, challenging, interesting, rewarding and sometimes dangerous as a career can be.

I figured it was time for a change. I stumbled into tech. I’m now CEO and founder of Trint, a London-based software startup.

  1. How long have you been around for?

I’m going to assume that question is about my company and not me. Trint was born in Dec 2014 in an Airbnb in Florence, Italy when three developers and I teamed up to crack one of the biggest pain points in the life of every journalist.

  1. How do you make money?

We sell magic. We offer pain relief. Every reporter hates the tedious process of transcribing interviews, speeches, news conferences. But you can’t write a story for TV, newspapers, online if you don’t have accurate quotes. We found a way to make AI do the heavy lifting for you.

  1. What makes your transcription software unique?

We have the most accurate speech-to-text engine in the world (care for duel Microsoft? IBM?) We give users a software platform that merges a text editor with an audio/video player.

A “Trint” automatically glues the machine-generated transcript to the original audio (or video) and lets users search, verify and if necessary correct the content. Hours of work are reduced to minutes. Our customers don’t just like us, they love us.

Trint founder Jeff Kofman
Trint founder Jeff Kofman
  1. What was key in terms of getting started?

Tenacity. When you launch a startup you really have to believe in what you’re trying to do. Every day you’ll get knocked down or you’ll trip and fall. You just have to keep picking yourself up and charging forward because you believe in what you are doing.

  1. What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Surviving and succeeding. We started as a team of four. Three years later we are a team of 22. After 20 months of development we launched in September 2016. We’ve had strong revenue growth since day one. I am so proud of what our team has accomplished.

  1. What setbacks have you had along the way?

How much time do you have? There are setbacks all the time. Technical problems, strategic problems, people problems, funding problems. I like to say that being a war correspondent prepared me for life in a startup. I don’t panic when things go wrong, I try to stay calm and look for a solution.

  1. In five years’ time, I will be…

In the dictionary. “Trint” is a word I invented by combining the words “transcription” and “interview.” We use it as a noun (“Let’s check the Trint”) and a verb (“Let’s Trint it!”) Our customers have quickly adopted the word, so I think we’re on our way.

  1. What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Having a brilliant idea or brilliant innovation isn’t enough. Unless you are planning to subsidise your startup for life you need to figure out very early how you plan to make money so that it can become a viable business.

People often think the tech is the hard part. It can be, but finding what’s often called a “product-market fit” is actually the most important. What innovation are you going to offer that is so useful or entertaining that the world will be willing to pay for it?

  1. Who are your business heroes and why?

Gee, I’m not a big fan of the word “hero”. I guess it’s a hangover from my days as a reporter when I saw the word overused and exploited. I admire creativity and so I admire the great innovators in business.

But what’s confusing about men like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk is that it seems they succeeded but they seem to be pretty nasty guys. I don’t admire that. That’s why I can’t call them heroes. I understand you need to be tough, but I really respect our team and I don’t think treating them badly is going to motivate them to work harder.

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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