Founders Fridays is a new StartupAmsterdam initiative that showcases local entrepreneurs who help strengthen our ecosystem. By inviting founders to answer five questions, we want to shine a light on our ecosystem’s most inspirational stories and role models. We hope that we’ll all learn and grow together by providing startup founders with a space to share their insights and experience.
This week we spoke to Peter-Paul de Leeuw, the founder of Amberscript. Amberscript is a transcription service, transforming audio and video files into text and subtitles. Options range from purely automated transcription (editable in a practical online editor) to perfected transcriptions by in-house language experts and professional subtitlers. We caught up with Peter to learn more about his entrepreneurial experience in Amsterdam and how Amberscript aims to redesign AI to be more inclusive and accessible for all.
1. How did your career journey lead you to found Amberscript?
In my view, technology is one of the most significant contributors to change in the world. Therefore, I wanted to be an inventor when I was young, envisioning new technologies or introducing new products to the world, like Thomas Edison. Inventing is something very cool to me. As a child, I didn’t rationalise why it was cool. I just found it cool. I soon discovered, however, that when it comes to technology, I am not a star. So I took the entrepreneurial route from a very young age. When I was 13, it became a trend for people to buy ringtones from mobile service providers, like Jamba (which doesn’t exist anymore). People needed to pay a substantial amount of money for only 1 or 2 ringtones. I realised that a data cable, which wasn’t included as part of the packaging of a mobile phone at that time, could connect the phone to a computer, and that you could easily download ringtones to the phone that way. So I created a pack with a data cable and a disc I'd made with various ringtones. I then sold close to a hundred of those packs on eBay. It was quite some money for a kid.
My first job was strategy consultant, advising big corporations on significant technology changes. This has trained me to have structured thinking and keep the bigger picture in mind. I always had a little voice in my head telling me to become a full-time entrepreneur. During my MBA at INSEAD, I dived into the fields that could be a possible way to do that. I became very enthusiastic about speech recognition because of three reasons: it's a technology that has been around for a decade but only now is starting to become functional; I saw that primarily companies from the US and China were working on it, but that it’s a language-dependent service, so there are also opportunities here in the Netherlands, and finally, that there are a lot of use cases you can tackle with it. So I decided to take the jump and start Amberscript!
2. What makes Amsterdam a great city and ecosystem for a startup founder?
Amsterdam is a great city for talent. We have more than 15 nationalities in our company with very diverse backgrounds. This diversity in thinking is a huge plus and makes us a stronger company. It also allows us to serve the world. Furthermore, there is an increasingly strong network of investors and previous founders. Some way to go until it can be on par with the top cities, but definitely on the right track.
3. Recently you raised $10 million in a Series A funding round. How will you utilise the funding and what are the next steps for AmberScript in 2022?
Amberscript provides solutions to automatically convert audio to text, backed up by AI technology, and a human layer to perfect the texts. With our recent investment, we will be able to focus more on internationalisation. Our products are very strong in multiple languages, but our market presence in other countries can be increased.
4. How is Amberscript aiming to redesign AI to be more inclusive and accessible for all?
Our mission is to make all audio accessible. There are many groups that are left out of situations because they are deaf or hard of hearing or do not speak a certain language. This brings them a disadvantage in school, work, and when connecting with the government. We want to solve that by building technology that enables anyone to fully understand audio through text in any situation. A nice example is our recently launched smartphone app: any person can subtitle themselves when talking to a deaf or hard of hearing person using our app, using the best speech-to-text engines in European languages available – and it’s free to use.
5. How are you approaching diversity and inclusion as you build your team?
At Amberscript it is impossible not to fit in, as everyone is different. It has been in the DNA of our company from day 1. We take a conscious effort to strive for a diverse and inclusive culture, but it also comes naturally. For example, our company overall and our management team are 50% female. When working, we focus on our internal culture. We want to be ‘undercover superheroes’, who are on a mission to save people’s time for something better in life, rather than spending it on typing out interviews, adding video subtitles, etc. Spending time on these things can be punishing, you know. To achieve this, we need to put our customers first, be inventive, and be patient. We’re still a young company, so people get larger responsibilities here than in bigger companies. With that comes the responsibility of owning your work, because nobody else could claim that ownership. We value honesty and transparency, even though they can make you vulnerable. But be honest and transparent nevertheless. We clearly believe in the Dutch values (smile!). We also believe in ‘work hard, play hard’. Long hours are not encouraged, but we do encourage high efficiency. And regular cool events with the team! For any company, I believe you should never settle and stop moving. You always need to keep looking to the future with a vision to become 10x of what you are now. Every day is another opportunity to grow more.