The last time we checked in with AI-powered captioning service Ava, they had just raised a round and it had been six months since a pandemic was going to reshape the way we all work together. Eighteen months later, investors are knocking on their door following huge growth and aim to continue showing the tech industry how deaf and hard of hearing people need to be included in the hybrid workplace.
The company’s tools provide instant captions for any voice the user hears, whether on a video call, on a Tiktok video, or with friends. (There are different apps and features for each platform, of course, but they all work together.)
“In the past year and a half since our interview, we’ve increased our revenue and customer base approximately 10-fold, largely due to the rollout of our empowerment products to users seeking better solutions,” said Ava CEO Thibault Duchemin at TechCrunch.
Better is definitely the key word here, as we’ve seen accessibility options pop up here and there in the productivity tools we often use. But the truth is that things like automatic call transcription, useful as they are, only represent the bare minimum of inclusion, and those who are hearing or visually impaired are otherwise almost entirely left out. (And that’s if there are accessible options, which many popular online platforms don’t.)
Ava’s approach is to provide a richer, independently configurable captioning tool that works on all content, from podcasts to bare-knuckle meetings to in-person chats, and in a way that person can actually use it.
What’s the point of captioning if you don’t know who’s speaking? Why listen if you can’t respond? Who is responsible for providing transcripts of content shared on the internal network?
Ava at least provides ways to move forward in all of these situations, and while much of that responsibility lies with the person using the tool, its capabilities mean the workplace can adapt to it in more ways. transparent. Duchemin noted that the company has deaf and hard of hearing people in leadership positions on the team who bring real hands-on experience on the subject.
“Through funding, we’re doubling down on product and engineering, enabling new experiences that embed Ava into the everyday needs of our deaf and hard of hearing users, keeping our signature around empowerment and accessibility as well,” said Duchemin.
The funding, an A$10 million round, was led by Khosla Ventures, which participated in the seed but came to Ava to lead this one. Duchemin also noted a new strategic investor in the person of Jim Sorenson, founder of a deaf and hard of hearing telecommunications company, hinting at the upcoming mobile industry integration. Initialized Capital, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, LeFonds VC and Ring Capital all participated in the round.
Along with expected improvements on the product and engineering side, and new partnerships to come, Duchemin said they are working to “massively expand” the network of “Scribes,” professional human captionists, so that content can be transcribed by a pro almost instantly.
These people are not full-fledged transcriptionists, but rather work with the AI tools to correct and augment the live process. Although automatic transcriptions are very useful, they are not accurate enough to be considered as an end result, for example to be published without modification in an article such as this. Human transcription is necessarily slower and more expensive, but Ava believes it can reduce the turnaround time to the point where you can have a near-perfect transcription within a minute.
Incidentally, issues of deafness and being a child of deaf adults were front and center recently as the movie CODA won a few Oscars for its portrayal of it. And Ava was on set, used by the cast and crew when the performers weren’t around and sign language wasn’t an option.
“This wasn’t asked, we found out by reading about the Apple TV feature promoting on-set apps,” Duchemin said. “I think deaf and hard of hearing users ultimately choose the tools that serve them, and those around them benefit. It’s a virtuous circle!”