Voice123: fast-forwarding the future!
A combination of slog and serendipity might apply to many startups in tech when charting their road to success with the benefit of hindsight. The story of Voice123 is no exception. A chance realization and small beginnings ended up revolutionizing an industry that was in sore need of change at the turn of the Millennium.
Colombian-born co-founders, Alexander Torrenegra and his wife Tania Zapata, were in pursuit of so much more than their borderline existence in New York City back in 2002! You can read Alex’s first-person account of Voice123’s founding story here.
As the very first online marketplace for voice actors, Voice123 was an almost instant hit when it launched in 2003. With Tania as Chief Executive and Alex as Chief Technical Officer in their company of two, more hands were needed on deck. The founding team also realized that Voice123 itself would have to evolve beyond the limitations of the initial version 1.0 and original business model.
SmartCast, the casting algorithm introduced to control invitations sent to voice actors as part of the version 2.0 platform update became a bone of contention because it started penalizing voice actors when they submitted too many auditions for projects submitted by clients. Despite this, Voice123 was an indomitable force in the voice over industry by 2010. It was run by a small but dedicated team. Nevertheless, competition was growing fast and evolution was vital.
Envisioning Voice123 version 3.0, Alex began contemplating the concept of creative digital outsourcing on a global scale. The digital revolution had allowed more and more voice actors to create their own professional home studios, so working remotely was becoming a common practice.
The solution Alex came up with, however, wasn’t a new version of Voice123, but rather a different company with a different business model that served an entirely different market segment. You can read about VoiceBunny and Bunny Studio here.
The success of the new venture was such that by 2014, questions were being asked about Voice123’s ongoing viability. A period of uncertainty followed.
Voice123 was clearly still fulfilling a need and had a relatively stable following of Standard, Premium, and Platinum members — as well as a crop of regular clients. So while it wasn’t growing, it was chugging along.
In 2015, Alex and Tania decided to revamp the platform. The Voice123 team was composed of 7 people. Of these, 3 were engineers. There was a lot of planning. New branding and changes were proposed. But there was an issue: the coding on which Voice123 was built was old. The way of least resistance — to build on top of what was already there — wasn’t really practical; it would be like adding new floors to a building of questionable structural integrity.
Again, doubts regarding Voice123’s future emerged. Juanita Casas, who was tasked with heading the team then, remembers the time well. “Because change wasn’t possible, we were left with the objective of keeping Voice123 afloat,” she smiles. “So I decided to focus on the one thing we could do something about: customer service. I remembered what my father had once told me:
"Never give up. You must have courage, faith, guts and hope for the best."
Juanita’s commitment to customer service paid off: Voice123 started growing its user base. “I’m super proud of that,” she says. “Without offering anything new, only taking care of our customers, taking care of their experience — we had two great years in terms of sales.”
Voice123 version 3.0: crafting the future
Naturally enough over the course of Voice123’s existence, much had evolved in the voice over industry itself. Some notorious middlemen had been shunted out. There were far more ethical and direct approaches to casting voice actors, and more people were aware of the online global marketplace. Led by what Voice123 had achieved, voice acting and voice overs were being redefined and business was flourishing.
From late 2016 to late 2018, Voice123 underwent a complete software rewrite. It took 2 years to relaunch the platform. It was more complicated than anticipated – as these rewrites usually are – but it was a proud moment tech-wise despite the upheaval.
As well, crafting the future of the voice over industry would require strong leadership, the company founders decided. A call for a CEO went out. In the end, the decision was taken to appoint someone who would focus on first instituting the change required before developing a growth and marketing strategy, and Rolf Veldman responded to the call in 2018.
Rolf’s tenure has been marked by enormous changes to the platform. In a media release dated 18 December 2018, he spells out his vision for the platform.
Between then and now, Voice123 has kept introducing new features. We’ve been fine-tuning and improving ever since, because we realize and recognize the impact of what we do on both our voice actors and our clients. There are new membership tiers, new voice actor profiles, sample players and playlists. There’s a publicly available timeline of changes yet to be introduced. Indeed, exciting times that will inevitably include AI voices and text-to-speech, and our active pledge to improve diversity, equality and inclusion with Project Authentic Voices lie ahead.