National Post (Latest Edition)

Tech deal a tough task for re­porter

Har­ness­ing power of AI

- Joe O’con­nor

Jeff Kof­man had trav­elled the globe as a broad­cast re­porter for 30 years, in­ter­viewed pres­i­dents, cov­ered coups and been embed­ded with United States troops in Iraq in 2003, with bombs and bul­lets fly­ing, and peril near at hand.

But none of that had pre­pared him for the series of hash­tags that ap­peared on his com­puter screen in the spring of 2015.

The hash­tags — errors in Ex­cel speak — taunted him and filled him with dread as he con­tem­plated his next move at the kitchen ta­ble of the house in north Lon­don that he shares with his hus­band and fel­low Cana­dian, Michael Levine, a world- renowned set and cos­tume de­signer.

Kof­man knew how to han­dle tough as­sign­ments. After all, he had won an Emmy in 2011 for his re­ports on the Libyan Rev­o­lu­tion for ABC. What he didn’t know was how to nav­i­gate a spread­sheet, a blind spot that led to the hash­tags and, alas, a mo­ment of de­spair for a vet­eran re­porter, who had this great idea to start a tech­nol­ogy com­pany that would har­ness the power of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to au­to­mat­i­cally tran­scribe speech to text, but no idea how to ac­tu­ally write a busi­ness plan.

“I had no fi­nan­cial ex­pe­ri­ence at all,” Kof­man said, laugh­ing at the mem­ory. “The hon­est truth is, early on, when one po­ten­tial in­vestor asked on a call if she could see my KPIS, I had to turn my com­puter away and Google KPI.”

For the record: KPI stands for key per­for­mance indi­ca­tor and there are gen­er­ally more than one. Taken col­lec­tively, they mea­sure whether a com­pany is achiev­ing its growth tar­gets and is on the type of tra­jec­tory that might en­cour­age a po­ten­tial in­vestor to be­come an ac­tual in­vestor.

On that front, some news: Kof­man and Trint Ltd., the tech com­pany he founded in the United King­dom, in part to make the lives of ev­ery work­ing jour­nal­ist eas­ier by elim­i­nat­ing the time- con­sum­ing, pro­duc­tiv­ity- sap­ping need to man­u­ally tran­scribe in­ter­views, re­cently har­pooned the Moby Dick of me­dia brands as an in­vestor.

New York Times Co. is lead­ing an $8-mil­lion round of new fund­ing for Kof­man’s startup that has raised $ 21 mil­lion since his first wob­bly for­ays into the world of spread­sheets.

“Trint has al­ready struck a chord with thou­sands of users look­ing to work seam­lessly across au­dio, video and text,” Matthew Lloyd-thomas, se­nior man­ager of M& A and In­vest­ment at New York Times Co., said in a state­ment af­firm­ing the com­pany’s com­mit­ment to Trint.

At times, Kof­man sounds gen­uinely amazed by his un­likely ca­reer pivot.

“I al­ways thought I would be one of those re­porters who died in the news­room,” he said on a Zoom call one late Septem­ber after­noon while holidaying on a Greek is­land with a mag­i­cal view of the Mediter­ranean.

Feel­ings, much like times, change, and as Kof­man ticked into his 50s — he is now 61 — he felt broad­cast jour­nal­ism was chang­ing, and not for the bet­ter.

Sto­ries about celebri­ties, the weather and stuff, if he was be­ing hon­est with him­self, he didn’t give a whit about were start­ing to chip away at his pas­sion for a job he loved — a gig, co­in­ci­den­tally, that re­quired a moun­tain of tran­scrip­tion work.

All those hours spent lis­ten­ing to in­ter­views, typ­ing, then lis­ten­ing and typ­ing some more came to mind when Kof­man met some coders at a tech event in Lon­don in 2013.

The coders were fool­ing around with au­dio and text. The re­porter men­tioned that tran­scrib­ing was the thing he hated most about be­ing a re­porter, and how he wished there was a tech­nol­ogy that could ac­cu­rately trans­late speech to text.

The coders and Kof­man kept in touch — one still works with him now — and, within a cou­ple years, the Emmy Award win­ner was duk­ing it out with a bunch of un­ruly hash­tags.

Now he has an of­fice in Lon­don, another one in Toronto, and an im­pres­sive ros­ter of Trint plat­form users to boast about, in­clud­ing Nike Inc., Airbnb Inc., The Wash­ing­ton Post, the Ne­braska state leg­is­la­ture and, closer to home, the Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Corp. Kof­man also ex­pects to have 100 em­ploy­ees by year’s end.

Trint is the se­cond act the Toronto na­tive never saw com­ing in his ca­reer.

One of the first busi­ness les­sons Kof­man learned upon quit­ting ABC to run his startup, he said, was not to fear the things he didn’t know, but in­stead hire peo­ple who ac­tu­ally knew how to write a fi­nan­cial plan.

He knew just the right guy for the job, too. Jim Kof­man is Jeff ’s older brother, Trint’s chair­man, and a lawyer and an in­vest­ment banker with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence on Bay Street.

The two broth­ers were for­ever op­po­sites. Jim is straight, Jeff is gay. Jim wore a suit and tie, was the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of UBS Canada, and had built a life in Toronto where the boys grew up. Jeff chased sto­ries around the globe, at times in a flak jacket

“We were al­ways close, just dif­fer­ent,” Jeff said. “Our par­ents would have been both shocked and ra­di­at­ing with pride to see us work­ing to­gether now.”

Team­ing up with his older sib­ling has meant Kof­man no longer has to fret over spread­sheets, fake his way around busi­ness lingo or tran­scribe in­ter­views.

In­stead, he can fo­cus on ful­fill­ing his vi­sion of a fu­ture where Trint be­comes the Google Docs/adobe of the spo­ken word, a mul­ti­me­dia, mul­ti­pur­pose tool that will ap­peal to jour­nal­ists, no doubt, but also to mar­keters mas­sag­ing pitches, lawyers tak­ing de­po­si­tions, aca­demics pre­par­ing talks, leg­is­la­tures bang­ing through back­logs and con­tent cre­ators of all kinds.

“I think most jour­nal­ists are ter­ri­fied of what they will do after jour­nal­ism,” Kof­man said. “It is ac­tu­ally shock­ing that I found some­thing that gets me out of bed in the morn­ing. I never imag­ined hav­ing so many ad­ven­tures in life.”

 ?? Trint ?? Re­porter-turned-tech CEO Jeff Kof­man, seated in the mid­dle of the front row, with
mem­bers of the Trint team in De­cem­ber 2019.
Trint Re­porter-turned-tech CEO Jeff Kof­man, seated in the mid­dle of the front row, with mem­bers of the Trint team in De­cem­ber 2019.

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