National Post (Latest Edition)
Tech deal a tough task for reporter
Harnessing power of AI
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.”