Her start-up, VoiceVibes, is be­gin­ning to like the sound of team­ing up

The Washington Post Sunday - - CAPITAL BUSINESS - BUSI­NESS RX

The founder of a tech com­pany that sells soft­ware to as­sess your speak­ing skills seeks ad­vice on dis­tribut­ing her prod­uct. — Dan Bey­ers

The en­tre­pre­neur: As a wife and a mom, De­bra Bond Can­cro re­al­ized just how much the way she said things had ev­ery­thing to do with how ef­fec­tive she was in com­mu­ni­cat­ing with her kids and hus­band. She was re­ally in­ter­ested in track­ing her own met­rics on how con­de­scend­ing she sounded or when she sounded en­cour­ag­ing ver­sus neg­a­tive.

“The way you say things has ev­ery­thing to do with whether peo­ple ac­tu­ally hear you and lis­ten, or de­cide to tune you out,” Can­cro says. “I thought it would be re­ally cool if there was some­thing like Fit­bit but that tracked how I sounded — how I came across dur­ing the day.”

Can­cro, an en­gi­neer by train­ing who spent most of her ca­reer in prod­uct mar­ket­ing for tech start-ups, pur­sued the tech­nol­ogy to track vo­cal met­rics. She also landed Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion fund­ing for re­search look­ing into what she calls the “vibes” of how your vo­cal de­liv­ery makes peo­ple feel. She and her team cre­ated al­go­rithms to pre­dict how hu­mans would per­ceive the way you sound — bor­ing, en­er­getic, timid or cap­ti­vat­ing — to in­cor­po­rate into the de­sign of their prod­uct, VoiceVibes.

The pitch, De­bra Bond Can­cro, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of VoiceVibes: “VoiceVibes is a prac­tice and as­sess­ment soft­ware tool for pub­lic speak­ing. It en­ables stu­dents or prac­tic­ing pro­fes­sion­als that need to give a speech the abil­ity to prac­tice on their own, au­dio-record their de­liv­ery and re­ceive au­to­mated feed­back and tips for im­prove­ment. VoiceVibes gives users dash­board met­rics that tell them specifics at a glance, such as if their pac­ing was off in cer­tain sec­tions, if they paused too much or used too many ‘ums’ and ‘uhs.’

“Pub­lic speak­ing is our first mar­ket so we can get some trac­tion with a very tan­gi­ble ap­pli­ca­tion that peo­ple al­ready do — prac­tice for speeches and pre­sen­ta­tions. In­di­vid­u­als can pur­chase a sub­scrip­tion to use the ser­vice through our web­site, but we are pre­dom­i­nantly work­ing with col­lege and univer­sity clients to make it avail­able to their stu­dents on a se­mes­ter ba­sis.

“We pi­loted our soft­ware at Wor-Wic Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Sal­is­bury, Md., in 2015. Now, VoiceVibes is in­cluded in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and busi­ness cour­ses at col­leges and univer­si­ties across the coun­try in­clud­ing Ohio State, the Univer­sity of Mi­ami and Stan­ford Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness.

“Our dis­tri­bu­tion plan is to sell di­rectly to col­leges and univer­si­ties and also dis­trib­ute through part­ners in­clud­ing pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies and oth­ers that have on­line train­ing cur­ricu­lums or Web video plat­forms that could eas­ily in­cor­po­rate our tech­nol­ogy. As we look to dis­trib­ute our tech­nol­ogy through other chan­nels, I’ve read pros and cons about white-la­bel­ing for those com­pa­nies to in­clude our tech­nol­ogy in their prod­uct. Some peo­ple say start-ups should never white-la­bel their prod­ucts. I’m hop­ing we can ne­go­ti­ate for part­ners to in­clude our brand when they in­clude our tech­nol­ogy — kind of like ‘In­tel In­side’ — but if push came to shove and a po­ten­tial part­ner didn’t want to in­clude our logo, how costly is that?”

The ad­vice, Elana Fine, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ding­man Cen­ter for En­trepreneur­ship at the Univer­sity of Mary­land: “It’s great that you’ve been able to get val­i­da­tion on your tech­nol­ogy from col­lege and univer­sity clients. How­ever, col­leges and univer­si­ties tra­di­tion­ally have a very long sales process and are of­ten very dif­fi­cult as first ver­ti­cals for start-ups. Pur­sue other ways to grow the busi­ness through pub­lish­ing and soft­ware com­pa­nies, like you men­tioned, or other pri­vate-sec­tor op­por­tu­ni­ties. Don’t worry so much about white-la­bel­ing VoiceVibes. You don’t re­ally need a con­sumer brand right now.

“Think about what your real value propo­si­tion is and the tar­get cus­tomers who might be us­ing your tech­nol­ogy. Most pro­fes­sion­als do­ing pub­lic speak­ing will be do­ing so on be­half of their com­pany or or­ga­ni­za­tion. This in­cludes CEOs and C-suite ex­ec­u­tives who present at their own com­pany’s ma­jor events, in­dus­try con­fer­ences or in­vestors re­la­tions calls. Big or­ga­ni­za­tions need their top ex­ec­u­tives to be able to present well. Other po­ten­tial sales chan­nels for you could be com­pa­nies with large sales teams who need pol­ished sales pitches. Or con­sider busi­ness in­cu­ba­tors or or­ga­ni­za­tions that sup­port star­tups with en­trepreneurs con­stantly do­ing pitches.

“If large com­pa­nies want to use your soft­ware and white-la­bel it, there isn’t much of a down­side for you. Com­pa­nies might like to have their ‘own’ plat­form to have their ex­ec­u­tives and sales teams use to prac­tice their pre­sen­ta­tion skills.”

“The way you say things has ev­ery­thing to do with whether peo­ple ac­tu­ally hear you and lis­ten, or de­cide to tune you out.” De­bra Bond Can­cro, above, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of VoiceVibes

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