Why Rev Exists

The best startups are elusive. You know what they do, but not what they are, or what they aspire to be. You hear people (in Silicon Valley) guessing what they’ll try next.

Zenefits CEO David Sacks captured this in a tweet:

We know how this story goes.

Did these companies have a master plan, or did they stumble from success to experiment to more success? It may not matter; what matters is they bet the farm early on a small or unproven market. It worked out, and it reminds us that success often starts from tackling problems others overlook.

We take inspiration from this pattern and believe it is the right way to build a business.

Now we will tell the Rev story. Our business is simple, and to most unsexy. We convert speech to text. Customers upload audio and video recordings to our website. Freelancers who work from home listen to the audio and type out the text. Then we email the clients a text transcript or closed caption file, typically the same day. Not much to it, right?

Yes and no.

Technology can make this process dramatically better, faster, and cheaper. Most of what we do is build software so the freelancers enjoy the work more. And of course we strive to make clients happy. Our clients want simple and obvious things like fast turnaround and high quality. These are complex operational problems — think big data, metrics, throughput and defects. Factory comparisons are inevitable.

But we believe there is much more to the story. The real story, in our view, is that millions of people want to work from home but can’t. Many people want to be at home with children. Many live in rural areas far from the jobs they want. Some are just sick of traffic. Some are loners that would rather work in their pajamas.

I can grab my iPhone and order just about anything — but try using your phone to find a job you can do from home. Good luck.

Why is that? We believe that nearly every industry needs to be rebuilt — from first principles — for the 21st century, since remote work is now possible. In the 20th century, everyone assumed you could only hire people within a 20 mile radius of a building full of cubicles. The Internet makes work portable, but it will take decades to rebuild American industry around this basic fact.

What will American industry look like in the 21st century? For a clue we can look at the history of productivity in the 20th century.

Most of what we call progress is the result of advances in manufacturing, and methods like the Toyota Production System. Many of the major service sectors have changed little since our grandparents day. That is because services have largely been either cottage industries (think barber or pizza parlor) or highly regulated (think elementary schools). If we want real progess we should hope that our grandchildren don’t go to schools with desks and chalkboards, and that each of the services we use for life’s conveniences improves, frees up more of our time, and lets us spend our time with the people we care about most.

Many services that today are done “offline” will soon be done on a computer or mobile device. We are on the hunt for these opportunities and tackling them one at a time.

So why does Rev exist? We aim to give everyone on earth the option to work from home. To have the freedom to work when, where, and how they like. Our goal is to create good jobs for 100,000 people by 2020.

How will we do it? We identify services that can be done by a freelancer at their computer. We make sure that we can guarantee quality; many have tried to do what we are doing, and many failed because they delivered low quality work. Several of us were early employees at Upwork. Upwork is great, but they have struggled to deliver high quality. We set out to correct this defect at the start, by only offering services where we can deliver A quality work every time.

We spend a lot of time talking to people who work from home. We want to help them not just earn a living, but enjoy the work they do. They want to learn and grow. They crave variety. They want to be treated with respect. We have our work cut out for us.

Speech to text is our first stop. In our delusions of grandeur, speech to text is to Rev what books were to Amazon. We are innovating furiously to build the best imaginable speech to text services. And we are also running experiments with new services. New types of work — some asynchronous, and some in real-time. Again, we think dozens of kinds of work could be done from home, and we plan to reinvent several in the next few years. If we succeed, we’ll create millions of jobs people love.

If you want to learn more, come interview and we’ll tell you more.