It has been sad for Sean (@SeanKowaski) and I (@craiger) to come to the realization that the product we both dedicated many years to building could never achieve a proper product-market fit. When you build a startup, your time is generally considered “free”. You put your blood sweat and tears into building something that you hope fills the need of its intended users. However, once you deploy your product it takes real money to keep it going. Our product runs on several Digital Ocean VPSs and utilizes a handful of Google Cloud Platform and Zapier resources. At our current user volume that equates to several hundred dollars a month vs zero revenue.
Sean and I are both technologists, we have little experience with marketing and sales. I came up with the idea of Crowdscriber because it scratched an itch that I personally had: Transcription is arduous work. At the time of conception I had been running a semi-popular podcast called “The Basement Coders”. In one episode we had interviewed the father of the Java Programming Language James Gosling in a too-noisy San Francisco cafe. The audio was very-very hard to discern, but a major tech publicist was interested in marketing the conversation and so they volunteered to transcribe it all for us. We jumped at the chance, but part-way through transcription the publication bailed out citing conflicts of interest between James and one of their major partners. They gave me what had transcribed thus far, and I picked up the task myself. It was gruelling. My tooling set was, as it was, very inadequate:
There were countless times I had to use my mouse to try and reverse the audio to listen to a segment again and again, then transcribe it into my text editor. I think it had to have taken me 10–15 minutes to transcribe just 1 minute of audio. I thought to myself “there has to be a better way”, and that is when the concept of Crowdscriber was born:
- Break the audio up into bite-sized chunks
- Distribute the chunks over a team of people
- Build a tool that was highly specialized to the task of transcription.
The “marketing plan” for us was very much a Field of Dreams: “if you build it, they will come” approach. We would build a product that worked for content creators who had a loyal fan base, and this fan base would donate their time to transcribing and translating content for the creator. By doing so, the content creator would boost SEO and be able to reach language markets they normally would have not had access to.
We thought that after we had gained a critical mass of content creators and transcribers, a marketplace would be born. We would allow for paid transcription and we’d give our transcribers the chance to get paid for their work.
For a few years our strategy was to transcribe/translate content, for free, and deliver the transcriptions/subtitles to the creators in an effort to get them to take notice. This strategy fell flat on its face. We didn’t get one creator take notice.
Then, a few years ago YouTube announced that they were sunsetting their “Community Captions” feature. Then quite out of the blue a creator reached out to us. We looked him up and realized that they had quite a sizeable following, over 1M subscribers on YouTube! We setup a call and demoed Crowdscriber to him. Immediately he “got it”. He was our ideal creator-user. We implemented a few features that he requested, and he started using Crowdscriber with his team of fans who faithfully donated their time.
Sean and I were super pumped! We figured that word would spread about Crowdscriber to other creators, especially in light of the YouTube Community Captions feature being removed, and we’d achieve a magical network-effect that would allow us to scale up our user base and get us to the point where we could flip-on our marketplace feature and start monetizing Crowdscriber!
The problem is, this never happened and here we are today about to shutter the project.
I know this sounds cliche, but speaking for myself the journey that Crowdscriber lead me on was more important than the goal we failed to achieve. I learned so much about various aspects of software development. I learned how to setup a load balancer, CI/CD pipelines, database tuning, managing ssl keys, cloud computing, and how to scale on a budget. It set me up to achieve at a high level in my career, to not simply default to the stance of “not in my job description”. For that I am grateful.
For those current users of Crowdscriber, I’m sorry we have to do this. On December 31st, 2022 you will no longer be able to login to Crowdscriber, so please login to the system and download the subtitles you’d like to keep. I wish I could suggest alternative options to Crowdscriber, however I don’t know of any that are web-based and collaborative in the same way Crowdscriber is. If you know of any, please drop me a line.
To download your subtitles, hover over a video or podcast cell in the dashboard and click the “Subtitles” button
P.S. yes, we tried raising a round of venture capital, however we were never successful.