With the wide proliferation of content available on the web, San Francisco-based Umano is looking to add its own spin to how and where consumers access the latest coverage. The startup recently launched an Android app in addition to its iPhone app that lets users listen to curated articles recorded by voice actors while driving, on public transport, or when they’re simply at their desk.
Co-founded by three University of Waterloo grads who went on individually to work at Google, Microsoft, and Bloomberg before coming together to work on Umano, CEO Ian Mendiola spoke with BetaKit about the company’s current focus on curating content for the entrepreneurial community. “We have categories that tailor to them, what we call the geeky category, and then we have the scientific category, entrepreneurship category, and entertainment and must know. Then we have some inspirational and self-help content as well,” said Mendiola in an interview.
Focused more on incisive and thoughtful journalism as opposed to breaking news that’s easily found, Umano’s team of editors use the company’s internal tools to curate 15-20 articles that are pushed to its servers. At that point it has a group of voice actors scattered all across the U.S. who log in to the company’s system and have articles waiting for them to voice over. The voice actors then record the article and upload the file back onto its servers which are pushed out to the mobile app.
Although it’s still finalizing details about its exact monetization strategy, Mendiola said it will most likely go freemium, offering users the ability to subscribe to access premium features and content. It plans to partner with certain publishers to create content specifically created for audio consumption, in addition to more personalized features that adapt content based on how the user interacts with app to auto-generate content and playlists.
Though there are other players like Soundgecko and ReadSpeaker among others active in the text-to-speech space, Mendiola said the company’s focus on curated content and human voice actors make the company stand out from the pack. “What makes us different is they’re more focused on breadth of content, they boast the ability to make the entire web audible but obviously in order to do that they’re using text-to-speech technology,” Mendiola added. “As a company we’ve been focused on quality which is why we went through the real-voices route and figure out a way to develop a voice-actor marketplace and crowdsource that part of the company to real people because the result is night and day between real voices and text-to-speech.”
Umano’s next steps include formally launching a voice actor marketplace where they can be paid per article and quickly judged based on past work and history. However, it also plans to develop a network of content creators specifically writing stories meant for audio, and offering it as another distribution platform for publishers to get their content out. With reading in transit often cumbersome, and impossible while driving, Umano’s mobile apps will look to help people be in the know while still being on the go.