This is an interview with David Ciccarelli, co-founder/Chief Executive Officer of voices.com. David was nominated for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the Business Development Bank of Canada and has also presented Voices.com as a New Voices winner at DigiFest, an award recognizing Voices.com as an industry leader that provides digital media products and innovations that contribute to Canada’s economic and cultural future. In 2000, David graduated from the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology with an Honour’s Degree in Audio Technology.
Tell us about yourself, how did you get started as an entrepreneur? And, what made you get started as an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been fascinated with music and sound. When looking at higher education options, audio engineering seemed like a program that would satisfy both my logical and creative sides. Upon completing the audio engineering program, I started a local recording studio in London where I recorded music groups of all varieties, as well as commercials for radio and television.
This commercial work led me to explore other ways to utilize the equipment and collaborate with local voice over talent. Soon, the recording studio website had requests to represent a guy from New York, someone else from Los Angeles a French-speaking native from Quebec and the idea became clear – create a online meeting place where businesses and voice over talent can connect.
Tell us about your company. What does it do and what problem does it solve for your target market?
Voice over is an integral aspect of any company’s marketing mix, whether the application is something as simple as on-hold message, as elaborate as casting for a cartoon series or videogame, or as prestigious as a national commercial. Realizing that voice-over is a common need for all businesses, institutions, and non-profits, Voices.com positioned itself early on as the ultimate web service poised to serve and fulfill those needs, a market said to be worth over 12.3 billion dollars by 2010.
Clients need a consolidated, searchable database of the best and most diverse voices, able to create broadcast-ready audio content, without the headaches, costs and inefficiencies of the existing model. Simply put, clients need to lower the transactional cost of procuring voice talents, while at the same time require a secure method to process payments for the procurement of voice recording and production services.
While skilled at their craft, voice talents are poor marketers and struggle with finding and landing new jobs. As part of this weakness, many freelance voice talents have yet to build their own website, and have little knowledge of Internet marketing. Voice talents need a single online destination where they can easily create a professionally designed website, add sample voice recordings and sell their services to potential clients.
Furthermore, voice talents need a simple method for obtaining payment, issuing invoices and a mechanism to handle a non-paying client.
Voices.com satisfies the market needs of both parties, delivering an easier, faster and better way to conduct business. Voices.com delivers better results for clients in a more efficient manner than traditional methods. With tight budgets and looming deadlines, Voices.com provides a simple solution to getting work done on time and within budget.
What was your startup capital?
With less than $100,000, Stephanie (my wife and co-founder) and I hired a web developer, built the website, purchased online ads and installed a telephone system to receive customer service telephone calls via a toll-free number from around the world.
How did you finance your business?
We used a combination of national banks for long-term loans (we had two 4-year loans and paid them off early) as well as credit cards to fund day-to-day purchases.
Who is your target market and what is your marketing strategy?
Common Sense Advisory recently stated that the total industry revenue for the language services industry, including language translation and voice-over recording, was more than $10.9 billion worldwide in 2008, and is expected to reach over $12.3 billion by the end of the decade.
Based on industry research from AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), there are 300,000 union voice talent in North America. Additionally there are an estimated 1,000,000 non-union voice talent who are semi-professional and are also providing voice-over services on a freelance basis. This totals more than 1,300,000 professionals servicing the industry.
- Advertising Agencies
- Corporate Marketing Departments ( Small – Medium Sized Businesses )
- Talent Agencies and Casting Directors
- Recording Studios and Audio Production Facilities
- Professional Voice Talents and Actors, Radio Personalities and On-Air Talent
- Amateur Voice Talents and Aspiring Actors
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
We started the company as InteractiveVoices and in 2007 changed the name to Voices.com for branding purposes. Being an Internet company, I was on a quest to acquire a better name and one that described what we did.
Surprisingly, the previous owner of Voices.com hadn’t developed the site and it presented an opportunity for us to make an offer that was quickly accepted.
We spent the next year focused on branding and spreading the word about Voices.com – and the activity that consumes the majority of our efforts today. I can say with confidence that acquiring the name Voices.com, then seamlessly making the operational transition has been the single biggest turning point in our business.
How often do you prepare or update a business plan?
I have a business plan that is updated throughout the year. Typically, this is done every quarter to ensure that we’re aligning our marketing campaigns, product development and customer service operations with the corporate objectives for the year.
What do you include in your business plan?
To keep things simple, I include one page per section for the following:
- Executive Summary
- Product and Services
- The Market
- Sales and Marketing Strategy
- Customer Service and Support
- Product Development
- Human Resources
What are your future plans?
This year, we’re going to continue to work on our mobile website (http://www.voices.com) as well as expanding into new geographic markets.
Do you have an exit strategy to walk away from the business someday?
In the foreseeable future, both Stephanie and I are happy building Voices.com to become a world-class Internet business. We have so many ideas and current plans in motion that would be hard to abandon. Ask again in 10 years when my to-do list is shorter.
What advice would you give somebody who wants to start a business that grows into a large multi-million dollar enterprise?
There are three things really:
- Know Your Numbers – Understand what really drives your business. Is it amazing customer service or is it a network of partners and resellers? Know your key performance indicators.
- Create a Culture of Ideas: We believe that ideas can come from anywhere and that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. At a minimum, start an idea list and revisit it every once in a while to see if there are new ways to serve your customers.
- Measure Your Success on the Success of Your Customers: Customers are the best judge of the value your company delivers. They are also the best judge of the service they receive. Give them an opportunity to express how they felt when working with you.