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A minor SpinVox investor says the beleaguered voice-to-text services company is up for sale. Invesco Perpetual says it’s cashing out, and it’s written down its investment by 90 per cent.
In a financial statement this week, Invesco disclosed:
More disappointingly amongst the unquoted investments, since the year end, the Company’s holding in SpinVox, the voicemail to text messaging business, was written down in value after the Company chose not to invest in a further funding round, which was dilutive to non-participating investors. The business has been put up for sale, and it is possible that, should a good sales price be achieved, the new valuation may be exceeded.
SpinVox’s PR company had not returned a call at press time.
The ‘sale’ is not a surprise, since the clock has been ticking since the most recent re-financing operation. In that funding round, SpinVox received over £15m in new cash, but the price was high. Tisbury hedge fund representative John Botts has been installed as chairman, and SpinVox must repay a £30m bridging loan to Tisbury by 20 December.
Prospective suitor Nuance is unlikely to be interested, having picked up rival Jott earlier this year.
Invesco adds that it now values its £750,000 stake at £76,000, a 90 per cent reduction. Larger shareholders, including hedge funds GLG and Tisbury, and Toscafund’s Martin Hughes, have much more to lose.
That valuation will also make grim reading for any SpinVox staff who preferred to take stock instead of cash recently. In the case of a sale, they’re already last in line to be paid after the debtors, the preferred shareholders and option holders.
Yesterday’s technology demonstration by SpinVox at its Marlow HQ reminded everyone just how hard it is to do voice to text machine translation, and how far away anyone is from automating the bulk of the voicemail translation in the real world.
All of the messages supplied by our small group of visitors tripped through to a human operator. The event was unnecessary and humiliating for all concerned. SpinVox shouldn’t have had to lift its skirts; we didn’t need to be there.
The Register has built up a picture of the company that makes believing SpinVox’s revised claims extremely difficult. Sources suggest SpinVox, a privately held company, is employing a far larger number of transcribers than it publicly states, even today. These sources also point to extreme difficulties in maintaining its operations as the company scaled, winning new carrier contracts in new markets. And an investigation into the company’s much-vaunted intellectual property holdings indicates that it holds no machine translation patents.
The humans can make themselves felt. In one case, unpaid staff in Pakistan took over the centre and began broadcasting “distress” text messages to SpinVox subscribers in North America.
By insisting that its operation relies primarily on machines, rather than human manpower, SpinVox avoids security issues and can maintain a much higher corporate valuation. Mobile carriers are aware that ‘Mechanical Turk’ (named after the chess-playing Victorian automaton that concealed a human operator) transcription has high costs, as Vodafone found out with its human-assisted service.
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