Meet SpeechifAI — the Antler startup empowering people to speak about the things they love
A conversation with Tudor Mihailescu and Valentin Kassarnig, co-founders of SpeechifAI, Antler Amsterdam portfolio company.
SpeechifAI's mission and team
SpeechifAI was built with Antler in Amsterdam by Tudor Mihailescu and Valentin Kassarnig. The founding pair have unique yet complementary backgrounds, which is undoubtedly an essential part of SpeechifAI's success so far. Tudor's background is in political speechwriting, civic technologies and digital entrepreneurship. Curious as to how the most powerful voices in the world are created, his PhD research examined how U.S presidential speechwriters composed various Presidents' speeches. His expertise is recognised by the likes of Forbes, where he has a column about civic technologies and building tech that gives people a voice. In his counterpart, Valentin, he found someone with unique expertise that complemented his own. Valentin had experience in software development and AI — and had even previously built an AI algorithm that creates political speeches.
SpeechifAI not only has an impressive founding team, but they also have some impressive advisors, like Keegan Goudiss, a Democratic digital strategist who in 2016, led Bernie Sanders' digital fundraising with Revolution Messaging - turning the U.S Senator into a Global household name who reflects the needs of U.S citizens and inspiring Global movements the world over.
SpeechifAI's mission is simple — to give people a voice and empower them to speak about the products they love and the causes they care about.
Before founding SpeechifAI, Tudor had spotted two needs that needed to be filled.
Commercial companies need referral marketing to market their products, and customers need help to speak about the products they love.
Digital activists need an easy way to speak about the causes and campaigns that they love, as they would face to face.
Antler & SpeechifAI's founder story
Every founder's Antler journey is different — Tudor and Valentin's is particularly unique. The pair had connected before Tudor joined Antler in Amsterdam and would speak regularly. Whilst Valentin was working on his PhD, Tudor applied to a well-known incubator but was rejected because of his lack of business expertise. Then he found Antler, who had a very different approach.
Antler's approach was completely different, they looked at my strengths, my expertise in how to help people write effectively and my passion for technology that gives people a voice.
When he joined Antler, he knew what he wanted to build, and what his strengths and weaknesses were. However, finding a co-founder seemed to be a struggle — no one in the cohort with the technical skills he needed in a co-founder shared the same mission and passion he had for empowering people to speak effectively online. At this point, Tudor had a good insight into the need that SpeechifAI's prototype would need to fill. What he needed now was the right co-founder to begin the company-building journey with.
Four weeks before the Antler investment committee, Valentin offered to join him at Antler as his co-founder, as he really believed in the mission that Tudor was proposing for the new company. Three weeks before the Antler program finished, Valentin flew to Amsterdam. Antler fast-tracked his interviews, and the pair began building SpeechifAI together, built the first prototype in only 2 days with help of Andrei, the company's first hire, and launched it with real users.
Antler's flexibility, support and belief in me provided us both a safety net to jump into building SpeechifAI
Internet infrastructure and social media
The social internet relies on people speaking to their friends via social media infrastructures - but most people don't know how to express themselves online.
The internet has a networked infrastructure, and connectivity is a core component of this infrastructure. Social media enables this connectivity by giving people the means to connect and share with each other. However, as much as social media enables and encourages us to share information with our networks, people are often hesitant to do so. The promise social media gave was that everyone has the power to speak to everyone — but access to social media alone is not enough to deliver on this. People need to feel empowered to speak to their followers — otherwise, they simply won't.
Online, we all have an audience and can potentially reach thousands or even millions of people. Pre-internet this kind of connectivity was only possible for those with access to television or radio audiences — like public figures and politicians. Traditional media are monological, whereas social media presents the opportunity for a dialogue between the producer and receiver of the message.
With SpeechifAI, companies and organisations can provide people with a draft or key messages, providing a jumping off point and the creative space for customizing and personalizing their content whilst also keeping the original messaging behind the campaign. A variety of organisations have been using SpeechifAI to empower their community members and they have already seen a great impact.
Some of the campaigns that have used SpeechifAI include the Biden campaign in certain battleground states, U.N agencies, disseminating accurate vaccine information, voter registration, recruitment campaigns, climate change, accountability for tech CEOs, and they have even partnered with VCs like Antler to help their startups grow.
During the 2020 U.S election, 16,396 activists using SpeechifAI in 10 battleground states drove over 750 Million impressions — which would have cost over 4M USD in digital ads. A year and three months from SpeechifAI's inception, they have generated an impressive 3B organic twitter impressions and have users in 180 countries who have created over 200,000 unique social media posts — generating organic traffic worth around 20M USD.
The role of trust in marketing
Paid ads are easy to use, but they don't necessarily work unless the audience is already primed for them. Research shows that word of mouth, referral marketing strategies are more effective than any form of digital advertising — as people are more likely to trust those they know than organizations or companies themselves.
Tudor gives the example of a U.S senate candidate who ran in the recent elections. The candidate spent a lot of money on digital advertising and lost the race. Tudor's opinion is that had even a quarter of that budget been spent on digital organizing, he probably would have won due to the element of trust that speaking directly with people creates.
There is a high demand from organizations and companies to raise awareness of their products or services. Every company wants their customers to speak and share about their products. Some people don't want to because they don't like the products, but most feel like they can't because they find it difficult to convey their own message.
This leads to influencer marketing. When customers either can't or won't speak about a company, the company turns to professional speakers and content sharers like influencers who often have little to no connection to the brand. For an industry that is projected to reach 15B USD by 2022, there is a severe lack of trust as influencer marketing further saturates the social media sphere with only 4% of U.K adults placing trust in influencers.
Disinformation and discourse
The biggest challenge that the world has right now is online misinformation"
SpeechifAI's role is not only in empowering people to use their voices online, but also in educating them on the impact of their words. Over the last four years or so a discourse has been promoted that our words don't matter, particularly in the U.S. This is far from the truth. Our words matter a lot — they have an impact on ourselves and the people around us.
SpeechifAI want to play an active role in fighting misinformation and disinformation with all of their means. A starting point for this is by carefully curating the companies and organizations that have access to SpeechifAI, to ensure that the campaigns the tool is promoting are fact based and promote a better dialogue between people rather than promoting damaging and dishonest discourse.
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