Understanding the Technology Powering the Platform

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    The Voices Experience with Founder & CEO David Ciccarelli

    Voices is a two-sided online marketplace that is made up of a lot of moving pieces. So what technology is powering the platform, and how do all of the pieces work together harmoniously? 

    In this episode, David defines the platform business model behind Voices and so many other great companies, then provides a rundown of the site’s four central pieces of technology: VoiceSearch, VoiceMatch, SurePay, and VoiceRank. David also explains the ‘E for Everyone’ principle that guarantees a safe platform for both brands and talent, in addition to discussing the importance of ratings, reviews, and compliments. 

    About The Voices Experience: The Voices Experience is presented by Voices.com. Produced and engineered by Randy Rektor.

    Hi, David here, the founder and CEO of Voices, the website that helps you find voiceover work. In this podcast, my role is to be your guide, giving you a behind the scenes look at how things work here at voices.com, as well as provide insights on the industry, current trends and my perspective on the future.

    Now I mentioned that behind the scenes part, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today by unpacking our five pieces of technology. I’m not talking about the website technology like PHP and MySQL and HTML, nothing like that, or about the mechanics of the website, how it all works. Those pieces of technology, I’m going to rhyme them off right now just so that you can be familiar with these terms, it’s the Voice Marketplace, Voice Search, Voice Match, SurePay, and our VoiceRank.

    Now I’m going to go through those one at a time and let’s start with the Voice Marketplace. But before I can dive too deep, let me first explain what a platform is because sometimes people hear the term platform and marketplace and use those terms interchangeably, but I think that’s a good place to begin.

    There are four characteristics that define platform business models. First off, they bring platform participants together. These users could be buyers and sellers or contributors and consumers. If you think of buyers and sellers, that’s virtually every two-sided marketplace, could be from eBay to Airbnb, Uber, and of course, voices, or contributors and consumers. Even YouTube or Twitter would be considered a platform. There’s people who publish content and there’s other people who consume the content.

    Aside from the platform participants, the users, there’s always this exchange of information. Now you could be exchanging product detail or availability or location or pricing, but it’s this exchange of information that flows freely through the platform that’s an important criteria here.

    Now why certain platforms exchange that information is because ultimately they’re going to be exchanging services. Now again, this could be goods delivered seamlessly over the web, like eBay, where you’re buying something, or Amazon would be considered again, a platform, or it could be services rendered online, like voices.com. Now the transaction could start online, but ultimately be rendered offline. If you think of Uber or Airbnb, these are both initially online experiences, but where you really feel the magic, it’s actually in the offline or kind of the real world.

    Now finally, the fourth characteristic that defines platform business models will be the exchange of currency. Payment is done on the platform, which acts as the trusted intermediary between the buyer and seller. Plus, there’s often some ratings and reviews where these platform participants can establish an online relationship. That’s the platform business model.

    Now, that differs from the traditional pipeline business model that we’re organized in a very much a linear fashion, and likewise, they have, let’s call them four characteristics of their own. First off is this value chain concept where the flow of goods and each player along the way gets their cut. Consequently, it can be quite a costly endeavor. Each of those players in a pipeline business model serve and act as gatekeepers so each party in that value chain is really focused on self-preservation and therefore kind of keeps the information to themselves. They’re unwilling to disclose who they’re working with, pricing information. It’s really kind of hard to get that out of them because they’re information gatekeepers.

    They’ve also set up control mechanisms. These control mechanisms could be editors or managers or supervisors, and they’re trying to ensure quality and ultimately shape the interactions, but that can be really slow and costly. Now the problem with these pipeline business models is that they’re really not scalable from printing books to building hotels. I mean these pipeline businesses, they gain no economies of scale as they grow.

    If you’re comparing pipelines to platforms, it’d be like comparing Encyclopedia Britannica to Wikipedia or Hilton Hotels to Airbnb or taxi cab companies to Uber. Now in a lot of ways the traditional pipeline businesses have actually figured out how to participate in those online platforms. With the voiceover space, I’d say the traditional business would be the traditional talent agencies and casting directors and so forth, and many of them have figured out how to participate on a platform like voices.com.

    I wanted to set that up because it’s important to understand what platforms are. There’s actually two kinds of platforms. There’s ecosystem platforms. Think about Netflix, there’s content creators and there’s content consumers, like all of us, or Android or Windows. These are ecosystems. They’re not facilitating transactions, but they are a platform in and of themselves. Then of course, there are these marketplace platforms that do bring together buyer and seller.

    We’re going to talk a lot about marketplaces because that’s what voices.com is. It’s the online marketplace that connects the voice buying client with the voice selling talent. What’s really challenging about building up a marketplace like this, as that it’s often known as the chicken or egg issue, what do you start with the chicken or the egg? Do you start with building up a community of talent that ultimately attracts the clients, but why would the talent come if there’s no clients looking to hire them? You can see the dilemma that plays out in building up a two-sided or an online marketplace. That’s just one of the many challenges.

    Now, if you heard in the first episode that Stephanie and I actually started by building up the talent side of the marketplace, it actually happened somewhat organically. The talent would reach out and say, “Hey, can I be listed on your website,” and we always said, “Yes.” Concurrently clients would also find the website and say, “How do I get in touch with so-and-so?” That built this positive feedback loop that we were able to leverage over time and continue to invest in the technology of the marketplace itself.

    Now, when I say marketplace, I’m referring to the entire overall experience, it’s all of this kind of underlying technology we’re going to get to in a minute, but it’s really that facilitation of buying and selling or transacting online. I think that’s one of the key takeaways here.

    Speaking of those challenges in which side do you build up, that’s the first question, but then it’s understanding the needs and wants of each side of the marketplace talent. You guys you want visibility, you want access to opportunity, you want to have payment facilitated seamlessly through the platform. That’s often what the talent are looking for. The clients, on the other hand, they see this experience much more utilitarian. They want to find the right voice for the project, yes, but they want to do it as quickly and as easily as possible at a reasonable price. Naturally that leads to, well, who are these platform participants, the marketplace users, if you will, and on the sell side, that would be you as the talent, it’s aspiring talent, it could be professional talent, those that are celebrities that are associated with the talent agencies who’ve also signed up and subscribed to voices.com, and you have a background of everything from kind of artistic skills, technical skills, and of course, business and marketing skills. That’s what’s needed to be a successful talent on voices.

    The clients, on the other hand, they can range from those at ad agencies and small to medium sized businesses, even large Global 2000 or Fortune 500 companies. They often hold the title, something in the kind of a marketing or creative sense. It could be a creative director. They could be video producers or even casting directors as well.

    All right. I think at this point you’ve got a pretty good idea of what a marketplace is, what are the participants, kind of who you guys are, what the challenges are in building a marketplace, and ultimately, what are we trying to solve for, which is to bring all the participants together and help them do business online.

    The first thing that we need to do is actually build up that community of users. Often [inaudible 00:08:01], this referred to this chicken and the egg challenge, who do you start with? Now, the marketplace of users, users aren’t just signing up kind of anonymously. In fact, to have a real transparent marketplace that people understand who are they actually doing business with, you really need to have some kind of user profile. Once people start registering, we encourage them to fill out their profile as much as possible. There’s lots of information on your profile as a voice talent.

    In another episode, I’d love to kind of walk through what makes a great profile, what are those attributes of those profiles that seem to be visited a lot, listened to, all those demos, but it’s important to know that you have to fill out your profile, because that actually leads to this first piece of technology. I’m going to try to describe this through from your perspective as a voice actor, why is this important to you?

    Voice Search is really our search engine. It’s a search engine that looks for voice actors who might be suitable for a job. It’s used by those clients, those producers that are looking to hire you. Now, of course, just like you would type anything into a Google search, you can type anything into the voices.com search engine as well, but very quickly you are going to want to refine your results, could be by gender, male or female, it could be by age, child, teen, young adult or middle-aged or even seniors. Then we’ve got languages and there’s a whole dropdown list of languages as well that compliments the languages. Maybe there’s a more specific accent.

    We find that a lot of clients, when they’re looking for you as a talent, they want to either find somebody who’s in kind of that area that they’re ultimately releasing the content for, so kind of matching their target audience by language and accent, and then another search criteria could be by location as well. They can look by country, by state or province, and then ultimately, even right down to the city.

    In addition to searching by the criteria I just kind of mentioned, they can further refine thee results by a particular category of work. That makes a lot of sense. If I’m looking for somebody to record my phone system, I don’t want to hear monster truck rally commercials. I just want to hear people who have uploaded phone system recordings, so that’s why the category selection is important and having demos in as many categories as we have listed there.

    Then finally, one of the ways that a client can refine their search results is by rating. We’ll talk about the ratings and reviews in a few minutes, but the rating is also something new that we’ve added to the search results and how that clients can actually refine those further.

    Now you might be wondering how the search results actually ordered. We try to do really natural language processing to understand both the intention and kind of what is this person ultimately searching for. We do try to serve up the most relevant results scanning across the demos and all of the information on a talent’s profile, so anywhere where there’s texts, that’s something that the search engine can read and understand, and then serving up the most relevant results.

    Now at present, we do search and order by membership type, so the platinum members first, and then within that the premium members, and then below them, the guest members. Now over time, I’m sure we’ll change that. There might be some further improvements, but that’s how it currently works. That’s the importance of the search. And again, the reason why that’s so important for you is because that’s a direct link to be able to be invited for a job. A client can click invite to job right off your search results, or they can click into your profile where they can read more about you, and then they can invite you to a job from your profile as well. The search is a really powerful aspect of the voices.com platform.

    Next up is Voice Match. Voice Match is a recommendation engine that you can use to identify how qualified you are for a particular job, and then prioritize your audition time just to those jobs that are most suited for you. Similarly, clients actually receive auditions back, further job, and the auditions are sorted by Voice Match score with the best match talent on top.

    Let’s go deeper on that. The Voice Match compares the talent’s profile with the client’s job postings. It all begins with the client filling out their job posting, really saying kind of what they’re looking for, things like the language, the accent, the age, the gender, the role, the style, and then they describe the project details itself. But it’s those kinds of criteria of who they’re looking for that we use to match up the job criteria against those talent profiles, so your profile. That’s again, why it’s so important to have a 100% complete profile.

    It just makes sense that the more attributes between your profile and that client’s job posting, the higher your Voice Match score is going to be for that particular job. The maximum possible Voice Match score that you could get is 100. There’s 10 points assigned for each of the following elements. You’ve got language, accent, voice, age, and gender. That’s all information that’s actually located in your bio of your profile. Then we look at the attributes that are actually on your demos, because we don’t want you just to be able to say that you can do certain things. We want you to be able to demonstrate that you can, and most people are demonstrating that through having a demo in a particular category, language, accent role. If you have some styles on there as well too, we look for those. That’s going to be totaling up to 100 points.

    When you receive an email for a job that does match your profile, you’re going to see right in that email notification that there’s a score. The higher the score, the better. You’re going to definitely want to get on those 100s and 90s. Then because that’s not only an indication of how well suited we think you are for the job based upon your profile, but it’s going to determine where you rank when you actually submit the audition. If you have 100 and you submit an audition, you’re going to show up on top. Naturally you might notice that there’s a number of other talent also auditioning. Maybe some of them have 100 score as well too.

    What we’ve done is we actually capture the time and date stamp right down to the second of when your audition is submitted. The tiebreaker, if you will, does go to those that submit first honoring the first come first serve rule or principle, and so if two or three or five people all have 100, it’s then going to sort within that grouping, the audition list will be the time and date stamp of when those auditions were submitted.

    Hopefully that gives you a better understanding of how Voice Match works. We think of it as a recommendation engine. We’re recommending jobs to you, and then we’re recommending talent in a particular order for the clients when they’re listening through all of those auditions in response to their job posting.

    Now that leads us to talk about SurePay. SurePay is the payment service that powers our online marketplace. Simply put, SurePay processes the credit card payments, holds them in trust until the work is complete by you, the talent, and then when the client’s happy with it, we disperse the funds to you, depositing the money into your bank account, or sending you a check or wiring it to your PayPal account as well.

    SurePay helps ensure a risk-free financial transaction, both for you as the talent and the client, by protecting the client so that they can ensure that they get the work that they paid for and protecting you the talent so that you actually get paid for your work.

    Now, going back years and years, there were some, before we even had SurePay, there was some instances where we actually always advise the talent to at least get 50% deposit upfront, or even get paid upfront. Unfortunately, sometimes the talent would get hired, do the work, deliver the files, and then the client would just disappear. Now, it’s really hard to trace somebody down if all you have is an email address. They could be next door, or they could be around the corner, or they could be around the world. You just don’t know. All you have is an email address.

    Often those talent that were unfortunately taken advantage of would come back to Voices and ask us to intervene. Well, we didn’t really have any additional powers, and frankly, no more additional information than the talent had at the time. We saw this as a problem to be solved and an opportunity to deliver, again, more value to you as a talent.

    Likewise, there was even a few instances or the client had paid the talent in advance and the talent was unable to do the work, or they took longer than expected, or they were unsatisfied with the work. There was a number of kind of areas of friction, let’s just say, during that process. Again, what we came up with was a means for us to act as that trusted intermediary between the client depositing the funds with voices.com first, we hold onto them until the work is complete, and then only once the work is complete, meaning it’s either delivered and uploaded through voices.com or maybe there’s an outside kind of recording studio that you go to, or some recording session, or in the odd situation, even kind of a live event, such as an award show or some kind of public speaking attendance or an announcement that needs to be done, but ultimately the work’s going to be done, and then we disperse the funds to the talent, meaning that we’re actually going to wire that, send that money to you.

    That’s SurePay. It’s been a tremendously beneficial and valuable tool and piece of technology that we can provide on the platform. Again, hopefully that gives you a better understanding of how that works.

    At the end of that, let’s call it the financial transaction, there is kind of one more step. The client’s got the files, but often many of you are asking, “Well, I’d like to hear how did I do?” Maybe perhaps you want to give some feedback to the client as well. These ratings and reviews is a really important part that is going to build up credibility and trust and ultimately your reputation on a voices.com. These ratings and reviews are our way of instilling further trust and building up reputation online.

    When a transaction is complete, what you’ll see is be prompted actually to leave a five star rating and a review of how did you like working with that client, could be great direction, prompt payments, good communication throughout the process, express your gratitude for working with the client. And likewise, the client will let you know how they liked working with you. They can give you a five star rating and type out a brief review.

    More recently, we actually added what we call compliments. Now this has been gathering behind the scenes for probably the last year and a half or so. You’ll start seeing those show up on your profile, but compliments are kind of a one click way for the client to describe their experience. They’re still going to be providing you with a five star, but then we have things like professionalism or speedy delivery or takes direction well. It’s kind of a one-click badge, if you will, that captures the sentiment. If they want to expand on that, of course, they can still by describing how the experience was, what worked, what didn’t, maybe what could be further improved in that review section.

    Now, the reviews, as you know, are super important for you as a talent because they show up on your profile. There’s a whole section there. The star shows up really across the board in the search results, on your profile, and you’re listening when you actually do the audition. Building up reputation, ratings and reviews on voices.com is critical to your future success on the platform. Do what you can to get those first handful of positive ratings and reviews. I think that’s going to go a long way.

    Now we use those ratings and reviews as one of the things that’s going to power our last piece of technology, that is VoiceRank. These are really just lists or leaderboards where we’re aggregating thousands of interactions, such as listens, favorites, hirings, ratings and reviews, to rank the talent, that’s you, that helps you kind of stand out from the crowd. We want to honor those and provide some recognition of those who are really engaged at Voices.

    You might be wondering, well, what exactly is VoiceRank? VoiceRank is just a collection of lists. It lists the talent by the top 100 newest talent onto the platform, most recently hired and most favorited. In that order, the new voices, this is a list that features members of voices.com who have recently joined or renewed their memberships. The names on the lists are going to frequently change in real time because memberships that are renewed or activated really all the time. That updates really, I think in every five minutes.

    Then we have the top 100 favorites. Clients can favorite a talent from the search results, from your profile. Every time they click that heart, that’s kind of adding another favorite. Again, the difference here is that this list can actually be viewed top 100 favorites this month, well, actually this week, this month, and then all times. There’s three different time dimensions that you can look at and be on a different favorites lists.

    Then finally, most recently hired. This is the top 100 most recently hired. This list showcases the talent who’ve completed a job through voices.com and paid using that SurePay system as well. Talent who’ve completed work outside of the platform, you’re not going to appear on the list. We can’t kind of override it in any way. Hopefully this serves as a bit of a encouragement to actually make sure that the transaction stays online because it’s giving you some really valuable visibility by showing up on the most recently hired list as well.

    Perhaps over time we’ll have other top 100 lists. We’ve got some ideas in the works, but VoiceRank is kind of the engine behind the scenes that’s powering all of those lists.

    Well, we started with the Voice marketplace and we’re going to end with the marketplace as well. Now there’s one other principal I’m going to call it that’s not exactly a piece of technology, but it’s a guiding principle for how we operate the entire voices experience for all of you, and that’s what we call this E for everyone concept. You’ll be familiar if you’ve ever played video games what E for everyone means. It’s a rating of a suitability in terms of acceptable content, let’s say. It’s kind of a rating of what people can expect. E for everyone is simply put, our way of communicating what we have as for our content guidelines. We’re going to continue to offer a safe platform with this E for everyone rated content. It’s going to be safe for the brands because they want to have brand safety, knowing that then when they post a job on voices, it’s going to be posted beside a next job that’s also posted by a reputable company or a reputable organization. Brands want to be affiliated with a platform that has these kind of brand safety type guidelines.

    Likewise, it’s also a safe environment for you as a talent. I’m sure you want to be doing encouraging and uplifting and edifying content. There’s enough, let’s say, garbage out there. I don’t think we want to participate in it. Well, I know we don’t and in fact, that’s why we have these content guidelines in place.

    If you think of this as a safeguard to make sure that we have healthy content, then what are we kind of trying to guard against? I would say there’s six actual different types of content that we see out there that hopefully you’ll agree is, yeah, you know what, that’s not kind of thing I want to lend my voice to. Do I really want to be putting more kind of extreme content and extreme violent material out there? Not likely.

    Extreme violence is one. Adult content where it’s sexually explicit, profanity or profane content. Then we have racism material, which unfortunately continues to persist. We have a hate speech that tries to get posted every now and then. These are just not content that we want to be pushing out to you and really inviting you to audition for. We’re going to filter that out before it even gets to you to the best of our abilities. We have a content filtering system, but really that is, the black and white is the easy stuff. It’s the gray area that sometimes is challenging. I think we’ve continued to have work to do there, but for the most part, we’re able to filter out the content.

    Those are the first five. The last one is one that we’ve added more recently, I’m going to call it false impressions. I mean, this is where somebody is going to really put words into somebody else’s mouth, providing an impersonation, saying something that they would never say. It could be for commercial, it could be for political reasons, it could be just to manipulate or cause harm to someone else’s reputation. These false impressions can be tremendously damaging. That’s kind of the six elements there, extreme violence, adult content, profanity, racism, hate speech and these false impressions. That’s all the kind of content that we’re going to filter out of the marketplace.

    Now I wanted to end with that because it’s not just technology that powers an experience like Voices, it’s also the guiding principles. The content guidelines are what are those that I think are really important for the future success for everyone.

    If you want to learn more about our trust and safety policies you can do so in the company section or in the footer of every page on the website, just look for the link called trust and safety. Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s show. If you have any questions or comments, just send me an email to David@voices.com. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or to Google Play to catch the next episode, well until then, use your voice to inform, entertain and inspire the world.

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