How This Solo Founder Bootstrapped A Transcription Platform To $1.2M/Year

Published: July 15th, 2022
Rajiv Poddar
Founder, Scribie
from San Francisco, CA, USA
started August 2008
Discover what tools Rajiv recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Rajiv recommends to grow your business!

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Hello, I’m Rajiv. I’m the founder of Scribie, an audio/video transcription service. We convert recorded phone calls, meetings, podcasts, sermons, lectures, etc. to text with high accuracy using a mix of AI and humans. We have been in business since 2008. We have transcribed more than 7 million minutes of audio and paid more than $3 million to our transcribers.

I started Scribie as a solo founder in 2008 and bootstrapped it to a $1M revenue by 2020. Our next milestone is $5M revenue and to achieve that we have reorganized our management team and added two more co-founders. We are on a high growth trajectory and the next few years are going to be quite exciting for us.

Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

We made a breakthrough in late 2021: we achieved product-market fit on the transcriber side of our platform. As a result, our average turnaround times has gone down from 50 hours to around 6 hours. What’s notable is that we achieved this without any compromise on our quality standards and at the same price point as before.

I had almost given up and it looked like Scribie was destined to be a low-growth lifestyle business. Then I decided to try magic mushrooms.

We think this could be a game changer for the transcription industry where such turnaround times for high-accuracy manual transcription are unheard of.


Our next target is to achieve the product-market fit on the customer side of the platform. We have taken a top-down approach to achieve this goal. We first revamped our management team to infuse fresh new ideas and change the direction of our company.

Next, we redesigned our website and introduced a modern user experience for our customers. We have also launched subscription plans and are working furiously to add new features. Rahul Singh Kushwaha, our new co-founder and Chief Product Officer, is leading all the efforts on the product side. We have also started building our sales and marketing organization which was almost non-existent till last year. Sanjiv Jha, our new CEO, and the third co-founder is leading that effort.

We also have a new vision; to build a near real-time manual transcription service. We think as we get more and more customers on our platform, more transcribers are also going to flock to us. This could kick start a virtuous cycle of sorts which can propel us into a high growth trajectory.

What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

Our biggest challenge in the past 12 months has been hiring and fundraising. We started with a top management rejig with the intention of closing an angel/seed round by 2nd Quarter of 2022. However, we haven’t been able to make much progress on that front. Somehow we’ve failed to excite the investors enough. Now with the upcoming recession and VC funds drying up, it looks unlikely that we will be able to close this round. Therefore, we have now started exploring revenue-funded loans as an alternative.

Hiring also has been a big challenge given that tech salaries have jumped up during the pandemic times. As a bootstrapped company, we cannot afford top-of-the-line salaries. We also do not have the venture backing, which a lot of startup folks look for. We have had to scale back our hiring plans as well as we were unable to raise funds. However, we are still optimistic about it.

Our grand vision is to make high accuracy manual transcription near real-time and affordable.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

We were very fortunate to achieve the product-market fit last year. We follow a comprehensive 4-step transcription process designed to produce accurate, consistent, and repeatable results. We also split up the files so that we can distribute the effort across multiple transcribers. Our approach is radically different from the rest of the industry where 2-step is the norm. However, because of the more number of steps, the chances of files getting stuck in the system are higher.

Around 2016, we doubled our revenue. The increased load on our system caused backlogs and our turnaround times skyrocketed. We went back to the drawing board and started looking for solutions. One option was to go back to the 2-step model. We considered it, but I chose the harder path of fixing the process instead. We scaled back our plans and invested in building our own AI.

Our system went through a big churn in the next couple of years as we integrated our AI and changed stuff. However, we were still unable to solve the backlog issue, which kept happening from time to time. I had almost given up and it looked like Scribie was destined to be a low-growth lifestyle business. Then I decided to try magic mushrooms.

I had read about magic mushrooms on Hacker News and how it gives people a new perspective to solve tough problems. After a couple of trips, I realized that we were treating transcribers as bots rather than humans. I reversed some harsh policies which penalized our transcribers for every small mistake. It worked like magic. Today our turnaround times are unheard of in the industry.

Invest in content marketing early and complement it with social media marketing. We have been regularly writing one of two blog posts each month and it has worked quite well for us.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned last year is that not everything can be solved by engineering. You need the human touch to build something truly great.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

We plan to completely disrupt the manual transcription industry in the next 5 years. Manual transcription is a laborious and error-prone process. It requires a special skill set and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. There's a dearth of talent and lots of demand. Customers still have put up with multiple-day turnaround times, high costs,s, and unreliable service. The transcribers on the other hand are underpaid and overworked and their tools are quite primitive.

Our platform addresses all these issues. We provide high accuracy, fast and affordable service to our customers. Our transcribers love to work on our platform. We are miles ahead of our competitors. We plan to capitalize on this competitive advantage and change the transcription industry once and for all. Our grand vision is to make high accuracy manual transcription near real-time and affordable.

I have roped in my two best buddies from my engineering days as my co-founders for this purpose. We have come together after 22 years. We are confident that we can recreate the magic and achieve this vision. Together we are going to make the lives of our customers and transcribers much better and give them superpowers!


What’s the best thing you read in the last year?

I read The Bhagavad Gita last year and it has changed my life. I followed Swami Sarvapriyananada’s discourse and got introduced to Non-dualism. Non-dualism is the philosophy based on one-ness of everything. It’s the same one-ness that lots of people report after psychedelic experiences. It is almost like, if Non-dualism is the theory, then psychedelics are the practicals. I think Psychosprituality is going to become a big trend in the future.

One of the teachings of Bhagavad Gita is Karma Yoga and I have been applying it on Scribie as well as in my life in general. It simply states that we have to perform our actions without any expectations of the result and accept any outcomes. It is a simple yet powerful teaching and the secret to a happy and fulfilling life.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

My first tip would be to invest in content marketing early and complement it with social media marketing. We have been regularly writing one of two blog posts each month and it has worked quite well for us. It is a long term investment which can help with organic traffic.

Another tip would be to invest in live chat. It is a great way to talk to your customers and understand them. We chose to invest in customer support rather than marketing initially and in hindsight, it was the right choice to make for us.

My last tip is to not forget to have fun. Startups are a tough grind and sometimes people just forget to enjoy the ride. It is important that you find the joy in working with your team and building something great.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are hiring Backend and Frontend Engineers, QA engineers and Growth Hackers. All of these are remote only positions and we offer market rate compensation as well as equity. Please visit our Angel List profile for more information.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!