Interactive Voices Inc. (Voices.com)
Where based: London, Ont.
What the company does: A website that connects companies with voice-over talent
When launched: 2005
Number of employees: 25
Revenue: $2.2-million in 2011
David Ciccarelli couldn't have asked for a better birthday present a decade ago when an article appeared in the London Free Press about a recording studio he owned at the time. In the weeks following, two things happened that would help him start the company he owns today.
The first was a visit from a classically trained wedding singer who wanted to record demos for potential clients. The second was an influx of calls from companies interested in finding voice-over talent, especially women. Mr. Ciccarelli and the singer teamed up to add voice-over work to their repertoire.
Three years later, the duo were together both personally and professionally, when they decided to start a Web-based business connecting actors with companies in need of a good voice. Mr. Ciccarelli is the chief executive officer and his now-wife, Stephanie, is the chief marketing officer.
Voices.com caters to three main types of clients: companies looking for voices for commercials, answering machines and YouTube videos; educational institutions that need voices for material such as e-learning programs; and entertainment producers in need of talent for movie trailers and video games. Customers hit the site and fill out a quick form that pops up a list of actors who match what they're looking for. They can then listen to demo reels, request quotes or make immediate hires with a credit card.
The company has been able to recruit 75,000 actors and 85,000 clients from all over the world. Actors have to pay a fee of $40 a month, or $300 a year, to post a profile on the site. Voices.com makes additional money by adding a 10-per-cent fee on top of the actor's quote, which is charged to the client.
The company most recently launched a Voices.com app that works just like the site but, instead of using the Web, clients can find and hear voice talent over the phone. "Our task," Mr. Ciccarelli says, "is to promote and showcase voice talent ... and help them find jobs."
Voices.com has built up a reputation as a go-to site for voice talent. But Mr. Ciccarelli has noticed that a growing number of its corporate clients – currently, about 17 per cent – are looking for actors who can speak in a language other than English. Now Mr. Ciccarelli wants to build its voice-over business in other languages.
The problem, he says, is that the company's website is all in English. He believes that if he could translate the site into other languages, he could get more international clients and increase the company's sales by at least $100,000 in the first year and, in the next couple of years, raise them by about $500,000 a year.
Mr. Ciccarelli has chosen 10 languages to begin with because he either has clients asking for them or sees from his website statistics that his site is often frequented by people from countries where those languages are spoken.
Not surprisingly, this is a costly project to undertake. His site consists of 355,851 Web pages, most of which will need to be translated into other languages. He essentially has to create 10 new sites, though all would be accessed from the Voices.com home page. His mobile app will need to be translated, too.
The Solution: To do this, Mr. Ciccarelli says he needs to hire Web developers and translators – and they don't come cheap. The biggest costs, he says, will be programming and coding work. He estimates development costs would run about $60,000, translation would cost about $30,000 and translating the app would add another $10,000. Mr. Ciccarelli also estimates that he'd add another 10 employees to the company.
What it would do with the money:
If Mr. Ciccarelli won the $100,000, he would start by hiring those developers and translators, aiming by the end of next year to have the 10 sites up and running.
What the judges say:
Chris Griffiths, director of Toronto-based business consulting firm Fine Tune Consulting:
"Voices is a global company already doing business internationally. Their market is much bigger then the English language even though they don't have the proper tools. So expanding into multiple languages makes sense. It's easy to see what they're going to use the money for."
Terry Brodie, senior editor, The Globe and Mail's Report on Small Business:
"They have an obvious path and an interesting niche. You can see how this is a market that can be grown. Even if they don't get the money, they still have an ability to grow this business. It wasn't pie in the sky. There's a clear cut use for the money and a clear cut growth path. You can see how this will work."