Andrew Taylor is leaving Nuance, the company he sold MacSpeech to. Just exactly what’s in store, he doesn’t yet know, but he’s decided it’s time to move on.
It’s well known that Mr. Taylor, as founder and CEO of MacSpeech, Inc., put his heart and soul into MacSpeech. It was a mission in life for him that started in 1996. Today, Mr. Taylor is leaving for the great unknown and has kindly elected to tell his story to The Mac Observer.
Mr. Taylor has previously filled us in on some background. Here’s a recap to bring everything up to date.
History of MacSpeech, Inc.
“When I first came up with the idea of founding MacSpeech, I was on a mission — I saw speech recognition on the Macintosh slipping away into obscurity. It was 1996 and the software at the time, PowerSecretary, had not been updated in a couple years, and I knew it was not going to be updated because I knew the people in the company, Dragon Systems at that time, and what they were doing. I got together with some of the people I had been working with at Articulate Systems when we produced PowerSecretary to see what we could do about updating the software and keeping it going into the future.
Over the next couple of years we created a business plan. I borrowed money from my parents and everybody who would listen to us, pitched Dragon about licensing the software from them, tried licensing the speech engine from them and then contacted the other speech recognition companies at that time: IBM, Lernout & Hauspie, and Philips. They all wanted much more money than we had, and the venture capital industry at that time was absolutely positive that Apple was going to fail in months, if not days. Our enthusiasm got us smiles, but not much else.
We kept poking the speech recognition companies, pushing our business plan, started the Founder’s T-shirt sales program and eventually landed the money we needed to license a speech engine from Philips and really put MacSpeech on track in May 2000. Unfortunately with all the racket we made during those years we had sowed the seeds of our next major challenge and almost our destruction as well: IBM.
This was also the time period when Steve Jobs was reinventing Apple and supported IBM’s efforts in the Macintosh market — it really hurts when giants step on you.”
Over the next few years, things went better. IBM got out of the market in 2003. Over the next few years, MacSpeech made real progress. By the end of 2007, his company had turned around, paid off debt, and accumulated enough money to license the Dragon Naturally Speaking speech engine. That led to MacSpeech Dictate. Combined with with the excellent GUI and set up, the Dictate product really gained some traction. And it was at this point point where Nuance.com took notice, thanks to the booming Apple market and Apple’s rising fortunes, the iPad, the iPhone, demand from Apple customers and so on.
On Monday, Mr. Taylor filled us in on the rest of the story.
TMO: Andy, tell us why you’re leaving Nuance.
Mr. Taylor: First, some background. Nuance became interested in the Macintosh market as a result of MacSpeech acquiring [a license for] their underlying technology and then creating MacSpeech Dictate. They saw a significant interest in the Macintosh market for speech recognition. MacSpeech has moved from the days of iListen, which wasn’t quite as good a technology as what Nuance had, to really the latest and greatest technology for speech recognition. As a result of that excitement in the Macintosh market, Nuance approached us and went through the process of acquiring MacSpeech, Inc.
TMO: Did that go well?
Mr. Taylor: It did. Over the last six to nine months we’ve brought the MacSpeech systems into Nuance for sales, customer service, sales and marketing. That resulted in a transition from MacSpeech Dictate to Nuance’s Dragon Dictate 2.0.
TMO: How does Dragon Dictate compare to iListen?
Mr. Taylor: The way I describe it is that this kind of software has two parts. The first is the core engine. It takes in sound, analyzes it, and either converts to commands or text. It doesn’t really know what environment or OS it’s in. Once we had the Dragon engine, [which is much better than the one in iListen] that part was in great shape. The second part is the operating system-specific part … that part provides the user interface for setting up the microphone, doing the [voice] training, executing commands, and putting the text where the user wants it to go: mail, MS Word. etc. It’s that UI for the Mac that Nuance really wanted. But also the customer list, the relationships we had with resellers, and, of course, the good will that we’d established in the marketplace.
TMO: Okay, so now you’re all integrated in to Nuance. What have been the events that led up to you leaving?
Mr. Taylor: All during this time of integration and the final release of Dragon Dictate 2.0 for the Mac, my boss and I had been talking about what are we going to do next. What’s the next business opportunity? All these kinds of things.
So, while I have been very focused on advancing the product with Nuance, making sure all the other people Nuance had hired were happy, then it became a question of what I would do moving forward. So while my boss and I never really focused on how long I’d stay [after Dragon Dictate 2.0], one month or, say, nine months or forever, what it came down to was this: once Dragon Dictate 2.0 shipped [September 20, 2010], the company, the people and the product had been completely integrated into Nuance. And since my background was historically taking Mac products that had been overlooked and getting them on the market, my current situation wasn’t exactly the greatest fit going forward.
There are a lot of good people [that Nuance acquired] that can take care of this very capable and mature product now. As for myself, I’m more of an entrepreneurial type. So the situation is not really the best fit for me at this instance in time. Maybe, in a few years, after everything has stabilized and Nuance wants to go off in a radical new direction, I might come back.
TMO: This is all of your own free will?
Mr. Taylor: Yes. There was never a plan for how long I would stay on. Dragon Dictate 2.0 launched, it’s a successful product, so then the question is what do I do next? Am I just going to hang around and chase the incremental? Or maybe I’ll sit back and ask myself what’s really new and different and has changed in the last decade that I haven’t been paying attention to.
TMO: Did you feel that when you sold MacSpeech, Inc. to Nuance that you were adequately compensated?
Mr. Taylor: Given the state of the company at the current time, its was very reasonable settlement. Of course, the sale price of a company depends on both the base of current sales and the future potential. That’s usually a very practical number compared to what the employees would believe is the outside edge of the value. So what we wanted was maybe ten times more than what they wanted to pay, but I’ll say that what Nuance offered was very reasonable.
TMO: What happend to your fellow employees at MacSpeech? Were they all absorbed by Nuance?
Mr. Taylor: The entire engineering team is there. Customer support is still there. Product marketing is still there. But Nuance has a fairly extensive technical support team, so they took that over. All told, we had about thirty people at MacSpeech and some elected to stay on with Nuance, about twelve people, mostly engineering — and some chose to move on to something else. I think Nuance did its best to accomodate everybody, some even into new positions. And if some of our people didn’t want to do that, there were reasonable severance packages. No one was dumped out in the cold.
TMO: It sounds like you have no regrets. You were fairly compensated, your former team members were treated well or freely elected to move on, the product is mature and in good hands, and Mac customers are happy to have Dragon Dictate 2.0. Do you have any ideas about what’s next for you?
Mr. Taylor: Not really. I was working very hard to get Dragon Dictate 2.0 shipped. Now that that’s done, it’s time to sit back and think about what’s next. One thing that did happen this summer was [building] a new entrance to my house and we got a new deck put in. But the regular steps aren’t yet fixed, and my wife is still peeved about that. It’s been two months, and we still have to enter through the back door. So that’s my major focus right now.
Then I think I’ll look around and see what’s interesting. I’ve signed up for the MacTech Conference in November [3rd through the 5th]. Also, I have known [Dr.] Kim Silverman [Apple’s speech guru] since the 1990s, so if there’s an opportunity at Apple that makes sense, he might be part of how I go in. I haven’t approached anybody, however.
One thing I will do is post a letter explaining all this to our MacVoice list and my FaceBook and LinkedIn pages. It’s directed at the founding customers, those 865 people who paid US$99 for a T-shirt on the promise that we’d proceed with our product.
TMO: Mr. Taylor, we really appreciate your taking the time to tell us an amazing story. You’ve been one of the Mac luminaries. It’s been a long and arduous and ultimately successful story for speech recognition in the Mac universe, thanks to you and your team. We’re all wishing you good luck on whatever you decide to do next.