When you go to the App Store to get the Peech app, you will immediately notice that the app’s icon displays the Ukrainian flag along with the simple logo of the company. But this is more than just a show of solidarity. With three Eastern European founders, the team behind this text-to-speech app has been hit hard by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
londonbusinessblog.com spoke to co-founder and CEO Andrey Poznyak via Zoom while in Poland, but he is originally from Belarus. Pozynak was one of thousands of people who protested the results of Belarus. presidential elections 2020. The twenty-year-old incumbent, often “Europe’s last dictator”, once again consolidated power in a vote that United States Department of State considered neither free nor fair.
“After that, there were quite a few protests and then the repression started,” Pozynak told londonbusinessblog.com. “I spent six months in prison as a political prisoner.”
After he got out of prison in Belarus, Pozynak fled to Ukraine. But in the months leading up to the Russian invasion, he had to move to Poland again. Nearly six million refugees such as Pozynak have left Ukraine to seek safety in other European countries.
Somehow, amid personal and political turmoil far beyond what most founders will ever experience, he built Peech, which just raised $550,000 in funding led by Flyer One Ventures. That is no small feat.
Available in 50 languages, Peech is a text-to-speech app that actually sounds very natural. While not a substitute for high-quality human narration in an audiobook, Peech makes it easy to grab and listen to long web articles or documents.
“When I look at my browser now, I have 30 tabs open — some of which I haven’t read in a whole year, but I don’t want to lose them because the information is very helpful,” said co-founder and CEO Andrey Poznyak, a 12-year veteran of technical management. Like many busy readers, he finds it easier to learn by listening to audiobooks or podcasts as it is more conducive to multitasking. “Normally I do it when I run in the evening.”
Pozynak is right that consumers want a product to help them consume more written content through audio. Before I discovered how easy it is to borrow audiobooks from the library, I even tried to develop my own solution for converting e-books from text to speech: I had my Amazon Echo Dot read books aloud (the Echo was a gift, Okay ). This was a pretty bad solution, and it got worse when I asked Alexa to read Jonathan Van Ness’ memoir. Unfortunately, once you hear Alexa say “yas queen,” you can never undo it. But if I Peech app back then, I would have been spared that psychological damage.
Poznyak said Peech was able to make his text-to-speech output sound so natural through machine learning. Peech uses the open-source raw audio model WaveNetwhich was created by DeepMind, a company acquired by Google in 2014.
“We have six or seven different machine learning models under the hood,” Poznyak told londonbusinessblog.com. He mentioned models from AWS, Google and Microsoft and noted that some of their models were developed in-house.
However, as expected, the AI isn’t perfect – I read an article about a band playing “live music”, where “live” is pronounced “liver”. But as we keep reading more about music, the AI should pick up on the nuances between these different words spelled the same way.
For about $3 per month, subscribers have unlimited access to the Peech app and can upload as many Word documents, PDFs, or article links as they want. You can also upload photos of book pages, which Peech can scan in text and read to you (a potential rescue for students plodding through textbooks). This kind of app is also an asset for people with visual impairments, dyslexia or other conditions that make reading a challenge.
By offering TikTok users free premium subscriptions in exchange for promotion, Peech has done well with influencer marketing. The #peechapp tag has nearly 30 million views, mostly from the creators of “BookTok” and “StudyTok”.
It may be a concern for Peech to see how publications will respond to their articles populated multiple times as the app reaches a wider audience. It’s one thing to paste a URL from an article you already have access to and then use Peech’s technology to read it (in our usage, Peech failed to get around paywalls, which is a good thing for digital media companies). But Peech has an in-app discovery tool, which lets you listen to pre-uploaded articles from publications like The Guardian and Medium.
If it catches on, it’s not likely that these companies will be kind to you, as listening to these articles in the Peech app means the originating websites aren’t getting the pageviews, which means less ad revenue, which means.. …it wouldn’t be shocking if Peech got some quitting letters. Peech has also used the londonbusinessblog.com logo (along with logos from Reuters, NBC, and other outlets) in their promotional photos in the App Store without our permission.
Many major media companies like the New York Times have invested heavily in audio content, including narrative articles that are repurposed as podcasts. For Peech to be successful in the long run (or maybe acquired by a media company), they need to be a little more conscientious about how they deal with these publishers.
But if you like audiobooks or podcasts, Peech is worth downloading.