Peech is a text-to-speech app that sounds really good – TechCrunch

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When you go to the app store to download the Peech app, you’ll notice right away that the app icon displays the Ukrainian flag with the company’s simple logo. But it’s more than just a show of solidarity. With three founders from Eastern Europe, the team behind this text-to-speech app was hit hard by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

TechCrunch spoke with co-founder and CEO Andrey Poznyak via Zoom while he was in Poland, but he’s originally from Belarus. Pozynak was one of thousands who protested against Belarus’ results. presidential election 2020. The twenty-year-old holder, often referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator“, once again consolidated power in a vote that the US State Department judged neither free nor just.

“After that there were a lot of protests, and after that the crackdown started,” Pozynak told TechCrunch. “I spent six months in prison as a political prisoner.”

After being released from prison in Belarus, Pozynak fled to Ukraine. But in the months before the Russian invasion, he had to move once again to Poland. nearly six million refugees like Pozynak left Ukraine to seek refuge in other European countries.

Somehow, amid personal and political upheaval far beyond what most founders will ever experience, he built Peech, which just raised $550,000 in funding led by Flyer One Ventures. . This is not an easy task.

Available in 50 languages, Peech is a text-to-speech app that sounds quite natural. While it’s not a substitute for quality human narration in an audiobook, Peech makes it easy to grab long articles or web documents and listen to them.

“Looking at my browser now, I have 30 tabs open – some of them I haven’t read for a full year already, but I don’t want to lose them because the information is very useful,” said the co-founder and CEO Andrey Poznyak, a 12-year veteran in technology management. Like many busy readers, he finds it easier to learn by listening to audiobooks or podcasts, as it’s more conducive to multitasking. “Normally I do it when I run in the evening.”

Pozynak is right that consumers want a product that helps them consume more written content via audio. Before I found out how easy it is to borrow audiobooks from the library, I even tried to develop my own workaround to turn text-to-speech eBooks: My Amazon Echo Dot was reading books to me (the Echo was a freebie, okay). It was a really bad solution, and it got even worse when I asked Alexa to read Jonathan Van Ness’ memoir. Once you hear Alexa say “yas queen”, unfortunately, you can never hear it. But if I had Peech app at the time, I would have been spared this psychic damage.

Poznyak said Peech was able to make his text-to-speech output 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 TechCrunch. He mentioned templates from AWS, Google, and Microsoft and noted that some of their templates are designed in-house.

As expected, the AI ​​isn’t perfect, though – I read an article about a band playing “live music”, with “live” pronounced as “liver”. But if we continue to learn more about music, the AI ​​should start to pick up on the nuances between these different words that are spelled the same.

For around $3 a month, subscribers get 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 to text and read to you (a potential lifesaver for students browsing textbooks). This type of app is also a boon for people with low vision, dyslexia, or other conditions that make reading difficult.

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 could be a concern for Peech to see how publications will react to cross-referencing their articles if the app reaches a wider audience. It’s one thing to paste in the URL of an article you already have access to, then use Peech’s technology to help you read it (in our usage, Peech failed to circumvent paywalls, which is a good thing for digital media companies). But Peech has an in-app discovery tool, which lets you listen to pre-downloaded articles from publications like The Guardian and Medium.

If it catches on, it’s unlikely those companies will appreciate it, because listening to those articles in the Peech app means the original websites don’t get the pageviews, which means less ad revenue, which means… wouldn’t it be shocking if Peech got cease-and-desist letters. Peech has also used the TechCrunch logo (as well as the logos of Reuters, NBC and other outlets) in their App Store promotional photos without our consent.

Many major media companies like The New York Times have invested heavily in audio content, including narrated articles that are reused as podcasts. For Peech to be successful in the long term (or, perhaps, acquired by a media company), they will need to be a little more conscientious about how they engage with these publishers.

Still, if you like audiobooks or podcasts, Peech is worth the download.

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