English Pronunciation Software to Change Future of ESL: Interview with the Founder of Saundz
Designed to enable easy mastery of proper English pronunciation, Saundz is an innovative software program intended for all English-as-a-second-language speakers. Using advanced visual technologies, Saundz has created a virtual assistant that demonstrates speech mechanics, showing how English sounds and words are actually created. Coupled with a professionally developed pronunciation curriculum, technical features of the software enable students to practice efficiently.
To dig a little deeper into this company and what they do, we interviewed Saundz founder Mark Bruk.
Company name: Saundz
Date founded: November 2011
Founder’s name: Mark Bruk
Company Twitter: @SaundzDotCom
Founder’s Twitter: @kuzmabruk
Company market segment: Education
Product stage: In the market
What does your company do? Who are your core customers?
Saundz is primarily developed for the international market, where there is an evident need for instructional tools that enable easy mastery of proper English pronunciation. Our core customers are language instructors, as well as motivated individuals who wish to improve their speaking skills. Given that pronunciation has always been a highly neglected aspect of language teaching, we like to believe that we’re revolutionizing the ESL space using advanced technologies.
How did you come across the problem you’re addressing? What was your process of arriving at a solution?
I noticed the gap while I was teaching English in Asia years ago, and my background in technology gave me the first idea of the potential solution. Namely, the idea of virtualizing the process of the creation of English sounds and making it available through software is more than 10 years old. Back then, however, the Internet was in its early expansion stages and software delivery models were limited to individual licensing.
With the emergence of SaaS (Software as a Service) delivery models, I reworked the idea and started developing the software in 2011. The curriculum was created prior to the very process of development by the U.S. academics, while all the recordings were made in a phonology lab. Most of the time, our focus was on the creation of excellent user experiences, as well as features that would make the repetitive processes of learning pronunciation more engaging. Ever since the launch of the first version, we were collecting our users’ feedback in order to make the software better suited to their use.
What are you doing differently than your competitors? Do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
Saundz is unique in its approach to learning pronunciation. So far, this aspect has been taught only at later stages of English language education and mostly through outdated tape recordings and primitive graphics of speech organs. Currently, there are several other applications that deal with English pronunciation, but our greatest differentiator is Simone, the virtual assistant. As opposed to the outdated graphical representation, our fully-animated teacher demonstrates the whole process of sound production in a more realistic and tangible way.
What are you working on currently? What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months?
We are still in the process of developing the Android version of Saundz and this certainly our next milestone. Additionally, we are trying to expand our customer base among language instructors at institutions that employ large numbers of people who speak English as a foreign language.
How are you changing the face of education?
By delivering something that was impossible before the advancements of technology, we demonstrate its great potential for the education sector. Saundz is focused on a very specific problem and aims to change the practice of pronunciation learning. As one of the aspects that cannot be learned from textbooks, English pronunciation needs to be supported with technology. This, I believe, is the power that will continue changing the face of education.
What other startups or product builds have you been a part of, and what was your role? How has your past career prepared you for your current role?
I’m currently working with a team of software engineers on a secure photo storage application called SecureSnaps. I believe that online privacy and security are important issues to address, while the cloud delivery models are perfectly suitable for doing this.
Throughout my career, I’ve been focused on creating solutions that address specific global issues, rather than those that simplify everyday lives. While working on Saundz, I learned a lot about how people in different countries use and interact with software, which inspired me to start working on something that both addresses people’s everyday needs and has a potential to make a difference in the world.
Who do you look to as a role model or mentor for your company?
I’ve always admired the greatest innovators in the tech industry and, quite expectedly, Bill Gates is one of my role models. I admire the fact he was able to change the world to an astonishing extent “simply” by finding the right people for the right jobs and directing them to a single goal. Apart from him, I admire all the more recent innovators who managed to grow revolutionary startups by working with the right team of people.
Where do you think the education technology market is going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?
I think the education technology market will keep moving toward gamification and making traditional curricula more interactive and more appealing to digital natives. I definitely see more classrooms adopting new technologies, and I also hope computers and mobile devices will become available to more students in underdeveloped countries.
What advice, if any, do you have for someone launching a company in the education technology market?
Launch as soon as you have a minimum viable product (MVP) and continue developing it based on your consumers’ feedback. Only through constant interactions with both educators and students will you be able to achieve a considerable growth.