Matthew Waller, Founder of Blueshift Development


Who are you?

I’m the founder of Blueshift Development in Austin, Texas. I grew up in Bolivia with missionary parents who taught impoverished farmers a way to hand-drill water wells that my dad invented (I’m very proud of them!). I was born in the United States and came back for college where I studied journalism. Years into my career, I started making apps to make tools for journalists and caught the programming bug. From there I freelanced for clients and have worked at a company that makes software managing FDA drug trial data while managing Blueshift.

Can you tell us the story of your business from idea to where you are now?

I was the Austin Bureau Chief for four newspapers around Texas when I wanted to make an app that added some features to a voice recorder. After a couple years teaching myself programming and them seeking out professional education courses, I made an app that slows down sound without changing the pitch to help with transcription. Then I thought of ways to take it further. People had suggested an app that writes down what you say automatically, but I had dismissed the idea. At the time, speech recognition was pretty awful, and even with massive improvements, I would still need to go back and edit everything, since, as a journalist, I couldn’t submit my work to a third party. I needed to take ownership of the transcripts from my interviews.

So I was struck with the idea of tying individual words to timestamps to make the editing portion a cinch. I found a raw transcription API, IBM’s Watson, that provides timestamps for words in addition to being very accurate, and Steno was born.

What has been your biggest failure or struggle?

The biggest struggle was getting the word out. Bootstrapping is tough in this regard. Even though I knew my app was technically masterful, and that I had worked with an excellent designer and a solid team of quality assurance professionals, marketing was outside my wheelhouse.

And what has been your biggest achievement or success?

My biggest success was seeing the product go viral on Product Hunt. My biggest achievement, however, was really pinning down and perfecting the experience of recording a transcript, and then going through and editing it. Some programs offer the timestamps, but not the editing, and some offer the editing and not the timestamps, but I was able to do both. I’ve edited so many transcripts on my own with Steno, and I kept refining the process. I’ve been thrilled to get it up and running.

What’s your must read business book?

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I’m a perfectionist and I was inspired and helped by the encouragement to get a minimum viable product working and out the door.

Who’s your most inspirational CEO or founder?

It’s a person between Steve Jobs with his commitment to simplicity for the user and the intersection of technology and the humanities, and Elon Musk with his commitment to big, really big, ideas.

And can you tell us something weird or interesting about yourself?

I worked in Ethiopia, Bolivia and piloted the water-well drilling program in Togo to teach farmers them how to drill wells. And I still support friends and family still working in that arena.