SpinVox Management: Rubbish, rubbish and thrice rubbish

My phone has been burning white hot today with people calling to express their complete and utter astonishment at how the SpinVox debacle is taking shape over the past week.

I’m less concerned with the various issues being debated around the media about privacy and so on. The thing that’s really winding me up is I feel huge annoyance.

I’m an brand ambassador (wholly unofficially) for SpinVox for years. I’ve been one of the cheerleaders singing the company’s praises wherever the opportunity arose.

And now I look and feel like a total unmitigated arse.

Why?

Because SpinVox’s lauded management have behaved entirely against my expectations. These are, after all, super-human people. They climb mountains for breakfast, bike continents for lunch, what the hell happened to them?

I understand from the various media reports that there are, apparently some bad eggs, some disaffected former staffers spreading rumours — and that’s the source of the problem.

Well it’s not.

That might have started things off and helped underpin the original stories, but where the hell are the management? Where’s the Chief Executive?

Who is the Chief Executive?

I don’t know. Is it Christina? Is it Daniel? Is it somebody else? I can’t be bothered to look it up.

Where’s the complete and continual updates and the robust defence from the talented management team?

Where’s the Public Relations Director? Everyone I’ve spoken to me today tells me it’s ‘some guy called Jonathan’ who, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met. I’ve always rated Jane Henry, Spinvox’s Global PR Director — whenever I’ve dealt with her, she’s been direct, fair, inclusive, welcoming. When I extrapolate that experience out and match it against what I’ve been witnessing from the company over the past week or so, I simply can’t fathom the management silence.

Why so silent?

Why send their social media chap, James Whatley, out to the braying masses only to have the BBC — the flipping British Broadcasting Corporation — eat up his comments and spit them out with a further rebuttal? You don’t mess with the BBC who are rightly spitting blood.

Have you read the BBC’s response? (“SpinVox: We stand by our story“). All of a sudden, James Whatley is the story. He’s being quoted across the web — and whilst I recognise he’s a talented fellow, I don’t think he should be carrying the can. Is it really such an explosive issue (or series of issues) that none of the company’s executive team can RISK getting involved?

Andrew Orlowski’s post on The Register (“SpinVox: The Inside Story“) arrived into my consciousness with no less than three different phone calls from industry luminaries howling at the latest set of SpinVox revelations. Here’s one quote:

But thanks to company insiders and company filings, The Register has built up a picture of the company that makes believing even SpinVox’s revised claims extremely difficult.

I can’t quite believe this is SpinVox we’re talking about. My impression of the company was wholly, and utterly wrong. I thought they’d be able to handle this kind of issue with poise. The total mismatch in expectations is alarming. The amount of off-the-record calls and emails I’m getting on SpinVox is simply ridiculous — some of it, I’m sure, if published, would be wholly, wholly actionable.

I got the most calls about this paragraph:

In Spinvox’s boilerplate text, attached to every press release, the company claims to have made “significant innovations in voice and network technologies which are protected by over 70 patents worldwide”.

Where does the figure of 70 come from? A global search of IP databases reveals just 8 listings. Most are patent applications, which offer the inventor some, but only limited protection. Each cluster contains multiple applications of the same patent to each patent authority, such as the UK IPO, the EPO, and WIPO for example Add them all up, and you get around 70.

Goodness me.

Fast forward to a Guardian article this evening, not four hours ago, by Charles Arthur (“Spinvox hopes new funds will ease its cash crunch”). If you’d like to know how bad — how completely nailed SpinVox’s management are, at the moment, have a read of this sentence by Charles:

The company’s PR, James Whatley, also posted a robust defence of its systems for translating voicemails to text…

Whatley’s not PR. He’s their social media guy. There’s only so much the guy can do himself whilst his masters are….

- sweating?
- panicking?
- relaxing?
- not concerned?
- busy getting on with company operations?

Which is it?

We all have to formulate our own ideas because management is nowhere to be seen.

I’d like to know who’s going to be doing the investing of these new funds. I wonder how the funding discussions are progressing.

How do SpinVox fix it?

Well the initial damage is done. Want an indication as to how bad things have got? Did you see the joke circulating Twitter this afternoon?

simonprockter:

Just heard that Spotify is nothing but a call centre singing down a mic as you request songs. Gutted

I think SpinVox can still fix it with clarity and directness on the part of their senior management.

One of the mobile luminaries I chatted with today suggested that SpinVox take three journalists/bloggers on a worldwide tour of the company’s facilities across three days, allowing open access to everything and anything. That could change opinions in the industry.

But another rubbish terse statement from the management? Oh dear.

After visiting the SpinVox blog to get the link for that post, I noticed that their co-founder, Daniel Doulton, posted a blog the other day — Sunday to be precise. Do have a read. Withering.

He finishes with:

We’ll be talking more about the technology that powers SpinvVox over the next few days, so please keep coming back to read more.

Obviously, there’s been nothing more posted bar James’ update. This would have been perfectly fine, if Daniel had continued to deliver a set of continued updates.

Won’t somebody please buy SpinVox some public relations advice?

Or even better, offer it pro bono?

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  • http://twitter.com/GuyClapperton GuyClapperton

    > Or even better, offer it pro bono?

    That's actually a crazy suggestion. Why would anyone offer their services to a private, profit-driven company (and I regard those things as respectable) for free? It's a ludicrous suggestion. If they have a case and want a professional to handle it, then fine – but the suggestion of pro bono is completely inappropriate. They'd probably agree.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Aye, that bit was tongue-in-cheek, Guy!

  • http://jimwild.net/ jimwild

    They could always pay them in shares!

  • http://twitter.com/nuxnix Angus Fox

    Ive written my own hypothesis about it – Im calling it SpinGate – http://tinyurl.com/ly6lnd

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Enjoyed the read, Angus

  • liljack3

    It would be criminal if Mr. Whatley gets tarnished for being a dutiful front line soldier…while the cowards who run the place hide and are undoubtedly pressuring him to carry the flag up the hill in a hail of fire. It may not have been wise to take on the BBC but JW had the moxie to try and brought forth an articulate attempt to be as truthful as he was allowed…let us remember that Ms. Domecq has been quoted saying that they are hunting the malcontents to punish them for rising up. Let's keep focused on the true villains…CD & Co.

    Mr. Whatley…best of luck in the future!

  • anonymous

    SpinGate. Like the original WaterGate, it appears that the cover-up may be worse than the original bad acts. In this case, there may not have even been any bad acts at all… it may just have been that the coverup, aka THE SPIN, itself got out of control … big time

  • pm

    The technology-oriented people follwing this story have asked to have independent party check under the hood of the AI system, and that seems reasonable. But given the reports of how call center employees have been treated, shouldn't there also be some transparency on the outsourcing (or “virtual sweatshops” as critics call it). This is comparable to what Nike was forced to do with its factories, not to mention how Starbucks (fair trade) and McDonalds (domestic sourcing, envirnmental concerns) efforts to address consumers ethical concerns about how they source their products.

  • anonanonanon

    Of course you don't know who the CEO is, didn't you know that until 2008 the org chart was confidential – no one but senior management were allowed to see it

  • Name

    Just silly, Ewan.

    This is when a board member who isn't a shill should step in and level with the public. You can't defend the actions of the CEO and management team. They simply got it wrong. You need to come clean on it all — the company's real financial position, the stock for salary snafu, the truth about Christina and her failed businesses, the real technology story, the true nature of the call centers, etc… Admit big mistakes have been made and a share a plan to correct them. That can save the company. Assuming that there is a company left to save, that is.

  • AJ

    I am not sure about this. There comes a time when you should resign a post rather than peddle other peoples' lies. At the end of the day, you will end up feeling like a proper corporate whore with very little in return aside from the damage to your own reputation. I am not suggesting that James knowingly lied on other peoples' behalf but he looks ten times an idiot after the BBC's rebuttal. If he allows his name to be used for further press releases he should be smart enough to check the facts first.

  • http://timo.synthasite.com/ TimO

    Links to all of the articles and discussions on this breaking story: http://delicious.com/spinvox

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Useful, Tim — here's hoping it won't be required for long.

  • MikeD

    Ewan – I'm perplexed that anyone was “cheerleading” for SpinVox in the first place. It was patently obvious from using their system that calls were being largely transcribed by human beings. The kinds of algorithms that they need to use take years to develop and mountains of training data. Poor call quality (especially on cell phones) often makes it very difficult for people to understand one another, let alone a machine. If it were possible to do it well Nuance, Genesys, Avaya and all the other usual suspects would be doing it already. Witness the fairly negative reactions to Google's attempt to do (genuinely automatic!) transcription system….
    SpinVox management deserve all that's coming to them and I think it may get very nasty. What were their investors thinking??

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Carter/867785314 Ben Carter

    For me- as a former marketing/technology journalist who met Spinvox at 3GSM I think many moons ago- it's the classic case of a PR-inflated success story. The service itself struck me as being fairly mediocre and that it wasnt the radical evolution of voicemail that its marketing literature suggested…
    Putting my other hat on now as a digital marketing consultant, it strikes me that not only have Spinvox found themselves in a maass media storm but also their radio silence has done lasting damage to the brand. You only have to Google Spinvox to see the impact that the stories and speciulation have had and are continuing to have. It's a classic case of companies not listening, companies not being prepared and companies not reacting quick enough. Crisis PR is not straightforward but surely Spinvox had some early warning indicators of what was to come?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Carter/867785314 Ben Carter

    For me- as a former marketing/technology journalist who met Spinvox at 3GSM I think many moons ago- it's the classic case of a PR-inflated success story. The service itself struck me as being fairly mediocre and that it wasnt the radical evolution of voicemail that its marketing literature suggested…
    Putting my other hat on now as a digital marketing consultant, it strikes me that not only have Spinvox found themselves in a maass media storm but also their radio silence has done lasting damage to the brand. You only have to Google Spinvox to see the impact that the stories and speciulation have had and are continuing to have. It's a classic case of companies not listening, companies not being prepared and companies not reacting quick enough. Crisis PR is not straightforward but surely Spinvox had some early warning indicators of what was to come?

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