MarTech Interview with Shamir Allibhai, CEO and Co-founder of Simon Says

AI can be a boost for marketers, allowing them to be more creative besides just helping with the mundane tasks, Shamir Allibhai, CEO and Co-founder of Simon Says shares some observations:


Welcome to this MarTech chat Shamir, tell us more about your journey as a tech serial entrepreneur and more about Simon Says, what inspired this platform?

Thank you for having me. My original career was as a documentary filmmaker before I moved into tech as a video product manager, where I developed a keen interest in the intersection of video and AI.

I needed to solve a problem that I was living with for years: the tedious task of transcribing hours of video footage. As an independent documentary filmmaker, I traveled the world to tell stories including the Middle East; spending time in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. I remember doing a lot of interviews that were in a foreign language and manually transcribed them. I was spending a ton of time sifting through all the material searching for the key soundbites and meaningful moments. I realized, in those moments, that transcription is really just a stepping stone… a step to uncovering the most valuable material to include in a video edit that makes it special. I became determined to solve the issues I had been facing and help others to solve it as well.

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I wished at the time that there was a way for me to be able to transcribe those interviews and translate them instantly to be able to start editing. Instead, I would record that footage, go back to London and get it transcribed and translated all before editing, which added quite a bit of delay. One day when I was thinking about it, I realized that I have Siri on my phone, why can’t I apply speech recognition and artificial intelligence to this pain point to bring this technology to video creation? That was the origin of Simon Says.

Simon Says transcribes, captions, translates, and subtitles in 100 languages within minutes. In concert with Simon Says Assemble, a text-based editor that lives in any web browser, it’s really opened up new creative ways for content creators like marketers to share their stories with more people. Making content accessible to the broadest audience possible should be easy; with Simon Says, content can resonate worldwide and become an inclusive experience through the addition of captions, reaching those who speak foreign languages, people who are hard of hearing, and even those who simply prefer to keep their feeds on mute as they scroll. For video editing, Simon Says Assemble saves time and complexity by allowing users to see video and text in parallel as they edit (all frame-accurate and time-coded), so when they click on the text, it jumps to that part of video beside it. If they are watching the video and want that soundbite, the text is beside it. It allows you to drag and drop video quotes like a google doc to shape your piece. At the same time, people can comment and collaborate. All of this is done from the browser. Twenty years ago, people used to add “Microsoft Word” as a skill on their resume. Today, that is a given. We are working hard so that in five years time, editing video will be the given, similar to skills in editing a text document or researching on the web. It will be something that everyone will be able to do because new technology today makes doing these things more inclusive and accessible to all.

How are you seeing new innovations in AI redefine marketing and other creative functions – even advertising?

Many of our users work in marketing and communications roles. For all of our users, no matter their focus area, the goal is for AI to remove the tedious, the mundane and the frustrating  aspects of their job and to really enable them to be more creative and better focus their time on higher output work.

For me, AI has been about enabling humans to be more creative by taking out the drudgery work. I think you are seeing increases in productivity, increases in efficiency, and more video storytelling with the use of tools like AI. I really believe we are at the precipice of major transformation, as I think we are in the midst of an explosion of audio and video storytelling and content like never seen before. I’m excited for all the ways people are looking to utilize the medium to push forward storytelling and be able to share their own stories from wherever they may reside. AI makes storytelling easier by providing accurate transcription and translation for more audience reach. Imagine what you can do when the mind-numbing work is done for you in mere minutes?

In a field like advertising, actually reaching your target audience is absolutely essential. Captioning videos is time consuming work, so many end up online without offering accessibility for those hard of hearing, marginalizing audiences and creating compliance issues for companies. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 466 million people around the world are deaf or hard of hearing. Captioning is a necessity to these individuals when it comes to consuming videos, and forgetting to add subtitles is akin to forgetting a significant portion of your audience. If a video isn’t captioned and people have their ads on mute or are hard of hearing, that ad is not just missing the mark – it’s failing to reach potential loyal customers. Period. If a whole ethnic group cannot understand an ad because there are no translations, the value of that ad is severely diminished.

Tools like AI, combined with other cutting edge tech, can ensure that videos are for all to see and and enjoy. This is critical at a time when video is consumers’ preferred way to be informed.

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How can AI today change the way creative practices and choices are made for marketers?

AI enables us to be more creative; it doesn’t replace us.

AI can come in handy for marketers for quick and accurate transcriptions and translations that will take their campaigns across cultural barriers and deliver their messages to a more diverse audience. AI tools also learn what types of things relate to other things and are great at suggesting graphics, photographs, related articles, or research that can enhance the creative process.

AI will take away some of the tedious pain points and leave more time for artists to focus on the parts of their creations that they are most passionate about and are additive. For example, a video editor that leverages relevant AI in this way will have more time to spend on bringing out the story in their film, choosing the perfect b-roll shots, or working on the  pacing to achieve their desired tempo. When you bring down the cost, more creators can participate and the medium becomes more inclusive. This brings in new ideas and storytellers, along with new ideas for how to tell these stories.

Can you talk about the importance and impact of using the right additional mediums (soundbites) etc in marketing elements like video / audio interviews and case studies for example? A few best practices that brands should follow when using AI-powered tech to help support this?

AI enables people to tell their stories better and create content more efficiently, resulting in the democratization of storytelling. This is the lens through which I see AI. In the case of Simon Says, we are using AI to transcribe and make sense of what is typically an opaque medium – audio and video – and make it more accessible. Our goal is to make audio and video editing as simple as using a word processor or Google doc.

The stats on using video in a brand’s marketing strategy are clear, and marketers are realizing major ROI from their video content. According to a report, 87% of video marketers have reported a positive ROI from video (source). Captions will increase video reach and ROI even more. This is why these can no longer be ignored by marketers.

If you are launching a new campaign or re-brand, there is so much vision and preparation that goes into that. Say you are compiling a corporate video for your employees to launch a rebrand or strategy — you prep for the shoot, you do the shoot, you interview everyone, then it goes into editing and it’s suddenly siloed off somewhere on a video editor’s computer. That editor most likely has not been in all the meetings leading up to the re-brand or campaign. How can that editor possibly pull the golden nuggets out of all the footage in a first pass to achieve your goal? It’s a difficult process – you have to export, upload, comment, and send back. What if you could bring the story forward more easily? That is where best practice AI comes into play; utilizing these tools to keep creative teams connected throughout the entire process of producing content.

The most difficult parts of the process are the back and forth between story teams, technical and creative people all using their editing tools like Avid, Adobe, Final Cut, and DaVinci Resolve. All of those pieces of software live on a computer in a silo. If in this video, you interview several key executives, it is never in order. How do you sift through and find all those golden nuggets that will shape your piece? It’s time consuming and grueling. How do you do that with a web-based technology that is collaborative while also answering the demands of video editing features, bandwidth requirements, file size requirements, and offers responsive performance? Simon Says Assemble, our text-based video editor, utilizes a tool everyone has: the web browser. We make the video editing process as simple as the word processor made creating documents. When you can simply copy and paste, find key parts, highlight, drag over and have subclips and key soundbites and are ordering them the way you desire, you are saving time and aggravation while moving your story forward in a collaborative way. When you are working with accurate transcription and with AI enabled timecode / frame-based functionality for text and video, the process is simplified. This use of AI makes the process more efficient and leaves more time to make your final product more meaningful.

What are some of the core marketing technologies that you feel marketing teams should not be doing without, today, at least in the B2B and tech marketplace?

Video. Video is the most powerful medium we have. With captioning and subtitling technologies available, there shouldn’t be a video made out there with a message that can’t be “heard” by everyone with access to the video. Whether it’s video on your website or social media pages or delivering your CEO’s annual address or regular updates, it should be in a form that can be consumed by all and across all platforms. It’s an absolute must when it comes to technologies that every marketing team should have in their strategy.

We are still at the tip of the iceberg as far as online video goes. We are on the cusp of a new age where everyone is becoming a content creator. It isn’t just the production houses anymore. It’s executives, teens, grandparents, marketers, influencers… Everyone is making videos to communicate and that will keep growing exponentially in the coming years.

A few takeaways for marketing leaders and CMOs/CEOs in 2021: top factors they should keep in mind as they plan for the rest of the year, innovate and expand their teams?

I believe we are at a tipping point when it comes to creative ways for utilizing audio and video, leading to the democratization of storytelling. I would encourage marketing leaders to double down on audio and video, to become adopters of modern workflows and to invest seriously in their team’s audio/ video storytelling capabilities. We are seeing an explosion of this through the boom of podcasts and original brand content, things like Clubhouse – all of this is incredibly exciting. I would challenge CMOs and CEOs to think about how to broaden their reach within their companies and beyond through the use of video. Tell their stories. Humanize their companies. Make a difference by telling stories that matter in many languages and to all types of people. Bring more voices to the chorus that tells your company or brand’s story and make your video more than just a campaign, but an experience.

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Simon Says is the leading AI transcription, subtitling, and video editing platform for video professionals that helps you find the meaningful soundbites, assemble your video, and collaboratively lock story from the web. Simon Says integrates with all the major video editing applications – Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro X, and DaVinci Resolve and seamlessly fits within post production workflows. Transcribing used to be frustrating. Simon Says solved it.

Simon Says has been featured in Apple’s Keynote (twice), has cloud and on-premises applications that are suitable for every security requirement, and is used by customers at Adobe, BBC, CBC, CNN, Sony, Yale University, Bunim/Murray, Goodby Silverstein, and TED.

Shamir Allibhai is a video tech entrepreneur and the CEO / Founder of Simon Says: a browser-native text-based video editing platform that helps teams collaborate on visual stories. Previously, Shamir founded Amber Video: an authentication platform to counter malicious deep fake videos. He was also the Head of Digital for the Doha Film Institute, which originated as a partnership between Robert de Niro and Qatar, where he oversaw web, mobile, and product management. Since moving to San Francisco, Shamir has worked with blockchain/crypto startup for SFOX (YC S14, Series A: $22M), with virtual reality for Facebook Oculus, and to develop a kinematics AI repository for the entertainment industries. Shamir is a graduate of Harvard University (Master’s) and The Richard Ivey School of Business, The University of Western Ontario (Undergraduate).

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