Alum Andrew Mason launches new transcription service startup

Allie Goulding, Assistant Campus Editor

When Andrew Mason founded Groupon, he said the goal was to get people out of their homes and away from their computer screens.

“The thing that I always loved about working on Groupon was the idea that we were catalyzing people to get out of the house and do something,” Mason said. “I always saw myself as firmly on the side of pushing people away from their screens rather than pulling them in, in terms of technology that I wanted to build.”

After a controversial ousting from Groupon in 2013, Mason (Music ’03) founded Detour — a virtual tour guide app — in 2015. When that startup stalled, he used the technology from Detour to create his latest startup, a transcription service called Descript that launched Dec. 12.

Descript works like a word processor program and can be used to simultaneously edit any audio file being transcribed, Mason said. The goal is to make transcription services easier and more efficient for professionals, he said, but also make it more “accessible to people who wouldn’t be doing (audio editing) otherwise.”

Mason said he worked with 11 other people to build Descript from the technology used for Detour, which eventually fell to the side.

Mason said Detour fit into that same idea as Groupon. The startup allowed people to step into an augmented reality of various major cities around the world and away from their television — but eventually, “television won,” he said.

Descript, on the other hand, is an audio editor that allows for editing by text instead of typical waveforms.

“It doesn’t fit neatly into that paradigm at all of pulling people away from their screen,” Mason said. “It’s mostly just a creative tool that people can use to better realize their ideas as audio experiences.”

Medill sophomore Nicole Stock said she used a beta version of Descript over the summer at her magazine internship in San Francisco.

“It‘s the most accurate transcription service I’ve used,” Stock said. “I haven’t really found anything that’s comparable to it in terms of services. I’ve used other services where you can press pause on the interview and take notes alongside of it, but it’s the only one I’ve actually found that actually transcribes your whole interview.”

Mason graduated from Northwestern with a degree in music technology, though he was originally accepted as a material science engineering major.

After a couple of years as a material science major, he realized he wanted to play in a rock band instead. Mason said rather than drop out of school to fulfill that goal, he chose to do it within school by transferring into music even though he had no performance background.

Linda Jacobs, Bienen School of Music assistant dean for student affairs and Mason’s academic advisor, helped by working classes that fit his interests into the requirements of his music degree, she told The Daily in an email.

Jacobs said she was never surprised by Mason’s entrepreneurial work after graduating, as music majors have to be “constantly accountable for their individual work,” she said.

“To be successful takes an incredible amount of resourcefulness, perseverance and creativity,” Jacobs said. “(Mason) was always trying to look for ways to just make things happen, so whatever it took to get something done — whether in music or not — he would be ready.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @alliejennaphoto