Startup ElevenLabs, which clones voices, raises $80 million and becomes a unicorn
The $80 million Series B investment led by renowned investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, and businessman Daniel Gross, was concluded by ElevenLabs, a startup that is creating AI-powered tools for creating and editing synthetic voices.
With participation from Sequoia Capital, Smash Capital, SV Angel, BroadLight Capital, and Credo Ventures, the round values ElevenLabs at over $1 billion, up from over $100 million in June of last year. ElevenLabs has received $101 million in total. According to CEO Mati Staniszewski, the additional funds will go toward developing new products, growing the staff and infrastructure of ElevenLabs, conducting AI research, and “improving safety measures to ensure responsible and ethical development of AI technology.”
“We raised the new money to cement ElevenLabs’ position as the global leader in voice AI research and product deployment,” Staniszewski told TechCrunch in an email interview.
ElevenLabs is probably best known today for its browser-based speech generation app, which can produce lifelike voices with adjustable toggles for intonation, emotion, cadence, and other key vocal characteristics. For free, users can enter text and receive a recording of that text read aloud by one of several default voices; paying customers can upload voice samples to create new styles using ElevenLabs’ voice cloning; and more and more, the company is investing in versions of its speech-generating tech to create audiobooks, dubbing movies and TV shows, and creating character voices for games and marketing activations. In addition, the company released a “speech to speech” tool last year that aims to preserve a speaker’s voice, prosody, and intonation while automatically removing background noise.
ElevenLabs is spending more and more in voice-generating technologies to produce audiobooks, dub movies and TV series, and create character voices for video games and promotional campaigns.
The business unveiled a “speech to speech” solution last year that aims to maintain a speaker’s voice, prosody, and intonation while automatically eliminating background noise. It also translates and synchronizes speech with the original content in the case of movies and TV shows. A new dubbing studio process that includes tools for creating and editing transcripts and translations, as well as a mobile app that is available for a subscription and narrates text and webpages utilizing ElevenLabs voices, are planned for the upcoming weeks.
ElevenLabs’ innovations have gained the startup clients of many publishing, media, and entertainment firms, including The Washington Post and Paradox Interactive, a game developer whose recent projects include Cities: Skylines II and Stellaris. Staniszewski asserts that 41% of Fortune 500 businesses’ employees use ElevenLab, and that the platform has produced the equivalent of more than a century’s worth of audio.
However, not all of the publicity has been favorable
Using ElevenLabs’ technologies, the notorious message board 4chan—which gained notoriety for its conspiratorial content—shared abusive messages that imitated well-known figures, including actress Emma Watson. In a couple of seconds, James Vincent of The Verge was able to use ElevenLabs to maliciously clone voices, producing samples that included anything from violent threats to derogatory remarks about transgender people.
As a result, ElevenLabs has launched a tool to identify speech produced by its platform and made an effort to remove users who violate its terms of service, which forbid abuse. According to Staniszewski, ElevenLabs intends to work with unidentified “distribution players” to make the tool available on third-party platforms this year and to enhance the detection tool’s ability to identify sounds from other voice-generating AI models.
Voice performers have also criticized ElevenLabs, claiming that the corporation utilizes voice samples of them without permission, which might be used to promote content they don’t support or disseminate false information. Victims describe how ElevenLabs was utilized in harassment campaigns against them, including sharing an actor’s personal information, in a recent Vice story.
The voice acting industry is threatened by sites such as ElevenLabs.
According to Motherboard, voice actors are increasingly being requested to give over the rights to their voices so that companies can utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to create synthetic replicas of them that may one day take their place, sometimes without paying them a fair price. Actors worry that voice work, especially low-paying, entry-level jobs, may soon be supplanted by artificial intelligence-generated voices and that they won’t have any other options.
Some platforms are attempting to achieve equilibrium. Replica Studios, an ElevenLabs rival, and SAG-AFTRA inked an agreement earlier this month for the production and licensing of digital voices of media artist union members. The organizations stated in a press statement that the agreement created “fair” and “ethical” terms and conditions to guarantee performer permission, including negotiating arrangements for digital voice duplicates in new works.
However, several voice performers, notably SAG-AFTRA members, weren’t happy with even this.
Marketplace for voices is ElevenLabs’ answer. The marketplace, which is now in alpha and will roll out more broadly in the coming weeks, enables users to record, authenticate, and distribute their voices. According to Staniszewski, original creators are paid when someone else uses their voice.
“Users always retain control over their voice’s availability and compensation terms,” he added. “The marketplace is designed as a step towards harmonizing AI advancements with established industry practices, while also bringing a diverse set of voices to ElevenLabs’ platform.”
However, voice performers might not agree with ElevenLabs’ current practice of not paying in cash. Under the existing arrangement, ElevenLabs’ premium services are credited to creators.
Maybe that will change in the future as ElevenLabs, one of the best-funded synthetic voice businesses now operating, tries to defeat Big Tech heavyweights like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google in addition to up-and-coming competitors like Papercup, Deepdub, Acapela, Respeecher, and Voice.ai. Regardless, ElevenLabs hopes to stay in the rapidly expanding synthetic voice business and make ripples in it. The company plans to increase its personnel from 40 to 100 by the end of the year.