Rory Cellan-Jones

Spinvox saga: What was the staff told?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 24 Aug 09, 18:02 GMT

There have been more twists and turns in the saga of Spinvox, the leading British voice-to-text service that isn't quite as high-tech as it claims. We know that the company has had to employ thousands of call centre staff to transcribe voicemail messages - what's become clearer is the rocky state of the firm's finances.

Last week, a filing at Companies House showed where the company had gone to raise the £15m it found it needed at the end of July after apparently getting through the $100m (£61m) it raised in March 2008. The filing showed that Tisbury Master Fund - an existing backer - had provided a loan, or rather what's known as mezzanine finance, but with some serious strings attached. Tisbury can now demand to be repaid a total of £30m - it looks as though an existing loan due for repayment next July has been rolled up with the new money - by Christmas this year. Finding that money could prove quite a challenge.

As if to emphasise just how difficult it will be, the Sunday Times has reported that what it called "unaudited" accounts showed that Spinvox's losses had climbed 30% to £49m in 2008, with revenues of £10m, far short of what the company's co-founder Christina Domecq had claimed last year would be achieved. A few days ago, I sat down with someone who has intimate knowledge of Spinvox's finances, and after a few rapid sums on the back of an envelope, he too came up with an estimated loss of somewhere around £47m. Spinvox's new PR firm is Brunswick, which I learn was called in by John Botts, who as chairman of both Tisbury and Spinvox, now appears to hold the future of the company in his hands. Brunswick has not sought to deny the story in the Sunday Times.

But here's an interesting question. What were the employees of Spinvox told back in July when they were encouraged to invest in their own company? They were told it was vital that they should swap part of their pay for July and August for share options, in order to see the company through to profitability. But did they know about the document sent to investors making serious allegations about financial mismanagement?

No, says the Spinvox PR team. And did they know about the accounts showing their company had made a big loss in 2008? No again - though they were given monthly updates about the company's progress. I've been looking back at some notes from the 20 July when I spoke to the Spinvox co-founder Daniel Doulton about the share offer to staff.

"We offered staff the opportunity to buy stock now before the next big (investment) round where our value increases by orders of magnitude and they're going to benefit," he told me. "It's only fair that we share the upside with our staff and don't keep it all to ourselves." So it appears they were told that the outlook was very bright.

The week before, Spinvox's Head of Social Media James Whatley, responding to a blog post about the employee share offer, wrote this:

"I'd really like to clarify some things:
1) Headline of piece:
'SpinVox Paying Staff In Stock To Save On Costs' Well, no. Not really.
'SpinVox Offers Staff *Opportunity* To Be Paid In Stock'... is closer to the truth, i.e.: it's the truth.
Remember, the important parts here are 'offers' & 'opportunity'. While this may well be part of a longer term to save money - it's actually a bloody good offer (one that I've taken up myself)."

Mr Whatley, you may remember, wrote a Spinvox company blog post describing the BBC's original story as "a veritable maelstrom of accusations, misapprehensions and sometimes just plain lies". But today, he has left Spinvox. Like many of those who have left, he has apparently signed a non-disclosure agreement, so he won't be talking about his experiences at the company.

So we are unlikely to find out soon whether he still thinks that he and his colleagues were given a "bloody good offer" back in July.


  • Comment number 1.

    Shouldn't it be "What WERE the staff told?"?

  • Comment number 2.


    Staff is one of those ambiguous collective nouns that can be either singular or plural. Staff as a single unit is singular. Staff as each member of that unit is plural. Therefore was and were are both right.

  • Comment number 3.

    You mean, like 'sheep'?

    You would say 'What were the sheep told', not 'What was the sheep told'. Likewise, you would use the former with 'staff'.

    That grammatical hiccup is perhaps the most interesting facet of this story. Spinvox, like many hopeful IT upstarts, intended to 'monetise' an idea, before an actual implementation. It failed. They saught human capital as opposed to technological capital, which could be considered foul play where privacy is concerned. They were caught. That's it. It's an interesting story, but it doesn't require that many blogs.

  • Comment number 4.

    What I actually said was:

    "I was, alas, on holiday last week and all Hell seems to have broken loose and in that, a veritable maelstrom of accusations, mis-apprehensions and sometimes just plain lies have been circulating and permeating around this lovely world we call the internet…"

    No mention of the BBC there whatsoever. My original intention was to dis-spell the rumours that had been circulating on a multitude of websites, not just the Beeb's.

    Alas, it all seems somewhat inconsequential now...

    Hope to catch up with you soon,

    James Whatley

  • Comment number 5.


    Nope. The collective noun for sheep is flock. So you'd use 'What was the flock told' or 'What were the flock told'. Both are correct. Sheep is just the plural of sheep. Staff is a collective noun as it refers to a collection of people.

    And yes, the ambiguity of the pluralisation of collective nouns is a lot more interesting than another story about Spinvox.

  • Comment number 6.

    Is Spinvox the next Twitter of the BBC tech blogs? Only instead of heaps of praise, it's constant attacks.

    Did any of the tech reporters go to the Games Con? That would be far more relevant to people's lives than a service that doesn't do exactly what it says on the tin. One or two blog's are fair enough, but this is getting a bit silly.

  • Comment number 7.


    This does matter - the Spinvox story is about good, old fashioned, investigative journalism.

    It is about showing that businesses must be held to account, be transparent with their staff and investors, and deliver on what they promise to their customers.

    In its own small way - the journalism on the Spinvox story is exactly the sort of thing I pay my Licence Fee for.

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree that the initial expose about spinvox was very good and indeed important. However, there have been a number of blogs on this issue, and I fear that it has replaced Twitter as the default article subject. This blog does, at times, feel very narrow minded.

  • Comment number 9.

    Agree with #7.

    This is far from a "Twitter has changed the homepage" blog post. This is proper journalism. Each blog post has been a new development in the story, and wholly relevant. Well done Rory.

  • Comment number 10.

    On a more serious note than grammatical errors, Spinvox is a car crash in action. They have all the hallmarks of an inept company: poorly managed, completely changed business plan (none of which have turned a profit, or come close), alleged misinformation to employees, etc.

    @9: If you want to see some much more pro-active journalism see TechCrunchs Spinvox coverage, they've gone the extra mile:


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