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The goal is to productise our services as we build out the Audio Bee brand, hire US-based sales and technical team leads.

Ayush Neupane is the Founder and CEO of A.B.G.S. Group and CEO of Audio Bee, a brand delivering services primarily related to audio, text and image data. After completing his A-Levels from Buddhanilkantha School in 2007, he worked as a stringer with The Kathmandu Post, as guidance counsellor for A-Level students with Trinity College, and also taught a bridge course at Intel Institute for some years. Neupane then went to the US in 2009 to pursue a BS degree in Economics at Saint Peter’s University where he graduated with Honours in 2013. While studying for his undergrad, he joined Fidelity Investments, the largest mutual fund company in the US at the time, as a Margins and Money Movement Intern for four months in 2011. A year later, he joined Marsh & McLennan Companies, a Fortune 500 company, as an IT Internal Audit Intern where he worked for a year.

On completing his undergraduate degree, he worked for a year as a Data Analyst with JOOR, a leading fashion wholesale marketplace. Neupane then decided to return home and founded the A.B.G.S. Group in November 2014. The company is a Kathmandu-based multinational specialising in providing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) solutions for businesses through speech transcription, segmentation and annotation, raw audio collection, Natural Language Processing (NLP) training data creation, validation and labelling, captioning and tagging, relevance check, validation, and judgments services.

In January 2019, he co-founded Audio Bee with a business partner in the US. “For now, Audio Bee is only a brand but will become a standalone company soon,” says Neupane. In an interview with Dibesh Dangol of B360, Ayush Neupane talks about the inspiration behind establishing the A.B.G.S. Group and Audio Bee, the services they provide, their target clients and the market scope. Excerpts:

What led you to establish ABGS Group and Audio Bee?

I wanted to come back to Nepal to become a businessman. Once I was able to convince my parents that returning as early as possible was a good idea if I was to do business, I came to Nepal from the US one year after I did my undergrad degree even though I had an H1 visa. The company that I worked in the US was outsourcing data entry tasks to vendors in India and I had already seen the opportunity to start with them.

Audio Bee was an evolution of the business of A.B.G.S. Group. I have a business partner in the US that was able to source speech-to-text and Automated Speech Recognition technology training (AI and ML data training) projects for one of the largest technology companies in the world in 2017. We have been slowly building our capabilities in this field since then.

What services do you offer and who are your target clients?

I dabbled in providing digital marketing services to local clients through my father’s inactive marketing agency but that ended up being very hard because Nepali clients do not have a good understanding of what digital marketing is and we ended up being limited to doing social media specific tasks only. We have moved away from this and now offer speech-based AI/ML data training and software solutions only. We recently started doing translations too but this is for the AI/ML data training space as well.

Our target clients are companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, Huawei, Alibaba and so on who are investing heavily in Speech to Text (STT) and Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technologies. However, it is very hard to get those companies as our clients and thus we are happy to sub-contract projects of those companies from other companies that have them as their client.

We currently employ over 200 people in Nepal in full-time and freelance roles and we employ a further 250 people in other parts of the world. Since these jobs can be done by people on flexible terms, it has created new digital job opportunities for people who otherwise would not have been able to get them elsewhere in Nepal or other developing countries. Speech-based work is a lot tougher than other AI/ML training tasks and thus we are also generating a trained workforce in this space.

Do you provide your products and services to the Nepali market as well?

We plan on doing something in the Nepali market as well but it is very hard to find clients in Nepal for the type of work we do, also due to the high costs associated with such technology. Our services can also be used in the Language Services Provider (LSP) space where we can offer translation and localisation services for someone like the Nepal Tourism Board.

My partner in US helps with financing and compliances else it would not have been possible to run a global business where we need to make micro-payments to tens of thousands of people in more than 100 countries every year. On the other hand, our team has been designed to operate seven days a week (24 hours 5 days a week) and thus it helps manage clients and our distributed workforce easily. My greatest asset is my team that takes ownership of the business which allows me to focus on tackling a few aspects of the business at a time. I have been lucky to hire people who have been able to grow in their roles as the business has grown.

What is the market scope for companies like yours?

This is a fast growing space globally that the likes of Cloudfactory which has large operations in Nepal have been able to grow as well. They have raised $78 million in financing which is a testament to how large this sector is, though we are focusing on a small niche of speech data AI/ML data training. The local market is negligible while the global market has tremendous opportunities. A lot of new companies are springing up everywhere to work in this space.

What’s next?

The goal is to productise our services as we build out the Audio Bee brand, hire US-based sales and technical team leads. We are also in a transition phase where we go from a culture of being operationally focused to become a product driven company. We are hiring resources in Nepal as well to continue this transformation. We will also look to sign clients and ramp up sales as we become capable of scaling rapidly over the next few months. When you are trying to build a global business in such a competitive and exploding space while being bootstrapped, it takes all of your focus and thus these are my personal goals as well.

Dibesh Dangol is a business reporter for Business 360 covering markets. Before joining Business 360 in 2018, he worked at ECS Media covering events, entertainment, auto and gadgets for four and a half years. Dangol is also involved with Alpha Riding Gears and Made by Aama (MBA).

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