Rephrase.ai, a self-described synthetic media production platform, announced today that it raised $10.6 million in a Series A round led by Silver Lake and Red Ventures with participation from 8VC. CEO Ashray Malhotra says the plan is to use the new money to expand the workforce, with a particular focus on Rephrase’s engineering, data science, product and business teams.
Rephrase was founded in 2019 by Malhotra, Shivam Mangla and Nisheeth Lahoti. Since their early college days, Lahoti wanted to build a “text-to-film” engine that could take a script or storyboard as input and generate a movie, Malhotra tells TechCrunch. That proved too ambitious, so instead the Rephrase team developed an AI system that creates avatars of human actors by mapping their faces, synchronizing their lip movements, and mimicking the tone and tenor of their voices.
“As video becomes the standard, what’s bottlenecking video creation today is the time and cost spent on production,” Malhotra said via email. “This is the problem Rephrase aims to solve.”
Using Rephrase’s platform, a customer can choose an avatar, background and voice and enter text that the avatar will recite. They can then export that video for use in sales tools.
The technique is not particularly new. Startups like Synthesia, Neosapience, and Hour One rely on similar AI systems to create custom videos for a variety of use cases. More recent rivals include China-based Surreal, which aims to develop an AI video editing system that can animate not just faces but also clothes and movements. Elsewhere, video and voice-focused companies including Respeecher, Papercup, Resemble AI and Deepdub have launched AI dubbing tools for shows and movies. In addition to startups, Nvidia has developed technology that alters video in a way that takes an actor’s facial expressions and matches them with a new language.
However, Rephrase has been aggressive in pursuing high-profile corporate contracts with a client base that includes teams at Johnson & Johnson, Amazon and Castrol. Mondelez India used the platform to capture an avatar of Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan, which was used to create personalized ads in local stores across India.
“Since expanding our sales team, we have focused on building vertical solutions for large industries such as fintech, BFSI (banking, finance and insurance) and direct to consumer. Most of our revenue comes from large companies with over 1,000 employees , so this is a big area of focus for us,” Malhotra said. “Rephrase’s growth comes at a time when many industries are looking for automated and scalable video solutions for business functions, especially sales and marketing. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down traditional video production. Because true video creation is a tedious process, we’re actually seeing more demand for automated video creation.”
Synthetic media platforms of course raise all sorts of thorny ethical questions, what with the rise of deepfakes and manipulated media. But Malhotra points to the company’s usage policy, which prohibits the use of Rephrase-created avatars, depending on the content of the videos they appear in. Customers — who must go through an approval process — control the copyright of any synthetic media they create.
“Rephrase has designed its policies such that digital avatar creation is ethical by virtue of individual consent of the subject and relies on first-hand data from the subject,” Malhotra said.
San Francisco-based Rephrase has a team of 35 people and expects to hire about 35 more by the end of the year. To date, the startup has raised $12.5 million; Malhotra claims it has about two years of runway.