A little over two years ago, three local high-tech veterans founded a small company with a seemingly modest goal: to allow professionals to accurately and cost-effectively record and transcribe their important telephone conversations through the use of an intuitive, browser-based service.

With the help of a small team of local computer and technology experts, Mark Cromack, Bob Dolan and Palmer Jackson, the co-founders of Cogi, have realized that goal, and their small startup is beginning to make some very big waves.

Traditional speech-recognition software requires an ideal environment free of background noise to be effective, and can only pick up on one voice at a time. Even if words are spoken slowly, deliberately and directly into a microphone equipped with speech-recognition software, that software is still typically only about 95 percent accurate. When taking into consideration the average amount of background noise and overlapping speech involved in a telephone conversation, that number drops to between 50 percent and 70 percent accuracy.

Cogi solves this problem by employing a unique approach to the world of transcription, combining state-of-the-art software with a human element. Jackson, Cogi’s chief operating officer, described the process.

“This is our ‘secret sauce’: It is a combination of signal-processing software and humans, so there is a human element, which is critical,” he explained. “Our sophisticated approach allows us to be 99 percent accurate.”

Jackson is understandably tight-lipped about the clandestine nature of the process itself, as the market for new technologies in this field is highly competitive, and revealing Cogi’s secret formula would give an advantage to the company’s rivals. In fact, all Cogi employees are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement at the time of hiring. However, Jackson did discuss why Cogi’s approach gives it an edge.

“I will say if it were just a bunch of secretaries in a back room transcribing whole conversations, that would be prohibitively expensive,” he said.

“We have found a way to very cost-effectively distribute and process the work to hundreds of people, and effectively make the work anonymous, so that the human element can’t really decipher it — so that part of it acts as a built-in security measure.”

The composite effect of this process is that Cogi is able to charge far less than its competition, and the work itself is more accurate, and even has a quicker turnaround time. According to Jackson, a typical transcription company charges somewhere in the range of $2 per minute of audio to get the transcription back to the consumer two to three days later. That cost jumps to $3-4 per minute if the customer expects to get the transcription the next day. Cogi is able to create top-quality transcripts for as little as $1 per minute, and its typical turnaround time is three to four hours, with a 24-hour guarantee.

“We’re not even aware of any other services that are currently doing what we do, on the scale that we’re doing it,” Jackson said. “Obviously this is not an automated system. An automated system would have an immediate turnaround time, but it’s not accurate, because the audio quality is not good enough for the software to understand it and recognize it.”

To begin, a customer signs up for Cogi online at the companys Web site, www.cogi.com, which is currently offering a free 30-day trial. Once an account has been created, every call that the customer wants recorded can be placed through Cogi, which automatically connects the subscriber with the desired number. Cogi then creates a file for each separate conversation and stores it in the customer’s portfolio, which acts just like an e-mail inbox, and can be accessed on a computer or iPhone any time for listening or future transcription.

According to Jackson, one of the main features that makes Cogi such a useful business tool is the ability to highlight certain points in each conversation.

“It turns out that the transcript of an hour-long interview between two people is about 50 pages long, which can be a lot to deal with,” Jackson said. “So part of the inspiration behind Cogi was trying to find a way to only have a transcript of the important parts of meetings and conversations. We wanted to capture the cogent ideas — hence the name Cogi.”

Customers can make marks, or highlights, in real time during their conversations, so they know exactly which parts to go back to in order to catch the relevant information. This allows customers to skip past inevitable side-conversations, and easily find and transcribe only the information they need.

Although still in its infancy, Cogi has already earned high praise in the technology community. Earlier this month, it was awarded the Santa Barbara Technology & Industry Association’s High-Technology Sector Company of the Year. A year ago Cogi received the coveted Best in Show award at Twiistup 5, where it was recognized as the top technology startup to watch in Southern California. Twiistup is a premier Los Angeles technology and media event attracting the creative business elite from all over California, and Cogi beat out a field of more than 100 nominees to take home the coveted prize.

Cogi recently launched an iPhone application, and released a new software upgrade last week.

The three co-founders are no strangers to the local tech startup world. Dolan and Jackson worked at CallWave, a local Internet telephony company, and Cromack started CrystalVoice Communications, which was sold in 2007. Together, they’ve raised $4 million in angel funding for this undertaking.

Jackson says Cogi, located at 1033 Anacapa St., is proud of the immediate footprint that the small technology company has already made in its field. However, he and the rest of Cogi’s 10 employees have no intention of resting on their laurels.

“The challenge now is what they call scaling,” he said. “We need to scale the business so that we can support thousands and thousands of customers. We’ve almost been too quiet so far, partly just because we’re small, but we’re ready to really get the word out there and expand at this point.”

Click here for more information about Cogi.

— Kevin McFadden is a Noozhawk contributor.