Editor's Note: Jeanne Gokcen (above) is answering your questions this week at IT Martini on LinkedIn. 

Jeanne Gokcen: Mastering Speech Technology
By Terreece Clarke, March 13th, 2012

Jeanne Gokcen didn't set out to be an entrepreneur. With a B.S. and masters in speech-language pathology, and a Ph.D in speech science, Gokcen envisioned her career taking her down a few narrow paths: academia, clinical practice or research.

It was Gokcen's husband that suggested she start a business - an idea she fought.

In 1994, Gokcen founded FutureCom Technologies as a speech and signal processing technology development and services company. Today, FutureCom Technologies has its own speech recognition, text-to-speech and speaker verification engines - all of which are integrated into a single platform.

Ideation to Execution

After solving a problem for a speech technology project her husband was working on, Gokcen was brought on as a consultant. At the first meeting, she had a lightbulb moment - an integral component to the project's success was missing.

"It was a really simple thing, in my mind. Something I would have learned in my bachelor's degree [studies]," she said. "They just looked at me like I had said something that was inspired. From that moment on, I realized I had something to contribute!"

Gokcen leveraged her speech science background to create a call answering system that speaks and responds in a natural, human way.

The company's Speech-Centric approach is at the core of all of their technologies. They call their Speech-Centric approach, "the final frontier in creating human-like interaction that enables communication in a way that is preferred by customers."

Evolving from Hardware to Software

While the company beat the dot.com burst of the late 90's and early 2000's, Gokcen admits not having a business background made for a steep learning curve.

"I know it [lack of business background] affected the growth of the company," she said. "I got too stuck into one way of business and not really looking ahead, and so there came a time that what we were offering and the way we were marketing it wasn't what the market needed."

Gokcen refocused the company and made adjustments to the way the company offered its product, taking it from equipment based to an integrated software platform. This change provided companies a greener alternative to the environmentally damaging and expensive cycle of buying, storing, maintaining and disposing of hardware.

This ability to recognize industry shifts and evolve is one key reason why FutureCom Technologies continues to thrive.

"We've been ahead sometimes too much and the market wasn't ready for us," she said.

Now the company has a 'customer-pull' model instead of a 'technology-push' model, discovering the former to be more relevant and valuable to its customers.

Women as Technology Entrepreneurs

In an industry with a small group of giant players like Microsoft, FutureCom Technologies stands out as the only woman-owned company in the speech technology field worldwide.

"Women in technology in general, is still not [where] we would like to see," Gokcen said. "When I go to shows and conferences, there are very few people I can relate to at my level in terms of being the president or CEO of this type of company. We really want to encourage women to become entrepreneurs and enter the tech field."

Gokcen is passionate about getting women involved in public policy and legislative advocacy to represent their interests (especially as business owners) and is currently president of the Columbus chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

"I have a responsibility as a professional with expertise to make my legislators aware. They are not experts, they can only go by what they are told," she said. "I have the responsibility to give them the knowledge for them to make wise decisions."

Making the distinction between legislative advocacy and politics, Gokcen lamented the lack of female representation, as women represent the fastest growing segment of small business owners.

"We don't have a voice at the table. Women make up practically 50 percent of the businesses in the state of Ohio and we are not at all represented in that way," she said.

Final Thoughts

Gokcen's success has been shaped by the key lessons she learned throughout the 17 years she has spent as President and CEO of FutureCom Technologies: continue to evolve to stay relevant in your industry; get involved in public policy to advocate for your business interests, customers and community; and embrace your experience and skill set.

"The skills and knowledge you are acquiring can apply in lots and lots of different places," Gokcen said. "You don't have to be locked into one career path [or] one type of job your whole life. Look at it [your skills] objectively...[and] keep your mind open."