3Play Media’s Origin Story

September 30, 2016 BY CJ JOHNSON
Updated: May 8, 2018


When the marketing team approached me about writing the “3Play Media Origin Story,” I was immediately excited to spin a tale of our founding team sharing radioactive alphabet soup and waking up the next morning to find ourselves operating a captioning company in the heart of Boston, fighting battles against the dreaded INTERPOSING VOICES.

That dream came crashing down — “it’s not THAT kind of origin story” — but the actual origin of how the company formed comes from an intersection of random opportunity and four guys who wanted to build something significant during a formative time in their lives.

Here’s that story from my perspective.

The Beginning

In August 2006, I entered the MBA program at MIT. I had worked for small technology companies in the past and loved that type of environment, so my goal was to start or join a startup company that created a positive impact in the world.

To accomplish that goal, I planned to focus on entrepreneurship and innovation coursework and activities.

One of the more frequent lessons you hear about entrepreneurship is that a great team is the primary driver of success, and I was fortunate to meet three great friends and business partners during my time in that program.

On the first day of school, a nervous energy filled the auditorium in Building E-51 as I gathered with 360 strangers about to spend the next two years of our lives together.

Two of the first people I met were Chris Antunes and Jeremy Barron, and we hit it off instantly. As luck would have it, we ended up in the same cohort group of 60 people that spent a lot of time working together in our core classes.

In Noubar Afeyan’s New Enterprises course, we teamed up and wrote a business plan for a consumer web company in the fantasy sports realm. We got really into the idea and built a prototype product and website, beyond the scope of the course requirements. We even had ridiculous t-shirts featuring a grumpy gorilla holding our logo.

The idea eventually fizzled out, but we had a lot of fun and built on that experience, determined to work on something real together.

The Inspiration

During the summer internship recruiting season, Chris, Jeremy, and I had to stick together to fully commit to NOT submitting our resumes for “real” internships, so we could work on our business ideas.

To pay rent that summer, I worked for a group at MIT to caption about 100 videos that would be going online that fall.

The market pricing for professional captioning at the time was much higher than I would have anticipated, but I gained an appreciation for why this was the case, as it was taking me a full day just to properly caption one video.

Traditionally, transcription is done from scratch and can take about 6x real time.

Then, you still need to time-synchronize the transcript and create a caption file.

Since the process of combining speech recognition tools with human editing was more efficient, it meant I could make the end product more affordable.

Determined to make the process easier, I met Jim Glass in the Spoken Language Systems laboratory at MIT CSAIL and with his guidance started to experiment with speech and language processing tools.

By the following spring, I was able to caption four or five videos a day instead of one.

Since the process of combining speech recognition tools with human editing was more efficient, it meant I could make the end product more affordable (more on this later!).

A summer project had turned into a promising opportunity to do something good for the world.

Testing the Waters

During the second year of the program, I met and worked with Josh Miller on two extracurricular activities: organizing the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

Josh had a background in digital media, so we decided to work together on the captioning project.

We met every weekend at my dining room table to formulate a gameplan, and before long we were driving around the East Coast to meet with organizations (mostly colleges and universities) to gather feedback and find more work to do.

It was slow at first, but as we built momentum, we realized that we would need a bigger team to scale both the business and the technology aspects of our project.

Becoming a Team

We worked out of a small apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts, where the floors seemed as flammable as they were slanted.

Chris and Jeremy were perfect team members to finalize the founding team.

Josh and Jeremy would build out the business development and sales side, while Chris and I would build out the technology from the product and operations perspectives.

After graduation in June, 2008, things got pretty real.

We worked out of a small apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts, where the floors seemed as flammable as they were slanted.

3Play's first office: a Somerville apartment

If you stretched your arms to yawn, you would accidentally punch the guy next to you in the head. When times were tense, there was a lot of yawning.

We were flat broke and our student loans were demanding payment, but with that type of motivation and a handful of customers to seed the business, we kicked into gear, named ourselves 3Play Media (that’s a story for another day), and started to build the foundation of where we are today.

3Play's current office: industrial loft in the seaport district
3Play Media’s downtown Boston office in 2016

3play media logo in blue

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