ElevenLabs, a startup that uses AI technology to create voice imitations, has achieved unicorn status, a person familiar with the matter said. Its $80 million Series B funding round has resulted in a $1.1 billion valuation, the person told Fortune, echoing previous reporting by Reuters.
This would mean that the new round of funding, led by marquee venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, saw ElevenLabs’ valuation skyrocket more than tenfold, as the AI boom continues. When it closed its latest round of funding, in May 2023, ElevenLabs was valued at $100 million, according to the venture capital database Pitchbook. Also participating in the funding round were Sequoia Capital and Smash Capital, alongside investments from former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman and Daniel Gross, who was an earlier investor in Uber, Coinbase, and Instacart. Andreessen Horowitz did not respond to a request for comment.
“With this Series B investment, ElevenLabs intends to cement its position as the global leader in voice AI research and product deployment,” the company said in a press release.
Eleven Labs is known for text-to-speech AI-powered voice generation that can, not only, sound human, shedding the stilted, robotic intonations speech of products like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, but also credibly imitate the voices of existing people—a practice known as voice cloning. Incorporated within ElevenLabs’ voice cloning tech is a translation tool that can convert a person’s voice into another language while sounding the same.
“Our ambition remains the same—to transform how we interact with content by breaking down language and communication barriers,” says ElevenLabs cofounder and CEO Mati Staniszewski.
What does this new unicorn actually do?
The best version of an AI-powered translator would allow live translations of conversations in different languages. Samsung is experimenting with such a feature in its new Galaxy phones. Meta is testing a set of wearable AI-powered RayBans that would translate any text in any language just by looking at it. Spotify is testing AI translations of podcasts that would keep the hosts voice dispute being in different languages.
Along with its new funding, ElevenLabs announced a suite of new products including a tool tailored for dubbing movies, a library where users can submit recordings of their voices for use by others, and a trial of a mobile app that turns text into audio. ElevenLabs already has partnerships with a slew of media companies, inducing audiobook subscription service Storytel, the Washington Post, and several gaming companies, according to a press release.
ElevenLabs is also popular among content creators who often operate on shoestring budgets and see it as a cost effective way to either add more parts to their skits or translate their content into other languages. “Usually if I need another character in a video, I’d have to force my mom to be in it or my fiancée,” content creator and investor Caspar Lee said onstage at the Fortune Global Forum in Abu Dhabi in November. “But this time they weren’t available. So I just used ElevenLabs, and I was able to get a voice to be in the content, and no one knew it was an AI-generated voice.”
From deepfakes to fraud, the perils of voice cloning
The perils of AI-generated voice clones have also come to the fore as the technology has proliferated. The technology can be used to generate deepfakes and by scammers to gain access to personal information, such as bank accounts or credit cards. The stakes of deepfakes can be particularly high as online disinformation and misinformation can spread easily on social media. “That’s something that we don’t support, and we’ll always take action,” Staniszewski said when asked about unauthorized deepfakes during an interview for the Fortune 50 AI Innovators list released in November.
Campaign ads with AI-generated voices already appeared in the Republican primary race. In July a political action committee with ties to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ primary campaign released an attack ad that featured an imitation of former President Donald Trump’s voice. In this case, the simulation of Trump’s voice read aloud comments he had posted on his social media platform Truth Social. Some tech companies have taken steps to warn users when political ads use AI. Meta and Alphabet now require that political ads using AI disclose it to users.
AI generated audio has also been used by run-of-the-mill fraudsters aiming to get access to people’s personal data and bank accounts. Oftentimes an unsuspecting person will receive a call from an unknown number with someone on the other line claiming to be a loved one in desperate need of money. Only that person will have had their voice unknowingly duplicated by an AI system. In March of last year the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning specifically about how AI scams were tricking grandparents into thinking their grandchild was in dire straits by cloning their voice.
Part of the funding ElevenLabs raised as part of its Series B round will go toward “enhancing safety measures to ensure responsible and ethical development of AI technology,” according to a press release. The new money will also be spent on new products and additional research.