Praveen Shanbhag

Praveen Shanbhag sat in attendance when a faculty member at his sister’s school mispronounced her name at her graduation. The Indian American entrepreneur took action to help avoid that from happening for other students and created NameCoach, a software that provides audio recording of names to avoid mispronunciations at key life events. (photo provided)

Picture this: You’ve just wrapped up a grueling four years in college. You’re sitting at your graduation ceremony with family and friends in attendance to applaud your achievement. The time has come to accept your diploma and your name is butchered.

That embarrassing moment has tarnished what possibly is your highest achievement to that point of your life and you can’t replace it.

Praveen Shanbhag was attending his sister Pratima’s graduation when that exact scenario played out.

“They mangled her name. It was annoying for her, me, her friends,” the Indian American entrepreneur told India-West. “It detracted from her big culmination of her academic career at that point.”

What’s worse, Shanbhag added, is that prior to the graduation, Pratima provided a phonetic spelling of her name and they still managed to mispronounce her name.

“It wasn’t for a lack of trying,” Praveen Shanbhag said. “It was a lack of having an easier tool.”

In 2013, while a doctorate student at Stanford University, Shanbhag went about creating that tool, NameCoach. The tool simply aims to solve the problem of mispronunciation of names.

Essentially, a student puts his/her name into the system and then audio records how to pronounce that name. A faculty member can then listen and learn how to say that student’s name and pronounce it accurately at a commencement ceremony.

Students can also take it a step further and create a name badge which they can put into their email signature and also link to their LinkedIn account so people everywhere can know how to correctly pronounce their name.

“I tested it out at Stanford and they loved it,” Shanbhag, who pursued degrees in philosophy at Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of Cambridge and Stanford, told India-West. “The feedback was awesome and it started growing and more and more schools were using it.”

After graduating in 2014, Shanbhag turned NameCoach, which was initially just intended to be a side project, into a full-fledged company.

Part of the reason he turned it into a company was from the schools’ feedback, saying it was great that they were able to respect students during graduation, but also that they could see other use cases for the software.

“You can imagine teachers mispronounce names of their students all the time and admissions officers mispronounce names of people that they’ve either just admitted or that they recruit or talk to,” Shanbhag elaborated.

NameCoach is exclusively at schools for now, the 36-year-old Shanbhag said. More than 200 institutions are using the software. The software is sold as an annual subscription to the institutions based on the number of students graduating, and costs anywhere from $1 to $3 per student.

Shanbhag, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, now living in Palo Alto, Calif., believes the future of NameCoach can stretch to various industries, including sales reps, customer service reps and even in the healthcare space, he said.

Shanbhag referenced his mother, who had recently come to the U.S. from India and went to the doctor’s clinic. When they couldn’t understand her name, Anupama, they told her they were going to call her Ana.

Ultimately, when the doctor called her name “Ana” to go to a room for her checkup, Shanbhag said his mother told him she didn’t feel like she was being treated, but some other woman was being treated.

Ultimately, Shanbhag said, the service “helps avoid awkwardness.”

That served as another motivation for Shanbhag to create NameCoach. The software has not yet been launched for use outside schools, but it is in the pipeline, Shanbhag said.

“Beyond education, the sky is the limit,” he told India-West.

In June this year, NameCoach was used at 21 different commencement ceremonies at Stanford.

The company has four full-time employees and seven contract engineers.

The Indian American entrepreneur intends to hone in on the service to make it the most effective it can be, while continuing to focus on the education space as the product evolves.

Some of the improvements he is gearing toward is having a general pronunciation database as well as proving more data with the name badge, including country of origin, the story behind the name and the meaning of the name itself.

The company has raised its seed round of funding and is considering raising a Series A round within the next six months.

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