The Tigerfish Story
President & Founder
In eighth grade I learned typing with Ms. Morales and practiced at home on our Royal manual. Fridays we were tested for speed — five minutes of typing, with one error allowed per page — and results were posted on the wall. The chart ended at 50 words per minute. That year it had to be changed — I hit 78.
In college I supported myself as a typesetter, and when I moved to San Francisco, my skills landed me a job transcribing the correspondence and notes of several world-renowned ophthalmologists. I learned that good transcription is not about converting sounds to words — computers can do a pretty good job of that — it’s about the communication of meaning in context.
In November 1989 I started my own transcription company. At first Tigerfish was a one person operation: I picked up cassette tapes and delivered printed transcripts by bicycle. (I can still find my way across San Francisco climbing the least number of hills!)
I ran the business out of my studio apartment, whose one window afforded me a sweeping view… of my neighbor’s rear balcony! After a few years of this I knew I needed an office. I figured just one window facing the street — even a small window — would be an improvement over staring at that balcony.
Then one day while bicycling down Columbus Avenue I noticed a building for lease right where North Beach meets Chinatown. It was a former photography studio from the turn of the century, owned by a well-loved family with deep roots in the community. And my wish for a small window overlooking the street? Those early photographers needed a lot of natural light — the office has 67 windows and a skylight!
I remember how nervous I was signing a five year lease. Fortunately my first year in the office business grew 150%! This was something of a mixed blessing, as it was still just me typing and answering the phones, and I was working 90 hours a week. More than once I came to the office on a Sunday afternoon and didn’t stop working until Tuesday morning. I needed to hire people and figure out how to run a business. And this is where something else from my childhood comes in.
As a teenager in Denver I managed to do one smart thing: I got myself hired at The Tattered Cover. Now one of the premier independent booksellers in America, back then The Tattered Cover was just my friendly neighborhood bookstore. Joyce, the owner, treated her employees and customers with trust, respect, and a genuine curiosity about their opinions. You could feel the warmth and care the moment you walked through the door. I saw from my earliest working experience that a successful small business could be a positive force in the lives of its employees, customers, and the larger community.
Back in my new office, I needed to hire transcribers. Having done the work myself for years, I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for: good readers make good writers. The best transcribers are curious, informed and worldly. (And they can type fast!)
I also knew from my own experience that transcription requires tremendous focus–best supported by an environment that is friendly, trusting, and respectful of people’s needs in and out of the office. Anyway, I must have been doing something right — many of the transcribers I hired in the 1990s are still with us today!
Of course quality transcription is only half the story, the other half of which is written in customer service. Here you will find the heart of Tigerfish: a team of brilliant, task-oriented, friendly people devoted to careful listening, open communication, and solving problems creatively.
It’s been more than two decades since the days of me alone on my bicycle picking up cassette tapes from clients.
But there are some things that haven’t changed at all since those early days: a fierce commitment to quality work, a belief in straightforward communication, a willingness to do whatever it takes to meet a deadline.
And I still ride the same bicycle to work.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY MOLLY BARKER