Bringing the translation industry into the 21st century
Since its launch in May 2014, over 2,000 businesses are now using VerbalizeIt’s business platform. Revenue has been growing 40% month-over-month. With Salesforce and Vimeo as key partners and Samsung and Udemy among initial customers, is VerbalizeIt on a path to create a blue ocean?
With $250,000 on the line, 16 companies from across the United States competed for the 2015 CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge, an independent event organized by Colorado State University and Blue Ocean Enterprises, Inc. The winner: VerbalizeIt, a company striving to create a blue ocean in the world-wide translation services industry.
‘The translation industry is definitely a red ocean’, says Kunal Sarda, Co-Founder and COO of the New York based VerbalizeIt. ‘The translation services industry has been around, likely for as long as multiple languages have existed.’ The translation market Sarda refers to is currently a roughly a $35 bn industry that basically offers two options: high-quality, high-priced human translation serving large multinational corporations, or low-cost, low-quality machine translation for everybody else. The quality of human powered translation services has essentially stayed inaccessible to the mass of the market not just due to high costs but also due to the complexity involved in vetting translators and ensuring the quality of translated content. In one swipe, VerbalizeIt is aiming to change all that by offering on-demand translation services for businesses, powered by a crowd-sourced global community of 24,000 curated translators speaking over 150 languages.
We spoke to Kunal Sarda, Co-Founder and COO, VerbalizeIt and winner of the Colorado State University (CSU) Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge* about VerbalizeIt’s strategic move to set sail for a blue ocean in the worldwide translation industry.
The BOS Team: Describe what VerbalizeIt offers and why you see that as a blue ocean?
: Powered by a global community of 24,000 individuals with vetted language skills, our platform instantly connects businesses in need of text or media translation with a human translator somewhere around the world. Ordering translations online is as simple as ordering a pair of shoes. Content is translated into another language and returned to you within hours, with exceptional quality and at a fraction of the cost of traditional agencies. VerbalizeIt is striving to open up the market once reserved principally for large multinational corporations to just about everyone.
With 2/3rd of the world’s purchasing power lying outside of the United States, communicating with customers in more than one language is now an increasingly intrinsic need for businesses big and small around the world, businesses that were largely noncustomers of the traditional translation industry. There is huge demand to be created by tapping into the unmet needs of these noncustomers. VerbalizeIt delivers on that need by combining the quality of human powered translation with the speed and convenience of machine translation.
We’re proud to be creating a blue ocean by leveraging technology to bring the translation industry into the 21st century. We are making these services accessible, affordable and reliable to a completely new set of businesses who have never before been able to either afford these services, or have had them available for their communication channels.
The BOS Team: Describe how VerbalizeIt offers a leap in value for buyers? How does your offering stand apart from buyers’ point of view and from the rest of the industry?
: The mediums over which people and businesses communicate have undergone a massive change in the 21st century. Businesses are now communicating with customers through their websites, mobile apps, videos and online customer support and the sheer frequency and volume of these communications has increased exponentially. Marketing videos get created weekly, websites get updated daily and customer ask questions every minute. Meanwhile, the translation industry has stayed stuck in the late nineties “offline” mode, continuing to operate in the world of Microsoft Word and Excel, unable to keep up with the need of technological sophistication, scale and timeliness needed by today’s businesses.
Web and mobile-first businesses born in the 21st century grow faster, run leaner and are accustomed to on-demand access to services for every need. If you need to add server capacity, you simply click two buttons on Amazon Web Services. If you want to order a taxi, you simply pull up Uber on your phone. Every service accessed by businesses is being moved to the cloud to ensure scalability, accessibility and reliability. This has yet to happen for translation services.
Combining accessibility and scalability of technology and the quality of human translation. #VerbalizeItClick to tweet
VerbalizeIt has combined the accessibility and scalability of technology and the quality of human translation to create an on-demand translation platform that businesses can access, much like Amazon Web Services and Uber. Businesses – both small and large – can now order website and mobile app translation, video translation and even translate their customer support content, by simply clicking a button and getting connected to the world’s largest curated community of human translators.
The BOS Team: How do you achieve this differentiation at low cost? How have you reduced the cost and effort associated with human powered translation?
: Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar translation agencies, VerbalizeIt taps into a curated global community of not only professional translators, but also lawyers, nurses, teachers and other business professionals looking to monetize their amazing skills in their spare time. Our technology connects businesses in need of translation directly to these translators based on language and industry expertise, cutting out the middle man and offering up to 50% cost benefits compared to traditional agencies.
In addition, our translators work in a state-of-the-art online platform (as opposed to Microsoft Word and Excel). We provide them with online tools and collaboration opportunities previously unavailable to translators. This has a direct impact on our translators’ ability to create translations of unparalleled quality. Finally, our technology allows us to embed human translation across all mediums of communication, at a scale traditionally unavailable in the industry.
As I said previously, we’re proud to be creating a blue ocean by leveraging technology to make translation services accessible, affordable and reliable to a completely new set of businesses who have never before been able to either afford these services, or have had them available for their communication channels.
The BOS Team: How did you apply blue ocean strategy thinking in understanding your market landscape and assessing strategic options for VerbalizeIt?
strategy canvas to frame how the existing translation industry organized itself. The result we saw is a high commoditization of translation services organized by areas of expertise: with companies with a certain “expertise” competing solely on price, and buyers of translation needing to go to multiple sellers for different needs.: I first read the Blue Ocean Strategy book while attending Techstars (a startup accelerator program in the United States that provides seed funding and mentorship to entrepreneurs bringing new technologies to market) in 2012. We used the
Also, the four actions framework very broadly guides all aspects of how we interact with our customers and translator community and our technology. Broadly speaking, we strive to achieve the following as a company:
REDUCE uncertainty/ variability of quality: As a human-powered service, translation has long suffered from wild variations in quality from one agency to another. Standardizing quality of translations at high scale permeates all aspects of our business, from translator recruiting and vetting, to the cloud-based tools used by translators, to how we enable the translator community to regulate and curate itself.
ELIMINATE translation overhead, time and effort: By leveraging technology, we have completely eliminated the need for businesses to sit around waiting for translation quotes, and the time spent finding and managing translation agencies and content. Businesses can now treat translation as an on-demand service, much like they do other cloud-based services like Amazon.
CREATE loyalty and engagement: We are creating loyalty and engagement with freelance translators in a market with traditionally no loyalty. This has a direct impact on the quality of output from our translation platform. An example of how we do this is by promising to pay translators every 15 days. This is totally unprecedented in an industry where translators are typically paid every 60-90 days, and regularly find themselves at the mercy of the agencies.
RAISE transparency and trust: One big problem in the traditional translation industry is the complete lack of transparency about who is actually working on translations. Agencies have typically used this as a means to employ sub-par translators for unsuspecting customers. In a world where you can pull out your phone to see exactly how far your taxi is and who is driving it, we strive to provide the same level of transparency to businesses for translation. By doing so, we keep ourselves accountable for delivering on-time and on-quality translations for our customers.
The BOS Team: 24,000 translators speaking 150 different languages – that’s a huge number. How did you achieve such a critical mass in such a short time?
: Bringing the first hundred wasn’t all that “sexy”. We went and knocked door to door at language schools and professional translation institutes to recruit our first set of translators. Beyond that we’ve grown purely organic from word of mouth due to three reasons:
- We are providing amazing earning opportunities for multilingual individuals, which is a “viral” idea in itself
- Translators love the tools we provide them and enjoy working on our platform
- Translators love the fact that we pay every 15 days and work hard to maintain a sense of purpose and community- simple thing like this has never been offered before in this industry which typically maintains a very cold, arms-length transaction with its translators
The BOS Team: How will you make sure that VerbalizeIt creates a sustainable blue ocean? What will keep other suppliers in the industry from imitating your strategy in the future?
: Managing 24,000 translators is incredibly hard! We’ve built amazing technology that allows us to do this better and more cost-efficiently than anyone else. As we continue to improve our technology and scale, we expect our ability to value innovate to only increase over time. In addition, our integration into platforms like Salesforce helps create the most seamless and sticky solutions for our customers.
*CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge is an independent event organized by Colorado State University and it is not associated with Blue Ocean Strategy.