VerbalizeIt looks to leap language barriers via a network of live translators

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there – travelling in a foreign country and being unable to communicate something.

In the case of one of VerbalizeIt’s founders, Ryan Frankel, it was China, he was ill and couldn’t make the pharmacist understand what he needed.

Co-founder Kunal Sarda has been through similar pain so the pair, both Wharton MBA students at the time, resolved to build a business to enable travellers and businesses to overcome language barriers by providing instant access to a community of human translators.

The team so far is Frankel, CEO and Sarda, COO who are joined by 13 other professionals and a bank of 12,000 translators around the world.

The newbie received $1.5 million in private equity funding from angel investors last October and is going after a $35bn outsourced translation industry (according to the Common Sense Advisory Market Study) as well as creating a new category of affordable human-quality translation for travelers in need.

VerbalizeIt sees competition from two avenues – traditional call centers and newer machine translation: It says traditional physical call centers, including Language Line, LionBridge and Transperfectdeliver the quality expected from human translators but at prices inaccessible to most businesses and consumers and with technological sophistication that leaves much to be desired.

Newer machine translation applications, like Google Translate, are cheap, if not free, but quality is lackluster at best

“VerbalizeIt disrupts the industry by providing the quality of human-powered translation but at prices that are affordable to everyone. We further enhance our competitive edge through flexible and easy-to-use technology that drives repeat usage among consumers and businesses.”

In terms of making money, the startup has various flexible plans for travellers and businesses to draw from so they can pick what suits them best including live interpretation, document, audio and video translation and subtitling. In a travel scenario, travelers pay as little as $1.00/minute to access a live interpreter on-the-go.

It says the size of its interpreter community allows it to create a new set of standards for the translation industry, allowing it to give higher quality translations to businesses.

Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves (differently to what is already out there) and for whom?

VerbalizeIt enables better universal communication for travellers and businesses. We use our technology platform to connect those in need of seamless quality translation with a global community of human translators at any time of day, anywhere in the world and from any device or application.

It is the first service that delivers the quality of human translation but at a price-point that is affordable and accessible to everyone. The company also delivers non-live translation solutions, including document transcription, audio and video translation and subtitling. These solutions support business internationalization to enable companies to better communicate with a growing international client-base.

Why should people or companies use your startup?

The rate of international travel and business internationalization is vastly outpacing improvements in language proficiency. We use our technology platform to connect our global community of human translators to travelers and businesses desiring to navigate language barriers.

We have built a community of 12,000+ human interpreters and translators that can support any travel or business translation need. We use our call-routing algorithm to match customers in need with the best available translator. In doing so, VerbalizeIt creates meaningful job opportunities for multilingual individuals across the globe and we drive the growth of international travel and global business.

Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?

You mean going viral isn’t a reasonable customer acquisition strategy? Kidding aside, we’re working on a two-pronged approach to acquire new customers. First, we’re working on deals with a number of large travel distribution channels. We realize these may take time to materialize and consequently, we’re also acquiring new businesses through direct outreach and indirect distribution agreements. We leverage our self-service business platform to solve language interpretation and translation needs of all shapes and sizes.

How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?

VerbalizeIt has evolved from solely supporting travellers to also enabling businesses to better attack international opportunities. We enable companies to make their call-centers truly multilingual while also supporting their document, video and audio translation needs. Our community of 12,000 translators have such breadth and depth in language and industry expertise that we’re capable of pivoting into different arenas as the business grows.

Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome ?

Simply put, we want to make VerbalizeIt synonymous with translation. Whenever a traveller faces a language barrier or a business wants to better support an existing customer or acquire a new one, we want them to know that with VerbalizeIt, language barriers are a problem of the past.

The challenges facing our business align with the opportunities on our horizon, namely that language barriers are pervasive. They crop up in consumer and business examples and in both travel and non-travel contexts. The sheer magnitude of language barriers make our mission a daunting yet exciting endeavor.

What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?

Nothing! The travel and tourism industry is experiencing growth of massive proportion, both on the leisure and the corporate levels. Unfortunately, the rate of improvement in language proficiency is not keeping pace with the rate of internationalization. Our platform is agile, our roster of translators are deep and our team is hand-crafted to support the travel industry as it helps its own customers explore the world.

Tnooz view:

Every traveller will at some point or another have needed a service like this – medication of some form or other, batteries for a camera, somewhere to exchange money or perhaps a phone charger. There are just so many applications and at a price point of about $1 to connect with a live translator, it’s pretty compelling.

Drawing businesses in to use the service might be more problematic in terms of building up trust that the startup’s translation services are as good as what is already out there. Distribution deals with large players will definitely be key here in terms of spreading the word.

VerbalizeIt doesn’t say how it recruits its translators, whether they are vetted and how it guarantees their availability, do they have other jobs?

The routing technology will also need to be slick here especially as it aims to address travellers in their hour of need.

All that said, this is an exciting business model and you could easily see yourself storing the details on your phone or downloading the app just in case the moment arises.

NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.

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About the Writer :: Linda Fox

Linda Fox is managing editor for Tnooz. For the past decade years she has worked as a freelance journalist across a range of B2B titles including Travolution, ABTA Magazine, Travelmole and the Business Travel Magazine.

In this time she has also undertaken corporate projects for a number of high profile travel technology, travel management and research companies.

Prior to her freelance career she covered hotels and technology news for Travel Trade Gazette for seven years. Linda joined TTG from Caterer & Hotelkeeper where she worked on the features desk for more than five years.

 

Comments

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  1. Oliver Lawrence

    As a professional translator, I welcome innovation in the translation marketplace. But we need to provide some context, here.

    “Human-quality translation” is a vague term at best, as it covers a whole quality spectrum from the elite professional services used by top international companies down to something little better than the machine.

    Bear in mind that a great many of the better translation professionals decline to work with the translation agencies you mention, citing insufficient remuneration (and, I can tell you, we’re nowhere near as expensive as some other professionals – think lawyers, for instance). So if even that is too costly for you, you aren’t going to be getting even an adequate professional translator.

    The person translating for you is likely to be a student, a housewife, a pensioner – in short, someone with enough time on their hands to be available at a moment’s notice, someone who doesn’t need a proper income to support themselves or a family. Not someone with translation qualifications. Not a member of a professional translation association like the CIoL, the ATA or the ITI. Not a professional translator, in other words. As you highlight, they don’t say where they get their translators from …

    If you’re happy with a service whose linguistic quality is indifferent at best, then that’s fine. Really. There’s no reason why you should pay for a Ferrari if you’re happy with a Fiat. If all you want is some help with a cafe menu, fair enough.

    But please don’t think it’s going to be good enough to translate something important like your company website or a legal contract.

     
    • Alex

      I think the whole issue of professional vs non-professional is really due to the same old chicken-and-egg problem that all startups face. Once they have enough demand that their service is required on more regular basis (most likely something like there is a steady stream of requests coming in at a given hour) then they will be able to hire professionals, since it’s not on “moments notice” anymore.

      Perhaps they can attract a couple of professionals so they can start building out a higher quality offering to corporate? Would schedule and payment be the only barrier for attracting professionals such as yourself, Oliver?

       
 
 

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