Behind our $7M in Series A: How we make translations better for everyone

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Today we announced our Series A: $7 million in funding led by Matrix Partners. Here’s the full announcement if you’d like more detail. In this article, I want to focus on a mandate for evolution in the translation industry.

Since our founding in 2013, our goal has been to make the translation industry better for everyone by reducing all the inefficiencies and stress that hamper language translations. I understand these problems firsthand — and the urgency to resolve them.

Grasping translation challenges firsthand

Before starting Smartcat, I founded a translation company in 2003, which was later sold to ABBYY Group and renamed ABBYY Language Solutions. I ran it as the CEO until 2015. By that time, the company counted more than 250 in-house employees, was ranked among the top 50 LSPs by CSA (Common Sense Advisory), and translated more than 100 million words per year. But achieving that success was no small feat.

Growing and scaling a translation agency was a challenge. The first couple of years, I handled project and vendor management myself. Then we started scaling the project management team — always one of the most stressful roles in the company.

For big projects requiring multiple linguists to work in parallel, we found it insanely difficult to enable efficient collaboration within the limits of traditional software licensing models. With legacy Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) software, it was equally difficult to track project progress, and gain control over and transparency into remote freelancers under constant time pressures.

Moreover, as we grew, we spent an inordinate amount of time searching for and vetting new translators to cover new customers and projects. Handling job assignments was often like gambling — wondering if I would have enough resources to complete this new job by the deadline. That was possibly the most pressing question in the project management office. Once a project was complete, we had to calculate payments and then send it to contractors using different payout methods.

These are the operational roadblocks preventing LSPs (language service providers) from growing even when they manage to acquire new customers successfully.

Addressing translation issues head-on

We started Smartcat to address the pains we experienced. And we made it our mission to hire team members directly from the translation industry: people who would understand and empathize with our customers’ pains.

Jean Luc Saillard, our customer success guru, joined the translation industry in 1991. In fact, he had direct hands-on experience with translation technology since the first DOS-based CAT tools were launched in the early 1990s. He also ran STAR’s office in the USA and, after that, its translation business for almost 10 years.

One of our product managers, Pavel Doronin, literally lives and breathes translation. He is a localization geek with strong and diverse experience in translation and localization projects ranging from cybersecurity products to computer games and chatbots. He’s also a co-organizer of Tallinn Localization Unconference and a guest lecturer at diverse educational institutions.

Tolga Secilmis, who leads our Partner Program, ran the SDL business in Turkey for six years, and worked in several leading LSPs before that. He also lectures about localization in several leading universities in Istanbul.

These three are part of our incredible team of more than 80 previous translators, vendor managers, project managers, software engineers, product managers and others working together to deliver more value to the industry. They make it possible for Smartcat to bring translation innovations to life based on their in-depth understanding of what truly matters to translation professionals.

Today, Smartcat connects linguists, companies, and LSPs across the globe to streamline the translation of any content into every language on demand. We design products that help organizations find the right translators in a couple of clicks, build and manage translation teams, and put translation processes on autopilot, from content creation to payments. We make it easy and transparent for our customers to send quotes, get estimates, assign projects, and send payments. In essence, we automate translation from start to finish.

Thanks to our customers, Smartcat grew more than 500% in revenue and translation volume last year. More importantly, we’ve gotten incredible response from our customers. Every day we receive positive notes, reviews, and feedback. It motivates us to work harder and to help make our customers’ work go more smoothly.

The smooth collaboration essential to effective language translation wouldn’t be possible with a legacy licensing model because seat licensing imposes artificial limitations. That’s why we introduced and keep following our “no seats” approach. We want users to feel at ease about automation tech in general, and, in particular, project assignment and management.

The translation industry isn’t standing still — and neither are we

Though we’ve helped significantly improve the translation industry, we need to keep evolving because translation service providers, companies and freelance linguists are facing new challenges.

More content is being produced by companies in new formats and distributed via new channels. Think dynamic websites and user-generated content, to name a few. Plus, the uptake in Agile software development means many more product releases and far more frequent content translations. These variables add tremendous complexity to translation workstreams. Yet companies expect their translated content to appear almost immediately in different languages regardless of volume. Most translation service providers are unable to satisfy these expectations.

A standard Translation Management System (TMS) or CAT proves inefficient when many linguists are working simultaneously on a need-it-now project because of user-licensing restrictions and manual processes for everything from hiring to payments. Those few LSPs that own technology win customers from competitors because they can offer unlimited scalability and fully automated delivery from end to end.

Savvy LSPs embrace the latest third-party technologies while other LSPs continue falling even further behind. With Smartcat, every translation vendor can deliver a plug-and-play experience for every customer by automating the full cycle — from content source to payments — and by leveraging an unlimited tech stack and resource scalability for any language at any volume. There is no need to own technology or invest a fortune in it to meet changing customer needs and ride the wave of growing demand.

Continually pursuing our vision of a streamlined translation process for all

Matrix Partners shares our vision of streamlining the translation process for everyone. They are well-known for discovering not only new companies — for instance, HubSpot, Oculus, Canva, Zendesk, Quora (to name a few), but whole new industries.

Our Series A funding from Matrix Partners allows us to accelerate product development and help more agencies, companies, and translators.

In the next year we are focusing on the following:

  1. Better collaboration features

We will continue making our collaboration features better for all market participants. In just a couple of clicks, LSPs will be able to hire any other LSP for any job or build a team of freelance linguists and project managers worldwide. Our license-free approach makes such collaboration smooth and natural, the way it should be.

We are preparing to launch more features to enable an even more a seamless process, from hiring any professional or company you need, to paying for a job in any country with a single click.

Already, LSPs hire linguists and other LSPs in Smartcat, and automate payments—including payouts to freelancers and invoicing their customers. For example, you can invoice customers in India, China, or the US in local currencies even though you may be located in Latin America. You can also pay linguists and freelancers anywhere in the world from your Smartcat account. Stay tuned for other interesting features we plan to release in 2018 and 2019 to further improve collaboration and payments.

  1. Alleviating project management stress

The second area of focus is alleviating project managers (PMs) of stress. Based on my experience launching and running a sizeable translation company, I know all too well that translation project management is extremely stressful. Translation jobs are incredibly fast-paced, the time pressures are huge, and PMs are never sure they have relevant suppliers available to complete their projects on time.

Project managers are one of the most valuable assets in any translation company. Yet they are prone to fast burnout from job stress.

At Smartcat, our vision is to put project assignment and control on autopilot. Our users have reported a 60-65% gain in productivity, but that’s not enough. We want to bring it up to 10x. What’s more, we want to make these tasks less stressful so project managers, executives, and linguists can enjoy their jobs. We see project managers as pilots whose expertise is needed only in an emergency when the autopilot fails. Freed up from the headaches of managing project workflows, they can focus their expertise on ensuring each project satisfies client expectations.

All this means that Smartcat — with the help of you, our customers — has established its position as an industry leader. Each time you log into your Smartcat account, you are driving the changes that shape our industry’s future. Together we make translation magic happen.

You are making it all possible.

Thank you for staying with us — and full speed ahead!