Davids vs Goliaths, or rocking the digital age as a small LSP

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The content economy is putting high pressure on small translation agencies. The reasons are many: content pieces are getting smaller, resulting in more overhead to start/finalize projects; customers request many more languages, increasing the number of people you need to work with; and everyone wants automation, so you don’t just need a PM but also an engineer — at least!

Sometimes it seems that the only players who could thrive in this landscape are the big agencies — those who can invest in new technology and save on economies of scale — or venture-backed “one-click-translation” platforms, which too are essentially agencies, but with a massive tech stack behind them.

Today we want to talk about a really small LSP that is successfully navigating through the rough digital waters — and, as they admit themselves, enjoy the process. Our guest is Vova Zakharov, co-founder of Gyglio ⚜️ Grows you global.

“We are just twelve translators”

Let’s start with a few words about your company. Or, maybe, where does this unusual name, Gyglio, come from? How do you pronounce it, by the way?

(Laughs) It’s ‘jee-lyo’, and it is actually an abbreviation of ‘grows you global’, with an emphasis on ‘grows’. The logic here is that we don’t want to just provide our customers with translations — we want to help grow their roots across the globe and have a strong foothold, whichever the market.
Hence the tagline, the lily mascot (⚜️ — Sc), the name — which also happens to translate as “lily” from Italian, — the tree background on our website, and the overall “vegetative” feeling about us (laughs).

Gyglio.com front page

So how big is your team?

Well, we are actually just twelve translators in twelve different language pairs. We were this way from the very beginning. The thing was, we had known each other for a while and knew that we were good translators, great translators even. So we thought we could just invest an equal amount of money into having minimum online presence and position ourselves as an agency, doing translations to those twelve languages and sharing work in other pairs among ourselves. How naïve we were (laughs)!

Why was that naïve?

Well, while we can cover around 80% of the load ourselves, there’s always this 20% that miraculously turns out to be the most critical to the customer (laughs). Even if you have the luxury to pick the most responsible, most understanding customers that usually give you a week’s notice for large projects, there’ll still be occasional urgent ones. So what do you say to them in this case? “Sorry, but go find someone quicker?”

Yeah, that might not work. So how do you handle such urgent projects?

Here comes the fun part, because we have Smartcat, right (laughs)? Well, jokes aside, Smartcat is a huge help here. In addition to our “core” twelve-strong team, we have a few dozen translators and editors we can trust when the work is too much.

Did you find those translators and editors on Smartcat?

Mostly, but not all of them. What I really enjoy is that even people who we brought to Smartcat are now active freelancers there — with shiny profiles, full portfolios, and plenty of positive customer reviews.

“An agency’s true value is in managing, not enslaving people”

Aren’t you afraid they will leave you?

Pff. You can’t leave someone who doesn’t own you. I’m always amazed at how some agencies consider their translators as property. Anyone I work with is free to work with any customer they want to work with. Moreover, I’ll gladly recommend them to anyone who thinks they can manage the process themselves. An agency’s true value is in managing, not enslaving people.

Fair enough. So why don’t all customers manage translators themselves?

Some do. But, in general, that’s too far from their direct line of business, and they will spend more on setting up effective processes — or cleaning up the mess after failing to do so. That’s why having a quick, professional, agile localization partner in the form of a small agency is what most companies need.

So how does a small agency of just twelve translators actually enable an agile process for their customers?

With Smartcat, pretty easily. It does require a bit of localization engineering knowledge, like talking to APIs and dancing with the tambourines, as we say in Russia, but, in general, it’s a one-off effort that quickly pays back.

“I’m a mobile app developer, and I have a new release every week”

Let’s be more specific. Say, I’m a mobile app developer, I have a new release every week, and I want it to come out overnight in twenty languages. What will you do?

Funny you should mention that — we have a customer just like you (laughs)! Okay, let’s draw some charts with my lucky pen here, and you guys will turn it into your fancy cubism artwork.

It’s suprematism.

Suprematism, pardon. So, here we go:

hope it’s pretty self-explanatory. The parts with Git integration are done via Serge.io, I’m pretty sure you have some help article explaining how to configure it [we do, here it is — Sc]. The notification and assignment part is kind of semi-automatic because you want to manually check that everything is fine before sending out invites to translators, but it takes, like, two minutes — especially with the new “Assign my team” button, kudos to you for that!

And how long would it take otherwise?

It just wouldn’t happen at all (laughs)! I mean, the other way is to have the customer download their strings themselves, send them over to you by email, wait for your confirmation, then receive them from you in a couple of days, and upload them back. Do you think they would bother? And you, you’d need to do all the receiving/sending-out cha-cha-cha to earn like, what, five dollars?

Isn’t it still just five dollars with an automated setup?

It is, but it’s five dollars earned in two minutes, or 150 bucks an hour. Not bad if you ask me. If you have, say, ten such clients, it’s fifty bucks weekly for just 20 minutes spent. Easy-peasy!

“What if there are more than just a few strings?”

And what if there are more than just a few strings, and the deadline is still overnight?

Not easy-peasy then (laughs)! Well, in that case, we make this little change here:

What does “rocket-assign” mean?

Ha-ha, you better ask your product manager (laughs). Well, it means that we send out invitations to a dozen freelancers, and the first one to accept it gets to the job. Ideally, you would use “bike-assign” instead — yet another brilliant term from your product team — which means that you get to see who of them accepted the invitation and pick one or several of them. But, in the urgent scenario you describe, that’s not a luxury we can afford.

So there are different ways you can manage a project?

Exactly, and that’s one of the great things about Smartcat, by the way. You can use it in many, many ways. A typical project? Assign your in-house team. A fairly urgent one? Assign freelancers. A we-need-it-yesterday one? Invite more freelancers and use the “rocket mode”. A huge project? Split the work between them — which is also easily done via the same assignment UI.

We can write this down, too:

“Freelancing as a PM is totally worth your while”

So, do you manage all your projects alone? Or do you hire project managers?

At the current workload, that is, a six-digit figure of words per month, I can pretty much handle all projects myself. But if I, say, go on a vacation, I can invite other people too. But that’s more of an exception. A kind of issue here is that there are not that many project managers who actually know how to use Smartcat to the max. And that’s a big miss for them! So my call to all translation PMs who might read this: Learn the ropes, list yourself on Smartcat’s marketplace, and freelance as a PM — it’s totally worth your while!

“We would not be able to get by with manual payments.”

Speaking of money, how do you manage your whole business from the perspective of rates, payments, and so on?

Yeah, that’s perhaps the most important value in using Smartcat. Even if we could survive with dinosaurish desktop CAT tools, sending over files via email, and so on — we would not be able to get by with manual payments. I mean that! Just give it a rough count: you have twelve translators, each with their own rate and in their own country. You have a dozen more translators you invite on a case-by-case basis. You have your own percentage as a PM. Let’s count the issues that come with that using our fingers:

Question one: How do you calculate it all? In Excel? Adios productivity, hola stress.

Question two: How do you actually pay? Some countries accept PayPal payments, others don’t, yet others require some mind-boggling paperwork between you and the freelancer to make it happen.

Question three: Where do you keep the money? One thing that must be said is that running a translation agency is an ultra-low-margin business. You might do a project worth $10,000, and your part of that will be just $1000. So not only do you need to receive the ten grand, but you also need to look after them — all the while bearing the risk of losing them for whatever reason. Few, if any, agencies, factor in that risk when forecasting their profits. And I know more than one that have gone bankrupt — and lost their goodwill in the process — because they couldn’t pay their freelancers.

With Smartcat, this is a non-issue. Your freelancers receive the money the moment you receive the money. Actually, you can just receive your fair share and never hold or see the other 90% that is owed to other people.

Question four: How do you handle all the paperwork? I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of dealing with tax authorities. I’d rather do my business and have someone else handle the legal headaches. Which is exactly what Smartcat does.

Four fingers out, so let’s consider it as a thumbs-up for Smartcat. I’m sure you can turn it into a pretty infographic (laughs).

We can!

With and without Smartcat: “Here’s the math”

So, can we wrap it up with some summary on your life “before and after Smartcat”

Actually, I did my homework (laughs)! I have some before-and-after numbers here, which I hope your readers will find useful. Of course, there are many factors affecting an agency’s performance, but I’m only including those where the effect of using Smartcat is obvious.

Here’s the math:

You gave a lot of work for our designers today.

I know. Send my greetings to Ilya and his team (laughs).

“Startups benefit more from working with a small vendor”

So, before we wrap it up, what three tips would you give other small agencies out there?

Stay small (laughs)! Okay, let’s see. Three, right?

  1. Grow wisely. Don’t bite more than you can chew. Reputation is everything in our business, don’t spoil it by screwing up a critical project.

  2. Use tech but stay human. The former is a no-brainer: you either go tech-savvy or go extinct. But with tech taking over most of the menial work, it’s your human relationships — with your customers, partners, translators — that are becoming the biggest differentiators.

  3. And, finally: You can do it. It might seem that this digital age is only for the Goliaths, but it’s not. Actually, I’m pretty sure that smaller customers — all these startups with great ideas and venture backings (wink-wink) — could benefit more from working with a small, agile vendor than a behemoth with three hundred offices around the world who wouldn’t really care. So yeah, you can do it — and enjoy the process. I know I do.

Let’s rock this digital age! ?

Let us. Thanks, Vova, and good luck growing Gyglio global!

Ha-ha, thanks, good luck bringing the purple power to the world, too!