Simple: On mobile app localization, the I’s in team, and the fire of Prometheus

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If you’re thinking of taking your mobile app to new markets, read how the creators of Simple: Intermittent Fasting App localized it to six languages and why they think a well-built team is a key to success.

Smartcat: Tell us about your business and your app — how does it help people?

Pavel Trismakov, Head of Localization, AM APPS: Our main product is called Simple Fasting App. It introduces its users to the stepping stones of intermittent fasting. We involve recognized nutrition experts, dietologists, and biochemists in our work on the app. For instance, every article on conscious nutrition is first approved by Shi Xing Mi, a renowned Shaolin monk, speaker, and writer.

Which languages does the app support?

Pavel: Russian, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and English, of course. We will expand this list in the future.

Do you prefer to employ your own translators, hire them on a freelance platform or outsource these tasks to an agency?

Pavel: Back when I just joined, we decided to go with translation agencies. Unfortunately, the quality of the localization wasn’t exactly great. One of the main selling features of our product is content delivery to our users in a form akin to Instagram stories. If the content isn’t engaging, the users will feel as if they’re reading a boring medical article. We want our users to fully immerse in the process of intermittent fasting, and that’s why we put so much effort into personalizing and adapting our languages.

We’ve realized that translating agencies simply cannot meet our expectations. That’s why we built our own team of translators, editors, testers, designers, artists, animators, and continue to develop an individual approach to work with every single one of them.

Alex Ashikhin, localization manager: We have our own metaphor to illustrate this approach — the fire of Prometheus. The fire, in our case, is the total sum of product knowledge necessary to successfully complete the task, and Prometheus is the localization manager that passes this fire down to the team. The more people there are in this chain, the more insight is lost along the way.

The localization manager is a Prometheus that passes the fire of product knowledge down to the localization team.

How did you learn about Smartcat, and why did you pick it among all the competition?

Alex: I began using Smartcat back in 2015. I was a freelancer then and primarily used Smartcat and SDL Trados Studio in my work. Trados was a mighty powerhouse of a platform for me, suitable for any situation, while Smartcat was a lightweight cloud platform you could use to quickly begin work from anywhere and any device. I also like the nifty minimalist user interface — it’s important to have that in tools you use every day.

Pavel: In our localization work, we adhere to the same principles we have in our Simple app — everything should be simple and efficient. Smartcat fits the bill nicely in this case. We’ve automated our work with assignments and payouts, we no longer spend time on bureaucracy and formalities, and we focus all our energy on what matters most — localization quality and an individual approach to each member of our team.

We’ve automated our work with assignments and payouts, we no longer spend time on bureaucracy and formalities, and we focus all our energy on what matters most — localization quality and an individual approach to each member of our team.

At what stage of the product development have you decided it’s time to conquer other markets? Which languages you chose first and why?

Pavel: Once we tested Simple on American audiences (Simple was originally built and sold in Russia — Smartcat), we understood that the numbers are good, and decided that it’s time to begin our work on localization. It happened about a year after we’ve launched the app.

Our first language picks were those the majority of European, Northern, and Southern American people speak. Today we have plans to introduce Asian languages as well: Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. We’re waiting for the right moment to start.

We’re monitoring the adaption of our content to the cultural differences of other countries very carefully. Most of the time, we would perform a complete transcreation (or rewriting) of an article and even prepare “holiday” texts for certain localizations.

Can you provide some examples of such “adaptation”?

Sure. The examples below concern the cultural differences between Russian and English-speaking countries, but we make similar adaptations for all of our available localizations.

Four examples of culturalization in Simple: Intermittent Fasting App

#1: Fictional characters

In one of our articles about heartburn, we’ve decided to make a reference to old Russian folklore with an illustration of a dragon well-recognized in Slavic countries: Zmey Gorynich, instead of the good old regular European dragon. This example outlines the sheer importance of cultural differences and the need for localization.

Left: The “usual dragon” for general audiences. Right: The three-headed Zmey Gorynych for the Russian audience

#2: Real-life heroes

For the Russian audiences, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin — the first man to visit outer space and return back safely — is a universally recognized symbol for space exploration. The illustration of his signature smile in front of a rocket is something familiar to just about everyone in the post-soviet countries.

For American audiences, though, we used an illustration of the Apollo program instead, with Neil Armstrong walking the surface of the Moon together with Buzz Aldrin.

Left: “A small step for a man”. Right: “Poyekhali!”

#3: Geography and Landmarks

Left: Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Right: Bronze Horseman in St. Petersburg, Russia

#4: Location-specific content

Sometimes, we post specific content that is only intended for one geography. For example, here is one for the Russian Maslenitsa holiday, associated with the end of winter.

Once you have a new project, which difficulties does the localization manager face first? How does Smartcat help in this?

Pavel: The main difficulty is building the team. It’s the first thing you can fall over, and pretty hard at that. It’s extremely important to find the right approach to each contributor and communicate exactly what you want and what is expected from this collaboration. There is no secret recipe to doing this. You have to put yourself in the translator’s shoes and provide working conditions that you yourself would enjoy working in. A slightly mutated categorical imperative, if you wish.

You have to put yourself in the translator’s shoes and provide working conditions that you yourself would enjoy working in.

The second difficulty is the communication between departments within the company. The product team, development team, the marketing team, the support team — you’ve got to have an aligned understanding with all of them. It’s important to make clear what the localization department does, and that we’re not simply translating texts.

Here’s my favorite definition of what we do — localization is the act of transferring the user experience. Even so, localization is something people begin to think about at the very last moment, while it should’ve been the other way around — at the conception of a new feature. It’s sort of a butterfly effect: you come up with something cool, but then the user experience will simply fail to reach the users — for instance, due to something that might be otherwise nearly impossible to translate.

Smartcat is perfect for teamwork. You can assign any number of contributors to a project, and they can communicate right in the text segments — ask each other questions, provide feedback, and this would be visible to any translator working on the project. We’ve also made Slack channels where executors can talk to each other and clear out any issues or questions. This makes for a healthy workflow.

Smartcat is perfect for teamwork.

What change have you noticed since your business switched to Smartcat? How did the KPIs change after our solution has been introduced?

Pavel: We’ve got broader control over the localization process and lower margins of error. Another benefit is in spending: by working with freelancers directly, we lowered our spendings by about 20% compared to outsourced agencies.

As for quality assurance, we have an end-to-end control workflow. In the beginning, of course, everything was by far not as effective as it is today. We’ve done task management in Trello, shoved the task cards between executors and then they would do their work in their own CAT systems. This would lead to occasional confusion and a certain degree of chaos. Now, we’ve got much more transparency in the workflows.

I cannot provide any numbers due to my NDA, but after we localized our app, our free-to-paid conversion rate has seen considerable growth, while the churn rate has reduced. The retention rate improved, along with the subscription count. From our experience, localization has given our business a real boost.

After we localized our app, our free-to-paid conversion rate has seen considerable growth, while the churn rate has reduced.

What advice would you give to businesses that are having a hard time with localization?

Pavel: My main advice is to always think about the team that you will work with. For the best experience, you must provide comfortable working conditions to your translators, editors, and other contributors. Guide your efforts towards making them happy and motivated. If you see a team member who’s working with a 110% efficiency and gives you more than you expect from them — don’t be shy to provide them with a bonus, or raise their rate. This is a fantastic long-term strategy because a satisfied translator will provide you with superb results.

A satisfied translator will provide you with superb results.

Alex: And you should start to think about localization as soon as possible. By the time it’s time to localize the product, every other company faces the same kind of problems — file forms, lines of code that must be added to the resources, concatenation of strings, interfaced built with just one language in mind, and lack flexibility, lack of localization testing tools, and so on.

All of this headache can be avoided if you consult a specialist or a localization studio beforehand. They should be able to tell you about the localization process and the things to look out for. It’s best to do it right from the beginning. It’s both cheaper and more efficient. Buy nice or buy twice.

Are you ready to start your own localization journey? Do it with Smartcat!