In the language industry and beyond, people often think that disruption is for the young and reckless, while the more mature and conservative of us should stick to the “good old” ways of doing things. With this interview/case study, we want to debunk this myth by showcasing a company that has been around for almost 30 years and doesn’t shy away from using the latest translation technology.
We talk to Christian Faust, the founder of the Luxembourg-based Faust Translations agency, and find out how their motto, “Translations are a matter of trust,” fits with their ongoing strive to use technology as a competitive lever.
“There’s so much work, I couldn’t do it all on my own anymore”
Hey Christian, let’s begin with a few words about how you started in the language industry.
Sure! I started as a freelancer on my own for the first few years. Then, I moved to Belgium, where I founded my first company, hired some people, and a few years later we moved to Luxembourg. There, we grew to nine people, which is the same headcount we have in-house now. Together, we manage a pool of around 800 freelancers and 35 LSPs, to fulfill the requirements of all our customers.
This transition from freelancer to agency: how did it come about?
Mostly, it was due to a request on a client's side: “Can you do more language combinations?” So I looked for peers and colleagues, and we became a kind of LSP. At some point, there was so much work that I couldn’t do all of it — translating, writing up invoices, managing, marketing — on my own anymore. It was too much for one person (laughs).
How exactly did you look for other translators, and how do you do this now?
In the first few years, it was just the colleagues I knew. After a while, I asked them about colleagues they knew. Later on, we searched for freelancers using resources like the German Association for Translators, among others. Recently, we’ve also been using the Smartcat marketplace for this.
“We don’t know you. How can we trust you?”
So how do you make yourself stand apart in the industry?
Yeah, that’s a challenge. Five or six years ago, we reached the point where we were a translation agency just like any other. So I had to think of how to diversify and make a difference for clients. And our ultimate decision was to be different not just in the services we offer, but in how we offer them.
You see, when you go to LSP websites these days, you often see descriptions of products, services, but you rarely see people there. We, on the contrary, focus on the personalities we have in our company, on our personal style. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all product: We want to offer the client exactly what they need, nothing less, nothing more. And, being small, we can adapt — not just to the company we work for, but also to the person who works with us in that company. And that enables trust.
So what’s so important about trust?
I believe trust is the most important aspect. In our Internet age, you don’t have much personal contact with people. Anyone can have a perfect website, and anybody can say anything, and it’s important to reach out to people and show who you really are so that they can trust you personally, and your product too.
Today I had a call with a potential client, and that was exactly the point. He said: ‘We don’t know you. How can we trust you? And, especially because we’re active in the German, Austrian, and Swiss markets, trust is vital in these countries because they’re quite conservative: They do not change things so easily. When they want to change a vendor, they want to be sure that they’ll get what they need, that their expectations will be fulfilled. I think it’s important to show who you are so people can trust you.
So how do you build that trust?
Well, one thing is to build personal relationships, as I already said. Another is to have recommendations. Because when a customer from a certain industry asks for recommendations, and they see that you worked with their peers, that’s an important element of building trust. Finally, if you want others to trust you, you have to trust yourself. You have to trust that you can deliver the best quality and do what’s best for the client.
“For me, disruption started with a fax machine”
What about technology? Would you call yourself a tech-savvy LSP? Or are you more of an “old school” company?
Yep, actually, when I just started out as a freelance translator in 1986, we had some small kind of disruption in the form of a fax machine (laughs), which at that time was pretty new. I invested in this “hi-tech” device and was one of the first translators in Munich to have a fax machine. So, from the very beginning, I had some kind of technological advantage. Thanks to this, I had a very smooth entry into the industry. What I learned from this experience is that technology always makes a difference, and thus I have always been very interested in technology and technological developments.
Speaking of more recent technological developments, what made you choose Smartcat?
(Laughs) Yeah, we introduced Smartcat because we saw a great potential that wasn’t there before. We can work on projects in real-time with several team members. There are a lot of features that make the ecosystem very interesting. It has everything you need in one place.
How exactly is it different from what you used to have?
Previously, we had a customer database, a freelancer database, Excel sheets for our projects, a CAT tool, and another tool for terminology. This was all very fragmented, and we had to switch between different applications. Smartcat allowed us to work on a project with all the resources at hand, for all the people involved in the project at the same time, in real-time. And it really makes a difference. Lately we have also started using the payment automation solution, and, of course, the machine translation integration, again, offers more possibilities.
Pro tip: Use Smartcat’s payment automation solution to pay your vendors across the globe
Also, Smartcat is not just a CAT tool but a whole ecosystem. It helps us integrate everything we need with other tools like Protemos and LexiQA. It helps us be more efficient, and that is how I like it.
How much more efficient?
I’d say 60–65% more.
“We no longer send emails”
What’s the biggest thing about Smartcat for you?
It’s its collaborative nature. You want all the parties involved in a project to communicate as efficiently as possible. In the past, the problem was that we had to send lots of emails between all the PMs, clients, translators, the proofreader, and so on. You had to organize all these emails by projects. Since we started using Smartcat, it’s become quite different, because everybody communicates within the environment, and every question, every topic is exactly there when you need it. We no longer send emails and simply communicate within that environment.
With 800 freelancers, was it hard to convince them all to use Smartcat?
Yes and no. Not because of the environment itself, but because in the past other agencies required all of these freelancers to use other CAT tools. So their first reaction was: “Oh no, not another CAT tool!” But we talked to them and explained the difference, they gave it a try, and after one or two weeks, they were convinced.
What do you think of the widespread skepticism about technology?
Yes, I know a lot of peers, agencies, and even clients who are very skeptical about cloud technology, privacy, and machine translation. For me, these are, of course, challenges, but I see them as opportunities too. And I think we restructured our processes well to be in a very good position within the industry. For example, we now offer MAeX, a Smartcat-based post-editing solution that complies with the DIN 18.587 requirements. So we are well prepared for the future.
And what does the future hold?
In the future, the role of the translator is going to change. In the past, the translator had to “invent” sentences, whereas in the future, they will become more of an editor — although it will, of course, depend on the language combination because MT doesn’t work equally well with all of them. That’s the future, and I like it very much.
“We’ve implemented a 5-hour workday”
What do you like most about that future?
It’s that technology helps us gain the efficiency we need to make work and life different. After all, work is only one part of life. It’s important to me that all team members have enough time to live their personal lives.
In the 1920s, Henry Ford invented the 8-hour workday — and it became possible because of technology. Today we’re at that exact same point, where technology is helping us improve our personal lives. For one, we’ve implemented a 5-hour workday here at Faust.
And how did the experiment go?
(Laughs) After 8 or 9 months, I can confirm that it works. Of course, it requires some adjustments in the way you work. You have to work in a more concentrated way and use the efficiency that the tools offer — then you can start at 9 am and work until 3 pm.
“Translation is like surfing”
So how do you use the gained leisure time?
Sports, mostly. I’ve been doing the triathlon for 25 years now. For the last three years, I’ve also been doing a lot of surfing. Actually, the translation business is like surfing in some ways. You have to always be prepared, and when the wave comes, you have to be prepared to catch it, accept the challenge, and leave the competition behind.
Speaking of challenges, what are the biggest right now for LSPs?
The most important challenge we face is that you have to deliver everything faster, better, and at a lower price. That’s where technology helps a lot.
Another challenge is perhaps that we have to justify the prices we charge because many companies will offer what looks like the same service at half the price. You have to know exactly how to respond to the customer’s doubts.
Finally, a challenge for a company our size is visibility. How do we get seen on the Internet and the market? Because big companies have lots of money and can play all these channels, which for us is impossible.
“It’s about being partners and reaching a mutual goal”
Is that why you decided to partner with Smartcat?
Not only that. Last year we reviewed almost all the tools on the market and realized that most were trying to sell us something. With Smartcat we experienced a different way of doing business. From the beginning, we had a feeling of partnership, that Smartcat wanted to support us in what we’re doing and help us succeed. And that is how we want to do business with our clients — because it’s about being partners and reaching a mutual goal.
Before we wrap up, any predictions for the future?
As I said, the industry is changing so fast it’s almost impossible to predict anything. If we meet again in three or five years, I’m sure we’ll see a different market with new players. And perhaps some other big players that are around today will be missing (laughs).
Thank you, Christian — and let’s hope we’ll meet sooner than in three years!
Thank you, too.