Lost in translation? Smartling would like a word with you

The five-year-old New York company has raised close to $65 million to translate Web sites and mobile apps more quickly and cost-effectively.


Is your company's Web presence or mobile app welcoming to international visitors? If it doesn't accommodate their native language of your target audience, the answer is definitely "No."

Regardless of whether your team dreams in English, German or Mandarin, the need for professional translation of Internet-facing content is at a premium. "If you have a mobile app, you want it to be in 20 languages, period," said Jack Welde, CEO of the New York-based translation services company Smartling. 

Estimates from IBISWorld size the U.S. market for translation services at approximately $5 billion this year, with global projections for $37 billion by 2019. That figure includes conversion of written documents, sites and apps, along with interpretive services (such as sign language experts who help during "live" presentations). It doesn't really concern itself with the sorts of tasks tackled by technologies such as Google Translate or the comparable Microsoft software.

Networks of translators and agencies have been the traditional channel for these tasks, but software companies like Smartling that combine machine translation services with human interpreters are seeking to disrupt that model.

"You still need people to do this, the way the world needs high-quality professional writers," Welde said. 

Targeted primarily at pretty much any company with an e-commerce, mobile or consumer Web presence, Smartling's team figures most companies should be translating from English into 13 other languages. One thing that makes its approach unique is its software as a service (SaaS) platform for managing translation projects in context. That means teams managing translation projects don't have to spend as much time converting documents into some new format just to send out to a translator, something many existing services require.

"We integrate into their existing infrastructure, content management systems. We can integrate directly into their source code repositories," Welde said. There are currently connectors for Adobe CQ, Drupal and SiteCore.

This is one thing that enables Smartling clients — including the likes of Kodak, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Pinterest, GoPro and OpenTable — to handle translations in a matter of weeks, rather than the six to 18 months that might be required to recode an application manually, he said.

Smartling does this through a content delivery network that is akin to the one used by Akamai to speed things up, only its servers swap in relevant translations as well as images that might be more culturally relevant or acceptable for the region where a Web visitor originates. "On the fly, we can rip out the English and replace it with translations that were done by professionals," Welde said.

GoPro uses this network when it needs to localize press materials for a major product launch with just a few weeks notice, he said.

Five-year-old Smartling is backed with $63.1 million from 12 investors including First Round Capital, Harmony Partners, ICONIQ Capital, IDG Ventures, Tenaya Capital, U.S. Venture Partners, and Venrock. Competitors that offer some aspect of what Smartling does include Crowdin, Gengo, PhraseApp, Transifex and Transfluent.

Smartling's services are priced starting at $79 per month but can range up to several million per year depending on the number of languages (and words) translated, Welde said. (That translates into from less than 10 cents per word, to just under $1 per word.) 

Image courtesy of iStock

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