A patient who needs to communicate with her doctor in another language. An accused person that needs to speak in foreign country court. A deal going on between two negotiators of different native languages. What all these cases have in common? The need for an interpreter.
Today, we’ll know the story of Boostlingo, an unified interpretation platform that is connecting interpreters from all over the world to people and organizations that need them in many different situations.
For people and companies, Boostlingo provides a way to easily schedule interpretation services. For interpreters, it provides a system through which they can deliver their services as well as manage their interpretation businesses.
A QUESTION, AN ANSWER AND A SURPRISE
How did you and your partners come up with this idea? And how have you decided starting this venture together?
I’ve worked in the language industry for nearly 20 years now. My background was in the translation software localization, document translation industry. I worked for some very big companies and some very small companies in that space and for companies in between that. […]
In that time , I was living in Sydney, Australia and, when I came out to San Francisco, one of the co-founders that I’ve worked with—my partner—posted a question:
“What’s the next killer application in the language industry?” I had to think about it for a second.
“Well, to be honest, in the translation space, the world doesn’t really need another translation management system, a translation engine or any of that translation memory. There are tons of great companies doing really great stuff out there. The space where I see a lot of opportunity, where there’s practically no technology innovation going on is the professional interpretation space.” […] I said what I thought the product would be. And he said:
“Well, if I built the product, could you sell it?” And, of course, my response was:
“Hell yeah, I can do that!”
I had no doubt that he could pull it off. When he puts his mind to anything it’s until he gets it done. But, I figured it would take a little time. What I didn’t know, that was skunk works going on in the background. He pulled a few developers off of a project or something else he was working on, and started to build a little prototype. I got a phone call six months later:
“Well, okay. I got a prototype. I think we’re maybe like, two to three months out from an MVP. You need to come out to San Francisco!”
What was the first version of Boostlingo like?
When we started the product, we initially looked at the video remote interpreting and telephonic interpreting space, where there really wasn’t very much going on at all. And anything that was going on was lorded over by very large companies that were not sharing the technology with anyone and also—in our estimation—using a lot of antiquated process and technologies.
Recently we’ve seen the growth of the real-time communication space. A lot of the technology that has helped build Boostlingo simply didn’t exist six years ago. So, the timing was extremely good to build this product. It was really focused on connecting interpreters through the web, to video and telephonic sessions via any device and also considering the lowest common denominator—the entire spectrum of how you would communicate to folks that need language interpretation.
A lot of the technology that has helped build Boostlingo simply didn’t exist six years ago. So, the timing was extremely good to build this product.
A lot of hospitals still use analogue landlines, the platform had to be able to support connecting interpreters to people using telephones in hospitals. At the same time, if the bandwidth is there, it needed to support 1080p, and now 4K video via video streams. […]
HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING
How did you get the first customers?
Boostlingo is very bullish on sales and marketing. And I would say this to anybody that is thinking about doing a startup: invest in your sales and marketing efforts, as much as you can, and in your development efforts, initially. We have very, very enthusiastic—some might say “aggressive”, I would say “inspired”—sales development reps. There is no replacement, no exception, to have a really good lead generation and sales efforts going on.
You absolutely need to hit the ground running. Without sales, without revenue, you really don’t have a story to tell and, of course, when you want to raise additional rounds later, if you’re not selling your product, it’s very challenging—if you’re only conceptual.
You really need to have something that can sell itself and part of that solution is to hire people with the fire in their belly to sell technology. Gotta have it… and all of us have that. I think if there’s anything that I can attest is that the core team at Boostlingo is all about the brand. We are constantly selling the brand, selling the vision, selling the product, and everybody’s on board with that. […]
We are constantly selling the brand, selling the vision, selling the product, and everybody’s on board with that.
THE COMMITTED ONES, PLEASE
But from one side, it might be a little bit risky if you’re not that confident with your solution, right? Because we know that hiring a sales team might raise your cash burn rate…
Yeah, it’s a good question. I think there’s a certain amount of hubris and bravado that we had launching the product. Honestly, the first version of it just worked out of the gate. So, we realized that it was going to be cycles before it was as it is today. But we knew we’re kind of onto something. I’m deeply passionate about the problem that this product solves and when we interviewed our first SDRs—Sales Development Reps—we probably interviewed like twenty or thirty individuals.
The most charged, fired up individual that came across our paths was the ones that eventually got the job. The one that followed up, the one that showed up on time in the interview, the one that said: “I want this job, I want to make this startup work!” […]
Everybody knows, in the start-up space, like nine out of ten things tend to fail or don’t work out—and you always have them back in mind. But there’s a certain energy and resonance that folks feel when you see sort of some of the indicators in the market.
Before we went to build a product, I spent some time in a lot of conferences, pulling around, asking people if such a product existed—would they buy it? I was pretty sure of the answer already, but at the point that we were ready to build it, there was a certain level of confidence that if it worked the way it was designed to work, there would definitely be a market for it. […]
SUPPORTING, NOT REPLACING
And what about the marketing strategies that you have used to generate traction?
Well, we took a very deliberate channel friendly market approach. We don’t sell direct. We work with language service agencies—of which there are literally thousands out there. Typically, they’re located in all pockets of the planet, supporting language service needs. A lot of them are engaged in translation services, but do interpretation service on the side.
It’s always been a challenge for them. But we decided that, for the most part, we would bring the product to these language service agencies and help them support their end user base—very much of a B2B play. We give the software for interpreters—it’s free.
Eighty to ninety percent of them are freelancers and they exist all over the planet. They like being freelancers because the work is very much a freelance economy. Certainly, a small portion work for the UN or work in call centers and that works for them. But, most of them, it’s a lifestyle choice. It also allows them to work for a number of different agencies and organizations, and video remote and telephonic remote interpreting now gives them the freedom to effectively do their job from anywhere they want on the planet. […]
One [audience] is the language service space, and the other is the interpreter space. We obviously want interpreters to use our product and be able to generate revenue. We took a sort of a two-pronged marketing approach.
We wanted to embrace the entrepreneur community—and we’ve done this through social media, marketing directly to the interpreter communities, going to conferences, where interpreters are, getting them excited about using technology. There’s a very famous quote out there that says: “interpreters won’t be replaced by technology, they’ll be replaced by interpreters who use technology.” […]
SHOW ME THE MONEY
And what about your monetization strategy for Boostlingo?
It’s very simple: we have a subscription plan in place. Depending on the type of volume that organizations may use our product, they’ll pay a monthly subscription—and that’s always based on what are the features or functions that they may require and what’s the kind of volume they think they will drive. It’s month to month.
We have to earn folks’ business, nobody is locked into. Nothing irritates me more than cell phone plans. Nothing irritates me more than those plans that lock you into two years and you pay off a phone in 24 months and all that. We were deliberately decided not to be that company. So, we have to earn everybody’s business month a month.
You pay a monthly subscription fee and then it’s utilization. If you’ll use per minute, if you’ll use your own interpreters, you’ll pay a nominal amount anywhere between five cents and twelve cents a minute—depending on what plan you’re on. And we have what we call the professional interpreter network. If you’ll use that network, then it’s kind of backed in pricing for interpreters […].
Of course, we really try not to set the rates for interpreters because again, we’re just hosting this marketplace of interpreters. We’re hoping that the market will rise to a level that makes it a meaningful wage for interpreters and makes it a real profession while also helping language service agencies be competitive out there in the marketplace, and then provide a kind of services that they couldn’t before for agencies and their end users. […]
MY TWO CENTS…
What piece of advice would you give to startup entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journeys?
First of all, if you’re not passionate about it—as trite and as cliché as it sounds—if you don’t have the fire for your idea, it will fizzle, it will fizzle out. But that’s not sufficient. You need to find three other crazy people—at least—to share that vision with you and get that done.
It is not easy, it is really not easy to find. We have done extremely well to hire. Bootstrapping is real. The suffering is real, by the way. When you bootstrap, you’ll only hire the next person when you absolutely can’t possibly bear the pain not to have that person in that position tomorrow—and then it’s going to take two months to find that person.
When you bootstrap, you’ll only hire the next person when you absolutely can’t possibly bear the pain not to have that person in that position tomorrow—and then it’s going to take two months to find that person.
And the culture is important, too. If you’re going to do a startup as much as opposite the tracks are and all of that, find people that are in your tribe, find people that you can genuinely work with, that you don’t want to murder at the end of the day. But people you can work with. That at the end of day, everybody believes in the vision and holds that vision. Because if you don’t, it’ll just dissipate.
The people that are on board, they don’t last. Be prepared to sleep under your desk some nights, because that’s what it’s going to take. This startup world is no joke. It’s full on. It’s not for the meek. […]
Don’t build something for yourself. Make sure that you go out there and validate, make sure you validate. If you don’t validate and you build something that nobody wants, well that’s your own fault […].
Don’t be shy about asking for the money. If you believe in it and you can prove it—and you can actually demonstrate it even better—those folks will come on board as well. The world always needs a better mousetrap.
FROM IDEA TO TRACTION
- TIME: ~ 1 year.
- Number of PIVOTS: None.
- Initial TEAM background/composition: 4 initial co-founders (the tech visionary + the resident language Industry veteran / business dev / marketing guy + the product management and engineering guy + CEO/Chief Revenue Officer guy) + 1 FT Sales manager + 1 SDR + 1 Head of Development and Chief Architect + Contract software developers – and that was it for at least the first 6-7 months.
- METHODOLOGIES/FRAMEWORKS used: Bootstrapping start up, lean lean lean, Agile development approach ( we deliver new features/functionality on a pace of every 6-8 weeks with mini releases and enhancements in between)
- Relevant SERVICES/TOOLS: we use all of those Trello, Asana, AWS, Jira, etc. Anything that can assist and streamline our own processes internally we are a big fan of. We leverage Twilio and other cloud communications technologies, we use a lot of different tools in order to get our jobs done – – Marketing leverages a number of SEO/SEM tools and Marketing automation tools, Sales uses Salesforce and other tools in the Salesforce ecosystem.
- Relevant PRACTICES: We meet frequently to address the development roadmap and the needs of our end users – we listen to our channel partners and to the market in general very very carefully and participate in industry events whenever possible. We don’t find ourselves building anything that hasn’t been specifically requested or validated by our channel partners and end users.
- FUNDING to Traction: Personal, friends and family and domestic and foreign angel investment.
MORE ABOUT BOOSTLINGO
From day one Boostlingo (Website; Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn; Instagram) was built to help Language Service Companies scale their interpretation business quickly and efficiently. Boostlingo is personally and professionally invested in our language service partnerships. We are here to help you grow, to help you succeed!
Boostlingo allows for easy management and coordination of all interpretation tasks including on-site interpreter appointment scheduling and the management of on-demand and scheduled over-the-phone (OPI) and video remote interpreting (VRI) sessions. You can now manage your entire end-to-end interpreting business in one place. With Boostlingo you can offer your clients the best technology solution on the market today at the lowest possible price. Boostlingo also does not sell directly to your customers. We work with our partners, we don’t compete with them.
Boostlingo is an Interpretation Delivery Platform (IDP) an Interpretation Management System (IMS) and an Interpretation Scheduling System (ISS) all rolled into one Unified Platform!