Andovar attended Echelon, a two-day tech and startup conference in Bangkok, Thailand. In case you are not sure exactly what a startup is, here is a definition I’ve found the most helpful:

A startup is a temporary organization searching for a repeatable and scalable business model.

To put it simply, someone has a business idea, but not enough funds or experience to set it up as a revenue-generating business and is looking for partners or funding to make it happen.

Startup Environment in Southeast Asia

The startup environment is very mature in the West, but in Thailand and Southeast Asia, it is more developed than some might think. This year saw over 700 people attend Echelon Thailand and it was the third time the event was held in the country. The series has been very successful in Singapore as well. Some interesting startup success stories from Southeast Asia include:

  • Singapore-based Viki, a platform for translating subtitles for popular TV series and documentaries from around the world, and was sold to Japanese eCommerce giant Rakuten in 2013;
  • Thailand’s Ookbee, which has achieved a solid position as the largest eBook store in the region;
  • Malaysian taxi-booking mobile app Grabtaxi, started in 2012, already available in six SEA countries and expanding to more;
  • One of the latest Thai entrants to the arena – TaamKru, a game-based educational app for children, which secured US$620K investment this July.

Thailand and the rest of SEA are quickly growing their own ecosystems for entrepreneurs and tech startups and attracting more and more attention from serious investors.

Should Startups Think About Localization?

The above quote came from Ronen Mense from mobile analytics provider Appsflyer during a panel discussion about monetization of mobile apps and was echoed by others in the more general context of how startups should approach growth. What most investors are looking for are startups that have not only good prospects, but also ones that are scalable, if not globally then at least regionally.

If you are about to create your own startup, then keeping possible international growth in mind from the beginning is a good idea. Whether or not it will succeed is another matter, but when it does, you should be prepared for international expansion. This doesn’t mean that you should have different language versions available from day one, but that it should be ready for localization. This process is known as internationalization.

What to do If You Have No Money?

When the time comes to localize, how should you do it? Of course, startups almost by definition don’t have much money and depending on the amount of text and number of languages, professional localization can be a costly exercise. If you have asked a provider like Andovar for a quote and it turns out to be more than you can currently afford, what other options do you have?

  • In-house – You may have employees who speak the languages you need or maybe you are opening an in-country office and leave translation to the local staff. While this may seem like a free way to get translation done by people who know your product and requirements best, consider the following. First of all, it’s only free in monetary terms, but it still takes away from the time when your employees should be doing their regular work. Secondly, how many of your staff are experienced translators? Probably not that many. Speaking a language and knowing how to translate are two different skills.
  • Freelancers – Nowadays, all it takes to find a translator for any language pair is five minutes and an internet connection. Sites like Proz or TranslatorsCafe are online marketplaces where anyone can post a job and wait for interested translators to bid for it. You can even find qualified people on Elance or oDesk. While this offers some assurance that the person doing the work is a professional, what quality control does it leave you if you don’t have anybody to check the results? Plus, they are freelancers, so you might end up working with a different person each time, which is bound to introduce issues with consistency and style.
  • Machine Translation – For those who really have no money, there is always Google Translate and we have all read in the media how the technology is getting better and better all the time, correct? Well, I’m not sure I even have to say this here, but leaving the fate of your content to a machine is the worst idea of them all. Yes, it is free and yes, it can sometimes provide translations that are amazingly accurate, but it’s what happens outside of the “sometimes” that you should worry about.

So am I going to say that you have no other choice, but to give all your translation work to Andovar? No.

It’s OK to do things on the cheap when you’re just getting started and can’t afford anything better. Out of the above three options, the first two will likely provide decent results. Andovar and other LSPs may also have less expensive options for clients who can’t afford full prices, but still want the advantages of working with an agency.

What To Do When You Have some Money?

However, once you get funding or start generating profit and are on your way out of startup-land, you really should consider employing a Language Service Provider (LSP), because:

  • You won’t be wasting the time of your own employees whom you’ve hired because of other skills.
  • You won’t have the headache of managing unreliable freelancers who live in different countries.
  • You will see higher overall quality of translation when working with a partner whose core business is translation and who has teams of professionals involved in each project.
  • Consistency will improve between your different touchpoints (user interface, website, marketing materials, press releases, etc.) thanks to termbases and translation memory technology.
  • You will have one person to deal with regardless of the amount of content, number of languages, and whether additional services like desktop publishing (DTP) or audio recording are involved. There will be one entity responsible for quality and timeliness instead of several people.

Do all successful international business work with LSPs? No. Some of the really big ones build their own translation departments within the company. They are basically mini translation agencies only with full-time employees and include translators, editors, project managers, testers, DTP specialists, and sometimes even fully-staffed audio studios. This makes sense for companies who have large an on-going translation needs into a limited set of languages and can keep all those professionals busy. It will also save them money when compared with paying for translation on a per-word basis.

If you’ve reached that stage, it means you have left your startup days far behind.