As companies expand across the world, they prepare for the capital expense, hiring issues and a myriad of other issues that can impact your ability to scale. One thing that most people may not think about is the ability to literally translate your business into a dozen other languages so that there is a seamless entry into the market.
Companies like Andovar are here to handle those issues that all expanding companies have to overcome. Being able to translate your website content, sales materials, corporate documents and even something as simple as the spelling of the brand name in another language can be handled by Andovar’s proprietary technology and team and make the transition smooth, quick and efficient.
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We spoke to Andovar CEO, Conor Bracken about his company, the challenges they faced and where the industry is heading. He shared his thoughts on the trends and growth of the industry, as well as great insight into the future of machine-aided translation.
Find out more below.
Could you share a bit more about Andovar and how you started a translation company in Southeast Asia?
Andovar is a global provider of multilingual content solutions. Our services range from text translation and content creation, through audio and video recording, to turnkey localization of websites, software, eLearning, video and games. We are headquartered in Singapore and have offices in Thailand, Colombia, India, and the USA.
Andovar was founded in 2007 in Southeast Asia, with Western ownership and management. Placing production in low-cost countries has allowed us to offer more competitive pricing while keeping quality at the highest international level. Andovar focuses on emerging markets and technologies, such as websites, mobile, gaming, multimedia and cloud software. Emerging markets are the new frontier in localization and where others struggle with complex scripts and lack of standards, Andovar has the expertise to succeed.
While most localization companies set up close to their client base and later on try to outsource production, Andovar did the opposite. The Bangkok office is located in a standalone house with a garden in a quiet street not far from the main thoroughfare of Sukhumvit. It started with eight people and one audio recording studio. In 2010, we built a second studio to help us handle the growing demand for multilingual audio.
In May 2011, we established a sales office in Miami and in August of the same year, opened the second production office in Medellín, Colombia. The idea behind the Colombian office was to better serve our clients in the Americas, facilitate business development in the region, as well as help cover all global time zones.
In February 2014, we opened a new office in Kolkata, on the east coast of India. We chose the location to capitalize on lower costs of doing business coupled with it being very accessible from Bangkok. We also have a sales presence in China.
Machine learning translation seems to be an improving technology that is disrupting a traditionally manual industry. Was the technology sophisticated enough when you first started Andovar or did you adopt it later on in your company?
The idea that computers can translate human languages is as old as computers themselves. The first attempts to build such technology in the 1950s in the USA were accompanied by a lot of enthusiasm and significant funding. However, the first decade of research failed to produce a usable system. The next time the general public heard of machine translation (MT) was likely in the late 1990s when the internet portal AltaVista launched a free online translation service called Babelfish. Although the quality was often lacking, it became immensely popular and brought MT into the limelight again. Other internet giants presented similar services soon after, the most well-known of which is now Google Translate.
When Andovar was founded in 2007, MT was well-established but only usable for “gist” or casual translation, not for commercial purposes. However, in the past decade, commercial providers of MT technology have worked on improving their paid offerings and with customization such as Machine Translation engines are finding commercial use in limited areas.
With the discussion around automation or technology impacting jobs, do you see this as the natural evolution of the industry or will it make translators obsolete?
Challenges with understanding context, tone, language registers and informal expression remain the reason why MT is not expected to replace human translators in the foreseeable future. Instead, it can be used to increase productivity and speed of work of human translators, thus providing value to the buyers.
MT can only fully replace translators if the content is simple, straightforward and repetitive; and also when the quality expectations are low, for example in documents for internal use. More complex and especially creative content requires human input, and this will probably never change. This means that the type of work that machines are taking away from humans is actually the most mundane and repetitive, which humans don’t enjoy working on anyway, while still requiring their brilliance on the more creative and challenging content.
What were some of the challenges you faced when growing your company? Were your global clients open to working with a ‘local’ company in markets they may not have been very familiar with?
Andovar was built on strong foundations and benefitted from my experience as CEO of another Language Service Provider. We knew that we had all the right ingredients to make the company successful: a product in demand, attractive pricing thanks to our low-cost locations, and the know-how coming from the experienced management and senior staff.
This doesn’t mean that the company hasn’t had any challenges over the years. One of them, as you point out, was establishing credibility among foreign buyers as a supplier from Southeast Asia. We have managed to win them over thanks to our Western management and high-quality deliverables which can rival any Western competition at more attractive prices.
From your websites and background, I can see e-learning is a strong market for Andovar. Where do you see new markets opening up both geographically and industry-wise? What type of businesses needs a service like the one that Andovar provides?
It’s true that eLearning is one of the most important verticals for Andovar. Some people may be surprised to hear this, but localization of training courses is a very big business, which continues to grow every year. This is because more and more companies open foreign offices and sell to customers around the world. To maintain the same standards of service in all locations, they need to base the local training practices and materials on those from the HQ.
In the past, the expansion was mostly coming from Western companies that wanted to tap emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere. However, more recently the trend is reversing, and we now see an increasing number of Asian corporations growing internationally.
How do you see your industry evolving in the next couple of years?
The localization industry has been growing without interruptions for decades fuelled by decreasing costs of doing business internationally, cheap transportation, shipping and the internet. We expect that this trend will continue.
We also expect that the number of languages that products are localized into will increase. In the past, it was considered sufficient to localize into FIGS (French, Italian, German and Spanish) or CJK (Chinese, Japanese and Korean), but nowadays big multinationals are localizing into dozens of languages. If you want to stand out, you can’t just follow your competitors into the markets where they’re already present.
Finally, how localization is done will continue to evolve and more technology will be used in the process. Gone are the days when the translation was done by a single person sitting in front of a typewriter. Their work was enhanced by computers, then Computer-Aided Translation tools, and technologies like Translation Memory. Recently, more focus is put on Neural Machine Translation and automation of workflows to enable more content to be translated faster and cheaper than ever before.
What advice would you give an entrepreneur looking to start a business in Southeast Asia?
My advice would be:
- Entrepreneurship is not only about dreams. A vision is a good starting point, but your business must have solid foundations in order to succeed.
- Find a niche and write a real business plan, same as you would in any other country.
- Avoid copying others and try to stand out from the crowd. Your international experience and foreign perspective may give you a unique point of view.
- Identify your own weaknesses and find co-founders to fill in the gaps. Very often this means locals who speak the language and understand the business reality on the ground.
- Don’t’ put all your eggs in one basket. If your first idea fails, what’s the backup plan?