Back in 2011, the TextMaster team had an idea — to turn the offline stagnant and traditional industry of translation services into an…

Back in 2011, the TextMaster team had an idea — to turn the offline stagnant and traditional industry of translation services into an online SaaS marketplace. For the past 5 years, they have grown 150% annually and reached a client base of 10K (with big names like Universal Music, Uniqlo, and Google). They’ve also managed to attract some of the most qualified translators in the world and turn their platform from a simple marketplace into an intelligent translation aid tool.

While TextMaster is a European leader today, the 5-year journey hasn’t always been a smooth one. The CEO, Thibault Lougnon, tells us everything about this incredible adventure, describing the ups and downs and giving relevant advice for entrepreneurs.

Why did you create TextMaster?

When we started in 2011, marketplaces were taking off and we knew there was a business opportunity in the translation industry. We realized it didn’t make sense for most companies to hire in-house translators, especially when they need content in multiple languages and at varying frequencies. There were a lot of talented freelancers out there but they were hard to find. On top of that, the constant back and forth by email between the freelancer and the company was a pretty big hassle for both sides. This was the way this industry worked for a very long time, that’s why we decided to step in!

How did the technology behind TextMaster evolve?

At first, we began by building a marketplace that brought translators together with clients. We built a complete platform with lots of cool features: instant quote, messaging system… Yet we had a fairly hands-off approach.

As we grew and received more and more feedback from clients and freelancers we developed a better understanding of their processes and pain points. We found out that we had to dive deeper into their world and develop features to help clients find the right people for their specific projects and improve the whole translation process.

While we were strongly focused on the client experience, we realized that improving the lives of translators was the logical next step. That’s the main reason why we developed our own translation memory technology that analyzes content from the client in real time and suggests appropriate translations to the translator while he/she’s working. Our technology really helped speed up the process and deliver an utterly consistent quality.

Of course we didn’t forget our clients :) We integrated our platform to a wide range of partners and clients through plugins and by developing our own API.

This is a critical advantage in our business as it allows our clients, especially the bigger ones, to send and receive their content seamlessly without any human intervention.

What were some growing pains that you experienced in these last 5 years?

With the hands-off approach we had in the beginning, we didn’t get really involved in the projects of our clients. We weren’t guiding their expectations and educating them about the work of translators, so a lot of clients were ordering very specialized and complex translations while choosing the most basic service level on our platform. It didn’t work so well!

We got feedback from freelancers about that issue and had to really look at our model to see what we could improve. We realized we needed to fine tune our freelancer recruitment process and segment them on our platform. It also meant we needed to steer the clients in the right direction to make sure they would order the right service level for their project. All this work enabled us to attract a lot of highly qualified experts in legal, medical, financial and many other specialized domains, because they were getting paid well, with the added convenience of our platform.

I think this is what really earned us a great reputation with our freelancers and as a result, we’re now working with some of the most talented translators in the world!

How do you go about uberizing an industry that’s fairly traditional?

I have to admit that translation is not the sexiest topic to talk about :) Even though our platform is very cool, at first we didn’t know how to spread the message that we were doing things differently than traditional actors.

However, the stereotype that translation agencies are very old-school was also a great opportunity to stand-out so we decided to play with this cliché and created parody videos about a fake competitor Translate2000, the translation agency still stuck in the 90s :D We wanted to give both clients and freelancers a good laugh while showing them that we’re different!

Not many startups choose to build an international team from the start like you did. How did you manage?

We help our clients with their international expansion, so it only made sense that we were a global team ourselves. It wasn’t easy to manage at first but we have a great process in place now. We decided to restrict our offices mainly to Europe and the US and we use a lot of collaboration tools, especially among our developers. When you internationalise your team, one of the key difficulty is to find foreign talents in the countries you open an office in (a Country Manager for Germany working from Paris for instance).

To wrap things up, what advice would you give to other startups that want to go abroad very early on?

I think the most important thing is to accumulate enough experience as well as a deep knowledge of customers and competitors in their domestic market.

Once you got your foot in the door, you can start looking around, maybe abroad, and do things smartly. Don’t assume anything and do your research. This advice is especially true for European companies, US is not necessarily the first place you want to go to — take a look at your existing customers and possible demand, you could end up opening a completely different (and closer) market than the US.

It’s also crucial to be realistic about your goals and the resources you have to reach them. Foreign markets take a significant amount of investment, especially to understand your customer acquisition and distribution channels. You also need to factor in the time it takes to test what works and what doesn’t, since your strategy for international markets won’t be an exact copy of your domestic strategy.

TextMaster is a professional online translation service that has raised a total of $7M. Created in 2011, they have more than 10,000 clients in 110 countries and they have translated 120M words into over 50 languages in the last 5 years.