In our increasingly global economy, savvy entrepreneurs look beyond their country’s borders for opportunity. But expanding to other parts of the world requires more than just translating your app or website to another language; it requires localizing.
In a recent Skype chat, StartupNation talked to Jacob Stempniewicz, vice president of marketing at Andovar, a translation and localization agency headquartered in Singapore, about how startups can successfully navigate these new waters. The following conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
StartupNation: Why should startups consider localization?
Jacob Stempniewicz: In most cases, for a startup to be successful, it needs to be successful internationally. Nowadays a startup is online. It’s a mobile app. It’s a website. It’s something in the cloud, so it’s not (always) tied to a location.
When you are a mobile app or a website or some sort of online service, then you don’t really have to worry about where your office physically is, you can reach your customers anywhere in the world. Of course, to reach them internationally, you have to localize. You have to at least translate so they understand what your product or your service is about. Ideally, also localize so that it’s customized for that market, for that audience.
Localizing goes deeper than just translating, though, right?
The very basic first step, is of course to translate the copy in a new language, but it’s just the fundamentals. You will be more successful and the audience will respond better if they don’t see the content as just translated. If they see that this is something that was created, for example, in English and then somebody just translated it, they will see it as a foreign company.
The word localization actually has more than just one definition. I look at it as a continuum. The more you do, the more localized you will be. The ideal position is that you will not be any different from a local company so that a prospect or customer will not realize that you are actually a company from Japan or from the U.S. or from Mexico. They will just think of you as a company from where they are.
What are some other considerations?
You have to start with just understanding your audience. Many people think that a lot of effort can go into understanding the local audience, then they can just take that and copy/paste it into another market and just translate it.
Of course, that other market is a different audience, a different market. They respond to different things. Maybe they would like to be communicated to in a different way. Some markets are more interested in visuals. Some markets are more interested in factual information. Different cultures have different preferences when it comes to the look, the colors, the images.
What are some other mistakes to avoid in localizing your startup?
Most early-stage startups have very little money and the priorities are to get to a prototype or a minimally viable product as quickly as possible. Localization is not a priority. In the beginning, it’s perfectly fine to, for example, use in-house employees. Maybe you have somebody who speaks the new language. They can translate your website, translate some brochures, simple things like that.
Once you have the budgets or you get investor funding, then those ways of localizing should really be left behind. You should be a bit more professional. If you’re using your in-house staff to localize and translate, then you’re taking them away from what you hired them to do. Secondly, speaking a second language is not the same as being able to translate into that language.
Another very common problem is if you go to a website, quite often there will be a language menu where you can select what language you would like to see that website in. The problem is that many companies will have that menu in the language that the website is currently in. Expats in Thailand will go to a Thai website and there will be an English version of the website but to even find that menu, you would have to be able to read Thai to find the word “change the language” or “choose the language.”
Flags are also not the best idea because a language is not the same as the country. There is no one-to-one equivalent. Maybe for English, somebody will use the Union Jack, but an American will feel offended because why do they have to click on the Union Jack or a Canadian or Australian or South African flag?
(Instead, write out) the names of the languages in that language. If it’s Spanish, don’t write Spanish. You should write Español, because a Spanish speaker will recognize the word.
Anything else that you want to add?
Sometimes startups want to use machine translation like Google Translate to save money. The problem with that is, the quality is not the same as a professional human translator. If you want to check the quality, then you have to hire a human and you might just as well hire a human translator from the start.
There are cases where machine translation makes sense and some very big, professional companies use machine translation all the time but they are not just going to Google Translate and copy the results. What they do is they take a machine translation engine and they customize it for their content. There is a way to train the engine to work well for your type of content. It takes time. It takes money. It takes expertise from people who know how to do these things.