Is bigger better?

Is bigger better when choosing a localization partner?

Whether you’re an ambitious technology firm making your first move into a new international market, or a global giant reviewing your strategy, buyers of translation and localization services often turn to the largest providers first.

This is common in many sectors, not just localization. What’s more, it’s sometimes understandable — the biggest providers are going to be the best, right?

Well, maybe. Perhaps if you’re buying paperclips or envelopes. Or generic services. Or washroom supplies.

But if you’re buying complex services, where flexibility, trust, and good old fashioned customer service matters? Not so much.

We find that our clients, regardless of their size or profile, value flexibility and service over a 2% cost-saving every time. They often come to us from the largest language service providers (LSPs), complaining of being forced into rigid processes that don’t suit them and only being able to speak to faceless ‘account handlers’ who have no real appreciation of the nuances of their localization strategy.

Iota also work with several early and mid-stage technology companies. In many cases these firms will have received VC funding and be committed to expanding internationally in the short to medium term. Working successfully with companies at this stage requires a unique combination of unwavering reliability, localization expertise, and the flexibility to respond quickly to the demands of a rapidly-scaling organization.

Very few of these requirements will be successfully met by a monolithic LSP who assigns their client ‘bronze status’ when they spend less than $1 million a year on localization.

I came across a snippet on a large LSP’s website a while ago that I thought highlighted this approach in a single sentence. Look at the screenshot below and see if you can spot it:

Can you see it yet? Let’s zoom in:

That’s right — he recommends solutions based primarily on what it suits his company to provide. Not necessarily the best solution to the problem.

Surely that’s the wrong way around. As a client, wouldn’t you be looking for a localization partner to provide a solution that solves your problem, not one that simply suits the provider?

Maybe it’s just us. Maybe we’re the odd ones, crafting bespoke solutions to meet the unique challenges our clients face. Developing bespoke tools for individual clients that reduce costs and time-to-market. Hand-picking linguist resources that best match the objectives of the project.

I could go on.

But I’ll leave you with this. Whether you’re just starting out on the road to localization, or managing an established globalization program, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  1. Does my localization provider consider me to be an important client?
  2. Do I adapt to their needs, or do they adapt to mine?
  3. Could there be a better way of doing this?

Answer them honestly, paying particular attention to the last question. If you’re in any doubt, get in touch and we’ll be pleased to explore the options with you.


Iota would probably be defined as a ‘small’ localization provider in terms of employee numbers, global offices, and the usual metrics used to define these things. Despite this, we boast a place in Common Sense Advisory’s Top 100 LSP rankings and have worked for over a decade with some of the largest, most high profile, and respected technology companies in the world. If you want to speak to any of them to see if they regret not working with a ‘large’ LSP, let us know and we’ll put you in touch.

Transcreation and the great translation upsell conspiracy…

If you’re in marketing, you’ve probably heard of transcreation. It’s been around for a long time under different names and descriptions, but it’s been hyped to the max in the last couple of years.

I thought it was about time we dug into what it is, when you might need it, and more importantly perhaps – when you don’t need it.

Transcreation sits within the same territory as translation but is often positioned as a superior option for marketing material and similar texts. But first we must quickly define the two terms:

Translation is the process of translating words or text from one language into another. Good translations intended for wide publication and corporate use will rarely be translated word for word, as an experienced linguist will make subtle adaptations along the way to ensure tone and meaning are retained, whilst always remaining faithful to the original.

Transcreation can be broadly defined as the recreation and translation of written material from one language into another whilst maintaining the style and intent of the original. In the case of true transcreation, this often means the original source text is used only as a brief or guideline to enable a native-speaker of the target language to re-write the piece entirely in the second language. The linguist carrying out this work will be both a creative copywriter, and a translator. The completed transcreation will share the same intent and achieve the same objectives as the original but is likely to bear little similarity in its structure and style.

Due to the very specific skills required of a transcreation specialist, and their relative rarity, transcreation will always be significantly more expensive than translation. Transcreation will (and should) cost you a lot more than even the very best marketing translation.

And here lies the problem. The hype surrounding transcreation has convinced marketers that they all require transcreation, rather than translation. On the back of this, many less ethical translation companies have jumped on the hype train to sell what they refer to as transcreation to unsuspecting marketing buyers at an inflated price. Sadly, what they often provide is distinctly average marketing translation at best.

What’s sometimes even more disturbing is that most marketers really don’t need their content to be transcreated – at least not ‘true’ transcreation. Most marketing content can be translated very effectively for maximum acceptance in the target country by simply using an experienced and proven marketing translator who is used to translating this type of content.
The bottom line is that you probably don’t need transcreation.

Having said that, true transcreation is needed, valid and justified in certain situations. For example, if your content contains themes and concepts that either do not have an equivalent in the target language or are not recognised in the culture of the target market, there will be a valid case for transcreation. A good example would be a creative advertising campaign, or a creative literary project.

Your product brochure and web content will rarely need to be transcreated to meet its objectives in your target market. What it will need is to be translated well, by a skilled linguist with a lot of quality marketing translation experience under his or her belt. Nothing more, nothing less.

This is the problem with some unscrupulous translation companies – they’ll try and sell you what they have branded as transcreation, and they’ll tell you that you need it. In the worst cases you’ll probably just get an OK marketing translation back that’s slightly better than their standard low-quality translation. In the very best case you’ll get a piece of transcreated copy back that you commissioned and paid for without really needing it. Oh, and you’ll have waited an extra week for it too.

I’d go as far as to say that in 90% of cases you need nothing more than good marketing translation. And that’s what we provide. As standard.

We provide true transcreation too, where it’s needed – but we’ll always be open and honest when we think you may be asking for something that you may not need and make clear that an equally effective option may cost you significantly less.

The moral of this story is that believing hype can be costly and add no additional value to your global marketing output. In the right hands, and with the right content, transcreation can be the difference between your campaign succeeding or failing. But think about whether you actually need it, and who you trust to help you make this decision, before you commission and pay for it.

Localization ROI

Localization Metrics and ROI

I came across a fantastic podcast earlier this week that I would urge you to spend 15 minutes listening to. As part of the Globally Speaking series, this episode features co-hosts Renato Beninatto and Michael Stevens talking to Joel Sahleen, Globalization Architect at Domo about localization ROI.

Click here to listen…

The podcast focuses on how to measure ROI by sharing some practical and proven measurement techniques used by Joel and the wider Domo team.

I picked out a couple of key takeaways that stood out to me and you may find useful:


  • Valuable insights about language demand are often available to you already – you simply need to know where to look. If you have the ‘accept language’ header set up on your website, it’s relatively easy to use a range of analysis tools to identify the language that your visitors’ browsers are requesting – even if you don’t currently support it. If you also go on to track which language your site actually serves them, you’re left with a handy comparison of the primary languages in demand, versus those that are actually provided. Joel and the Domo team neatly refer to this as the ‘linguistic fit’.


  • If you have implemented languages in your product UI already and have a default language selector in your user settings, you have all you need to track the revenue coming in from users of a certain language, versus the cost of providing and maintaining that language.


It’s interesting (if not that surprising) to note that Joel is clear that Domo’s ROI is quite high across all languages – even where user numbers are relatively low. He goes on to state more specifically that ROI exceeds 100% for even the weakest languages. This just goes to show the ‘value in use’ of well-executed localization.

For scaling software companies reaching the stage where localization is being considered, it’s this type of first-party insight that’s critically important. Another snippet that may reassure founders who are about to invest in localization includes the observation that Domo finds the ongoing cost to maintain a previously localized language is generally low.

It seems that Domo have built their localization program on solid foundations – recognizing that the demand for additional languages was likely to come suddenly, and making the conscious decision to get ahead of that demand and prepare early.

Other highlights include Domo’s ‘wall of shame’ where outstanding localization issues from across product teams are posted publicly, and a word of warning about the implications of choosing the wrong localization partner.

All-in-all, it’s a great listen and packs a lot of actionable insight into a mere 15 minutes of time…

Should I be considering localization right now?

Should I be considering localization right now?

Of all the localization conversations we have with early and mid-stage companies, one of the most common topics we discuss is timing. There are very few software companies that won’t need to consider translation and localization at some point in their growth lifecycle.

The biggest challenge is often to decide when the right time is to get started – too soon and you may not get an acceptable return on your investment, and if you do it too late you may miss out on vital deals and find competitors have pulled ahead in your target market. Timing is critical.

There are also dependencies to consider. Translation and localization are fairly well-defined activities, but they don’t sit in isolation. For example, the outcome of adding new languages to your website will depend on your ability to respond to inbound enquiries from the new group you’re targeting and localizing your product UI may be less effective if your documentation and support material remains exclusively in English.

These are all success-based dependencies. There are other factors that can affect your ability to even begin the localization process. Internationalization is the biggie – if you’re planning to add languages to your software but your codebase is full of hard-coded strings, it’s not going to be a quick and easy process. It’s not at all unusual for a company to approach us about localization only to find that there’s a lot of up-front internationalization work needed before we can even begin to look at the linguistic elements.

It’s not all doom and gloom though – all these potential problems can be solved, and it’s much better to do it before you’re on the brink of a big deal that relies on localization to close.

If you’re aware that your website or software isn’t localization-ready, now is the time to start addressing it, even if you won’t need to add any language support for a good time yet.

Many teams have the skills available to do this in-house, but few have the capacity to do the work effectively without impacting on their core development priorities. The ideal approach is to build your product from the ground up with later localization in mind, and then it never becomes another major project to resource. If you’re further along the line, adding progressive internationalization tasks over a longer period will enable busy teams to make progress without too much impact on core development.

However, if you need to move more quickly, if there’s a localization-dependent deal on the table or a funding round depends on it, you’re going to have to look for outside help.

Whilst we focus on translation and localization itself, we work with internationalization experts who have access to the resources and experience you may need to get you over the line.

At Iota we approach projects holistically, and we’re always happy to share our experience, contacts and recommendations if it will help you realize your international goals – even if there’s no direct benefit to us through doing so.

The bottom line of all of this is that it’s never too early to be thinking of future international plans. It doesn’t mean you need to implement them in full in the short term, but it’s wise to be ahead of the game.

Welcome Carlos Teixeira

Welcome Carlos Teixeira

Over the Summer we were pleased to welcome Carlos Teixeira to Iota, where he has joined our rapidly expanding localization engineering team.

Carlos is an expert in translation technologies and processes with an enduring passion for languages. He’ll be working alongside the existing team to deliver the very best localization services to our portfolio of software and technology clients.

Carlos has a strong background in the language industry, having previously worked as a specialist translator and localization tester across a number of technical fields. He holds bachelor’s degrees in Electrical Engineering and Linguistics as well as a PhD in Translation and Intercultural Studies from Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Spain) and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium).

Before joining Iota Carlos spent time as a post-doctoral researcher in the field of translation technologies at Dublin City University and the ADAPT research centre, focusing on the ergonomics of translation environments for professional translators. He is currently a visiting academic at the Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation, Trinity College Dublin.

Highlighting his academic interests and credentials, Carlos has recently had a panel proposal accepted for the 9th Congress of the European Society for Translation Studies, due to be hosted in South Africa from 9 to 13 September 2019. Carlos and his fellow panel conveners will address the use of translation technologies in creative-text translation.

When is a correct translation the wrong translation?

When is a correct translation the wrong translation?

Speak to any SaaS executive setting up a localization program and you’re almost certain to find yourself talking about terminology at some point.

Every sector and technology sub-sector has a diverse lexicon of terms, slang phrases, and acronyms that feature in every conversation, UI string and marketing document that circulates within it. Add to this the unique phraseology and style used within individual organizations and you have a perfect storm of potential misunderstanding and debate when it comes to localization.

At Iota we manage terminology on behalf of our clients in several different ways, as highlighted by my colleague Glyn in his post here.

An area that wasn’t covered in depth in this earlier piece is the importance of working closely with your internal teams and language reviewers in the early stages of any localization project.

Where a word or phrase can be translated ‘correctly’ in multiple ways, it pays off in the long term to agree in advance which specific translation will be used in each case. These pre-agreed translations can then be stored in our translation systems so that they are used correctly and consistently by all linguists working on your projects in the future.

If you’re just starting out on your localization journey you may not have local offices or QA teams who natively speak the language you are translating into. We often find that in these cases our client is working with in-country channel partners who will be happy to review any material that is localized for use in their market. These external reviewers can add significant value. We often work directly with our clients’ international channel partners to identify the most appropriate translations for specific words and phrases in advance of their localization program going fully live.

This approach provides multiple benefits, particularly if your channel partners will be involved in reviewing and approving your final localized materials. Where they’ve been involved in agreeing the preferred way of translating contentious words and phrases up-front, projects are far less likely to be stalled at review stage. This reduces the time required for QA processes significantly and ensures that your partners are fully ‘bought in’ to your localization strategy and approach. And while channel partners have an important role to play in the process, it is still controlled by you centrally, ensuring that you can maintain a consistent centralized message and eliminate any potential IP claims further down the line.

If you’d like to talk about how this approach might benefit your localization program, get in touch and we’ll be happy to walk through it with you.

4 things to consider when starting a new localisation program…

4 things to consider when starting a new localisation program…

For many people, the first time they think about localisation is when their boss asks them to take responsibility for the program, often in the absence of any other volunteer.

Usually, it’s a reaction to a market opportunity in-country — where a large sale is contingent on the availability of content in the local language.

Whatever the reason, you have a short period of time to get the product into Japanese or German or Spanish. Before you translate a single word we’d advise that you take a step back and establish some parameters, if only for yourself, to avoid disasters that could have been avoided with a little forethought.

Here are some areas we suggest you give a little thought to:

  1. Establish the stakeholders. Identify the people within your own company who will be affected by whatever actions you take as the program manager. Local sales and marketing contacts, corporate product management, product development and writing teams, as well as your friendly finance department will all have a part to play in either feeding you with material for localisation, helping your company to sell the product once it’s finished, or simply providing you with adequate resources to get the job done. One-to-one conversations need to take place to ascertain expectations and participation. You will need to call on the support of these stakeholders at various stages during the project and it’s always best to have acknowledged the importance of their role before you start.
  2. Set reasonable expectations. People within your organisation will probably want localised material produced more quickly and cheaply than is possible. Be sure to set reasonable expectations based on how prepared your product is for localisation, the volume of content to be localised and the various costs that will be involved in bringing this product to a localised market. A good localisation partner will help with this at no cost to you, which leads to point 3.
  3. Choose an appropriate localisation partner. Find the partner that best fits your needs. That may sound like an obvious statement to make but it takes on so much more significance when you are on your first time round on this stuff. You’ll need company that is sized commensurate with your needs. Too small and you’ll overwhelm them, too big and you risk being viewed as a minor contributor to their vast revenues, and being treated as such. Even when you find the right company, you need to find the right person, one who’ll walk in your shoes for a while or, preferably, one who has done so already.
  4. Agree an outline of understanding with your stakeholders. Back to the stakeholders again….they’ll make or break this venture. Establish and individual quid pro quo understanding with each one so you can both measure and hold each other to account. Fix a reasonable budget with your financial colleague that fairly reflects the costs involved (including internal resource costs) . Establish a line of commitment from the development and writing leads, that gives you the support you need as problems surface during localisation (and they will surface!). Finally, agree a realistic schedule with your in-country staff — one that they can confidently commit to with their customers.

Of course, there will be many other things to think about throughout the project — it’s a long road but one that’s best navigated with good planning and decent people to support you.

We’re here if you need any advice. No obligation, no cost.

How not to waste your money on localization…

How not to waste your money on localization…

We might spend our days helping technology companies succeed in new markets, but it’s important to recognize that international expansion isn’t the holy grail for everyone. At least, it might not be the best move for your business right now.

Too many executives, investors and founders get caught up in the global mindset without considering if they’re prepared to invest sufficiently to make it work. That’s not just in terms of budget, but also culture, process, and people. Not being ready or prepared to invest in these areas is a sure-fire way to end up disappointed, having spent money that might have been better spent elsewhere.

We see it all the time in localization. Company A wants to target XYZ country because they’ve hit a growth plateau at home and they see their peers scaling rapidly elsewhere. Or they see the SaaS stars they look up to evangelizing about the global growth phenomenon and how international scale is the only way to reach the $100m ARR tier.

Whatever it is, it may be true. It may be valid. It may be desirable. But it may not be right for you. Right now at least.

Because if your entire globalization plan consists of lining up a bunch of translation vendors and then placing their quotes in ascending order, or adding ‘EMEA’ or ‘Global’ to a few existing job titles — it might not work out so well. If you’re trying to ‘go international’ with a couple of thousand dollars, a hunch, and a vague promise of a big deal in your target country then the best thing to do is wait.

Wait until you have the funding to do it right. Wait until you have buy-in across finance, product, marketing and sales. Wait until you have a localization partner in place because they’re the right fit for you rather than the cheapest on the block.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t take a minimum viable localization approach, do some more research into your target market(s), or do some test marketing with properly localized landing pages and outbound campaigns. What I’m saying is that you might achieve more in the long term by waiting until you’re in a position financially, culturally and operationally to do it properly.

I know this flies in the face of much of the MVP and ‘fail fast’ advice that’s out there. But look at some of the SaaS superstars — Salesforce is a great example. From day one they built their product with international in mind, and their culture was always centred around a global mindset. This was all happening long before the first localized version of their CRM product was released. Sustainable growth, phased market launches, and a commitment to ‘doing it well or not at all’ have been key to Salesforce’s global success.

If you want to talk about your plans and get some honest feedback, we’re always happy to talk.

Fintech Localization — The Next Challenge

Fintech Localization — The Next Challenge

All eyes have been on fintech in recent years. The financial sector has been ripe for disruption for a long time — all it needed was a dynamic group of innovators to come along and shake it to the core.

But like any fast-growing technology sector, fintech faces some particular challenges when it comes to localization.

The first problem is that for many, the need for localization has snuck up without much warning.

Given the highly-regulated nature of financial services and the individual approach required by different jurisdictions, many young firms started out with a very clear focus only on their own domestic market. As fintech solutions have become better understood by regulators and confidence has grown, regulatory barriers have reduced — to the point where certain financial centres are making it as easy as possible for fintech firms to operate in new countries and jurisdictions. International revenues are now within reach for more fintech and insurtech providers than ever before.

This, coupled with early success and an increase in VC funding, is great news for the sector but has left some fintech companies impatient to move into new markets but without a clear view of the localization support they need.

And localization support is sorely needed. Which is the next key challenge.

Fintech is a fairly generic term, which takes in widely-accepted aspects of cryptocurrency, payments, lending, and money transfer. However, depending on who you speak to it also includes elements of insurtech, regtech, and much more.

Every one of these will require a subtly different localization approach — whether the focus is on the translation and localization of a consumer-facing web portal, or an analytics-driven payments or forex platform.

Traditional localization companies struggle with this level of diversity, and will often assume that linguists familiar with traditional financial terminology ‘will do’, and that software engineers used to handling standard web assets can handle the complexity of all platforms.

If fintech innovators and global technologists were happy to accept this level of compromise, they probably wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing today.

So let’s get real.

Successful fintech localization depends on flexibility, collaboration, and a willingness on the part of your localization partner to change the way they work in order to deliver the best results for you and your customers.

Whilst much terminology is shared between traditional financial applications and new fintech solutions, it’s not a direct match. Changes in the way financial products are sold, communicated, and presented in the current market mean that linguists who have spent 20 years translating mortgage terms might not be best equipped to deal with the style and nuance of the text in a money transfer app. And that’s before you consider the unique terminology associated with your brand, docs and marketing messages.

Given that many localization firms simply equate ‘fintech’ with ‘finance’ and plug the latter term into their database to carry out an automated search for linguists, that’s what you’re likely to end up with.

Far better to work with a localization company who will take the time to understand your business, your customers, your solutions, and your top-level objectives, before hand-selecting the most appropriate linguists and engineers to complete the project.

Even after taking this approach; ongoing dialogue, review, and discussion will be needed to get the best result. These conversations need to take place with people who understand the technology and what you’re trying to achieve. Not a revolving-door account manager whose primary role is as a gatekeeper.

Want to pick up the phone and call the project manager or senior manager of your localization company? You should be able to do that.

It will come as no surprise that in my view, Iota is best-placed to provide the flexibility and individual approach necessary for successful fintech localisation. With over a decade of experience working with market-leading businesses in the finance, cloud, analytics, and CRM space, you’ll be in good company.

Been there, done that. The SaaS leaders who really ‘get’ international…

Been there, done that. The SaaS leaders who really ‘get’ international…

For those founders and executives taking a strategic approach to international growth, it can be tough to find neutral opinions and data to research how others achieved their international goals.

While many professional services firms and localization companies publish information limited to their own service offerings, it’s understandable that people like to balance this with truly neutral first-person shared experiences. If it’s not available from within your own personal network, it can be hard to find.

Which is why I thought it might be useful to bring some sources together here as a spring-board for those who wonder if they’re ahead of the international curve, or lagging behind the competition. After all, despite there being evidence to show that companies with more global exposure grow materially faster than those with less international presence, currently only 43% of S&P 500 revenue comes from outside the United States.

The link above will take you to the first resource I wanted to share — a presentation delivered at SaaStr Annual 2018 by Aatif Awan, VP Growth & International Products at LinkedIn. It’s a great slide deck outlining the journey LinkedIn have taken to grow their business to 540+ million members across 200 countries and global territories. More importantly perhaps, it provides some quite specific and practical guidelines on how a product can be developed and positioned to thrive in a truly global market.


Scott Sage, of London-based Crane Ventures, has also taken a deep dive into some of the most globally successful cloud software companies to find out what lessons can be learned from their first steps into international markets. His research uncovers some incredibly valuable data and insights, rounded off with a case study looking at Salesforce’s journey to become arguably the world’s most successful SaaS company to date.

Crane Ventures

From a B2C perspective, Shawn Xu conducted an in-depth interview earlier in the year with Pinterest’s International Lead, Scott Coleman. Covering a broad range of topics ranging from content and growth metrics, to the biggest challenges to international growth, the transcript provides a lot of information for anyone charged with developing the international plan for their SaaS business. Shawn describes Pinterest as “a fantastic case study for why a technology company should, and indeed needs to, build a global platform to cater to markets outside of its home territory” — an accurate summary in my view.

Moving more specifically towards the language and localization elements of international development, there are a number of useful first-person resources available online.

Language industry specialist Slator interviewed Teresa MarshallSalesforce’s VP of Globalization & Localization to learn more about the language strategy that has underpinned their phenomenal international growth over the past decade. In total, Salesforce manage millions of translated words each year across more than 34 languages.

Many more in-depth interviews on the topics of localization and translation can be found at Globally Speaking Radio, including a podcast with the aforementioned Teresa Marshall of Salesforcean episode featuring Tableau Software’s Daniel Sullivan, and an interesting discussion about avoiding cultural mistakes with Michele Coady, Microsoft’s Director for Global Readiness.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of first-person opinion and data out there from SaaS experts driving international growth day-to-day, but it’s not so easy to ask questions if you don’t have suitable contacts in your immediate network.

The team at Iota have a wide range of relationships with people at all levels in the SaaS ecosystem. If you need any help or advice, feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to put you in touch with someone who can help.