State of the Nation Address…

State of the Nation Address…

BIG day at Iota earlier this week…

News came through of a big jump in our position in the annual CSA Global Top 100 Language Service Providers list for 2017 — up 16 places!

It got me thinking…

These last 12 months have been massive at Iota:

  • Up to #79 in the Global Top 100 (out of more than 18,000 LSP firms worldwide!);
  • Held steady at #22 in Northern Europe;
  • Fifth successive year of double digit revenue growth (against an industry average of just 6.97%);
  • Successful brand re-fresh and online/social media investment;
  • New presence established in the UK;
  • Some wonderful marquee clients on-boarded;
  • Some (equally) wonderful people brought in;
  • New offices acquired in Dublin’s CBD; and (most importantly)….
  • Satisfied clients!

This is the culmination of some significant investment decisions, continued hard work and an unerring belief in what we can achieve when we stick to our values — our core principles of no-nonsense, consistent, unwavering, customer service.

Ultimately, we are what our clients believe us to be.

All businesses are. The minute you lose that sense of self-awareness and start to believe that your self-view is more relevant or important than the opinions of your client, you are heading for trouble.

Big thanks, as always, to all our clients for their continued support (and the challenges they provide on a daily basis!) and to our highly talented localisation engineers, technologists, analysts, linguists and project managers — whether at Iota Dublin HQ or at the coalface in-country.

A Call-Out to the VC Community: How geared up (really) is your portfolio for International Market Development?

A Call-Out to the VC Community: How geared up (really) is your portfolio for International Market Development?

I caught up with a recently on-boarded client last week to see what kind of traction their product was getting in Europe — Germany specifically.

BTW, these folks are great to work with. They’ve built a REALLY good product; they’re enthusiastic and driven … AND they’ve raised a bucketload of cash from VC’s … BUT, like many ambitious companies, they’ve experienced some frustrations in delivering on global expansion commitments as quickly as they (and their investors) would like.

We got involved a few months back when they were at the peak of their frustration, via an introduction from a mutual contact.

As you might expect, we jumped on this as soon as the initial call came. Our in-country teams spent many hours with them, reviewing, listening and understanding the CX aspects of their interface and (importantly at this stage) helping to culturally adapt their marketing collateral to prime the channels for distribution and build visibility, while maintaining the tone and voice of the brand that they have spent blood, sweat and tears developing.

Yes — this is what we actually doWe don’t just translate content. We work closely with clients, firstly to understand their product set and what their core message is, and then we help deliver it — as they want it delivered.

You see, international markets all have individual nuances which need to be catered to. Users (remember them? The guys who pay you money to use your stuff!) generally like to be able to relate to your message and your product — not just be able to read it.

Some content marketing agencies “get it” (sometimes). A good Localization Partner should ALWAYS “get it”.

Using a literal translation will not cut it — content is often complex and demands that experienced professionals take a view beyond pure, simplistic translation.

The “cultural adaptation” element of localization is so important. I cannot stress this enough.

At Iota, if we took a literal approach to the content we work on for our clients…well, suffice to say, we would not have the business we do today.

And the punchline?…

Sometimes I look at the VC’s behind these scale-ups and I wonder…

I “get” the strategic visions and roadmaps they espouse (I worked in finance for many years) — but, when all is said and done, it can all be quite formulaic.

The projections and the financing models for international expansion are very often based on broad assumptions around adoption and conversion of new users overseas. However, the means of getting to the adoption rates assumed is often overlooked.

I’ve rarely seen realistic localization costs projected in any business model — much less seen it described as an investment rather than just another cost line.


Perhaps VC’s are missing a trick in their modelling, risk analysis and due diligence here?

Do they really have their heads around the cost (and drivers) of success in international markets?

And here’s a novel one — Should VC’s engage directly with localization professionals to critically assess the roll-out plans of their portfolio companies for potential gaps in the localization thinking?

5 things you should consider when choosing a new translation tool

5 things you should consider when choosing a new translation tool

Choosing a new translation tool can have a far reaching affect on your organisation and the people who work for it. A bad decision can result in a wasted investment, unhappy localisation partners and translators, a degradation in the quality of your localised content and an inability to move on from your choice in the future.

It’s really worth the effort to consider (at least) these five points before making your final decision. In no particular order…..

  1. Think of ALL the vested parties in this decision. You may have multiple content contributors within your own company. See this from their angle. Consider the contribution from your localisation vendor and make sure that their particular role is catered for in the new technology. Perhaps most importantly, consider the translators who will use the software; in particular make sure that their productivity isn’t reduced to the point where their participation might be in question.
  2. Make absolutely sure that the tool can produce a Translation Memory that is independent of the system you are buying. You should insist on portability of your translations if this doesn’t work out. Also find out if the translations that you commission through the software are yours or if they will be available in the cloud for other companies to buy. This may not pose an issue for you, but you should be aware of exactly who might benefit from your translated content.
  3. Don’t allow a translation tool be a lead into using a particular translation vendor. The decision about what tool you use and the decision about who you choose to use that tool should be independent. If they end up being the same company, fine, as long as one decision doesn’t automatically influence the other.
  4. Try to employ a system that you can rent rather than buy. Large initial investments for set up and calibration means you are immediately vested in a longer term commitment to a tool. Your boss WILL want to see value for money and probably won’t entertain a change of mind if the system doesn’t work out.
  5. Decide what metrics or analytics are important to you and make sure your system will deliver them to you. Some customers like to be aware of exactly who many words are being translated and exactly what progress is being made across each of the required languages. This data should be readily available and highly visual to you if required.

Seek out advice. Search for at least one content provider, one localisation vendor and one translator who have worked on the tool and who have not been provided as a reference by the tool provider. The internet is full of the feedback you need to make the right decision. Or talk to us. We’ll help you get on the right track, free of charge and without obligation.

How VC’s view your International Expansion Plans…

How VC’s view your International Expansion Plans…

..and where localization is key (maybe!)

We’ve all been involved at some point with exciting tech companies — from the start-ups trying to gain traction, to the scale-ups negotiating their paths through the next phase. We’ve been captivated by the buzz, the drive and the belief these guys radiate in evangelizing their new visions for the future, developing entirely new playing fields or just new and better ways of navigating existing ones.

Behind the scenes, however, there is pretty much always a bunch of a more restrained heads (usually representing the interests of early stage investors and VC’s) focused assiduously on burn rates, activation, user stickiness, customer churn and all the other things those guys measure along the road to success (or otherwise).

I read an interesting piece recently on the VC’s view of the world and how rising tech stars need to manage their investors, with the usual kind of tagline (you know the one): “10 things you need to know about … blah, blah, whatever”.

A few things rang true to me, based on our experiences in working with rapid growth tech companies over many years.

Aside from the usual, banal advice about focusing on lucrative, scalable markets, maximising ROI, building traction and product differentiation, I saw a key point (IMO) way down the list, at like #9 or something, about “Connecting Personally”. This was an observation around trying to ensure you select a VC partner with whom you can develop chemistry, trust, shared visions and expectations. In other words — a Relationship.

At our entire philosophy is built around Trust and Relationships — we’ve blogged about this previously. We are proud to have successfully built a blue-chip customer base from a consistent adherence to our core principles of working closely with companies that place value on their relationship with us — where we are viewed as more than just language vendors.

This approach, which (being totally honest) takes massive time and effort to develop and nurture, has sustained our customer relationships over many years, allowing us to work closely together through the challenges of international market development.

So, what’s the point of all this?

I guess it’s this: if scale-ups really are to conquer international markets (and let’s face it, many will have VC’s holding big hairy-ass goals for international growth over their heads) then surely they should get the best-fit localization partner selected and the relationship journey started prior to rolling out the strategy?

Who knows — maybe bouncing the ball with experienced localization professionals early in the process will make the deployment smoother and prevent costly rectifications further down the line….

Is low-touch localization the answer for over-stretched software teams?

Is low-touch localization the answer for over-stretched software teams?

Low-Touch Localization (LTL) may not be as sexy as the concept of continuous localization, but it shares some similarities — mainly in terms of the technologies and processes involved. The two aren’t mutually exclusive and it’s quite common to combine LTL with continuous localization in one form or another.

What is low-touch localization?

In a nutshell, LTL is a fully outsourced localization approach where you (the client) aims to minimize your involvement in the day-to-day process as far as possible beyond essential sign-off and approval stages. Your localization partner carries out all localization tasks from end-to-end and you decide how much or how little your own team gets involved. The input from your team can be limited to initial set-up and implementation, any additional testing and QA you wish to carry out, and final sign-off on completed projects.

Is it right for me?

Any LTL program is designed to be flexible and can be built to suit most software businesses who are actively selling into new international markets, or plan to in the near future.

It’s particularly suited to organizations who are:

  • Going through an aggressive growth stage, with multiple product releases and launches on the roadmap.
  • Managing internal engineering and development resources who are near capacity.
  • Committed to entering one or more markets where English isn’t the primary language used.
  • Limited in their in-house experience of localization.
  • Want to deliver localized products and experiences that meet the same UX standards as their original products.
  • May be reliant on meeting international milestones in order to secure their next funding round.

What are the typical characteristics of a low-touch localization program?

Maximum automation. Where it’s feasible, all file export, import and transfer processes are fully automated. This can mean that translatable web content is pulled and pushed via an automatic connection to a back-end CMS, product strings and updates are automatically identified and pulled from Github (or another repo) and shared cloud folders are automatically scanned on a schedule to identify different types of content for localization.

Automation of this type can be configured to work with your existing tools, update schedules and internal procedures so that there’s generally little need for you to change current processes to accommodate a new localization initiative. The demands on your team are minimized, allowing them to focus on their core tasks without interruption. A huge advantage of this approach is that you don’t need to employ any dedicated staff to manage localization, or delegate it to an existing member of your team to manage.

Quality Localization. Assuming you work with a reputable partner there’s no need to compromise on the quality of the localization itself. You’ll have seen multiple paid Google ads for SaaS solutions that claim to magically carry out your software localization at a cut-price rate. This isn’t one of them — what we’re talking about here is taking a hybrid approach where you benefit from the same level of convenience, but with the assurance that there’s a team of people behind the scenes working on your project on an individual basis. The objective is to minimize the demands on your team and speed up market entry, not to make life easy for your localization partner or cut corners. Translations are still carried out by individually selected in-country linguists, still managed meticulously by a project manager, and you still benefit from a premium service approach.

What are the downsides?

It’s low-touch, not hands-off. In the early implementation stages, collaboration is critical to set things up for future success. At Iota we always assemble a team of linguists who are personally matched to your project and team, and while they familiarize themselves with your product and brand there will undoubtedly be a number of queries flowing back and forth. Even once the program is embedded and your partner is operating as a virtual extension of your team, it’s important to be responsive (on both sides) and regularly review progress. Although one of the key advantages of an LTL approach is that you don’t need to worry about redeploying or employing staff to take on localization tasks, it’s important to nominate someone who ‘owns’ the relationship with your partner and can be the primary contact for day-to-day queries.

It’s not the lowest-cost option. It’s an approach that allows your internal teams to continue to focus on that you hired them for, while a specialist team handle localization and help set you up for rapid international success. The main objective is to ensure the efficient use of resources and the delivery of international products that feel local and can be sold confidently in your target markets. If you’re looking for the cheapest way to localize — it’s probably not for you.

If you need any help deciding on the best way to localize your product or marketing assets, we’re always happy to talk with no obligation. Email us at

Are your 100% match legacy translations safe to re-use?

Are your 100% match legacy translations safe to re-use?

A question that we’re often asked by translations buyers is whether it’s worth checking (and paying for) previously translated material that has been automatically flagged for re-use in a new localisation project.

Almost all commercially available translation workbenches will identify and mark unchanged strings in the source material. So, where a string has previously been translated and is “in exactly the same place” in a particular file, the saved translation for that string is applied in advance of a kit being prepared for translation. Typically the tool will “lock” this string out but still have it visible to translators if needed. But essentially they don’t have to process that string, so it takes no time, so it has no cost. Which is right and proper.

A grey area will occur when we have a new string (or segment) in the source that has a match in your translation memory. Essentially every word of that new segment has been translated before, in the same order. That’s a 100% match. The bigger the number of words in a segment, the safer we are in letting it “slide” when it comes to accepting the translation without a check. But when we get to single word segments (UI items for example) we can run into issues. The word “record” for example can be a verb or a noun in English which will have two totally different translations in most languages. In that case you really don’t want to accept a previous translation and run a 50% risk that you’ve got the wrong word.

In the final analysis this is a value decision of course. 100% match checks typically cost about one third of the rate of a new word. Depending on the number of 100% matches you have to review it may be worth the cost to have your translators ensure that the inherited string is right in its new context.

Who owns your translated words — and why it matters

Who owns your translated words — and why it matters

A question that a localisation services buyer needs to consider is who exactly owns the words they buy. The translations, in the final format, are yours of course. But what about the translation memories?

Unless contractually obliged many vendors will not give up the TMs, which are your key to moving to another provider, unless you first pay for that privilege. It’s not unlike having to pay a photographer for the source images.

Cloud-based translation providers are another matter of course. Your words belong to them and are often used to pre-translate content for other buyers, who may even be your competitors. There isn’t much you can do about that, it’s the business model they use to try to make money.

It’s always best to have a chat with your provider in advance to avoid any end of project disharmony. Any ambiguity can be clarified via a services agreement. Localisation relationships can go bad for a variety of reasons, many of which are not translation quality based. You really don’t want to end up in a situation where your TMs, which are vital to the financial efficiency of the next project you do, are being held hostage by a provider who knows they are about to be “jilted”.

At Iota LS, our policy is to deliver TMs at the end of each and every project. They’re your words, to do as you please with. Though hopefully, you’ll come back to us.

Bridging the ‘trust-gap’ in fintech adoption

Bridging the ‘trust-gap’ in fintech adoption

Buyers of financial services still place more trust in traditional financial institutions than they do in fintech providers.

This is despite the fact that the latest encryption and security measures mean that transactions carried out electronically are just as safe as offline transactions, in not safer. Let’s be honest, using virtually any legitimate online payment gateway is safer than reading a credit card number out over the phone.

As you’d expect, this ‘trust gap’ is more prevalent amongst people in older age groups, but it’s not exclusive to that demographic by any means.

When trust is fragile to begin with, it doesn’t take much further erosion before the perceived risk becomes too great to consider.

Significant focus is placed on the user experience (UX) and interface (UI) during the product development process, and it’s not unusual to find a team of copywriters crafting carefully worded copy for use in a broad range of areas — from the UI to marketing and much in-between.

So why then, when it comes to launching in a non-English speaking country do so many organisations fail to localise their products properly, opting for the most basic translation solution they can find?

For a new customer, flirting with the idea of choosing one of the new wave of challenger banks, payment apps or insurtech businesses, nothing is likely to kill their enthusiasm faster than the sight of a UI that was clearly never built with their location and culture in mind.

Wavering trust is not enhanced by distorted dialogue boxes, poorly translated marketing materials and cultural references that have no relevance in the user’s country.

If those sorts of errors have crept through to the user, it doesn’t inspire confidence that appropriate compliance and security measures are in place to protect their transactions, whether they are or not.

It’s not just older users whose fragile trust needs to be won. We know that millennials are the group most likely to embrace fintech solutions, but they’re also amongst the most demanding consumers in the market. They’re used to using highly polished and well localised apps and online services every day, and will opt for the best user experience every time. They can spot a rogue translation or poorly localised graphic from a mile away. Take a look at the gaming community if you have any doubts about the sensitivity of millennials to anything but the very best localisation.

Whilst I’ve focused heavily on consumer fintech solutions, the same principles apply on a business to business basis too. Early buyer due diligence might weed out those fintech providers with an clear lack of commitment to localisation, but it’s during the implementation of complex back-end solutions that less obvious cracks will show. Whilst execs may have concluded the deal in perfect English, the local technician charged with setting it up won’t become an ambassador for your brand if the technical documents and support provided aren’t fully localised for the install country.

Cutting corners is a false economy when it comes to localisation. In fintech, trust is everything — and that’s something that can’t be bought.

The business case behind localization…

The business case behind localization…

I don’t think anyone would dispute that professional software localization can be costly — especially if your product is particularly complex, uses a lot of unusual terminology or is supported by a vast library of documentation.

Calculating the return on investment for localization activity is a challenge in itself. Different organizations will crunch the numbers in various ways, according to their own objectives and goals. For most people the business case won’t be wholly based on financial metrics, but will also take other measures into account like market penetration, access to future funding rounds and the wider company strategy.

The general consensus is that it’s perfectly feasible to make an objective assessment of localization potential, but there’s no single ‘best’ way of doing it.

A logical approach might be to tackle the problem from an ‘opportunity cost’ perspective and to look at the financial opportunities you will miss as a result of NOT localizing your product.

It’s easy enough if you have international prospects who have formally committed to your solution on the condition that a localized version is available. Then it’s a case of amortizing the localization cost across the agreed billings for the period and tailoring your margin expectations.

If the numbers add up, you localize. If they don’t, you walk away.

It’s never as simple as that though. What if profit isn’t the objective from that first international customer? What if your research shows you that the first customer will give you the strategic foothold you need to accelerate the development of a much larger and profitable market for your product in that country?

Now we’re moving into more strategic territory. It could also be that the first customer in that country hasn’t committed yet, but your market research shows there’s a significant and attainable opportunity for you in that region. That adds a new dimension to the discussion.

Here’s another way of looking at it –

If launching in a new country will initially generate $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) and it takes $250,000 of new investment to credibly enter the market — it’s costing you nearly $15,000 for every week that you delay.

If anything else was draining $15,000 a week from your budget, you’d address it quickly, wouldn’t you?

It’s simplistic, and the numbers are wholly hypothetical — but it makes you think.

It’s probably worth flagging up that I’m talking about professional software localization here — not an off-the-shelf translation plugin and a few randomly selected freelance translators.

If you’re taking a strategic approach to international market entry and looking to achieve long-term recurring revenue, taking shortcuts with your product localization is a really bad idea.

At best, you’ll find that after a year or two you’ve outgrown your basic translation solution and need to implement a more wide-ranging and robust program of localization. Sophisticated software users can sense a half-hearted approach from a long way off, and the more likely outcome is that you won’t achieve your forecast growth rate and you’ll need to invest a lot more time and money to get things back on track.

Want to make sure your international customers feel like they’re using a locally developed product? Let’s set up a call and make it happen.

Taking the stress out of SaaS localisation…

Taking the stress out of SaaS localisation…

I think we’d all agree that positive user experience and ease of use are central to every SaaS provider’s mission. As someone who’s spent the last 15 years involved with cloud services — either marketing them, providing services to their creators, or managing the move from on-premise to cloud all those years ago, it’s a concept that I’m very comfortable with.

In the localisation space, we ebb and flow with the tides of our clients’ release schedules. It’s the nature of what we do. The rise of agile working and iterative updates has only amplified this. It’s pretty much ended the nightmares we all associate with annual release schedules, and the anxiety and stress they used to bring.

However, this change in the development process and the nature of a successful SaaS business brings with it some challenges. Shorter timescales, last minute changes, new technologies, and geographically dispersed teams are the norm when you’re working in this space.

It shouldn’t be a problem. Stuff happens.

But the level of flexibility needed is such that some organisations seem reluctant or unable to deliver in this environment. I still hear of large localisation and translation providers charging punitive rates and penalties for changes mid-project. Ramping up pricing, and excessively ‘padding’ future projects as a result. Worse still, I’ve heard of releases being delayed for no other reason than the time it takes to penetrate the layers of bureaucracy in their provider’s organisation.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. After all, we benefit from this poor practise. Many of our clients come to us after a year or two of dealing with this kind of treatment from other providers.

It’s a shame it takes that long though. Especially when a year or two is a critical period for an ambitious SaaS business where rapid growth is key to success.

Some people will always make the default choice and find it’s not right for them before considering an alternative. That’s fine — that’s human nature. The key is realising it’s not working before it’s too late and doing something about it.

How will you know? That’s an article in itself — but you’ll know.

During the localisation process you might simply wish you were working with a more responsive team. You might find that every challenge you present to your supplier is bounced back without a suitable solution. You may find that you’re compromising in areas that really matter to you, simply to keep your provider on-side and release dates on-track.

That’s not how it should be. If it is, it’s time to do something about it.

See if our approach chimes with yours, and if it does — let’s schedule a call.