Myself Ofer Tirosh, i didn’t start out trying to build one of the world’s best translation companies. I grew up in Israel, a young nation of immigrants, so there was no lack of exposure to foreign languages. In fact, the national language, Hebrew, was long considered a dead language known only to Biblical scholars until an Israeli linguist named Eliezer Ben Yehuda decided that he would re-invent this moribund tongue for the nascent nation. He refused to talk even to his family, and all others, except in the resurrected ancient language. Eventually the whole country was speaking the old-new language. My story is not quite so extreme, but perhaps there is a kernel of truth in Ben-Yehuda’s radical approach that entrepreneurs and budding tycoons can take to heart.
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Origins of my Translation Agency and How It Grew
Starting in the 1990’s and continuing to the present day, Israel established itself as a technological powerhouse. There was an urgent nation for startups and larger tech companies alike to export their products and internationalize their marketing and communications. I saw the opportunity and create a small translation agency, Tomedes, to meet that growing need. We started out with just three languages – Hebrew, English, and French – but that has grown to more than a hundred now, including support for 200+ language pairs at the native fluency level, more than 50,000 business clients served. I would like to share our growth story for the benefit of other entrepreneurs. Perhaps sharing my story can help the next rising translation tycoon!
The key to the growth of my translation company was an appreciation for client needs, a passionate commitment to responsive service and the primacy of translation quality. In those days, translation agencies were cutting corners by applying machine language translations to save time and human resources, thereby cutting costs of the service and increasing profitability. As founder and CEO, I always felt that approach was wrong-headed. It wasn’t hard to see that no software algorithm could match the quality of a trained linguist. So I made “human-powered translation” my company’s tag-line.
That branding served us well, evidently tapping into frustration and dissatisfaction with dependency on automated translation. The other thing I realized was that translation was in fact a gateway to an array of language services. A client might come for translation, but might also require interpretation, transcription, subtitles and captioning, or writing services, editing or proofreading. We emphasized being a full-service agency with “one stop shop” capabilities for all language service needs.
Building the Translation Company Network with Independent Linguists
It was one thing to have such ambitious goals to provide such comprehensive language services. But how to get from here to there? In the beginning, almost all of our translators were employees, either in our Tel Aviv headquarters or offices we set up around the world. That was reassuring to see staff every day, and it was socially gratifying, but it was not economically viable as a way to scale a fast-growing business.
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The solution came in the fast-growing development of the “gig economy” which by 2017 had grown to an astounding 55 million workersand has increased rapidly since then.
More and more skilled workers were leaving full-time employment, or moonlighting for additional income, providing services via the Internet. These days the infrastructure is well established, with marketplaces like Upwork and Freelancer.com. But when starting out, we were a pioneer in providing that infrastructure. My agency vetted translators and other linguists, recruiting the best, committing them to on-call availability on a performance basis. We paid them when they delivered work successfully to our clients. This lower risk cost-structure enabled us to scale much faster. We could aggressively recruit the best translators and linguists in every language, and with familiarity with specific professions like law, medicine, biochemistry, etc. That sensitivity to the need for delivering specific domain expertise was key. Clients expected translators to be well-versed in the terminology and jargon of their specific niche.
The Goal of Being a Universal Translation Agency Online Comes within Reach
It’s one thing for an entrepreneur to have the ambition and vision of success. But those aspirations also need to match the day-to-day reality of client relations and delivering the work. Early on, I extended to clients an unmatched guarantee on the accuracy of my agency’s work, up to a year after delivery of the work. Offering such a guarantee adds “pressure for perfection,” but it reassures clients that we are there for them even after our invoice has been paid.It’s a key to customer retention.
The other thing that was essential for our global success was my insistence that we retain and realize the goal of being a universal language services agency. There are many regional translation companies, and I don’t begrudge them their specialization. But early on it became clear to me that “the world is becoming smaller.” Serious brands had to reach out to as many potential audiences as possible. Because almost all our work was conducted via the Internet, providing a translation agency online for every foreign language pair came within our grasp. We therefore straddle the definitions of translation agency and localization agency, working extensively to help our clients create websites, apps, and digital document that is truly global in scope.
The ongoing pandemic has validated our approach, showing the value and the means of running an almost exclusively online business. We wish for the return to health of the world, but at least we can do our part to help clients across the planet to communicate, and win new markets, without getting lost in translation.