Interview with Amir Helzer (ICanLocalize)
ICanLocalize specialize in website translation and application localization.
I interviewed Amir Helzer, ICanLocalize founder to find out more. This interview is the ninetieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Amir for the interview!
How would you describe ICanLocalize in under 50 words?
ICanLocalize is a self-managed translating service, which connects professional translators with clients. It specializes in software localization and website translation – making it oriented for small businesses. The great thing about ICanLocalize is that it automates the entire process, leaving only actual translation work to translators.
After a 10 year career in chip development, what made you decide to start working on ICanLocalize?
Mostly, by chance. I had a little side project, in the form of a shareware business and that required translation. It was very difficult at that time to get good translation at reasonable costs. Not because it’s difficult to find translators, but because the process was complicated. Out of my need, the business started.
Which of your services are most popular?
In ICanLocalize, we get the most clients for software localization (mainly mobile apps) and the greatest volume of work from website translation.
Who came up with the name?
That’s me. I wish I could find something shorter, which is made up of one or two words, but ICanLocalize (3 words) works OK too.
Who do you see as your target audience?
Our actual users are small businesses. Many of them are technical people, who are writing software or building web-services. Another big chunnk are small and medium businesses who build their sites with WordPress, use WPML (our multilingual plugin) and find us through that.
What technologies have you used to build ICanLocalize?
The system runs on Ruby-on-Rails and our translation tools are built with different languages that are more for desktop.
Your first project, WPML, was intended as a vehicle for getting translation work for ICanLocalize. Has this worked?
To some degree, it did. Things really took off when we stopped offering WPML for free and turned it into a commercial plugin (paid). Surprisingly, or maybe not, after turning WPML into a paid plugin, we saw more usage, way more sites and even more translation clients. The extra revenue from WPML allowed us to spend a lot more on development, QA and support, so it improved and went into much larger websites than before.
How do you ensure that users get a high quality translator?
We have a complete system for translation quality. Most projects are done by a duo of translator and reviewer. We’ve got an issue management system, in which they communicate and resolve issues. Then, we have a rating system that tells us how well translators are doing and translators who are not good enough cannot continue with us. Also, the fact that two professional translators are managing the system (vs. MBA grads) is a major factor in getting good results. They put more emphasis on good translation than on anything else.
How long did it take to put together ICanLocalize?
We had something running in about 18 months. From that point, it just kept evolving. For example, complete integration with WordPress and Drupal came a lot after that and we’re still adding features to every part of the system.
What’s your background? What appealed most about starting up?
I studied electrical engineering. Surprisingly, it’s not just about replacing light bulbs. Much of the time is spent on Maths, physics and computer science. I had 4 jobs over about 15 years in different things related to electronics. They all had some ‘hardware’ aspect and always a lot of software, so starting a software business wasn’t completely alien. I always wanted to be my own boss and jumped on the opportunity when it presented itself.
What’s your business model?
We get to keep 20% of what customers pay for translation work. Together with PayPal fees this doesn’t leave a lot of slack. We need to be very efficient and keep very very high quality of work so that we can make a good living from that. Imagine what a few percents of refunds, due to unhappy clients could do to us.
What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?
That’s a trick question, right? I don’t need to go back 5 years. If I could just go back 5 months in time, it would be great. We try things and learn every day. Most things don’t turn out quite as planned, but the few that do – you can make a business with.
Has ICanLocalize got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
It wasn’t like a linear or exponential growth. When we started, I hoped for a fast break. We spent the first year begging for clients and trying to hold on to translators. Now, it’s a whole lot better. It takes a lot for people to recommend a translation service. It’s just not a very sexy thing to talk about. BUT, once you’re there, it’s equally difficult to replace you, as it was for you to get your foot in the door.
Where do you see ICanLocalize in 5 years time?
There’s a whole new world opening to our East. Everyone is running there and we hope to become dominent. Our system is optimized for people who are looking for quality but can’t spend a fortune. I think that our solution is very appealing for the emerging Asian market.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
Secreteries, mainly, but also office assistants. If you combine ICanLoclize and a handful of other online translation services, you’ll get a tiny fraction of the real translation industry. That’s because many small businesses trust their translation work to local staff with questionable translation skills. You can see it when you go to their websites or buy their stuff. It’s written in your language, but doesn’t look too native. Our main challenge is getting people to understand that they need better translation and that it’s not difficult to get it.
How many languages do you speak?
I speak fluent Hebrew and English and Spanish on a so-so level.
What other projects are you currently working on?
WPML, Types and Views and we have new things coming, but that’s for a different talk.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Wind season is starting here, the water is nice and I can go surfing. This is THE major reason I started my own business. I work more than before, but at my hours. When there’s wind outside, I’m excused.
Can you convince the reader to start using ICanLocalize in under 50 words?
If you need to translate books, you can probably find a cheaper solutions than ICanLocalize. For people who run multilingual websites and/or write software, we offer the best value for money. Clients spend the least amount of energy and time with us and get top-notch results.
Finished reading? Check out ICanLocalize!