Foreigners in business: myGengo

June 21st, 2011By Category: Work Tips

Many companies have a need for good quality, low-cost translations, whether it is just one sentence or thousands of product listings or apps. This is where myGengo comes in.

A start-up company established by Robert Laing and Matthew Romaine in 2009, the company specializes in translation to scale, drawing on a network of 2,500 translators worldwide. Clients order translations online and can receive the results directly into their websites or apps.

GaijinPot, together with Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits the myGengo office to hear more from Laing.

What is your background?

I was born in Melbourne, Australia, but I have lived in the UK and Belgium for a little bit. I moved to Japan four years ago to do web design. At that time, I didn’t have any connections and didn’t know what I would do. Then I got the idea for an online translation site. I came at it from the customer’s side and I wanted it to be as easy as downloading an app.

When did myGengo get started?

The website went live at the end of 2008 and the company was formed a few months later. It was tough at first getting clients. We were a start-up, so it was all about bringing people to the website. Fortunately, at the beginning of 2010, we got some investment from the U.S. and Japan. We did little things to get PR, mainly using social media.

How have results been so far?

Last year, we doubled revenue quarter on quarter. In the first quarter of this year, we did more translation than we ever did in the first two years of myGengo. The earthquake affected us for a few weeks, but by the beginning of April, we were back to normal. In fact, the day before the earthquake, we got our biggest job ever. We were all working online and by Skype.

What are your strengths?

We are very good at doing translation at scale, especially for web-based companies. We have a network of 2,500 translators worldwide, so we can handle big volumes of translation. For example, if you run an e-commerce website and you want 1,000 product listings translated, we’re perfect for that. We work with e-commerce companies, media companies and we do job listings for recruiters. Any place where you have a lot of information, you need good quality translation to go with it.

We also do a lot of iPhone app translations for start-ups. That accounts for about 20% of our business. It is very easy now for developers to build an app in a few days and launch it. The beauty of the iTunes store is that just through translating, you can make your product available in many countries. You don’t need a distributor; you just need to make a great app and have it translated.

Some companies can do their translating in house but one of the advantages of using us is that we are totally scalable. One day you might need 1,000 documents, tomorrow you need nothing, or next week, you need 10,000. We can adapt really easily. Technical integration is a big factor for clients requiring a high-volume job. We can build a direct connection to your system, making the process very seamless. Those are our strengths.

What is your business model?

If you are an individual or a small business and you’ve got a word document to translate, you visit our website, upload your document and you get an instant quote 24 hour s day, seven days a week. It goes into the system where translators can see the available jobs. A translator will pick it up and have it done within a couple of hours. The customer gets an email saying the job is done.

The jobs go to our translators on a first come first served based. It is not a question of us contacting a specific translator for a job. We use the whole network and balance the load. In a given month, around 30% of the 2,500 are active. Throughout the job, there is a comment thread with the translator so that clients can add comments, ask questions or request corrections.

Who are your clients?

Right now our clients are 50-50 foreign and Japanese, although we are looking to increase the number of Japanese clients. Some are retail customers who just order single translations like a word document or Power Point and others are large enterprises who order millions of words via our API. We do a lot of business with U.S. clients.

How do you charge clients?

We charge per word count. There is no minimum word requirement. We’ll even translate just one word for you and charge you 5 cents. We have three levels of service. If you order at the Standard level, which is the lowest price of 5 cents per word, it won’t get seen by anyone else other than the translator. The next two levels are Pro (10 cents a word) and Ultra (15 cents), which include extra proofreading.

Tell us about your translators.

There are two main groupings—professional translators who want to make a little bit of extra income from myGengo, while the others tend to be stay-at-home moms and dads, college students and people looking for flexible work. All translators are tested by us. They have to take two tests and usually, only one out of 10 passes.

How do you test them?

We use two tests for translators. The first one is a multiple choice test. That is designed to weed out people who aren’t very good. For example, it will be an English sentence with five possible Japanese translations. If you pass that, you get the standard test, which is a news article to translate into your native language. Then you get the score.

How do translators get paid?

Through PayPal twice a month. They can request the payout date. We pay them on a per word basis.

How many languages do you work in?

We do 12 languages – English, French, German, Italian, Russian, two kinds of Spanish, two kinds of Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Sometimes projects are in more than one language, such as translating from English to Spanish, German and Italian. If there is a demand for a language we don’t yet do and the volume is high enough, we will add that language within four weeks. In that case, we would use social media to find translators.

How far away are we from good-quality machine translation?

For romance languages like English, French, Italian, we’re closer than we are with Japanese. Japanese is a very long way away. I think machine translation like Google Translate is a really useful tool, but it’s not good for producing a high-quality translation.

In what areas do your staff work?

We don’t have full-time editors in house. Here we have sales and marketing, customer support and a lot of developers. We’re always looking at ways to make the process much more efficient and provide consistency for translators. For customers, we are making it much easier for them to integrate our translations with their applications. In future, we will probably need more sales and marketing staff as well as developers because we are on a strong growth curve. We’ve just hired Kenji Yamamoto because of his amazing track record, relationships and experience at Apple, EMC and Oracle Japan, which perfectly complements our existing management team. Kenji’s a passionate advocate for Japanese companies to go global.

Where do you see the biggest growth opportunities?

Asia has growth potential. A lot of Japanese companies want to trade with China. If you look at the content online, the amount of content being produced in Chinese, Japanese and Spanish is growing. I also think that Indonesia and South Korea have potential, as does South America.

What is a typical day for you?

I get here about 7:30 a.m. I usually have a couple of calls with the U.S. Right now, we are preparing for a revamp of our website and we do quite a bit of user testing to get feedback on how to make the product better. I meet translators when I can, if they happen to be in Tokyo.

Image credit: LERK / Wikimedia


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GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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