Startup Cloudwords attacks $30B translation market

Old Globe

Tech companies can easily spend millions of dollars per year (or a hundred times that) translating their software, documentation and related materials for different markets in a process that has thus far avoided automation. Such global translation services represented an estimated $30 billion market in 2011, according to Common Sense Advisory.

Cloudwords says its cloud-based OneTM service ingests a company’s previously translated material, centralizes and de-dupes redundant information to suck much of the expense out of the process. OneTM, which Cloudwords CEO Michael Meinhardt calls a unified translation management system with a MongoDB NoSQL foundation, aggregates the data across departments and versions and also handles workflow to and from translators.

Traditional translation services typically require a ton of duplicative work. When a software application and its documentation is upgraded, for example, the entire project, not just the revised parts, usually gets retranslated. Since most translation services charge by the word, that gets pricey. OneTM separates out that which must be updated.

The technology has good SaaS bloodlines: It was co-developed by former CTO Craig Weissman, working as a contractor with Cloudwords co-founder (and former architect) Scott Yancey.

“The best jobs to attack are those that are done inefficiently,” Weissman said in a recent interview. “Translating software, manuals and on-screen text is a big, big business that is very inefficient.”

To use the Cloudwords service, the software company uploads its existing documents (typically in XML format) into Cloudwords along with instructions as to what languages are needed.  In the old world, the software company sent out the work — via FTP or e-mail — requesting say, a German, French and Italian translation of a sentence. The company then got back the three translations, each with the original English sentence. There was a ton of duplicated information there that then needed to be stripped out. OneTM automates that.

The actual translation is still handled by people — machine translation is not yet up to this task — Meinhardt said.  But Cloudwords handles all the back and forth and data normalization and the data repository.

One early customer, Coupa Software, ended up paying $6,000, as opposed to the $40,000 quoted by its original contractor, to translate a software upgrade. “The $40,000 was the same amount they paid for the initial translation. It’s bad enough to pay that the first time, but in version 2 maybe 10 percent of the words have changed. There is no need to re-translate the balance,” Meinhardt said.

Cloudwords competes with MyGengo, Smartling and Lingotek as well as big translation companies such as Lionbridge Technologies and SDL. Meinhardt and Yancey see the service extending beyond the software business to other verticals, including the pharmaceutical industry.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user ToastyKen.


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