Startups aren’t known, generally, for dreaming small. World domination is a pretty oft-cited goal for founders, but some mean it more literally than others.
For companies starting up in smaller markets or with a particularly global product, building something that can span the world is a priority from day one rather than a grandiose vision for further down the road. Take Irish music discovery startup Soudwave, for example.
“We knew that we our vision was to tackle a global market, so we launched on Android and iPhone and localised to 14 languages on day one,” CEO and co-founder Brendan O’Driscoll told Forbes. Localization into various languages is often a particular hurdle for European startups, who “definitely consider localisation at an earlier stage than US companies since we’re surrounded by so many different languages,” O’Driscoll adds.
So what did Soundwave learn from it’s early foray into no less than 14 languages? O’Driscoll and his co-founder Craig Watson offered some tips.
Choose Your Languages Wisely
“Localizing is a serious commitment so it makes sense to work out where you will get the most return on the time invested,” Watson recommends. Soundwave used an Irish company called Tethras for guidance on the penetration of each language. What did they learn? You can cover almost 80% of the world by translating into just six languages. Research pays off.
Watson also stresses you should consider upkeep as well as the initial investment: “Whatever languages you do choose to go with at the start will require constant upkeep. That means every product update. Every messaging campaign. They all require updated strings and translations. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
Don’t Leave It to the Last Minute
Translation takes longer than you think. Good translation takes significantly longer than you think. “You can get things done quickly or correctly. Not both,” according to Watson. “It’s better to err on the side of caution and get your translations submitted well in advance. If we had to do it all again, we’d give ourselves a month (not the 10 days we had) to go native.” Soundwave’s recommendation: find out how long translations will take then plan on 20% more time.
Get on a Plane
Don’t forget that localization is about building bridges to other cultures, the Soundwave founders note, and the tried and true way to solidify connections is to actually go someplace and make friends.
“Physically visiting a market that you’re looking to break into (or one which you’ve already localized into) will give you insights into local customs that you would never gain otherwise,” according to Watson. “Being based in Europe helps as we are naturally closer to a lot of markets that other developers in the US might not be for example. We can hop on a cheap flight to Berlin, Germany and be back in Dublin the same evening.” Soundwave saves money by bundling these trips with other business development meetings.
More Boots on the Ground
Getting out and talking to customers when you’re in town for a meeting or tech event might be valuable, but when money is tight, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to go everywhere you want to sell your product straight off. Soundwave has found an innovative way around this issue.
“We recently introduced a program for Soundwave power users who were keen to act as brand ambassadors in their own countries. We put out an open call to all ‘Roadies’ who were interested in helping to spread the word about our app in the countries where they lived. We even built a microsite to highlight what the benefits would be for any successful Roadie and to give them more information about the team in general,” Watson reports, calling the response “phenomenal.” The company enlisted all the roadies it required for the first iteration of the program within in 24 hours. In return for their work the Roadies get swag, networking, preferential access to updates, and the chance to host events for the company.
“We’ve been delighted with the success of the programme so far. It really drives us forward,” says O’Driscoll, but he cautions that “it is important to think about how such a programme can benefit the local ambassadors as much as how it can benefit the company” in order to make it successful.
Put in the Effort
More than anything, the Soundwave guys stress it’s important that you put in the effort to localize, even if the results are imperfect. “If you want to launch your product in a country where English is not the primary language, for example, it’s shortsighted to think that the product will succeed as well as it would if it were localized,” says O’Driscoll. So don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. “No matter how small or how incorrect your localisation may be, I really think that people appreciate that you thought to try and localise at all,” he conludes.