Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi fellow entrepreneurs and those who want to follow the same path. My name is Alex Chernenko and I am an early-stage entrepreneur. Today, I would like to share my story about TRANSLIT with you.
For the past 11 years, we have helped businesses and individuals to communicate their message in any language by providing ISO-certified top-quality translation, interpreting, and localization services using the latest AI and MT technologies.
TRANSLIT’s mission is to go above and beyond to help people understand each other, break down language barriers, prevent conflicts, and enable communication.
The company provides ISO 9001:2015 and 17100:2015 certified translation and interpreting services across over 120 languages where we work with government bodies, businesses, and individuals now, having translated over 20 million words and delivered more than 30,000 interpreting hours.
The company grew organically up until 2018 focusing on services only. To stay competitive, I decided to start working on a SaaS solution - an online platform and marketplace to find, book and manage interpreters and interpreting projects. We raised €500,000 in seed capital from local investors in Ireland - Clashrock Capital. This allowed us to launch translit.com in late 2019.
I usually introduce the company as “a ten-year-old service business and one-year-old software start-up”. You may be wondering why? Well, it’s been just over a year since we launched translit.com.
My idea was to build a system that would allow Language Service Providers and agencies to manage their teams of interpreters, bookings, scheduling, invoicing, payments, and everything that comes with it on a single platform saving time and money.
Interpreters are free to set their own rates, bid on projects, own more income. Clients will hire language professionals, review them afterward, and access language services in any location of the world.
Consider, you travel to China and need a local interpreter to help you communicate with a manufacturer. All you have to do is pick up a mobile, search on our website and book a local interpreter who will arrive where you need them and when you need them. Now we have over 2,500 users. It’s still in the early stage but we are getting traction.
In January 2021, we launched the interpreting delivery platform - TRANSLIT RSI. This Remote Simultaneous Interpreting technology comes in the form of a mobile app and web interface.
Here is the launch event:
The TRANSLIT team placed our focus behind getting the interpreting community back on track following a difficult 2020 when all off-site interpreters were sent home due to lockdowns. The shift towards remote work inspired us to develop, test, and launch our own new product in less than six months. This was the missing part of the puzzle.
TRANSLIT was a language agency for ten years, we had a team of translators, interpreters, and project managers. Then we built a platform (CRM and Marketplace) to manage projects and resources. Finally, we added a product to be able to deliver the service remotely and online. It has created a full package. TRANSLIT’s slogan is Complete Language Solutions. We continue this promise to our customers.
And our company has been featured on several occasions in local, national, and international media including Slator, Multilingual, Silicon Republic, and Crunchbase, along with Irish Times, Irish Independent, Irish Examiner, and RTE.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Since secondary school, I have had two passions: languages and computers. I've learned to speak six languages and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering after moving to Ireland in 2003. That’s actually where the business name TRANSLIT came from. It refers to TRANSLation and IT, combined into a technology-driven business long before Google Machine Translation became a trend.
Over my career, I have worked as a localization engineer, translator and interpreter, quality assurance, web developer, test lead, test manager, and other tech roles.
My entrepreneurship journey started inadvertently 13 years ago when I was let go from a well-paid job. I was working as a software tester with a multinational IT company. One day my HR director picked up a piece of paper I had sent through the work printer. Unfortunately, it was an image of a woman in a bikini for a CD cover. Yes, back then we had CDs! The image itself was ok, nothing vulgar or provocative, but that happened exactly one week before my contract renewal date. As a result, my contract wasn’t extended. However, it was a blessing in disguise even though I had moved to Dublin with my family for that job, and all of a sudden everything was up in the air again.
I was already doing freelance work at that time and for that full-year, I went into freelance and self-employment. After a few months, I set up my first limited company in 2009. Part of it would be a translation, there was a web development division, and the other part was business registration and company formation.
Focusing on a range of freelance services and outsources was the original idea. But it was never going to work. From a company doing so many things, the language industry was the most promising as it was where my language skills were of use. But it was bad timing. The recession really hit Ireland that year. I lost many clients and sales declined too. I had to go back into employment.
There were years where I had to find myself. I went after side projects, many of which had failed, but despite the growing list of start-ups that never caught fire, TRANSLIT continued to burn brightly in the background.
I dropped out of web design and other side projects and only kept two businesses afloat, language services and company formation. Part of me loved helping other entrepreneurs to become successful. Seeing how my clients became profitable and grew after registering a company with me had always inspired and motivated me to push forward with my own business.
My soon-to-be wife, Tatsiana, originally doubted the longevity of TRANSLIT but when I really began to notice there was a future in it, she started to believe in it too.
It culminated in the perfect storm. It was 2015, I turned 30, I got married and my third child was on the way. I went to India on a spiritual retreat and tried vegetarian food too. I did the same the following year, and between my trips to Varanasi and Rishikesh, I took up yoga and meditation searching for answers, trying to understand what I wanted to do with my life going forward.
It came to me. Instead of starting new ventures, I had overlooked TRANSLIT which had survived and managed to grow even without me working on it. So I decided to quit my well-paid, full-time job and go full-on into self-employment. That was the third attempt.
Now I am more cautious about spreading focus and keeping two to three things on my plate at the same time. Diversification is good. My company formation venture Chern & Co continues to grow and has its dedicated team. While three years ago I invested in Kauza, which is doing really well too.
But TRANSLIT remains my priority. Like my three sons, TRANSLIT is the oldest of my three businesses. The company won two government tenders in 2020: one with an Irish state body and another one with an EU-funded organization, to provide interpreting and translation services.
One of the things I enjoy the most is helping start-ups. If you have developed a good product or built a great website, solving someone’s problem, I would like to work with you. TRANSLIT will help you to translate and localize your message and spread it to other countries.
After running TRANSLIT for many years as an interpreting agency, we realized there are three major problems: agencies share the same interpreters, there is a shortage of good interpreters, and agencies waste so much time managing interpreting assignments and communicating between clients.
Being able to book an interpreter in the same way as you would order a taxi or a pizza - was an idea that came to me after riding with an Uber cab driver one time. It hit me. I was going to design scheduling and centralized management platform removing unnecessary emails and phone calls to check interpreter’s availability - saving time and money for our own agency, clients, and other Language Service Providers, adding a marketplace functionality where users can get direct access to qualified interpreters.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Our team worked for six months doing four iterations of user stories and prototypes. We did it in the office, in the sauna, on the whiteboard and we even brought external people to help us put a structure around the brainstorming.
If you try too hard and it doesn’t work, let it go. When the timing is right, it will come easily.
We hired an experienced UX-UI team to help us do the HTML prototype. During that time, the company was fundraising. By the time UX was ready, we managed to secure a private investment deal to fund the development.
Describe the process of launching the business.
TRANSLIT had a simple beginning, where I set things up from the back of my own home. The formula was translating documents for friends and friends of friends. I already had lots of friends through social events I was running at the time.
Primarily our work was being done from Eastern European languages to English, and vice versa. From there it went into Asian and other languages. Eventually, we started getting more clients and then business clients. Then in 2015, we realized that one business client pays a few times more than all individual clients. That was huge for us.
We got a small tender with the HSE and ended up translating a symposium. TRANSLIT won their first major contract, it was worth around €10,000. We asked ourselves, why continue to focus on individuals when there are big business deals out there.
We decided to join all the chambers, building up business-to-business relationships, and going to events. We changed focus from the individual sector to business and government sectors. That was the only direction for TRANSLIT to grow.
We were just kept afloat by individuals but more business and government clients were going to help us scale. So I started applying for grants, going to chamber events, networking events, exhibits, it all flowed from there.
Building an outbound sales team, getting ISO certification, and earning our reputation made for a really enjoyable journey. We also had two acquisitions along the way, buying smaller language companies in 2018 and 2019. Our team was growing and our client base was growing too.
TRANSLIT is proud to have a 95 percent customer satisfaction rate for over five years. Customers just love the service and quality, and the results show. That fuelled the growth, fast forward to launching SaaS.
We had secured funding, a team of ten people, built our first software product, launched it in November 2020. And then 2020 came, bringing with it lockdowns, and self-isolation. All the interpreting projects we were expecting to be published on our website did not take place.
Interpreters were sent home while the world began transitioning to the remote. Our platform was slow to gain users because of that. Businesses and public places were closed, and conferences were empty.
After a few months, the world adapted and remote events started to take place. And during the lockdown, we came up with an additional product, TRANSLIT RSI. This remote delivery platform launched in January 2021 allowing the company to serve clients from any location using its own technology.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
TRANSLIT has had to diversify on several occasions. We tried Google Ads, social media marketing, and blogs. But for us, LinkedIn was the best source of leads. Our clients are mainly B2B so LinkedIn worked best. Newsletters also worked. A few people complained that they got too many emails from us. So we cut down on mass email marketing and focused more on personalized conversations.
In May 2020, we set up a new division at TRANSLIT - Training and CPD (career progression development) for interpreters and interpreting organizations. In six months, we had over 1,500 attendees for our webinars and courses. It proved to be working and in-demand.
We continue to invest in sharing knowledge and continuous learning. Check out our Eventrite page for events dedicated to the interpreting profession.
The training division spread the word about TRANSLIT, and the user count grew further. Interpreters were the first to come to our platform. By the end of 2020, we had over 2,000 users. In February 2021, the number of users reached 2,500 and that keeps growing.
Now with many interpreters covering many language pairs, we are focusing to get clients and Language Service Providers to the platform to publish projects.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
TRANSLIT wants to become a global leader in interpreting services and our mission is to break down barriers by going above and beyond to help people understand each other.
Our vision is a world where everyone can communicate regardless of their language, culture, or geographical location. The company is getting ready for its next series of investments to move software development in-house.
TRANSLIT was projecting a financial loss in 2020. Instead, we broke-even and jumped from ten to 15 employees.
2021 will be the year for remote interpreting and marketplaces. The world is shifting. Translation has seen significant developments over the past few years while interpreting only started seeing huge interest recently.
We move with the world and use opportunities to keep the jobs of our staff, and the jobs of interpreters who never did remote work and were sent home with no income. Our remote interpreting technology and training courses are on a very important mission to retrain old ways to deliver interpreting service and get those people back to work while providing access to language services to clients and vulnerable people who need interpretation (medical, legal, etc).
I believe we are doing something special and something that is needed right now.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The main thing I take from my experiences as an entrepreneur is never to spread yourself too thin. I had so many great ideas but they didn’t all work.
For example, before Airbnb was a thing I opened daybyday.com. They were very similar but by the time we were ready to go, Airbnb had made the news and was a hit success. Then there was Homestay and Roomorama. They were the three main competitors already.
I was also working on a freelancer.ie project when freelancer.com was starting. By the time it was ready, Fiverr took over. Then there were other projects in which I invested time and money, but they all failed.
I was unlucky and always a year or two behind someone else. So I stopped chasing others and decided to do my own thing, be my own creator.
TRANSLIT - becoming the leading interpreting provider, moving into SaaS, building the biggest community of interpreters, and instant access to interpreters - is now my goal. And with the help of my team and funding, we will make it happen.
Believing in myself and the support of those around me were my drivers. Being needed is another thing. Doing something for your own good is egocentric. Doing something for others should be the mantra of every entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs take risks. I learned to be comfortable with risks and managing them properly: evaluating, measuring, minimizing, and preventing them. Living outside of your comfort zone 24/7 is another thing that not many people can get used to. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It is for me. Having the unknown, planning, and then seeing plans come true, falling and rising again - I just love it. Every time it gets better and better. Doing a good job for others and getting paid for it is naturally a rewarding experience. An entrepreneur just has more responsibilities than an employee.
After hitting seven figures, I know it’s only the beginning. I will continue along my path as an entrepreneur. I may sell some of my companies, start new ones. Time will tell.
It’s the journey that makes it worthwhile, the sleepless nights, the hustling. But then taking a vacation when I want it, being my own boss, and learning to become a better leader, better person, better time manager, and absorbing new skills.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
At TRANSLIT we use Bitrix24 for our day-to-day. We find it incredibly useful in terms of planning and collaborating as one. We can orchestrate projects, chat in the messenger within the system, and even place deadlines on our work as we go. It's essential to what we do.
We use translation memories, CAT tools, Gantt charts, and good old Microsoft Excel, and more recently Google Sheets and Docs too.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am a big fan of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey. Losing My Virginity and Finding My Virginity by Sir Richard Branson are other favorites of mine.
I look up to Richard Branson and Elon Musk. They inspire me because I am following a similar path to them. They are both serial entrepreneurs and have several successful ventures where one serves as a Kickstarter for the other one.
I stay tuned into new technology, gadgets, cryptocurrencies, and politics. I like biographies, listening to books on Audible, and reading real books too. My interests are broad and depend on my mood.
There is an element of learning, getting news, and a bit of entertainment content too. I don’t use social media much these days as it’s a time-killing machine.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Some things come easy, some things come after hard work. Easy things are a luxury. Hard work always gets results. If things don’t come easily, just roll up your sleeves and keep pushing.
On another side, if you try too hard and it doesn’t work, let it go. When the timing is right, it will come easily. Knowing where to keep going and where to let go is a skill I still have to master. Nine out of ten businesses do not succeed. You are either in that ten percent or not. Believe in yourself no matter what, even if everyone else doesn’t.
Research IKIGAI - it’s a Japanese way to be happy: be passionate about something, love what you do, become good at it, sharpen your skills, make sure it does good, or helps others. The money will follow.
I enjoy being mentored and mentoring others. So feel free to email me at [email protected] if you want to chat about entrepreneurship or get personalized advice. No direct sales, please.
As I said, one of the things I enjoy the most is helping start-ups.
If you have developed a good product or built a great website solving someone’s problem, I would like to work with you. TRANSLIT will help you to translate and localize your message and spread it to other countries. Contact me for more information.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
TRANSLIT is always looking to expand the team. It’s the people who made it possible to get this far.
From five people in 2017 to 15 in 2021, we continue to grow and are currently hiring: vendor manager, marketing person, project managers, sales and business development personnel.
If you love languages, culture and want to work in a diverse team going above and beyond to change the world into a better place, send your CV to [email protected] with a cover letter about why we should hire you and what you love to do.
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