Ever been abroad and completely unable to communicate? Old-fashioned phrasebooks are maddeningly slow and even the newest translation software is anything but accurate. And if you’ve ever tried to conduct international business using your 10th grade French, you know language barriers present a huge challenge.
A new app called VerbalizeIt uses Skype voice and video calls to beam in what is still the best translation technology: a bi-lingual human being. We sat down with Verbalize it CEO Ryan Frankel to learn more:
Ryan, what was the genesis of VerbalizeIt?
Once, I became insanely sick while in Shanghai. I finally pulled myself together enough to get to a pharmacy, but I was unable to communicate a single thing to the pharmacist. I returned to my hotel worse off than when I left.
When I got back to my MBA program after that trip, I connected with co-founder, Kunal Sarda, and we started to build a company to ensure that language is never a barrier in any conversation.
What about existing translation technologies?
The existing translation landscape is bifurcated and ineffective. It is either for travelers or for enterprise. Hiring a professional translator or dealing with a translation call center is very expensive and caters to established companies. And the more affordable computer translators don’t understand dialects or intonation. We wanted to create something that would work for travelers and small business alike.
Which languages did you start with and which are next to be added?
We started with Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish. We recently added Portuguese and French. Next up will be German, Japanese and Arabic. And we’ll keep expanding from there.
How do you keep so many translators on-call yet keep prices low?
They have to pass tests to make sure they meet our standards and are then notified by the app when someone needs their language in a call. If they are available, they join the Skype call. If not, a different translator takes it.
Translators are paid by the minute and we make sure that it is a meaningful opportunity for them. Last week, one of our translators made $571 over two days in her spare time.
Lots of small businesses use Skype, so, for us, it is a natural relationship. And it allows people to communicate within their preferred medium. We are proud to say that we just had our first company negotiate terms of a business deal with a Chilean counterpart via Skype with a VerbalizeIt Spanish translator.
Skype mobile is also a great advantage for travelers or business people while abroad. They can avoid roaming charges and, for example, can use a live translator on speaker phone to negotiate with taxi drivers and to avoid food allergies at a restaurant. That would have been really nice to have at the pharmacy in Shanghai.