Diego recounts his beginnings as a Translator, Project Manager, and eventually branching off on his own to create Creative Words in Italy. He also shares the motivation behind the founding of Creative AI for multilingual data services and how it functions alongside Creative Words.
The CEO discusses the evolution of post-editing machine translation (PEMT) and the LSP’s approach to pricing PEMT by the word. He also shares their marketing strategy through social media, Google SEO, and partnerships with associations such as GALA, ATC, and Elia.
Diego talks about his new role at Elia and their aim for members to actively grow through visibility and engagement. He reflects on the uncertain future of the language industry but says he expects it to remain fertile with innovation.
First up, Florian and Esther discuss the language industry news of the week, with popular American YouTuber MrBeast tweeting about the success of his dubbed videos and foreign language channels.
Esther talks about EGA’s latest research project on the impact of media and entertainment localization on consumers in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Meanwhile, KUDO announces an integration with Microsoft Teams, where users will be able to access KUDO’s on-demand multilingual interpretation for over 200 spoken and sign languages from their current platform.
Florian gives an update on AMN Healthcare’s Q3 2021 results, which saw revenues surpassing expectations at USD 878m, 59% more than Q3 2020.
Florian: First, tell us a bit about your personal background. How did you get started in the language industry? What year, what time? How did you get into this?
Diego: It is quite a standard story. I decided to study languages when I was 14 and that is all I did basically. I started as a translator before graduating. I was supposed to become an interpreter but I did not like it and so I started as a translator in another company. Then I became a project manager because I got sick of translating after a short time. Then in 2008, I became a partner of that company. After 11 years in that company I left and yesterday it was our fifth anniversary with Creative Words. Nothing strange or weird to tell you. It is pretty standard.
Esther: It was announced just last month that you are the new President of the Board for Elia. What was your journey to being appointed as the President?
Diego: I am still amazed by that journey. My second event in the industry was an Elia event in 2017, it was focused on project management and I met Françoise there. She used to be the President of Elia back then. I did not know Elia at all, so I had lunch with her and she explained to me about the association. This is where we came to know the association. In 2017, I had just started my company. I was trying to get as visible as I could in the industry. I had even applied for the GALA board at some point. For Elia, I was accepted in 2018. I think it was because I was starting to be visible in the industry. I entered the board of Elia in 2018 and our usual term would be two years, but with COVID we had to extend it by one year. I stayed there for three years and then Clio, the former president, told us she would be leaving the association and so I thought to myself, let us try and see if it works since I do not want to leave the association anytime soon. The association could use longer leadership so let us see if I get voted again next year.
Esther: You mentioned founding your company Creative Words about five or so years ago. What was your experience of setting up and launching out on your own? How was that experience shaped by the fact that you are based in Italy and what is the market like over there?
Diego: As I said, in 2008, I became a partner of the other company, so that is where I built my managerial skills and my entrepreneurial skills. I also attended a masters in how to manage a company because that is not something you get to learn in translation language schools, and so founding the company was not that difficult. The model was pretty much the same, only the clients were different because for NDA reasons I could not get in touch with my former customers. I started in November 2016. I was by myself for a long three months and then I hired a marketing person, then a project manager and the rest is history. It was a pretty standard story. As for the industry in Italy, it was difficult for me to approach Italian customers. The only customer I got from sending many emails, messages and making calls was just one. In Italy, it is still difficult to sell language services. The industry is quite crowded. There are many of us out there. Now I can say we have an international client base, so we are not very affected by the Italian market, which by the way, is not the best it could be.
Florian: Tell us about Creative Words in a nutshell. What are you focusing on? The key client segments and services.
Diego: It is not anything fixed. We will focus on offering Italian as a target language for international customers, as that is where we perform better and have better relationships with customers. We do offer any kind of service for those customers. Translation, post-editing, that is where we started and Creative Words was supposed to offer creative services but then we focused on machine translation maybe too much. We are doing that, but also doing subtitling, voiceover. The only thing that we are not doing is interpreting at the moment. We are not into that. Then we started off other services, content creation, copywriting, data collection. Again for those kinds of customers, we offer any service you can think of for Italian, but we also work with multi-language vendors as well. Depending on what they ask us to do, we do that. Usually, I tend to be the one who accepts everything because you can learn from those experiences. We do all linguistic services you can think of and we are trying to add some automation and some innovation in what we offer. Its 360-degree linguistic services, plus the data and SEO consultancy, all of that.
Esther: You co-founded a separate company, Creative AI, and that was launched just this year in 2021. What was the motivation behind keeping that pretty separate from the LSP side?
Diego: The first time I worked on a data project was in 2010. I think it was for Lionbridge and there was a market there already back then. It is still growing and we got many requests last year during the pandemic about data, but we struggle in managing those projects because you need a lot of people and you need to pay them, you need to onboard them, train them and so on. I thought, why do not we try and build some technology to be able to manage? I did not want to put Creative Words at risk by investing too much money into it and the other reason why I kept it separate is that I am hoping I will get some funds being a novelty startup. The two companies are quite intertwined. We work together quite a lot on different things. The idea was Creative AI could contribute to the visibility of Creative Words by offering the data services and vice versa. We can provide the technology from Creative AI to Creative Words. Creative Words can provide that network and the customers because many MLVs are requesting those kinds of services and at the same time, Creative AI could work independently to build the technology.
Florian: Tell us about how you approach human-in-the-loop versus expert-in-the-loop. You have an ISO certification for post-editing, how do you see this? What is the end goal? Is it merely post-editing or are we going into a more interactive dynamic way of working with MT output?
Diego: We started quite early and in Italy, we were the first one to get certified for post-editing. A customer approached me asking for 200,000 words in a couple of days and I said, yes because it was the first big job that I could get some money from and so that is why I started with post-editing. It has changed a lot. Machine translation quality has improved and we have a huge provider base for post-editing. We have trained them a lot. Is it changing? I do not know. We still receive the traditional project with just post-editing. Someone also asked for light post-editing, even if it is something I do not like. I have not seen that change myself personally. I am quite up to date with what is happening on the market, but for us, it does not change too much, apart from the fact that machine translation is improving and price pressure of course is always there. Volumes probably have increased. I was one of those companies that worked on those big eCommerce projects back in 2018. Everybody was working on those projects for that big eCommerce website. That is not there anymore, but eCommerce got a boost last year, for instance, so we are working on those kinds of projects. One change is that volumes are increasing. It is not just that one single client is sending us volumes. In terms of skills and people we are using, it is quite the same as it was in 2017.
Florian: You mentioned price pressure. Do you see that still being a unit rate game where it is per word or are you able to charge per hour for certain select clients already? Is that something you want to do? What are your thoughts on that?
Diego: For machine translation, no, we are not charging per hour. We are still charging by the word depending on the projects. There is a lot of price pressure. For some projects, we had to cut the rate in half compared to 2017 because the volumes are bigger and the customer would expect some reduction. What we do usually is we try to increase the productivity gain ourselves, or at least we pilot them. When the customer comes to us with productivity in mind, we offer them a range of discounts and then we try and see where we stand in that range so it is quite traditional. Sometimes they will ask for TR or other forms of pricing. I do not like the post-editing analysis or TR or whatever you want to call it. I do not think it is fair for anyone in the supply chain. We traditionally apply just the word rate but based on some testing of the productivity gain.
Esther: What generally is your approach at Creative Words to buy versus build when it comes to language technology? Talking about MT, TMS, CAT or other translation productivity tools.
Diego: We do not build any technology. For the CAT tool, we just use the ones that are on the market depending on what the customer asks us to use because we work with many MLVs and they all have their preference. We try to do what we can in between so we are using automation and we are using many of these things that you can do to make things better for the project managers, for instance, so we build that, but we buy the main technology. This is where for instance, Creative AI is helping Creative Words to build those kinds of connections. We also use other third-party services for automation and so on, but more and more, we are working with Creative AI to do that and it is working pretty well.
Florian: You have got one of the best marketing games in the industry for the size of the LSP that you run. How come your first hire was a marketing person? What are your thoughts around marketing and sales as well?
Diego: In my former company we did not go to any events, we were not visible, we would not market our services. It was just traditional selling and I did not like that. When I left and founded my own company, the first hire was a marketing person. Now we do have a marketing department. It is a small one but still, it is quite big for the industry and for companies my size. When I go to events, everybody asks me, how can you do all this marketing? I am paying someone to do it so if you see a post coming from Diego, that is me doing the marketing, but if it is coming from Creative Words, that is someone else doing it. It is becoming more and more a global effort by the company team members. It is working great. My biggest customer find is through social media. You can offer the best services in the industry, but if your potential customers do not know what you do then it is useless. We are investing a lot in visibility and marketing. The reason why I go to so many events and I do so many things is to be visible and stay there in the customer’s minds when they need us. Then the customer believes you can provide value and you need to keep the promise, as customers are really important.
Florian: What are your thoughts around Facebook versus Twitter versus LinkedIn. In the language industry, LinkedIn seems to be, at least for us, number one.
Diego: It is number one for me as well. I am getting close to 17,000 followers on LinkedIn. I am just using LinkedIn posts on Twitter. Facebook is mostly for my personal and family stuff, as well as Instagram. LinkedIn, for me, works best. For the company, we are trying to expand on Instagram because that is where we talk with our supply chain and we also try TikTok as well because that is the next generation coming. If you talk with young students about LinkedIn, they look at you like you are their grandpa, so we are trying TikTok as well and it worked. I am not sure where we are now, because I have someone doing that, but it worked. Depending on your objectives, you need to be more or less everywhere.
Florian: How about paid ads or Google SEO? In my experience working in an LSP, we did run a fair amount of Google ads and it worked slightly. It was quite expensive, but the occasional big lead came in and it helped.
Diego: We have been testing the Google ads since we started only a couple of months ago. We have been doing SEO since we built the new website which happened last year. SEO is important. We are spending some money on Google ads and we do not see the return yet, but I think it can work pretty well. SEO is amazing but it is not like it is free because it takes time to do that. We are doing a lot of SEO and it is working, but the most leads come from social media. We do not have any sales department at the moment and we are growing by 30% year on year so it is working.
Esther: Coming back to Elia, tell us a bit more about the goals of the association and also what plans you have as part of your presidency?
Diego: Our main purpose is to see our members grow, so as to replicate what happened to my company, for instance. At the first event, I was by myself with a part-time project manager, but now we have grown a lot since then and Elia was essential to boosting growth. This is what we want for our members. We are now discussing the strategy for the next three years because everything has changed and members might want something different than before. Events might not be the only thing that they would like to have right now so that is under discussion. We have not decided yet where to go precisely and so, as far as I am concerned, I am hoping to bring some innovation in the industry for our members, because that is much needed.
As I said, the world is changing, so they might not perceive the same value in what we used to offer a couple of years ago, for instance, and we can see that. I would like to engage our members as much as we can and to make them understand that your growth can also come from visibility and engagement. I do not think it makes sense if you just pay the membership and do not do anything with it, but it happens with some members that we have at the moment. I am trying to change that and I am hoping to stay as long as possible in order to be able to change things because if you stay there for one year nothing changes.
Esther: How do you maximize a membership with organizations like Elia, Gala, ATC? What do you think being a member of these organizations and others should typically involve?
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Diego: Let me start by saying that I think we could do better with that. We are with GALA, Elia, ATC, and also an Italian association called Federlingue, so we are everywhere. We could do better, but I am trying first to be engaged so for instance, I am in a GALA committee for machine translation post-editing pricing and training. I am taking part in calls and in the committee. With ATC, for instance, we applied for an award last year and we won, so we try not to be passive with that. You need to be engaged and if you manage to be engaged in the board, you can learn. With GALA and even with Elia, I am trying to convince my team members that they have access to a wealth of resources that they can leverage. We do have objectives. We are reading blogs and publishing blogs as well. We are also having webinars with the other associations. We are going to their events. We are trying to be active in all ways you can think of. I am all for partnering with those associations. We are friends with GALA and we want to be friends with everybody. I call them partners rather than competitors. This is why I am all for sharing and if you share, then at the end of the day, you just raise the bar and you compete on something bigger and more challenging and more fun.
Florian: Are you planning to do another in-person conference? You were trailblazing with the one in Rhodes.
Diego: The last one was in Rhodes. It was amazing. People were just willing to have fun and dance and drink and network and meet and swim. Our next event will be online, unfortunately. It will be focused on project managers, but that is the format that we found is ideal for that event and then I am working on the next event in Italy which will happen in March next year. This is the event we were not able to have in Milan in 2020 because it was the first one that was canceled because of COVID. It was supposed to start on Wednesday and I had to cancel on Sunday. It was quite a crisis there. The next big one will be in Rome next March.
Florian: Now we always ask that question at the end. What is your outlook for the next 2, 3, 4, 5 years in the industry and for your company?
Diego: I want to grow the company. I considered buying another company in the summer. I was considering spreading around Europe. It did not happen and I will be staying here for longer. I want to keep innovating as much as I can with different services and with more integration with data and so on. The market is fertile in terms of innovation. I do not know where the industry is heading. I heard last night about Airbnb doing some innovation in the way they are managing localization. It is a very interesting market and let us see what happens. We are going to see many things that we cannot even think of at the moment. In five years it is going to be very different from what it is now, so my aim is to keep up to date and try not to stay behind.