Translation Ubiquity: Qordoba CEO May Habib on the Need to Compete in 40 Languages

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, Qordoba CEO May Habib has had an interesting journey as she came across an industry in need and in search of innovation.

At SlatorCon New York, the Harvard Economics graduate-turned language technology entrepreneur says that creating and targeting content for diverse international audiences is no longer what it used to be. Global marketers have now turned to a data-driven approach to localization and internationalization.

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And in this data-driven world, there is a special role for translation and for linguists. “We’re seeing linguists to be folks that are more than just translators,” she says, “Even though that’s a very important job in itself, companies are actually requiring a lot more.”

In Habib’s point of view, integrating linguists with product and marketing teams as core members and not just as “nameless, faceless human beings out there who just process resource files” is a vision that should be a reality.

“As companies realize more cost-effective ways to localize, they are translating more content”

“Translation prices are dropping,” Habib observes. “That’s definitely a trend that we’re seeing.  As companies realize more cost-effective ways to localize, they are translating more content, and consumers’ expectations of being able to access everything in their own native tongue are growing.”

More than Words: Absolute Ubiquity

“User delight is what everybody is striving for,” she explains. “And unless you can read Chinese, then you are not delighted by a Chinese web page as you have no idea what it says.”

“It is important for a customer in 2017,” she adds, “to be able to read absolutely anything regardless of what language it is in.”

And it is not just words on a page but understanding as well the emotions behind it. For people in marketing and translation, this core concept will help produce better product experiences in what she says Forrester Research refer to as “the age of customer obsession.”

And this pivots to what she calls “absolute ubiquity” or the need to compete or to be in 30 or 40 languages.

“I’d love us to dedicate ourselves to a vision where absolute ubiquity in language availability is an accessibility issue and something that’s absolutely necessary,” she says.

Continuous Localization

In relation to this, the industry has been talking about the concept of continuous localization for a long time, according to Habib.

“Continuous localization means that linguists and cultural experts are involved in product development from day one,” she says.It doesn’t mean that you are translating at every sprint and you are getting the translation done at the very last day. That’s not continuous translation, that’s high-stress translation — it is stressful for everybody.”

It is more the ability to integrate translation into the source code and the product development process.

“Every company is a software company now,” Habib stresses. “Software breakthroughs have become important for localization regardless of industry.”

“Software breakthroughs have become important for localization regardless of industry”

At the American internet company Cloudflare, for example, Habib says some exciting things have been built using data and machine learning.

“One of the things that they’re doing is looking at their Google Analytics data: engagement rates, funnels, bounce rates, traffic, across all their markets. They do events in hundreds of cities, so engagement is really important and the web content for them is a huge driver of the buyer’s journey,” she shares.

She adds: “They pair that with data from Salesforce, which has country-level and region-level attribution on things like revenue, size of the pipeline and where it is. They pair it with data from Marketo, which has their email funnels and what they’re showing and putting in front of various personas geographically. When you’ve got your own internal company data indexed to that kind of market knowledge, localization becomes something really data-driven.”

Living in the Future

Interestingly, Habib reveals that Cloudflare is driven by people who don’t have localization titles but have been entrusted with the localization function.

“And that is such a different way to do it than what we see in most of the industries where it is a copy paste of whatever [they’ve] got in one market,” Habib says.

Another company that is living in the future is the NBA whose localization team is very dedicated to the idea that fans anywhere in the world should be able to use their applications no matter what language they speak.

“This is a product team,” Habib emphasizes. “No localization people or no localization experience and they’ve essentially built a real-time hybrid of both localized and custom content experiences.”

What are these experiences? Web apps, mobile apps across both Android and iOS that provides a real-time data stream of games and commentary available to fans globally.

“If I’m a user using their Android app in Chinese and I’ve chosen what teams I like, my feed in the app is all of the content for those teams in Chinese and also an interview with a Chinese player that has been dubbed in Chinese in my feed because I’m using the app in that language,” Habib explains.

“That is the future of product development: really engaging their vendors and internal stakeholders to build stuff and products that really engages and resonates with the audience,” she adds.

Growing the industry

Customers like Cloudflare and NBA and similar companies across the tech industry and even non-tech companies are looking a lot more to language service providers (LSPs) and linguists to co-develop and build products that people will be able to access or interact within their own language.

In a world that is multilingual in almost everything and language access completely ubiquitous and expected, some things [or mindsets] definitely have to change.

First, in Habib’s point of view, neural machine translation (NMT) is not something to be afraid of. Instead of shrinking the industry, it will actually grow it. “We use it, we love it, our customers love it. It is actually the base on which so much more gets done,” she says.

She compares NMT to the introduction of the Adobe Illustrator 30 years ago and the fear it unleashed back then that it will put the graphic designers out of work and into the streets.

“It’s a very different demographic I think than those who have traditionally bought localization technology and services”

That obviously hasn’t happened and the market has grown a thousand percent. Now, any company of any significance just absolutely needs to have a graphic designer on staff.  I’m really hopeful that’s what happens to localization,” she says.

At Qordoba, she reveals that they sell their enterprise localization platform to product people and engineers in their late 20s to early 30s. “It’s a very different demographic I think than those who have traditionally bought localization technology and services,” she says.

“We sell to CTOs, VPs of products, marketing people and we think this is definitely going to be the trend that continues as the importance of localization actually becomes super core to product development and marketing. It’s not even called localization anymore, it’s just called doing business,” she ends.

For a copy of May Habib’s presentation, register free of charge for a Slator membership and download a copy here.

SlatorCon Zurich

Join us at SlatorCon Zurich on December 5, 2017, for more cutting-edge insights from a global leader in language services. Björn Lifvergren, CEO, BTI Studios will be speaking about growth opportunities within the global media industry. He has over 20 years’ experience in the broadcast industry and has served as a Director on the Board at leading broadcasters Kanal 5 Ltd and Kanal 5 DK Ltd.

Eden Estopace

IT journalist and Online Editor at Slator. Loves books, movies, and gadgets; writes for a living, but codes for fun.