Joshua Gould has been named CEO of Leeds-based language service provider thebigword. Based in New York, Gould is the son of founder and chairman Larry Gould.
With annual revenues just above USD 100m, thebigword Group is ranked among Leaders group in the 2019 Slator Language Service Provider Index.
The younger Gould took the helm from Nihat Arkan, immediate past CEO, who “decided to leave the business to return to Germany, where he was based, and really spend more time with his family; and there were a few other business opportunities,” Gould told Slator.
The new CEO’s executive team has Mark Rice as Chief Information Officer; Hazel Griffiths, Chief Financial Officer; Claire Riches, Chief Operations Officer, TBW Global; Mark Daley, Chief Operations Officer, thebigword T&I; Luis Sangiovanni, Global Marketing Director; Leanne Bottomley, Global HR Director; Rory Bickerton, Global Communications Director. The elder Gould remains Chairman.
As Group CEO, Joshua Gould is responsible for four business units: thebigword (translation and interpreting), TBW Global (Defense and Security), Gould Tech Solutions (language technology), and Connect Earth (training technology).
According to Gould, work at thebigword T&I, the company’s largest unit, is fairly evenly distributed between translation and interpreting; while at TBW Global, interpreting work for defense contracts makes up 97–98%. As for their tech unit, he said Gould Tech Solutions (GTS) builds tech stacks for the whole group and then sells them as part of a combined offering.
Building a Platform
In particular, GTS is backing their new WordSynk platform (to the tune of roughly USD 20m over the past five years, according to Gould), which comprises a translation management system, an interpreting management system, a virtual call center, chat tools that focus on security, and a contract management system.
Asked whether he sees any issues around, eventually, competing with potential LSP licensees of WordSynk on the services side (à la SDL selling Trados to LSPs) and still successfully scaling the business, Gould replied that what WordSynk provides is a marketplace.
Gould said he wants to get away from “that line of thinking” that hurts the industry. He explained this with the analogy of a currency trading platform: “The people that I trade with don’t own that platform.” The new CEO added that “we’re all building the same products” and competing, instead of joining forces to reduce overall cost and reinvesting that money to deliver a better product for the customer.
Regarding the LSP’s relationship with its linguists, Gould said that just prior to the Slator interview, he had met with a group of interpreters in New York City. “Often you look at the industry and you hear ‘us and them.’ Us being the providers, the LSPs, and then the linguists. And that has really damaged the industry,” Gould said. “For me, I think it’s an embarrassment for the industry. We’ve got to get together. We’ve got to work as a team. We’ve got to be unified.”
They Talk a Big Game
Given that OTP, VRI, and on-site consecutive interpreting form the bulk of thebigword’s interpreting business, what are Gould’s thoughts on the fast-growing, cloud-based simultaneous interpreting platforms, such as Interprefy and KUDO, and others that provide MICE organizers with simultaneous interpreting at a lower price than is possible under the traditional booth setup?
Gould said all the talk around cloud-based is a red herring because “we’re all cloud-based.”
He added, “I think they talk a big game and investors like to hear those buzzwords and they buy into it. It’s not that their products aren’t good. Actually, it’s more that they don’t have the client base like thebigword has, which allows us to develop tools fitted to the market’s needs. Like our WordSynk technology stack. Conference Interpreting is a very small market for us, however. If we think it’s valuable, we’ll plug it into the back end of our WordSynk tech stack.”
Like all other large established LSPs, thebigword’s translation business is also increasingly facing competition from a new class of startups (Unbabel, Lilt, etc.) that are well funded by venture capital firms.
So what are Gould’s thoughts on VCs rediscovering an appetite for the language industry? “My opinion on this is that it’s about time. I think that these venture funds have been asleep at the wheel,” he said, adding, “I’m not surprised to see these big investments. I think, obviously, thebigword group is miles ahead. We’re not a startup. We’re nearly 40 years old this year, but we have a tech stack and we’ve already spent what they hope to spend and hope to deliver. I think that, from my perspective, when you bring outside investment in, you need to have a really good reason to do so.”
“It’s about time. I think that these venture funds have been asleep at the wheel”
On how thebigword intends to fund growth, Gould said, “Currently, we do have outside investment and we work with our banks. We have access to a very significant amount of cash and, sometimes, we use that. But because we didn’t go to the private equity or the VC market, it doesn’t attract much interest.”
Asked for his 2019 revenue projections, Gould said it is too early to say: “If we are ever going to get Brexit done successfully, we could easily see our revenues increase by USD 20 or 30 million when the pound bounces back. If there is a hard Brexit, we have prepared well. We have hedged very well because we are such a huge operation in the UK that it would make our operation incredibly cheap under a hard Brexit.”