Slator’s hires column offers a glimpse into the inner workings of language service providers (LSPs): their revenue streams, what they specialize in, how they run operations, and the impact of changes in the global language market.
In this month’s column: Jennifer Bers of Unbabel talks about the challenges and opportunities that exist for language service providers (LSPs) regardless of macroeconomic conditions. Andres Ravello of LinguaLinx weighs in on the impact on the cost of operations and the consolidation of the language market.
Mason Hanson of Lilt shares the similarities between the sector he came from and the language industry, and what will keep him busy in 2023. And Jason Dykes of Pangeanic emphasizes how important a challenge ROI is, and concurs with the rest that automation and globalization are keeping the market vibrant.
Jennifer Bers – Unbabel
San Francisco-based AI agency, Unbabel, appointed Jennifer Bers Chief Revenue Officer on June 13, 2022. Based in London, she reports to CEO, Vasco Pedro. In turn, Sales, Partnerships, Business Development, Account Managers, Customer Success, and Solutions Consulting report to Bers.
According to Bers, some of the major challenges facing the language industry at the moment exist regardless of the macroeconomic environment. She told Slator that customers will always seek to strike a balance as regards quality, speed, scale, and pricing. “The current headwinds bring reduced budgets, fluctuating ownership of content, and increased focus on efficiency. The more a business partner can provide measurable value across an organization, combined with control over the output, the better,” she explained.
Asked what makes the industry so resilient, she replied that rather than being a nice-to-have, language services are “a critical requirement for companies and it’s coming to the forefront more as senior executives realize their biggest asset (their customers) is best served by speaking their language.”
She added, “Entering new markets, providing support, driving increased sales — that all has been proven far more effective when done in the native language than expecting everyone to speak English or using an inferior tool to translate.”
The Unbabel CRO also pointed out how it is more expensive to acquire new customers than to retain them, and the fastest way to disengage is to stop speaking to customers in their native language. “If you’re already engaging with your customers in France in French, the fastest way to show you don’t care about them is to stop providing your content in French and expect them to speak to you in English,” she said, adding that it leaves an opening for a competitor to swoop in and provide the great experience that customer had come to expect.
On Unbabel’s business outlook for 2023, Bers said, “We expect organizations to be conservative and maintain focus on scaling back to what’s critical.” She believes that organizations such as Unbabel, which had invested significantly on AI, will “better withstand the challenges of the market and even grow, while those that have more expensive, manual solutions will find it difficult to be able to provide the cost-value balance.”
Andres Ravello – LinguaLinx
Ravello is responsible for Operations, Production Team Leads — who, in turn, oversee Project Management teams in the US, South America, and Europe — as well as Technology and Vendor Management.
Some of the main challenges facing the industry right now have always been there, he said, including the “pressure from clients to buy at lower rates.” But, in today’s economic environment, other factors compound that pressure.
According to Ravello, “Inflation, increased cost of living, and increased rates in technology and other services directly affect the cost of operations, which are not easily transferred to the buyer. Localization technology is still catching up compared with other industries and there is not enough automation or AI in the market to substantially move the needle on operating costs.”
He attributes the resilience of the language industry to tech advancements that have “taken globalization to a different level, pushing companies to create more content and to localize more than ever before. On top of that, the post-Covid-19 era increased the volume of specific content (e.g., media, e-learning) to be localized, which were not as relevant before.”
Ravello sees the consolidation of the language industry continuing into 2023, with big LSPs becoming bigger and more small LSPs becoming mid-size, even as “smaller LSPs / MLVs are constantly being created.”
The LinguaLinx Head of Localization also sees new TMS options emerging and a lot of interest from investors to invest in the space. He added, “Technology is evolving, but slowly. I would love to see a truly disruptive technology…like how we thought MT would be some years ago.”
Mason Hanson – Lilt
San Francisco-based AI language services and tech agency, Lilt, hired Mason Hanson as Director of Business Operations on September 26, 2022. Based in New York, Hanson reports to Spence Green, CEO.
While his current focus is driving efficiencies for the business where he can, Hanson said, “In 2023, I will be building out our business analytics function to leverage one of Lilt’s greatest advantages, its access to data from the Lilt Platform. Optimizing on the insights provided from this data, Lilt has the opportunity to identify and implement efficiencies across the localization workflow.”
Having freshly joined the language industry from logistics, Hanson said he sees many similarities, such as “a combination of headcount and obsessive operational excellence to overcome challenges and maximize margins. Think Ford and the invention of the assembly line.”
Hanson further noted how “supply chain and LSPs are both selling commodities, and thus, maximize margins by squeezing prices and optimizing their labor pool. The challenge with this approach is that their efforts make small step-wise improvements, and build an inherent ceiling to potential impact. There is a maximum that customers are willing to pay, and costs can only be reduced so much with manual improvements.”
It is here where “tech-first companies” like Lilt can transform the industry “by finding ways to do more with less,” Hanson said. As for the overall resilience of the language market, he credits ever-expanding digital globalization with language as a vital enabler.
The Lilt Ops Director sees the significance of the global experience and localization continuing to grow through 2023, “so products that delight customers, support scale, and drive cost efficiencies will be at an advantage.”
Jason Dykes – Pangeanic
Spain-based AI-enabled LSP, Pangeanic, appointed Jason Dykes Director of Marketing on September 1, 2022. Working out of the company’s home base of Valencia, Spain, he reports to Manuel Herranz, CEO. “In my team are Aurora Ramirez, Senior Marketing Specialist, and Marisol Letelier, Marketing Assistant,” Dykes said.
Among the challenges facing the industry right now is that businesses with language processing requirements need more help from LSPs, but they also have to immediately “show the benefits” of such an investment, which is vital to “get their projects off the ground.”
Dykes points to “the increasing amounts of data, automation, and globalization” that are crucial to keep business moving forward as one reason why the language industry remains vibrant. And this will continue into 2023, which he sees as “challenging, but full of opportunity!”