With coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions calling a halt to onsite meetings and conferences, many in the interpreting field are suffering financially having seen their work dry up and incomes slashed. (Some, such as the numerous EU contract interpreters, even took to the streets in protest).
It is a vastly different story for interpreting platforms; in particular, Kudo, which announced it had secured USD 6m in funding on July 22, 2020 — highlighting again how the pandemic has been a mixed bag of wins and losses for language industry stakeholders.
Kudo’s fundraise was led by Felicis Ventures, and included investment firms ID8 Investment, Global Founders Capital, Advancit Capital, and AirAngels. Niki Pezeshki was the point person at Felicis for the deal.
Slator contacted Kudo Founder and CEO Fardad Zabetian, who said that they had been put in touch with Felicis through a referral. “It took 10 business days from the initial call to the date we got the wire transfer,” he said, adding “the entire round from start to finish took less than six weeks.”
“It took 10 business days from the initial call to the date we got the wire transfer” — Fardad Zabetian, Founder and CEO, Kudo
Kudo is a video conferencing platform that facilitates multilingual meetings in the cloud. It offers a self-serve solution for companies, which can set up their meetings on Kudo as needed.
Zabetian told Slator that clients have full access to the Kudo dashboard. “They schedule their own meetings, send the invitations directly to the participants, connect with interpreters directly, upload their own documents, and add the voting items they need,” he explained.
Interpreters are broadcast live on different language channels, which users can tune into and switch between to hear interpretations in a specific language.
According to an article on TechCrunch covering news of the funding, Kudo supplies interpreters to about a quarter of all its customers, while most companies use their own. Kudo said it currently has a pool of around 8,000 interpreters covering 70 languages.
The New York-based interpreting startup first unveiled its proof of concept in 2016, before launching a market-ready product in late 2018. Kudo was originally financed with angel investment and friends-and-family money totalling less than USD 1m, TechCrunch said.
The same article said that Kudo had originally planned to raise USD 2m — USD 4m less than the amount of USD 6m they eventually secured. A sign that investors see strong and lasting potential for the company, even after the booster effect of the pandemic has subsided.
Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus lockdowns have led to increased demand for Kudo’s product and services, and the company said they are currently facilitating around 650 meetings a week. Most income comes from long-term, high-value subscriptions, Kudo said, although they have not shared revenues publicly.
Here to Stay
A number of interpreting platforms have sprung up over the past five years to cater to video remote interpreting (VRI) demand; for example, in healthcare settings, where demand is usually for one language and one interpreter, and interpreting is delivered consecutively.
However, relatively few such as Kudo offer an online alternative to multilingual conferences, where interpreting is delivered simultaneously into lots of different languages by interpreters sitting in booths, as seen in UN-style meetings.
Comparing the work that goes into in-person and remote meeting settings, Zabetian said that “live events tend to be heavier on the service side, whereas multilingual web conferencing needs more focus on aspects such as technology and automation.”
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One challenge they have faced, particularly in the months since the coronavirus pandemic, is “how little control we have during virtual meetings — especially when participants are connecting from home,” he added.
For Zabetian, 2020 has provided further testament of the viability of Kudo’s offering: “If the business disruption of the last few months taught us anything, it is that multilingual online meetings are not a theoretical abstraction. They are a viable option for event planners, corporations, organizations, and providers to ensure business continuity. Clients no longer need to be convinced, and multilingual online meetings are here to stay,” he said.
“Clients no longer need to be convinced, and multilingual online meetings are here to stay” — Fardad Zabetian, Founder and CEO, Kudo
Zabetian is under no illusion, however, that remote conferences will replace in-person events altogether. Rather, he said, the future will consist of a blend of onsite and virtual conferences: “As onsite meetings resume, as they hopefully will soon, virtual attendees will not shy away. They will continue to join remotely, as they now know is possible. Conferences and meetings will become a hybrid experience, with onsite and offsite attendees participating on equal footing.”
Given that its customers include the likes of NATO and the World Bank, Kudo will continue to focus on security, which has been challenging for many in the virtual meetings space (think Zoom bombing horror stories), as well as user-friendliness.
Another important factor for Kudo is inclusion: “We will also devote much attention to making meetings more inclusive, with greater emphasis on sign language, multilingual closed captioning, and audio description,” Zabetian told Slator.
Additionally, Kudo also plans to use funds raised to hire across engineering and product as well as sales and marketing in order to scale further. The eight roles currently advertised on their website include a VP of Sales (USD 120,000–200,000), a Head of Marketing (USD 120,000–190,000) and a Cybersecurity & Compliance Program Manager (USD 140,000–220,000).