Scaling Website Localization with Weglot CEO Augustin Prot

SlatorPod - Weglot CEO, Augustin Prot on Website Localization

Augustin Prot, Co-founder and CEO of Weglot, joins SlatorPod to talk about the startup’s journey as a no-code website localization technology provider. 

Augustin discusses his not-so-typical professional background in M&A and how he got into the language services and tech industry. He talks us through the transformation of their client segments, from self-service SMBs to large enterprises, and how Weglot aligns its product with these sectors.

The CEO talks about raising EUR 45m with partner Partech Growth to scale product development and expand their 30-person team. He shares how no-code tech has evolved since Weglot was founded, with digitalization and Covid-19 accelerating the trend.

Augustin shares the complexities behind website localization and how they tackle SEO challenges — such as getting Google to recognize the translated version of a website. The pod rounds off with Weglot’s roadmap for 2022, including a new integration with Squarespace and the ability to translate variables from within a platform.

First up, Florian and Esther discuss the language industry news of the week, unpacking Google’s huge new language model with 540 billion parameters.

In the anime-translation world, the English release of the Japanese fantasy manga, Ranking of Kings, was suspended due to “typographical and translation issues.” (Previous SlatorPod guest, Katrina Leonoudakis, analyzed the English translation and tweeted how it was partly copied from a fan-made translation.)

Esther talks about Iyuno-SDI’s strategic investment in UK-based technology provider, Ortana Media Group. Iyuno-SDI plans to integrate Ortana’s SaaS and managed-service solutions into its own. (Florian points out how Iyuno-SDI’s German press release was lightly post-edited using, most likely, DeepL.)

Transcript

Florian: Tell us more about your background. You were with an investment bank Lazard, so how did you transition from the investment banking world to web localization?

Augustin: When I was in banking, I did not know anything about translation or web. I spent three years doing mergers and acquisitions and I enjoyed it a lot. At some point, I started to get bored, so I thought, this has to change. I wanted to find a new challenge and I thought starting a company or joining a company soon could be the right path for me. At the time I started having a couple of ideas in my head and was trying to test them and also meeting a lot of different people who had ideas at this time. That is when I met Remy, Weglot’s Co-founder and CTO who had the idea of Weglot. When I met him, I did not know anything about HTML, CSS, whatsoever, or anything about translations, LSPs. When we had our first conversation together, he explained to me how he had the idea, the challenges he faced as a developer and that is how I got into this Weglot adventure.

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Florian: That is a business co-founder / technical co-founder combination, correct? 

Augustin: Exactly. Remy has an engineering background. He did consulting for finance for a couple of years and then he worked in a web company in real-time bidding like Criteo, but for the US competitor AppNexus. Then he quit and he started his first company which was a classified app with Google Maps, so you could see on your app what people are selling or buying around you and he did that for a year with a friend and Co-founder. After a year it was hard to raise money. It was a free premium model, a high competitor in France, so they decided to shut down the company. When he shut down the company, he thought about the different challenges he had when he did this first entrepreneur journey. Every time he met a technical challenge, he had an easy solution provided by a third party that specialized in that problem. For example, when you want to add payment to a web application, it is not easy. Will you do the connection with the bank yourself, charge a bank credit card, and so on? No, you use Stripe. It takes a day to integrate. He found the same thing for search with Algolia or for text messages with Twilio, and so on. Every time he met a technical challenge, he had this magical solution but when he had to do the translation of the web app, he did not find that magic. He had to do a lot of the very time-consuming technical work by himself, which is rewriting the code, making sure search engines will index the page, and so on. It took him a lot of time and the pain came from the technical part. The content part was simple strings and sentences, so not that hard. He spent a couple of years in the US, so he knows how to speak English better than me. From a technical pinpoint, he thought there should be a magical solution to help any web developer or web owner to make a website multilingual in minutes. That is how he presented the idea and what he was working on. I was sold from day one. I do not know how to code, so how could I help? I found users and saw if it was working and if people liked it. 

Esther: What was it about the way that Remy pitched it or the opportunity that appealed to you? Since then, what has your journey been like? Any major pivots or key milestones you faced together? 

Augustin: To be honest we did not really pivot. The vision he had presented to me at the time is the same today. It is about making this translation feature available through this solution. Our goal is that Weglot is the translation feature for website translation. That is how we see things today and that is how we saw things back then. Obviously, it was not very linear and easy. The first hard thing was to find users, so how do we get people to use the product and understand what they like, what they do not like? We quickly found out that two things were important. One is it has to be easy to integrate, so at this time there were no low-code, no-code trends. I have a website, but I am not a technical engineer or a developer, how can I add your product to my website? That was important and the other one was will search engines see the translated versions? You cannot just do a translation in the browser on the fly, otherwise, search engines will not see it, so you will clearly not benefit from having your website translated, so that was the two things. It drove us to find traction inside WordPress. A universe that you might know. We found our first traction in WordPress and it worked very well. Then we did that in another CMS, which is Shopify, so it is more online stores, e-commerce, and then we finally found a solution that we were able to add to any website, regardless what technology they are using. Today, if you are using Shopify, Webflow, WordPress, or any other CMS, you can use Weglot easily. Even if using a custom solution, it is possible. 

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Florian: Let us talk about the funding you raised from a fund called Partech Growth. What was the decision-making process behind accelerating what you have already been doing through raising funds? Was there a prior round or was it bootstrapped up to then? 

Augustin: We started Weglot in 2016 and we did a small seed round of 450,000 euros in 2017 and since then we have not raised any money. We thought maybe it was time to partner with new people, like Partech. The goal was threefold. The first is to find people who know how to support companies like us going from our stage of growth, which is 10 million euros to 50, 100 million euros. They have to be very tech-oriented and have global positioning. Partech does this size business with SMBs, with the type of companies with our level of growth. The other one is it was important for us to be able to take more risks now and not transform ourselves into a cash burner. To be more concurrent, we have more resources and to penetrate even more the different markets we are addressing. The last one is also having people. It is about having a strong employer brand and hiring great talent to build new know-how we want to develop. 

Florian: Where is the bulk of the staff located? Are most in France? Are you fully remote? How is the team set up?

Augustin: We are only in France. We have eight nationalities, but we are all in France. Some people on the team are based in other cities like me, but most of the team is based in Paris.

Florian: What type of clients have you attracted early on? Where is your core base right now? Are you planning to go more towards the enterprise side of things that have very complex deployments or the SaaS no-code layer now?

Augustin: We are coming from self-service small SMBs that we love and it works very well. We were only doing that until the beginning of 2020 when we started to see larger companies coming to us with larger needs or they wanted to have someone to help them to understand the value of the product before they can eventually do a POC. That is when we started the enterprise segment and this is about providing the same product with more usage or more needs and more service, but it is the same product. We want to have this idea of offering a product, not a service. We are not LSPs. We are a solution that helps you to make your website multilingual but we are partnering with LSPs. Many of our customers use professional translators with Weglot and the goal is to keep doing that and to grow the two segments: the self-service SMBs, but also the enterprises. We are purposefully going more and more into the enterprise side. One thing they love is that the more they have technical depth, the easier it is for us to be used because we are a layer or infrastructure that you would plugin on top of what you have and it is working out of the back-end.

Esther: For those who are not familiar with the low, no-code movement, tell us when did it all kick off? What are some of the drivers? Has COVID had any impact on the low, no-code movement and how does it all fit into the web localization universe?

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Augustin: When we started Weglot, there were no low-code, no-code words at the time. What we had in mind was to minimize the time between the discovery of Weglot and the effect and the value we provide you, so we need to be very good. When you start your sign-in process, you need to see translated versions of your website super-fast, so removing friction with technical back and forth or anything like this was important to us and still is important to us. That is what you can call no-code, low-code, which is where we are building complex things to make it simple for our users. Obviously, it is highlighted and accelerated with Covid, with digitalization, and with more and more non-technical people in charge and responsible for web applications, websites, and so on. That is also another reason why such tools like us are relevant and more and more used. The other thing is that we are at the crossroads of two pain points. One is very technical so, if I ask you to put your websites in Spanish and Chinese, there is a technical part that is complex and the other one is content. I do not speak Spanish and I do not speak Chinese, so if we come to you with a solution that is helping you to do 80% of the work in a couple of minutes, it is of huge value and that is why it is one of the reasons for our success. It is very easy to immediately have 80% of the job done, so you can focus on the 20% part if you want. 

Esther: What about some of the complexities of website localization? How do you deal with SEO? You mentioned sometimes there can be an issue with Google not recognizing the translated version of the website. What are some of the main challenges around that? 

Augustin: It is important to us and that is one of the first issues we tackled when we started Weglot. We read the Google documentation to understand what was important, so technically speaking, there are three things to have in mind. One is having your translations on the service side, so it means that it is rendered by the server and it is not only in your browser. For example, if you go as a visitor to a website and you see the browser is proposing you switch the language from English to French, it is only in your browser, so it is not in the source code. The other thing is having dedicated URLs, so you should have a dedicated URL to indicate to Google that there are two versions of the page. For example, you can use subdomains such as mywebsite.com for English and mywebsite.fr for French. You can also use top-level domains or subdirectories. The last point is to help Google know that there are different versions of your website and there are two ways to do that. Firstly, have a site map. It is basically a map and it says there are different versions of your website and the other one is to add hreflang tags. Both of them have the same purpose, which is to let Google know that there are alternate versions in other languages of the page they are crawling. We are doing that for you out of the box again, so you can just focus on work, iterate on your keywords, or things like this. Not on the technical part. 

Florian: Weglot does not offer translation services, so you are partnering with LSPs or your clients will bring and onboard their own freelancers or LSPs, is that correct?

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Augustin: Exactly. Our goal is to offer our users the best resources to do their own translation workflow depending on their resources and the time they have. By default, we offer machine translation so they do not start from scratch. They can activate the display on it. Then they can edit that themselves with their localization teams or translators. They can invite the LSPs they are working with to do the edit and the review. They can outsource part or all of their translations to professional translators or LSPs that we are working with. Today we are working with TextMaster, so TextMaster is a marketplace owned by Acolad but it is also possible to export and bring in your own LSPs if you want. The goal for us is to be able to give you the resources so you can build what you want. Today we do not have a marketplace built inside Weglot but what you can do, for example, is invite your translator for a specific language. You can even assign the translation to them and they can come into the account, review it, see it on the web page to have the context, and then do the translations. You will notify them when it is done and it is live on your website. 

Florian: What is your customer’s perception of machine translation in 2022? Probably a wide variety of people think it is basically one click and it is done. Others might have a bit more of a nuanced understanding.

Augustin: It varies as it depends on use cases. For example, if you are an online e-commerce store and you have hundreds of thousands of products, it is not going to be possible to do manual human translations. It is just not scalable and it is not value-driven. Generally speaking, e-commerce tends to use machine translations by default, and then iterate on the most profitable or seen or most important pages. Then you also have, for example, another use case that could be a corporate website. It is about the corporate voice and it is important for them to have that in different languages. For them, machine translation can be a resource and a tool but they need to validate and make sure it sticks to their constraint. Again, we are not recommending anything ourselves. We are just letting them build what they want. Going back to the perception of machine translation, when I used Google Translate in college, it was horrible. It has improved and I am very impressed today with the quality it offers for some types of content. It will never be like humans for sure, but it is a great tool. 

Esther: How has it been in the past couple of years trying to hire and retain engineering and tech talent? On the one hand, obviously, it is very competitive, but also with Covid, it makes life a bit more challenging as well. 

Augustin: It is challenging, I will not lie, but overall it went well. The mission and opportunity are very interesting. We are building something that is used by 60,000 websites all over the world and we have a unique opportunity to create a brand that could be the translation feature for the web, which is quite exciting. We are using state-of-the-art cloud services, so it is also attracting engineers to join us. Also, we can be picky and we are not good at anticipating. We tried to improve ourselves but we tend to wait until we are way under the water before creating a new job offer. It is changing. We were 30 people, so that is not a huge team. It is less challenging than for other tech companies that are 400 people. 

Esther: Are you hiring outside of France potentially? 

Augustin: No. Since we are a small team we think it is important to share the culture. We are not remote by default. We do not have a culture that is very easy to build and improve with the remote-only environment for now. It might change one day, but we now hire in France.

Florian: Are you hiring more on the marketing and sales strategy side of the business? Generally, what has your marketing approach been and where do you see it going now? You seem to have great success onboarding clients through SEO and other channels, but is that going to change going forward or will you double down?

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Augustin: We are going to double down for sure. First, we are still hiring for technical positions. That is important for us. Also, in support which is a mix of technical and business. In sales, we are hiring technical people because sometimes it is important. The exciting thing is that we are discovering more and more usage over time. For example, we are getting traction with local governments or government websites. They have a big challenge to be accessible and translation compliant with their own policies, so that is a new use case. We need people to be able to absorb the demand, so it is also about building the road to market and doubling down on what is working. The new things we want to build are probably being able to build inside marketing communities, inside localization communities, and inside these types of communities that are less technical than the ones we used to talk to in the past. 

Florian: You are firmly in this web ecosystem with WordPress and Shopify, have you added other ecosystems or CMS’, like Sitecore? Then beyond that, what could be growth areas, or are you happy with the web generally?

Augustin: One day we could do a native mobile app, but for now it is a logic that is a bit different. The way we are doing translations for websites is real-time and synchronous, so native mobile apps are not in real-time by nature, so it is another play. For now, we think that the web application and website market is very large, so we should just focus on improving the product. We are focusing on solving these pains and trying to offer the best solution for that and as long as we have room to increase our market share and be more present, we will first focus on that and then maybe one day we will do something else.

Esther: What is your outlook in terms of growth and trends and drivers for web localization? 

Augustin: We are at the crossroad of translation, localization, and websites. There are more than 1 billion domain names registered and it is growing. Webpages in the translation industry are growing, so there is more and more demand for these types of formats. I do not have a specific number. I could say it is a 50 billion USD market, probably. It is a large market that is growing which is exciting.

Florian: Tell us the top three things that are on your roadmap for the next 12 to 18 months? Any features, additions, new things? Anything you can disclose?

Augustin: I can discuss things that are either in beta or about to be launched. First, we have a new integration with Squarespace that helps Squarespace users to easily use us inside the admin product of Squarespace, so they can just activate with us inside that. The second thing, I do not know if you will share this excitement about this, but we can now translate variables inside Weglot. It means that customer X buys the end product, now it is just one string and it is not N strings, for example. The last one is we want Weglot to be this translation infrastructure, so it is important for us to be able to offer maximum flexibility to our users. It means in terms of URLs, they can play with URLs. For example, they can have a subdirectory that could be /fr, but if they want it could be /fr-be for Belgium, so they can have local or original versions of their language if they want. That is something that we are working on and that will hopefully be ready this year.