Globalization for Scrappy Startups

In recent years, I’ve heard many technology startups described as “scrappy,” so much so that a Meetup called Scrappy Startup was formed in Mountain View with over 3000 members. “Scrappy” is a quality that new ventures aspire to and wear as a badge of honor.

Scrappy is fast and pugnacious. Scrappy is being the underdog but persevering and overcoming with grit and hustle. Scrappy is David versus Goliath. Scrappy is launching a successful product and stealing big market share from an incumbent player. Scrappy ain’t pretty but when it wins the day everyone cheers.

A scrappy startup must eschew activities that threaten its goals and drain key resources such as people, time and money. After all, there’s only so much runway and the investors are impatient.

With that in mind, when is the right time for a startup to think about globalization? I was really curious about this and talked to a some very knowledgeable people to get their perspective. In a prior blog I wrote titled Crossing the Globalization Chasm, I explored the answer to this question. Today, I would add the question “Can a startup go global and still be scrappy?”

More and more, I would say the answer is “yes” and I will list some of the options.

First, let me contrast the scrappier version of globalization with the established globalization of a Fortune 500 software company.

The big company globalization team was once a scrappy team, making due with little and hustling to localize software, documentation and marketing collateral. Then the volume of work grew and with it the pain of tools and processes that simply could not scale. The budget expanded and so did the tools, processes and team. This was both a blessing and a curse. The pain was reduced but so was the agility.

The scrappy startup has high agility but tight resources. So when the need to go global arises, what are the options?

Outsource Wisely

What I have seen in software startups is that there is no localization team, or at most a small one. Teams must rely on external vendors to do the localization work with a minimum of intervention or guidance from the startup. The startup should focus on providing translatable content in the most streamlined way possible and reintegrate it similarly.

A startup can reduce costs by contracting directly with linguists but should be aware that removing the project management layer, typically provided by localization vendors, will result in more management responsibility for team members at the startup, taking their time from other activities.

Open Source Tools

Startups have recognized that a common barrier to globalizing their products is efficiently extracting localizable content from source code repositories and sending it to localization vendors. Back in the day, this meant building scripts to pull source files from Visual Source Safe or Perforce. Today, it frequently means pulling commits from GitHub. Fortunately, GitHub has a RESTful API that makes pulling files a breeze and, as a result, companies have built localization apps to do just that. Other content repositories have similar functionality.

Mojito

While no longer a startup, Box recognized the need to streamline app localization and built the open source tool called Mojito. Mojito reduces the need for project management and connects linguists and translatable content. Because it is an open source application, other startups are free to use the tool with the knowledge that Box will likely support it in the future.

Okapi

The Okapi Framework provides a set of open source tools that are critical for localization. With Okapi you can accomplish many functions typically found in enterprise translation management systems. For example:

  • Filtering of around 60 different file formats.
  • Creation and utilization of text segmentation rules.
  • Batch processing server
  • TM and MT connectors.
  • Creation of translator projects in XLIFF format.
  • Creation of batch processing pipelines.
  • Translation memory management.
  • Terminology extraction and many more features.

Okapi has been used as the foundation for other localization apps and helps avoid having to reinvent much of the core functionality required. Okapi has Rainbow, a desktop app with frontend for accessing the translation features. However, Okapi does not have a web application frontend. This means to get maximum benefit from Okapi, as a bona fide translation management system, you’ll have to build a web app on top of it (see ONTRAM for a nice example of this).

Shuttle

Shuttle is a project created by Square and is also open source, hosted on GitHub. It provides a simple and streamlined interface for creating translation projects from commits, which are GitHub’s term for a collection of files that have been added to Git repository and can be identified by a unique SHA.

Translators access projects in Shuttle and do their work in the Shuttle workbench. Reviewers approve translations and translated files are integrated with the Git repository. Companies using Shuttle have full visibility into the status of translation work because it is happening in Shuttle. So reports and translated word counts are always up to date.

Here are a few of the features of Shuttle:

  • Tools for project managers to prioritize and track work against defined due dates.
  • Git integration to automatically pull translatable content into a local database for projects.
  • Translator workbench with glossary and translation memory support.
  • Fuzzy matching of source segments against previously translated strings.
  • Rich metrics and graphics for translation activity at Git and project levels.

Shuttle continues to be developed and new features are being added regularly. If you are looking for a globalization solution for your CI/CD pipeline, look no further.

SaaS Solutions

Online tools offer subscription-based localization technology and language services that promise quick production roll-out, greatly simplifying access to translation and review. This path holds great appeal for companies that are willing to spend a little more on a subscription-based model but want to shift the burden away from in-house management and vendor procurement. Young companies may not possess the expertise or want to allocate precious staff time to management globalization activities. SaaS globalization tools provide a fast, intermediate option between a lean open source tools approach and an enterprise style localization teams and technology approach. There are many SaaS players in this space:

Among these tools, you’ll see a lot of common but important features. Here are some items to pay attention to:

Support for content types – many of these solutions are oriented toward application development but some provide some support for marketing content, beyond web. Review the file types supported by each service to make sure they match your needs.

Tiered subscription models – allow you to choose a level of translation to match your current needs. As you grow, you can step up to tiers with higher word counts and additional features.

Integration and API – many provide easy to configure integrations with content sources such as GitHub repositories and WordPress. When ready-to-use integrations are not available a robust and reliable API will allow your engineers to set up your own integration.

Translation context – providing a visual preview of an application, web page or other document is critical to understand the source content meaning, to accurately translate the material and to review the result. When this functionality is available online and on-demand, it dramatically speeds up the work by eliminating questions and requests for screenshots from your team.

Ease of project management – translation projects quickly become complex with hundreds of files being translated into multiple languages. Simple project management tools with great metrics will provide transparency and clarity into your work as it is being completed.

Access to vendors and linguists – sourcing and managing vendors and linguists is a full time job! Finding a solution that provides easy access localization vendors and linguists can greatly simplify the process. Be aware that some services are open marketplaces that welcome all qualified linguists, while other services may act as a frontend to a single localization service provider.

Summing Up
Scrappy startups who want to globalize their applications have excellent options today. With modern repositories, like GitHub, and open source tools, it’s possible to set up continuous localization workflows directly with localization vendors or linguists and get localized content back into your product. If your company would prefer to spend more cash, rather than people’s time, then there are many SaaS solutions that will allow you to route your content to qualified linguists with less effort.

Even with these various options, it’s often necessary to make customizations for more specific requirements and sort through many process, organizational and technical questions. That’s where Spartan Software can help. We have deep experience integrating content repositories, building machine translation connectors, developing custom features for translation management systems, automating manual tasks, and generally greasing the wheels of globalization workflows.

If you need scrappy globalization solutions for your startup please message me (trent@spartansoftwareinc.com) at Spartan Software, Inc. for a consultation!