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Babelverse Targets Overlooked Markets for Interpreting
Posted by Nataly Kelly, Vijayalaxmi Hegde on July 9, 2012  in the following blogs: Interpreting, Technology
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What makes a new kid on the remote interpreting block stand out from the pack?  According to Josef Dunne and Mayel de Borniol, the founders of Babelverse, a recognition of the need to bring technology to niche markets sets them apart from other interpreting companies. Dunne and de Borniol, who recently told us they are close to securing private equity funding, are confident that Babelverse will address new areas, generating new demand in the process.

Here is how Babelverse plans to change the game:

  • On-demand interpreting for conferences and consumers. So far, Babelverse is providing interpreting for conference presentations both for on-site audiences and remote viewers via live webcasts. The company is also interpreting online videos, such as TED talks. Their next target? A mobile solution to provide easy access to interpreting for consumers. However, Common Sense Advisory’s research shows that the demand for services in these areas accounts for just a tiny fraction of the total interpreting market.
  • Geographically calibrated cost control. Providers of written translation often see prices drop, in part because translators living in low-cost locations can outbid translators with higher costs of living (see “Translation and Localization Pricing,” Jul10). For its interpreting services, Babelverse is turning this notion on its head. How? The company has developed an algorithm to set a rate for each language combination in order to provide fair income for the interpreters while still being affordable to people in different parts of the world. “If you don’t put in a measure like this, it encourages a bid to the bottom, which can negatively affect quality,” Dunne told us.
  • More money for an interpreting job well done. Through Babelverse’s system, professionally accredited interpreters are available at premium rates, and all interpreters receive 70% of the per-minute rate that is charged to the client. Babelverse users will be able to tip their interpreters if they wish, an additional benefit that could attract more interpreters to the Babelverse platform. However, many codes of ethics specifically state that interpreters are not allowed to accept gratuities from either party, because it can influence their impartiality. Babelverse may have to come up with a creative solution for enabling clients to give interpreters a bonus without it affecting future performance – such as trying to impress a client that is known as “a good tipper” while failing to prioritize the other party.
While it’s still a very new and largely untested business, we see two important advantages for Babelverse in the marketplace. First, this is an industry that desperately needs more innovation to help humans respond to the ever-growing demand for their services. Babelverse is a young and tech-savvy company, whose founders have an engineering background. These characteristics set them apart from most of the leading interpreting companies in today’s marketplace.

Second, Babelverse has a clear marketing talent – a knack for spotting opportunities that most language service and technology companies overlook. “Barack Obama is giving a major speech?  Let’s interpret that and broadcast it over the web,” they decided. Any language service provider could have made a similar announcement and benefited from the impressive publicity that Babelverse received as a result. But most companies in the industry sorely lack a marketing mentality.

We place Babelverse in a similar category as fellow marketing-savvy tech start-ups Cloudwords, Duolingo, and Smartling. These companies are worth watching, as they bring a developer-centric, Silicon Valley approach to the language industry. Each genuinely believes it can change the way language services are delivered. Over the past decade, we’ve seen many enthusiastic tech start-ups dazzle investors with their passion, tech know-how, and their correct assertion that this is an industry that is ripe for change. Many have faded away, but some thrive. The creativity and energy that such companies exude is always inspiring. However, time and time again, their ability to survive in the language services market boils down to the same thing that will determine Babelverse’s fate – whether they can translate their ideas into a sustainable business model.


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