How to build a translation company

Today’s guest created a translation service that he built into a really incredible company. Because of it, he got lots of other opportunities. He’s doing Startup Grind in Europe; he is even investing in other startups.

Sergiu Matei is the founder of TRAVOD, an online or professional translation service.

Basically, he’s got one of these really successful companies that’s giving him a lot of freedom to do a lot of things including travel to San Francisco where I met him.

I invited him here to talk about how he did it.

You can check out the article Matei wrote on Startup Grind here.

Sergiu Matei

Sergiu Matei

TRAVOD

Sergiu Matei is the founder of TRAVOD, an online or professional translation service.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. So check this out. I was sitting outside of, frankly, outside of a Regus office here in San Francisco in their garden making use of their WiFi, drinking tea and working feverishly. And my tea ran out so I went upstairs, I got a little more tea, I might have even recharged my computer for a little bit, came back downstairs, and as I was going to sit down in the garden, this guy comes up to me and he says, “Andrew, I’m a big Mixergy fan. I saw you were a little bit crazed earlier the way you were working, so I didn’t want to interrupt, but now that you’re coming back and you seem like you’re in a calmer space, I want to say hi and introduce myself.” And he says, “My name is Sergiu Matei.” I don’t think I’m going to be able to do justice to the pronunciation of his name. He’s got a really cool European accent. And we started talking and he told me about this company, but basically we’re talking about San Francisco life. I don’t like to lead into, what do you do, but somehow it came up what he was doing in San Francisco, what his company was. It’s called TRAVOD. It’s an online or professional translation service. And the more he was telling me, the more I said, “Is it okay for me to ask him now? Is it okay… You know what? I’m going to interrupt him right now. And I’m going to say, ‘Why don’t you do a Mixergy interview?'”

And this was a few months ago and today we finally made it happen. This guy created a translation service that built it up, really incredible company. As a result of it, he’s got lots of opportunities. He’s doing Startup Grind in Europe, he is investing in other startups. Basically, he’s got one of these really successful companies that’s giving him a lot of freedom to do a lot of things including travel to San Francisco where I met him. So I invited him here to talk about how he built it. That’s what we’re going to find out today, a guy with nothing more than just an idea, built this up. And it’s all thanks to two great companies. The first is Regus.

Do you know how many years? Do you know how many years I’ve tried to get Regus to sponsor, I’ve been in Regus offices for years. Now they’re finally sponsoring. It’s going to be so hard for me to keep their sponsorship message short. Regus is the office space that I’ve been renting from forever. And the second sponsor is HostGator, which will allow you to basically copy what Sergiu has done with his business because he started with nothing more than just a simple WordPress site. But I’ll tell you more about those sponsors later. First, Sergiu, welcome in.

Sergiu: Welcome, Andrew. Nice to see you.

Andrew: Where in the world are you today?

Sergiu: So right now I’m in Rotterdam.

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: In the Netherlands, yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. You’re in the Netherlands, sounds like a really fun space to be. So let’s talk numbers. How much revenue you guys pulling in? 2017, let’s say, what’s the revenue?

Sergiu: So I can tell you we don’t disclose revenue, but I can tell you we sell about 6,000 brands from Amazon, Forbes through to mid-size, small companies.

Andrew: Six thousand customers ongoing?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Can we say more than 2 million in revenue last year.

Sergiu: So we don’t disclose, but…

Andrew: You won’t even disclose that?

Sergiu: Yeah, as a private company we try to be…I can tell you that we are the fastest growing company in our space and we are, like this year reach…

Andrew: Can we say over a million in revenue? You can’t even say that?

Sergiu: You know what? I told you I’m more like introverts or ambivert, so I just don’t want to…I don’t like to show-off. I don’t like to talk about myself, maybe I’m more modest, sort of humble person, so…

Andrew: I just looked it up. Ambivert is somebody who has a balance of extrovert and introvert features. You’re basically a regular person.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Am I right?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: All right. I’m not looking for show off, but I want to give people a sense of the size. And what you’re saying is, “Hey look Andrew. It’s 6,000 customers. That’s basically all I can tell you.” In private you told me a little bit more. It was impressive numbers. And I want to find out how you got there. Before this, you were working for Ogilvy. You told our producer, “You know what? I liked Ogilvy. It’s a nice company, but I didn’t feel like I was myself. I didn’t feel a sense of freedom.” I wrote a note to my pre-interviewer, to the producer to say, “Never accept that answer from someone, because it doesn’t give me enough.” Give me an example. When you say you didn’t feel a sense of freedom, it’s not like they were tying you up to a chair. Give an example of one time that you felt like, “This is not me. This is not freedom that I want for my life.”

Sergiu: So I was a student and I was working part-time in order to see my family. So it was a nice job, great office, nice colleagues, great company. However, I was looking to the watch every time, every day, 6:00 p.m. sort of when I’m going out of this office.

Andrew: You were a clock watcher.

Sergiu: Exactly.

Andrew: There’s an official name for that. Somebody who just sits all day, waits for the clock to turn to whatever time it is for them to leave. Why? Because you were just…there was nothing for you to do?

Sergiu: No, no. I was doing some things here and there, but just, I don’t know. I felt like…I don’t know. In a way I just realized that’s not how I want to spend the rest of my life and I thought that’s not right for the employer to [inaudible 00:05:35], so that’s why I left the company.

Andrew: I looked you up on LinkedIn. You were a data manager and doing some planning at Ogilvy & Mather. What is that mean? Give me an example of a project that you did that was data managing.

Sergiu: So I was managing data in terms of research for different brands, their TV span, their sort of LTV on that, ROI and that, different metrics, KPIs.

Andrew: Because they were spending money… They were spending money on TV ads and you could figure out how much money they were making back from that?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: How?

Sergiu: The efficiency and the reach, so it was more on the analysis, yes, and planning. Yeah.

Andrew: But how can you tell how effective a TV ad is? It’s not like a Facebook ad where you can have a unique URL and a pixel on the confirmation page and all that.

Sergiu: So in TV space, they have so-called people matters. They put a sample on a representative sample in a population. So they pick a family and they put that in their home and they measure how they watch TV.

Andrew: So it’s how many people watch it. I get that you can calculate that, right? You take a small sample and from that you extrapolate to the bigger audience pool. But how do you know how many of them ended up going out and buying?

Sergiu: That’s what social media does or at least AdWords does by tracking your…

Andrew: Right. But you can’t do that with TV, can you?

Sergiu: Maybe afterwards you can do some market research asking them how.

Andrew: And that’s what you would do?

Sergiu: No, no. We were measuring the campaign’s, sort of the reach…

Andrew: I see.

Sergiu: The frequency of the ads and the spanned. You know, when was the best time to put an ad? Was it before the show, in the middle or…

Andrew: I see. So your whole job was to sit there on a spreadsheet and look at numbers and say, “Where do I put it? Before or after this freaking TV show to get the biggest reach for the best dollar?” That’s what you were doing.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: That seems like a souless, mind sucking job, especially for a guy like you. Dude, you were born in the Soviet Union and still, even though you were born in Soviet Union where making money was not looked at the way that…you know, where I grew up in New York, it was looked at as the greatest thing you could do. Even though you grew up there, you started these little businesses. What’s the one that you did about web design?

Sergiu: So I was in the seventh grade, believe it or not, and I was… Actually my first encounter with a computer was in my fourth grade. I started learning how to program. So later on I was doing websites. It was interesting because I was sort of finding my friends, [inaudible 00:08:36], or maybe their families that were having businesses, and it was 2001, I guess, or ’02. It was like the emergent, sort of Internet was emerging and I was proposing them to do websites, and on my end I was creating one website and then sort of reusing the template for the next one.

Andrew: Smart. I see.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. So what you were doing was selling these websites and reducing your work by having templates of everything that you had before.

Sergiu: You got it, yes.

Andrew: Okay. And this is in Moldova, right?

Sergiu: That was in Moldova, yeah. That was… Yeah.

Andrew: By the way, I looked up Moldova. Their total GDP, gross domestic product, is $20 billion.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: I think that’s what Jeff Bezos made last year.

Sergiu: You got it, yeah.

Andrew: Just to give you a sense of it. Per capita GDP, $2,200 versus the U.S. gross capital GDP, $61,000. And the reason I’m giving you all this is because you’ve said to our producer, this is a country that’s, you know, that wasn’t flush with cash. This was a country that was very much in the development mode. You said it was the poorest country in Europe.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: When you say it was the poorest country, how did you feel it? What’s an example of something that now you look back and you go, “I can’t believe I lived this way?” Did you have toilet paper?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: You did. Okay. All right.

Sergiu: Actually we have the fastest growing internet…the fastest internet line, number five in the world.

Andrew: Today, okay.

Sergiu: Today.

Andrew: It doesn’t sound half bad. You have toilet paper, you have the fastest growing internet. What else do I need, man?

Sergiu: You know, no, I feel great. I mean, I had a very loving family and even it was tough, sometimes no electricity. There was days that when…

Andrew: When your electricity in the house would go out.

Sergiu: Yeah, yeah. There were planned electricity sort of changes, because it was in this transition time of the Soviet Union. But I feel great. I mean, you know, I was, for some months I was living in India and I was living in very poor sites of India. And for some times I was living in Hong Kong or in San Francisco in the best sort of the best places, best sort of environments. And felt the same, I would say. I don’t see a difference between…I mean, the difference is inside, I believe, it’s not outside. It’s just, yeah, I think it doesn’t matter in a way.

Andrew: Okay. All right. And so in that environment you had this entrepreneurial instinct, you go to Ogilvy, you sit down and you do nothing but calculations. Maybe not. Maybe that’s exaggeration, but you do a lot of calculations about numbers and, frankly, to me feel a little bit meaningless. And then you meet this guy, a friend of yours, who has an agency who needs something translated. What did he need translated?

Sergiu: So Andre, which is my co-founder right now, at the time she was translating documents from English to Romanian, Russian. And at that time agencies like translation agencies were really and still right now there are dinosaurs. I mean, there’s a lot of hustling, sort of back and forth process, they tell you the price after they deliver the work, not before or during the work. So…

Andrew: You couldn’t just go online and say, “I need something translated,” upload your file and expect the fully translated response? No.

Sergiu: No. At that time, no.

Andrew: I see. And so he came to you. Why would he even tell you about this?

Sergiu: It’s a very good question. So I left…

Andrew: Were you guys friends?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: You were. So he was just telling you, “Here’s the stuff that’s going on in my life that’s kind of difficult. I can’t get this thing translated.”

Sergiu: Yes. And in a way, we were four years in an organization called AIESEC, that was a student organization which we were both together. So we knew each other, we worked together, so it was, I think from his side was sort of good to do something with somebody you know that is proven, that had some results in the past, so that’s why he approached me, I believe.

Andrew: Okay. So if I’m understanding you right, your friend comes to you and says, “Hey look, I can’t get anything translated,” and you somehow say to yourself, “I think I could do this. I think if you’re having such a hard time, I think I could solve this. This could be my next little business.” Am I right?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. And from what language to what language did he need things translated?

Sergiu: So we started… So basically, in the beginning it was more eastern European but very quickly we said, “No, we want to move into UK market, then U.S. market because they are bigger markets.” So as of today I can tell we do translate about 168 languages.

Andrew: But back then, what was the two languages that you felt like you can do so fast?

Sergiu: So at that time it was primarily English, Italian, Spanish, French, Russian.

Andrew: That’s what he needed? That one friend of yours needed that many different translations?

Sergiu: My friend needed just Russian and Romanian, but the first customer needed those languages.

Andrew: All those languages. Okay. So your friend comes to you and says, “I need this.” Did you take on your friend’s client work? Did you say, “I’m going to translate for you?” You did.

Sergiu: So we started together to develop the agency.

Andrew: I see. So it wasn’t that he was your first client, you didn’t start working with him, you just said, “Look, let’s create an agency. Let’s see what we can do.” And you told our producer, “I didn’t even set up a website. I just decided, you know what, I’m going to see if I can get some clients. So let’s see if this really is a problem that someone other than Andre has and that they’re willing to pay for.” And so how did you find those initial clients then if he wasn’t your first customer? How did you find them?

Sergiu: So for TRAVOD, so what we did is that basically we created a simple WordPress page like a landing page and we went on the Yellow Pages and we just scrapped the Yellow Pages’ emails.

Andrew: From the website?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. You decided going and scraping all those Yellow Pages, seeing if you could find any… What kind of business were you scraping?

Sergiu: So in the beginning we were selling to language translation companies.

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: Other languages that they didn’t have on their sort of…

Andrew: I see. You went to them and said, “Hey look, do you need any people to do some extra work for you? We can do it.” Who were you going to get to do the translation for you?

Sergiu: So we started to recruit international translators. So we basically… Let’s say the first project was Italian to Russian and we found somebody in Russia to translate. I’m not a translator, so there was…

Andrew: So you just started going online, looking to see if you could find people who could do this for you. I’m looking at an old version of your website. It says, “We translate from Russian to Romanian, from Romania into Russian.” And then you also had another set of options which included English, German, French, Italian and Polish. You didn’t speak those languages. How did you test the people who you were hiring who could translate from German to make sure that they were doing it right?

Sergiu: So we hired the second translator to check on the first translator.

Andrew: I see. Okay.

Sergiu: So, yeah. And then we hired the third reviewer sort of to have a look if that’s right.

Andrew: So you basically started having them all check each other’s work?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: And then you go online, you scrape the names of all these agencies that do translations and you start… Oh, I so wish that I was doing an ad for this company called Mailshake, that I’ve got it coming on as the sponsor. Their whole software is if you upload a database of email addresses, they could ping personal messages to each person. If the person doesn’t respond, they ping a follow-up message. And then at any time if the person responds, it goes to a human being and human… All right. We’ll talk about that in another interview, but that’s essentially what you were doing by hand, just emailing each one of these people, one at a time.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Selling to them.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. All right. I actually know that hiring has been a challenge for you because you’re looking for quality. I don’t want to glance over or gloss over the hiring process. How did you find these people? How did you find them and make sure that they were doing a good job? Was it just easy? Was it just going online and saying, “Hey, you know what? I’ll just hire someone from Craigslist,” or something like that?

Sergiu: No, it was not easy. So right now we have about 22,000 professional translators on the network. So it’s like a marketplace right now where in the beginning it was like a Google doc and a website and scrapping and sort of emailing back and forth translators. So we were looking more into their background checks, we were testing them. A lot of things play sort of in a way through reference. Translators know each other, there is a network, there are forums, websites where you can find them.

Andrew: And you went to all these places to look for their early hires?

Sergiu: Exactly.

Andrew: I see. Okay. All right. Let me talk about Regus for a moment, the sponsor, and then we’re going to get back into your story. Do you know… You do know Regus, don’t you?

Sergiu: Yes, I do. Yeah. It’s a cool company.

Andrew: I freaking love Regus. Here’s how I got excited about Regus. As soon as my wife and I started living together, it became awkward for me to work from home because if she came home a little bit early then I’d have to stop work or I’d have to be the jerk who sits in his home office. I had a separate office, but still there is this jerk in the office just kind of hiding from her. Very uncomfortable. So I said, “You know what?” Olivia and I were moving to Argentina, we’re moving out of our current place. “No more working from out of the house. I’m now going to get in a separate office so I can focus on my productivity.” I went around and I looked at all these freaking office spaces. Co-working spaces had this problem where they were too much into the hangout scene. They kept talking to me about how every Thursday they’d be drinks or Friday they do this. I don’t need any of that. I want to focus on my work. I don’t want distraction with someone having a party while I’m doing an interview or talking to someone.

Then I walk into Regus and this place was super professional, beautiful view. I walk in and they offer me coffee and tea like a human being, not like I’m just some kind of monkey coming into their office space, like a human being. I said to Olivia, “You know what? This was…” It was just a little more expensive at the time, because this was Argentina where you can find things super cheap. But I said, “You know what? I feel elevated when I go to Regus. I feel like I could be my best self, fully productive there. I know it feels like an excess money, it was like two extra $100, but I’m going to do it.” I went in there, oh, it was the greatest decision that I could have made for office space because suddenly I did have this space where I was fully productive. I could count on the internet, in freaking Argentina, I could count on the internet working. If there was ever an issue, like there were a couple of days where there were internet issues, I walked up to the receptionist, so I said, “I have internet issue. What do I do?” And she didn’t say, “Can you deal with it for an hour?” or “Can you deal with it for half an hour?” That’s unprofessional. That’s what a lot of people say. I don’t want that. She said, “Andrew, we have three other Reguses in the area. I recommend you go to this Regus over here. And since you’re a foreigner in this country,” she said it kind of nicely, “I’m going to put the address on a Post-it note so you can take to the cab driver.”

I take it to the cab driver, a cab driver drops me off at the next Regus location, I go upstairs, I get up to the receptionist at the next Regus office. I say, “My name is Andrew Warner.” She says, “Oh, we’ve been waiting for you.” She walks me into the new office, I set my laptop up, I’m back up in business. It’s fantastic.

I’m in another country, I go to Regus, I say to the receptionist, “I need to take my wife out.” This is like old school, taking care of an entrepreneur. I say, “My wife and I need to go out this weekend. Where do you think we should go?” She said, “Tell me about your wife.” I tell her about my wife, she goes, “I recommend Tigress.” Well, Tigress, great. I take my wife there, now I’m the hero.

So I come back to the U.S. I get an office in DC Regus. Boom. Beautiful office space, completely professional, all my operations back in business. From Regus there, I have to go to South by Southwest, so I’m in Texas. I need a day to have a meeting with Dane Maxwell, who wanted to come on and do a course with us. I needed a quiet space. Guess what? They have a Regus right there at the heart of Texas. What was it? Austin. South by Southwest. I need to talk to my editor in Guatemala, I said, “Screw it. I’m going to go fly to Guatemala to meet him.” There’s a Regus right there. I walk in, it’s like home office, fully professional, get things done. That’s what I love about Regus.

I’ve been waiting for them to sponsor for a long time because they are so good. Guys, I have a URL for you. If you’re interested in working in a professional environment, you become more productive when the space fits your work needs, you just do. You can go to regus.com/mixergy to go and see what it would cost. Schedule a meeting, go check out a Regus office. Sit in it for a second, see if you don’t feel more elevated. Think about what it’s like when somebody comes into your office and see if they’re going to respect you more, if you’re going to be in a more productive space because you’re in Regus’s office. You will be.

I’m telling you, I do scotch… Tomorrow I’m going to have scotch night over here. This beautiful environment, every time I bring people to do scotch night in our lounge, they feel like, “Dude, do you work here? This is such a cool space. That’s why we can be so open.” So guys, go to regus.com/mixergy, schedule an appointment to go see, for free obviously because you’re going to look at their space, and see if it fits your lifestyle. If it does, you’re going to be so productive. Frankly, since I’ve been working with them, for what? About a decade now? Every city I move to, I’m now in San Francisco, I’m in a Regus office. Where you and I met because I was in a different…I said, “You know what? I’m not inspired in my regular Regus office. I’m going to take my laptop and go to another Regus office.” I sit there, I get to fully be productive. My WiFi works just like it always does anywhere else. So I’ve been working with them for so long.

If anyone wants me to introduce them to my person at Regus, here’s my email address, andrew@mixergy.com. I’ll introduce you to my person at Regus. They’ll set up a meeting with you. Probably Sarah Parker is the right person for you guys to meet. But anywhere you are in the world, except Moldova. Moldova, they do not have an office there. Go…

Sergiu: They have one in Romania. We have office in Romania. So they have an office there.

Andrew: Romania. Let me see. Romania, Regus. Look at that, there it is. Bucharest.

Sergiu: Exactly, yeah.

Andrew: That’s the beauty of this. And I’m the kind of jerk who, when I need to work…sometimes I work at a coffee shops, but if I need to really get things done, I want the office space, I want them to take care of me. I like that in some Reguses, they do have beer. I don’t need the beer, but I like that they could have that. I like that there’s going to be coffee there, tea… Oh, I can go on for freaking ever about them. All right. Let’s come back into your story. So now you’re starting to message people and say, “I have translation services,” they’re starting to hire you. All you have is a simple web page. How many customers can you get with nothing but a home page that says, “We do translation services?”

Sergiu: So I think it was about 50 customers, 50 customers.

Andrew: Fifty customers, just you emailing one at a time, get customers.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: That’s it?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: All right. Impressive. And were you making money on that?

Sergiu: Yes, indeed. And I was going to bed pm, in the morning some time and waking up 8:00 a.m. again in the morning because it was a lot of things. And then I realized that just I need to hire someone. You know, so like…

Andrew: To do what?

Sergiu: So for us it’s very important because we’re not Upwork. So in Upwork world, you go, you basically post a project and you select the freelancer and then that’s it. You have the hustle of communication, they disappear, I don’t know what happens. It’s not Upwork’s job. In our case, you post a project, we take care of the project. We make sure it’s assigned the right translator, we review it, we manage. So in our world project management is very important. So I was doing a lot of project management, and then we hired…The first person we hired full-time was a project management.

Andrew: The first person was to manage, once you got the clients, you would get the clients, they would make sure that the client’s work was being passed on to the right translator, that another translator looked over their work and then it went back to the customer.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: I see. At the time you weren’t as organized as you are today and I’m fascinated by your processes. But back then when you were just doing it by yourself, what was your process? What was your process then when you hired a project manager? I’m curious about the evolution of the process.

Sergiu: It’s interesting. So we were having this Google doc basically and then we used Smartsheet. Do you know Smartsheet?

Andrew: A little bit. It’s like a spreadsheet that has a little more intelligence?

Sergiu: Yes, but it’s… Yeah, it’s a smart… Oh yeah.

Andrew: And people, I’ve noticed, they’re using it instead of like Asana or Basecamp for project management. My brother told me one of his clients forced him to use that.

Sergiu: Yes, so we tried Smartsheet, it didn’t work. We went back to Google’s spreadsheet.

Andrew: When you were doing Google Docs, it was a separate doc for each… This is where I get a little bit into the weeds, but I need to know this. It’s separate Google doc for each customer?

Sergiu: No.

Andrew: One Google doc to manage all customers?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Each customer would have their own section?

Sergiu: Yeah. It was like… It was project based, so it was project, customer name, deadline, language [inaudible 00:27:03], number of words, basically the volume, sort of the revenue and then…

Andrew: Because you were charging per word, and…

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. And then was it a set of bullet points with each step? Step one is to do this, step two is to do that?

Sergiu: Yeah, it was a project checklist.

Andrew: Got it.

Sergiu: But it appeared later. In the beginning it was just this page, and then the project manager will sort of receive a customer inquiry, will introduce all the data there, will find a translator, will include that in the Google Doc and sort of this would roll like for a year. For the first year I would say, yeah.

Andrew: Okay. And it was just that simple. When you went to Smartsheets, what did you think of Smartsheets? I feel like they’ve got something there but it’s not fully realized yet.

Sergiu: Yeah. It was 2010, maybe they were just starting. It was a little bit slow. So because we were having a lot of projects, it got slowed and things disappear. I don’t know. It was a little bit buggy at that time so we switched back to Google Docs.

Andrew: Okay. All right. Then you hire a project manager.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: How did things improve once you get that?

Sergiu: So I could sleep normally, like properly enough.

Andrew: Okay. Because you are the one… But when you’re selling, don’t you have to be on your client’s time zone or work around them?

Sergiu: Yeah. That’s why I went to bed at 3:00 a.m. in the morning because it was end of the business day in San Francisco.

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: And we were having clients in Australia, in U.S., in Europe. Even right now we work in two shifts. So our company works for European time zone and for U.S. time zone.

Andrew: Okay. So basically, you would sell and be on your client’s time zone for sales, but once the sale is done, the project manager could stay up to whatever hour it needs to be to take care of your customer. Is that right?

Sergiu: Yes, that’s…

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: Yeah, that’s right.

Andrew: Did your…I actually sense something that I was a little bit off in that. Was I off in the way that I described it, that you were still staying up to sell but once you sold it was done?

Sergiu: Well, not really. I mean…like in my philosophy, customers come first. And even my name actually, Sergiu, if you look into name entymology, it means to serve.

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: So I’m trying to… Like for me, serving a customer, making sure they are happy is the ultimate goal of a company.

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: So the sales process will continue afterwards with delivery, with customer satisfaction and then sort of we had…

Andrew: So you’re willing to still be there. If you need to be there for a customer, you’re still willing to be there. In the early days, you were scraping Yellow Pages in the U.S. I understand, then contacting them via email, then closing the sale. How did it evolve? How did your sales process evolve from their?

Sergiu: So in the mean time we found the marketplace sort of with jobs, like different marketplace, like… There is sort of the marketplace on translation jobs. There are marketplaces like enterprise, sort of SAP, marketplaces for jobs. So we use different channels…

Andrew: To just try to find work for yourselves?

Sergiu: Work for the company, yes.

Andrew: Okay. You’d go on these different marketplaces, list your services as a translation company.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: That’s it. Yeah. It didn’t bring a lot of business but it was the second step.

Andrew: Okay. And this is where now people who needed to work directly would come to you. It’s not you now reaching out to agencies who have clients themselves, you’re getting work yourself. Got it. Okay.

Sergiu: Exactly. Yeah. And the first stage was when we discovered cold calling. So we started to call companies, specific target groups. So that’s when we scale the company. That’s where we went. Right now we’re about 100 people in our office, having a call center also in Philippines.

Andrew: Wait. You started… Who started making the phone calls out?

Sergiu: So remember I told you I’m ambivert, so I don’t like to talk a lot. So it’s like in the middle sort of I can but it’s not sort of very natural to me and my language is not perfect. So what we did, we hired people to do cold calling. It was interesting that we hired someone, the person did a thousand calls and it was zero, like zero results.

Andrew: Zero results. Did you give them a script? Did you lead them in any way?

Sergiu: Yes, yes, yes.

Andrew: You wrote the script?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. And who did you have them call?

Sergiu: Sorry?

Andrew: Sorry. Who wrote the script?

Sergiu: I think we wrote it together, the PM. It was five years ago, so I don’t remember.

Andrew: Okay. All right. But it wasn’t like you hired someone, or had a professional come in and give you some guidance. You just said, “I think I know what we need to do.” All right. Who did you call? Who did or who was on the call list for this first sales person?

Sergiu: So sales person called software companies, marketing agencies, translation companies. Yeah.

Andrew: Okay. All right. And so all these people who you assumed would be customers based on your past experience?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. You want to say something.

Sergiu: And it was zero. Like it was literally zero.

Andrew: Zero. Why?

Sergiu: I think it was not the right person, but right now I’m just… Because what happened later we thought this is not the channel for us, it’s like cold calling, who does that instead. But then we hired someone, after a year we hired someone with really good cold calling skills. When the guy calls, it’s like warm calling.

Andrew: Because it feels warm or because he’s now getting an introduction?

Sergiu: He’s getting an introduction, he feels warm, he’s creating a relationship and then he sells. So he’s using the spin method if you know the book, “Spin.”

Andrew: Yeah, I do know. I’ve been hearing spin so much, yes.

Sergiu: So first day in office, first hour, first customer.

Andrew: Really?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: But when you say warm, how did he get warm leads then?

Sergiu: So looked our database, he looked whom we called, and actually he looked at our current customer database, and he’s sort of… And today we do predictive analytics, sort of we, there’s a software that helps you sort of match look-alike audiences, but that time it was like manually sort of thinking who might be the right consumer based on your current customer base.

Andrew: Okay. He’s looking at a customer list, he’s saying, “Who could be similar to them?” And then he goes out, and at the time it was cold calling people who are similar.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: But he still had a warm personality and he wasn’t trying to sell, he was getting to know the person, and within an hour he sold one customer.

Sergiu: Yes, that’s true.

Andrew: Oh, I see. Okay. All right. And then he was at first it sounds like doing a lot of that and then he found a way to get leads through referrals?

Sergiu: So even today we do a lot of that.

Andrew: Just that, cold calling out with a warmer approach?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: And that works?

Sergiu: That works.

Andrew: How many people do you have making these cold calls?

Sergiu: So about 40.

Andrew: Forty?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: How many phone calls a day would you say go out from your company?

Sergiu: So we do a little research. It’s like not just calling like a machine. We do a lot of research, selecting the right person, sort of reading about their company, trying to understand. So I would say 100 calls around…

Andrew: A hundred calls?

Sergiu: Yeah, a day.

Andrew: Forty people, 100 calls, that means that they’re spending a lot of time researching and each one is making two and a half calls a day.

Sergiu: No, no. Sorry, per person. A hundred calls per person.

Andrew: Oh, 100 calls per person.

Sergiu: Yes, yes.

Andrew: Wow. Okay. So you’ve got 4,000 calls going out with somebody researching the people ahead of time.

Sergiu: That’s true. That’s true.

Andrew: Who is doing the research?

Sergiu: So we have like three people in the office doing that.

Andrew: And their whole job is… But they’re not researching 1,000 people or 4,000 people, they’re researching these sources and then adding those people to call list.

Sergiu: Yes, yes.

Andrew: Okay. What do you guys do? Probably something like a LinkedIn type search where you’re searching for the right person and then finding the company phone number?

Sergiu: So it’s LinkedIn, it’s Toofr, I think you know T-O-O-F-R.

Andrew: T-O-O-F-R. Let me look at that up.

Sergiu: It used to be I think Hunter, but they just don’t work properly right now and I think they have some sort of challenges with LinkedIn policies, so it doesn’t work properly.

Andrew: Oh, it’s the Google extension. You know what? I just was hearing about this. It’s a Google extension that lets you find email addresses. And…

Sergiu: Yeah, so it doesn’t work properly I would say.

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: So we do a lot of like sort of website research, Google search even. So Toofr, then Built With…LinkedIn of course, because you can extract all… So you connect with people and then you can extract their email, their phone number from the database. Oh gosh. A buying list, but just to be careful a lot of them are crappy I would say, so…

Andrew: And when you’re trying to find the phone number of the person, how do you find that person’s individual phone number?

Sergiu: So of course you find a company number and then you call and then you sort of try to hustle…

Andrew: And your sales person would do this or did someone else do that?

Sergiu: Usually it’s an SDR, sort of more junior Salesforce will do that.

Andrew: Okay. And the 40 people, are they SDRs?

Sergiu: So 40 people, I think, right now they’re about 10 more juniors. I would call them and 30 are more like full-time. But to be honest, the company, I mean, for me it’s like bigger, so I don’t remember old numbers now.

Andrew: You don’t know. But the main idea is somebody is going in and sucking in the contact information for you, doing these searches, using tools like Built With, using tools like Toofr, figuring out what the next Toofr to put together a big database of potential customers. Not the top sales people but a junior sales person or an SDR is a sales development rep, who will start reaching out and saying, “Hey, it’s Andrew calling from…” I guess it would be from TRAVOD. “I’m trying to reach the right person in your website marketing team. Who is that person?” Okay. You get the person’s contact information and then you try to set up a phone call for the sales person, and then if there is a phone call to be had, the sales person gets on and has a conversation.

Sergiu: That’s one technique, yeah. That’s one of those techniques.

Andrew: Okay. All right. I know because I’m talking to the founder and it’s a much bigger organization right now. We can’t get the details of the step by step. I have a basic understanding of it. And what I’m taking away from this is it all started with you saying, “Hey, let’s explore this whole thing that’s a little bit outdated it feels like, but maybe it could work and it’s phone calls.” And you spent a year with it not working, basically, just throwing money down the drain, and then the next person had some rapport with people and was able to give you an insight that then you built on. Am I right?

Sergiu: Yeah, you’re totally right, Andrew, yeah. And from there we just realize, and not only from there, like the last 10 years I realize you just need to hire people better than you. And that’s cliché, that’s kind of obvious, but you really need to hire people better than you.

Andrew: But can you really say, “Hey, look, you know what? I don’t know anything about the sales thing. I’m going to go and hire someone who knows it and let them figure it out.”

Sergiu: If it’s specific. I mean, if it’s, let’s say, cold calling or if it’s… But the first step I agree should be founder work. You cannot delegate your startup, sort of your… You cannot delegate executions. So I think for specific things like, let’s say, email marketing or social media or other specific tactical things, you need to find people better than you, professionals that did it before, they’re good and, yeah, then you can have results. Otherwise…

Andrew: I see.

Sergiu: Yeah, I’m a…

Andrew: So you couldn’t say, “You know what? We have a good translation service. I need someone to figure out how I can get customers.” What you could do though is say, “I have a good translation service. I need somebody who can do the phone calls to see if we can sell via the phone.” They couldn’t go and try a million different things and come up with a phone, that’s for you to do, but they could do the phone calls better than you. All right. You know what? Let me take a moment to talk about my second sponsor. It is a company called HostGator. It’s for hosting websites. Look how basic this business was for you. Sergiu, you just said, “You know what? I’m going to try this thing. I’m not going to get all wrapped up in different websites and different software and different…” You just said, “I’m going to go and get a basic web hosting plan, I’m going to install WordPress because WordPress now is one-click install for free, and you told our producer, “I paid for a $50 WordPress theme. That’s all it was.” Just a landing page to prove that you’re a human, right, that you’re a real business. Guys, if you’re listening to the sound of my voice and you have any kind of idea, you’ll be amazed by how much credibility you can give your idea with a simple home page. Nothing more than that. I always give the example. Do you guys have “The A-Team” when you were growing up?

Sergiu: No. It’s like, what is that?

Andrew: Oh, the A-Team were these guys who the government apparently thought did something bad and they were on a government most wanted list but they were actually good people. In fact, they were such good people that they would as a team of people, go out and do good work for people. So if you had trouble where somebody was breaking your power plant every day or something, you might call the A-Team and they would figure out who that person is and they would catch them and they would do it all without the police catching the A-Team themselves.

Sergiu: Oh, I see. I see, yeah.

Andrew: And they had one guy, Mr. T, who was like the big muscle guy, they had another guy who was the thinker, they had another guy was kind of crazy but his craziness worked. And one of the characters was a guy named Face. Face was the… They called him Face because he had a good face and he always wore a nice jacket and a tie and he could always get anyone to do anything because he could just sweet talk them. And one of the cool things about Face was, he would have a ton of business cards in the inside of his jacket pocket. So if he were talking to you and he wanted to get past your defenses, he might pull out one business card and say, “Hey look, I’m with the FBI,” or something, or, “Here’s the business card. I run this building over there.” The fact that he had a freaking business card gave him tons of credibility and people would take it seriously. No one would say, “Hey, this is a business card, you could have just gotten it from anyone else. I don’t believe it’s really yours.” They see a business card, instinctively they know this is probably right and they go along with it.

The reason I’m saying that is I feel like today the website is the equivalent of that. If I put up a website saying that I have a translation company, it’s one word, one page website, people take me seriously. If I go out and I say, “Can I show you what our translation company will do?” people will Google me, they’ll see my website and go, “You know what? Let’s give it a shot.” Much more so than if I say, “Hey, I have a translation service,” and then I email people out from my Gmail account and there’s nothing for them to go and look up. Now obviously, I’m not telling people to go create a translation company. But I’m saying, whatever their idea is, all they need is a simple website, and that’s why I recommend going to hostgator.com/mixergy because they make it really easy and cheap for you to have a website. In fact, if you buy their baby plan, I’ve talked about this forever, not their hatchling plan, not their business plan, but their baby plan which only costs $4.98 a month, if you use that URL I just gave you, you can get unlimited domains.

So any one of your ideas, you can go out there, put it up and see if it takes off. I was just talking to the founder of Formstack the other day. He said, “You know what? I had this idea for what if anyone could ask anyone any questions? So I created a new URL, a new webpage and boom, this thing took off, millions of people started using it.” All it takes is that.

All right. If you go to hostgator/com/mixergy you will get 50-60% off their already low prices. They will know that you came from Mixergy, so they’re going to take especially good care of you and you’re going to get unmetered disk space, unmetered bandwidth and unlimited email addresses. Don’t send out business email address from your @gmail account, do it from your new business domain. And 45-day money back guarantee. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And intentionally, I was supposed to do another advertiser. I saw your pre-interview notes, I said, “This is perfect. I got to bring it in.” Here’s a guy who started his all business with nothing but a WordPress website and a simple theme.

All right. Did you try any ways of getting customers that didn’t work, something that seemed right at the time but wasn’t effective like cold calling?

Sergiu: Just one remark. I have to tell you, it wasn’t easy. I mean, it looks easy but it was a lot of hard work and a lot of not sleepy nights, and it still is. And…

Andrew: Like what? It seems like everything just worked out for you. I don’t see anything that didn’t. You had it easy.

Sergiu: No, no, no, no.

Andrew: For example?

Sergiu: For example I sacrifice a lot of…I mean, it was justice. I was doing justice for years and…

Andrew: But you have a girlfriend, life is good. What did you sacrifice? What did you lose by doing that? It seems easy is what I’m saying.

Sergiu: Yeah, you can say it’s easy, but in a way it’s a lot of hustling, it’s…I mean, you need to have an attitude, commitment and you need to take care of your employees, you need to take care of your customers. I mean, you can put a website or you can, and that’s fine, but every day if you don’t take care of a lot of pieces, then perhaps it’s not a long term game, is just short term, so…

Andrew: What’s an example of something you gave up? Did you give up relationships? Did you give up something else?

Sergiu: In the beginning, yes.

Andrew: You did?

Sergiu: In the beginning, yes. Health…

Andrew: What? You wouldn’t go out at all? You didn’t have a girlfriend.

Sergiu: No, no.

Andrew: You didn’t.

Sergiu: Health, I was like for four years I’m trying to recover with my back pain because I didn’t exercise. I gave up exercise and just working, working.

Andrew: And you had back pain?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: What kind of back pain?

Sergiu: So it’s like neck, back pain.

Andrew: Okay. And that’s connected to stress?

Sergiu: Of course, yeah.

Andrew: What would you stress about?

Sergiu: You know when you have a customer and you gave the work to a freelancer to translate, you want to make sure the customer gets the work on time.

Andrew: Yes.

Sergiu: And our job is a lot of time pressure because that’s where we’re selling actually. We’re not on cost, not on value, not on product. Of course all of those are there, but primarily we’re focused on time. So when time is a pressure, we have a lot of, sort of a lot of things to do.

Andrew: Yes.

Sergiu: Yeah. So in this process you want to make sure you make it on time, you have a satisfied customer, you have a satisfied translator. So it’s not an easy business. I mean, every business it’s not easy, so…

Andrew: Do you ever get yelled at by a customer for taking too long? Or for not?

Sergiu: In email, yeah.

Andrew: In an email?

Sergiu: Yeah.

Andrew: Is there one that stands out for you that makes you, that especially is hurtful even in retrospect?

Sergiu: If I would get somebody from the company to maybe… Because I don’t remember right now. I don’t remember. But we have a book actually. We are thinking to publish a book with all these conversations which are some funny, some lovely and some painful. So…

Andrew: A book of your experiences starting this business?

Sergiu: Yeah. It’s like a roller coaster. And not just my experience, our employees’ experience, our company experience. So anyway, but yeah, I mean, it’s… Remember I was working in Ogilvy and I was employee and I thought I will have a business and I’ll be free, sort of my own boss, but I’m the sort of employees are my bosses because I have to pay them salary, customer is my boss. I don’t know.

Andrew: Yeah, right. There’s a sense of, “Hey, I want to start a company because I don’t like my boss.” And yeah, there’s some benefit to not having a boss, but then you have everyone else as your boss. Now it’s true that to some degree you could pick them, right? If someone sucks, if you don’t like working with them, you could fire them. But you still have more bosses. You’re a Mixergy fan, right? You’ve heard my interviews before?

Sergiu: A lot, yeah.

Andrew: So let me take… Let me just pull back the curtain for a moment and tell you what I was doing there. I looked at the pre-interview notes, obviously, our producer talks to every guest to pick out the stories that matter and the ones that won’t work for us and to help me adjust how we talk about it. The one thing that we didn’t get a clear answer from you on was, “What’s your lowest point?” You said, “We’ve been lucky, there are some low points but I don’t remember the big ones.” And there was nothing there. It was two sentences. And so in this interview I said, “I’m not walking out of here with this sense of everything happy go lucky, it’s so easy.” And so I pushed you by saying it seems like it was easy as a way of provoking a response from you. And the reason I did that is, frankly, so I could clip this out and show it to my team. If somebody says there was no low point, you can’t just say, “Okay.” What you have to do is you have to… We have a couple of techniques. I have a Google doc for them to look at and techniques to pull it out. But one way is to provoke it and go, “It sounds like things were really easy for you then. Congratulations.” No entrepreneur wants to say things were really easy. It provokes you to come up with an answer. What do you think of that?

Sergiu: I totally agree with you. And it went up. I mean, it was great and is great. We’re growing a lot, but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t easy.

Andrew: And frankly, do that even at the next dinner conversation. If you see somebody who acts like everything is so easy and he’s got it, and in your case you’re not acting like things are easy because you’re trying to put up a front to just, we don’t remember it, right? We’re working so much and we’re such optimists that we don’t dwell on the negativity of the past. But it makes for a more interesting story, it lets people root for you when they hear that you’ve got back pain, that you had to sacrifice relationships, that it wasn’t easy and you struggled and it was a year of not closing any sales with the phone but you still tried it, and now you have 40 people working for you, right? That’s when people say, “You know what? Things are hard for me too, but here’s what I… This is what life is like.” So the next time you’re at a dinner party and somebody is like that, the easy thing to say is to say, “Man, it sounds like things were really easy for you. Congratulations. I guess some people it’s like a lottery. It works that way.” They’re going to be a little angry with you for the moment, and then they’re going to boom, they can’t help but come back and say, “Easy? I was up last night trying to fix our servers or trying to fix this whatever.”

All right. Let’s go on. What’s the thing that you tried for marketing that didn’t work? I’m trying to get a sense of how you think about what marketing channels will work and won’t.

Sergiu: So for us, AdWords didn’t work.

Andrew: Didn’t work.

Sergiu: We tried…four years tried a lot of budget, is just zero. I mean, zero or minus. Just didn’t work. We’re still trying to tweak it maybe for some other countries in the U.S. Maybe EU, like France because we’re a translation company so we can translate. We have Spanish speakers, Italian speakers, French, Germans, and then in the company in Chinese also. So we can…and it’s been less competition on those Markets. U.S. I think it’s overcrowded for AdWords, and so it’s like a lot of…costs a lot to have a click.

Andrew: Yeah, I get it. It’s really competitive. And that also explains to me why when we were looking you up to see, did Andrew get snowed or is he the real deal? You know, we do that kind of research before a guest comes on. You basically have no traffic to your website.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Or out of your website. I think your number one outgoing link is to Facebook, which is meaningless. Right? The top search terms are your company name in like five different ways.

Sergiu: Yeah. So, like, majority of our sales come from cold call. We don’t do PR, we don’t do… So we do just LinkedIn, a bit of LinkedIn because it’s B2B, so that makes sense. Otherwise it’s like, there is a lot of buzz word. Of course we are self-funded, so we are very scrappy on funds, if I would… Yeah, I don’t know. If somebody raises a couple of million, they may spend on AdWords and things, but I don’t think that will work anyway. For us it’s like putting minimum amount of money, effort and bringing best values.

Andrew: You…I think the one source that you found that I wouldn’t have… That’s not like the easy, obvious one is Yelp. Yelp sends you guys traffic, not huge, but at least you’re getting some traffic from there. Other than that, your number one, according to similar web, number one source of traffic for you is a site called rabata.md, which is where you hire translators.

Sergiu: Not just translators, people. Certainly, yeah.

Andrew: Like the Help Wanted it is sending you more traffic than any other single source that I could find other than, I guess, search. Okay. So you’re continuing with this, you’re trying to figure this out, one of the things… And you have, right? It seems like number one place for you to get customers is outbound phone calls, right? Number two is what?

Sergiu: Number two is LinkedIn right now. It used to be other channels but right now LinkedIn.

Andrew: Okay. All right. And one of the things that you started doing at this point in the story is figuring out your operations, how to organize it, investing in tech. You seem a little when… At least my producer’s notes give me a feeling that you seem proud of it, of the process that you’ve built and the software that you have to support your people. Can you describe it? What does it look like on the back end that I’m not seeing when I just go to your website? What have you built?

Sergiu: So remember I was telling you what was the Google Doc thing in terms of projects?

Andrew: Yes.

Sergiu: So right now that’s happening on the platform we built for the last five years, our proprietary technology where we invest a lot in automation. So when a project comes in, this system will automate a lot of sort of assignment to different translators relevant to that project.

Andrew: You built it yourselves, software that tells you which translator should get which assignment?

Sergiu: Yes. Then we have rating system, we call it Karma system, for each translator based on previous work. Their language barrier, their background, then click a button and they are informed that there is a project coming up. They accept it, they translate it on the platform. You can see their progress in translation and you as a project manager can act on that.

Andrew: I see.

Sergiu: So there’s a lot of automation, there’s a lot of tracking, there is a lot of… Yeah, a lot of AI. But it’s not like AI, it’s like a cool word to say, but we are going to do a lot of machine learning in the nearest future just because of the data and…

Andrew: To learn what?

Sergiu: So we want to automate the workflow. That’s our main goal. So for us just to be seamless and in order to scale more, we want to make it easier for us internally manage each project, each freelancer.

Andrew: Okay. I see. It’s just the management. It’s not… There’s no machine learning, there’s no automation in the translation, not even the first swipe?

Sergiu: So we use machine translation by a couple firms like Google or SDL or Microsoft. But we’re not playing this game right now. We are more into workflow management, translation content management system, yeah.

Andrew: The Karma points that the translators get, who gives them the points? Is it you guys internally or is it your client?

Sergiu: So primarily from the client feedback, we internally, and from the second translator, or the first the third one. So it’s like…

Andrew: But it’s only your people going into your software and saying, “Based on what the client told us, here is the karma that this translator gets.”

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Based on what the other translator who is proofing it says, “Here is the Karma point.” I see. And you route projects based on karma points, based on what languages they’ve worked on in the past, and based on their availability as far as you can tell. And that’s what you’ve built and it took a long time from a Word doc or a Google doc to get to that.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: What was the intermediate step? Was there one?

Sergiu: No, no. I mean, we built it gradually from Google Doc, rolled out on the system, tested it and basically started to work on that updated sort of move to a different stack, right now more into Ruby.

Andrew: Okay. You said something to our producer that is so right and I wonder how you solved it. You said, “Recruiting is always a challenge but usually the best people aren’t looking for work, they’re doing their work.”

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: So how do you deal with that? How do you find the best people considering that they’re already in jobs?

Sergiu: So number one channel we saw from recruiting great candidates is reference. We take references from different networks, like we are part of different networks, like for example I was a part of AIESEC.

Andrew: What’s that?

Sergiu: AIESEC is the largest student organization.

Andrew: Okay. So you’re part of them and you’re looking to see who’s AIESEC, it’s a student organization that’s focused on what?

Sergiu: On development [inaudible 00:59:51].

Andrew: Okay. And so you’re checking in with them to say, “Who’s especially interesting or especially smart?”

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: And you’re thinking about those people as possible recruits for work.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: I see. Before they’re even ready to get a job, before you even have a job. you’re not saying, “I have this job,” and you’re going to the AIESEC organization saying, “Who could fill this job?” You’re just saying, “Hey, who’s interesting? Who’s especially smart?” Am I right?

Sergiu: Yes. And we also invest in that organization and in student education, because I think there is a big difference between businesses and universities. So I think businesses need to play an active role in investing in education of students. So we try to invest in that. What else we do is that we invest in our employees and our employees become the referral network basically, because they like to work, they refer their friends, they…

Andrew: What kind of investments do you make in them?

Sergiu: So a lot of investments, I mean, gifts sort of for birthdays, different sort of events that we discover together sort of traveling, or we’re going to country, or we invest a lot in the culture. Yeah, we just pay good salaries. Yeah, I mean, it’s like basic human relationship which are important. We treat people well, so that’s…

Andrew: Okay. Why are you involved in Startup Grind? Startup Grind is this set of local events for entrepreneurs where they’ll go to an event and see someone being interviewed in an event, that kind of a thing. Why are you involved in that?

Sergiu: So Startup Grind, when I moved to San Francisco I just wanted to get into network. I felt like I’m by myself so I wanted to get to know people, and Startup Grind was a good network. It’s Google for entrepreneurs, a lot of great people there, so that was…

Andrew: Because you wanted to get to know other entrepreneurs, you wanted to learn from them.

Sergiu: Yes. And I think like the success of an individual is in the right configuration of people around him. So basically if I spend time with people that drink a lot, I become perhaps an alcoholic. But if I spend time with people that do stuff, create value, change society, then I learn from them.

Andrew: I do too. It’s interesting to see how they think about the world, how they think about their work. They’re often thinking bigger than the thing that’s right in front of them. Where is this going? Where could it go? All right. Finally, you wrote an article that you’re especially proud of about how companies can grow their revenues by translation. Where do we find that and how do we grow our revenue because of translation?

Sergiu: So I wrote it for Startup Grind on Medium. So we did some tests with few startups and mid-sized companies on translation, translating apps or translating websites. And from our findings we saw, for specific cases, we saw 6X growth in customers just because they translated the same app, the same SaaS tool into 6 or 10 or 8 more languages.

Andrew: I see. Just by translating, because they’re opening themselves up to more customers who feel more connected to the app because of the translation.

Sergiu: Exactly. So for example Microsoft, IBM get their 80% of revenue outside U.S., not in U.S. U.S., it’s sort of a mature market, very crowded, but there are a lot of markets untapped. And when you translate, let’s say, Spanish, you get a lot of countries access it.

Andrew: So what will it cost for somebody who’s listening to this who says, “Hey, you know what? I’d like to translate my app.” What would it cost to translate an app?

Sergiu: So let’s say you have a Chrome extension and Google is like a billion users and you have it in English, you want to translate into Spanish, let’s say, French or German, I think it will cost about, depends on the number of words of course, I think about 500, 400 U.S.

Andrew: Five hundred, 400. So can I go to Flippa, buy a Chrome extension that’s producing a little bit of revenue, invest $500 to have you guys translate it, and suddenly my Chrome extension works in more places so I bring in more revenue?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Yes.

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: And maybe I’ll do… Is there a place to figure out where or which countries I should be considering first?

Sergiu: I’ve put that in my article.

Andrew: You did?

Sergiu: Yes, yes.

Andrew: I can’t find it, dude. I should have asked you ahead of time.

Sergiu: “How to Grow Your Startup by 6X.”

Andrew: “How to Grow Your Startup by 6X.” And I’m going to type in TRAVOD. No, I don’t see it. I got to find it. And now I want to read this.

Sergiu: Well, maybe I can check one more time.

Andrew: You know what? I’m going to email you to link this to us and then I’ll ask Andre…I’ll ask Ari actually to include it in the article. That’s such a great idea. All right.

Sergiu: Yeah.

Andrew: Under a thousand bucks to translate the Chrome extension, that’s it, and now I have it in a whole other country.

Sergiu: You got it, yeah. And a lot of top Chrome extensions are translated in 70 languages. If you look like top revenue, Chrome… For example, we’ll just pick up Chrome extension. Top of them are like 70 languages, 50 languages. Pipedrive, if you’re using Pipedrive. So Pipedrive, I think 20 languages, 25 languages. A lot of revenue from Brazil, Europe…

Andrew: So what would it cost? What about Pipedrive? That’s a pretty intense piece of software. There are lot of different screens on there. You’ve got a sense of it. What would that cost?

Sergiu: I think couple of thousand, yeah.

Andrew: A couple thousand. That’s it?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: And you know what? Of course those guys have it in different languages, because I don’t think English was their first language, the founders. That’s where people start to think about different languages. When we grow up in the U.S. we think this is the only language, the rest of the world will just use it when they need to, and maybe this is a language that has the most money in it. But look, they even they translate it into Dutch because the Netherlands…

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: Actually, yeah. Translated… It’s weird that under languages it says, “Dutch.” It’s says “Netherlands,” not “Dutch,” but okay. I would have thought that someone in the Netherlands would just stick with English. They speak English like we do.

Sergiu: So two-thirds of internet doesn’t use English. Two-thirds, so it’s…

Andrew: Two-thirds?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: But I’m saying that people in Holland, you’re there, that’s why I’m bringing this up. They speak English, right? Everybody speaks English. I once asked someone in Holland at a drugstore, “Do you speak English?” She said, “Of course I do.” It’s like, “Do you read?” Is what I… It’s like asking her, “Do you read?” But you’re saying even in the situations like that where the country speaks English, translating it into their language makes it more appealing to them.

Sergiu: Yes, because it’s like more local, more… They use it…their website is in Dutch, advertising is in Dutch here. So yeah, you play the local card here, that’s why…

Andrew: I see. You know what? Because they even on their website have, not just English but they let you pick English U.S. versus English UK.

Sergiu: You see. Yeah.

Andrew: It kind of brings up something on your website. You guys on your site use the word localised with an S. Americans use it localized with a Z. Oh, I see now. I took in my screenshot. It’s because I was on the United Kingdom version of your site. You don’t automatically translate it…I mean, you don’t automatically just switch it to U.S. if you detect the IP that someone’s in the U.S.?

Sergiu: So we are UK company so we primarily work on UK markets right now, France market. We have customers in U.S., and I’m spending my time there also to develop our office. But so far we focus on the European markets.

Andrew: You know what though, I’m now in the top right of your website. It says, “United Kingdom,” the dropdown menu gives me only one option, “United Kingdom.” I can’t change it from United Kingdom to the U.S. What’s up with that? Oh, and I can only change it from British English to France. How come you guys don’t do multiple languages including U.S. English?

Sergiu: So…

Andrew: Is it a jerky thing for me to ask you?

Sergiu: No, no. it’s fine.

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: We didn’t see the need so far because, I mean, for us it’s like…

Andrew: But aren’t you selling the companies in the U.S. including in San Francisco?

Sergiu: Yes. But it’s not like…I mean, it’s…I don’t see any difference. Maybe I’m not locally in U.S. I don’t see like a reason right now to allocate resources to modify the website for English U.S.

Andrew: All right.

Sergiu: But thank you for feedback. Maybe we change that in the future.

Andrew: Oh, I see. I do see on the very bottom, I could switch to Scandinavian, let’s see, European. Oh no, that’s the languages that you guys sell. All right.

Sergiu: Yeah. But yeah, as I said, our primary market is UK market, so we’re a UK company so we…

Andrew: So you get more sales from the UK than the U.S.?

Sergiu: So I would say we get more sales from Europe than from U.S.

Andrew: I see. Okay. All right. Then why not more European languages on your website?

Sergiu: That’s what is like in the process, but right now we just focus on UK, France market. Yeah.

Andrew: How about me ending this whole conversation on an awkward spot? Does it feel a little awkward? It feels a little awkward to me. I’m acknowledging the awkwardness in the room.

Sergiu: I don’t know, Andrew. I mean, yes, it’s strange maybe. Why don’t we have more languages there? But we didn’t see the need so far, so we just…

Andrew: Okay.

Sergiu: We do a lot of translation into English and from English and we position ourselves in UK, we have offices there, people there, so…I mean, for us English is the base language from and into, we don’t do, let’s say, Spanish into Finnish. So for us, like English…

Andrew: I didn’t realize that.

Sergiu: …is the connection language, so that’s why we kind of keep it in that [inaudible 01:11:26].

Andrew: You know, one thing that I’m noticing, the other thing that stands out on your website is that you guys have a place for partner agencies to register, that I’m noticing more and more businesses aren’t just going after individuals. They’re saying, “Who out there has the customers that we want to work with? That should be our customer. Let’s see how we can get agencies because the agencies have the clients that we need to work with.” And I never thought that way before, but I need to start thinking that way. So for example, for our chatbot business, we shouldn’t be thinking just, “Who needs a chatbot?” It’s, “Which agencies have the clients that need a chatbot? We should be catering to them because they could bring us in to create this little thing for them and that gives us experience, it gives us clients, and it gives us a reputation that we can say we built chatbots for all these other businesses.” I noticed over the years on your website since I’ve been going over it since like the very beginning, according to the Internet Archive, you’re always very good about showing, here are all the businesses that we worked with, and it was like Google, it’s Bayer, Procter and Gamble. My sense is that some of those clients were people who you worked with because an agency asked you to work for them, right?

Sergiu: Yes, yes.

Andrew: This is a number one thing that I didn’t realize before I did these interviews that I’m seeing it’s a common way to start a business, common way to get customers and to build a reputation like Samsung. And yeah, you guys were always good about saying, “Here are all the businesses that work with us.” You even have my accounting firm, Baker Tilly, which I never thought was a major…

Sergiu: It’s our accounting firm too, so…

Andrew: Sorry? It’s yours also?

Sergiu: Yes.

Andrew: I really love Baker Tilly.

Sergiu: They’re great.

Andrew: But they don’t seem like they’re a big name accounting firm. I think they’re like a second tier accounting firm, right?

Sergiu: They’re top five, top six, yeah.

Andrew: Oh, they’re top six now?

Sergiu: I think so, yeah. It depends on which countries, but yeah, Deloitte. We translate for Ernst & Young also, EY.

Andrew: I used to be with Ernst & Young, but man, they charge tons of money because they’re one of the top, what? Top three or something? And then I started working with this local firm that my old CFO recommended, and then every few years I’d get an email or paper mail from them saying, “Hey, we just acquired this other company, or, “we were acquired by this other company. Hey, now our new name is Baker Tilly.” And I guess through all these acquisitions, they became one of the top firms.

Sergiu: Yes, so…

Andrew: All right. Congratulations on building this business up. I feel like you under played how big the company was. You say 6,000. I see it on your website, 6,230 brands served. I don’t think most people understand how big that is. You’ve told me in private how big the company in. I understand you not saying it, but I feel like you’re very modest and I feel like Europeans in general as interviewees are very modest. It makes for a much more substantial interview. But I don’t get my pa-pow, “Look at how we did. From nothing, from a WordPress site, look at how big we got.” So the audience is going to have to take my word for it. There’s pa-pow here and congratulations on hitting that.

Sergiu: Thank you, Andrew. It was a pleasure talking with you. I hope that’s useful for your audience and…

Andrew: I’m sure it is. And I’d love for them to go check out the article, I’m going to follow up with you to get a link to that article. Anyone who wants to go check out your website, it is travod.com, T-R-A-V-O-D.com. Of course we’re going to link it up. And if you want any one of my two sponsors, you should use my special URL. Number one. Guys, if you’re out there, you’re working by yourself whether it’s in an office that you don’t love or working from home, go check out Regus. I’m telling you, they’re going to put you in a frame of mind to get things done. The internet here, I don’t think has ever been under 50 up and 50 down. That is dependable. The receptionists here will greet my guests and make them feel like they’re worth a million bucks to me even if they’re just like an old friend from high school or college who came to visit me. Great, great experience. They’re going to put you in a frame of mind to build a better business. So go check them out, regus.com/mixergy or frankly just email me, andrew@mixergy.com. I’ll introduce you to my person there. Let them give you a tour. I see them giving a lot of my friends and other people tours here. The tour alone will make you feel good. Number one.

Number two, if you need a website so you can start your next new business, think about Face from the A-Team or think about what happened with TRAVOD. All you need is a simple website. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy, one-click install, you’ll get that website up and going right. And as always give me feedback on my team, on the audio and anything else by going to or emailing us at contact@mixergy.com the whole team wants to hear it.

All right. Sergiu, thanks so much for doing this interview.

Sergiu: Thank you, Andrew. It’s a pleasure.

Andrew: Yeah, it’s great meeting you and I hope we’ll get together for scotch once you’re back here in the U.S..

Sergiu: See you.

Andrew: Bye. Bye everyone.


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