When I meet Benoit Laurent, CEO of TextMaster, he’s slightly out of breath and looking frantically at his watch. He explains to me that the reason he insisted on meeting at Gare de Lyon is that he and his wife live in Toulon (a 5 hour train ride away from Paris, on the Mediterranean coast) and that she’s nine months pregnant. To say that he’s on hot standby is an understatement!
Textmaster, founded in June 2011, is a truly international organization: Headquartered in Brussels, the CEO lives in Toulon, the CTO in Hong Kong, and two investors and co-founders are in Paris. Benoit waves away any question about communication – their team works seamlessly across these distances.
Of Fotolia fame
Co-founders Thibaud Elziere and Quentin Nickmans are already rich and famous from Fotolia, one of the leading photo marketplaces in the world. After enjoying the partial exit of Fotolia, they had some time on their hands, and decided to start (and fund) not one new startup, but five! Textmaster is one of those. Elziers and Nickmans share their time between Textmaster, Mailjet, Muxi, Mention and Pressking. Sounds challenging? Textmaster’s CEO is quite happy with the outcome – he gets massively experienced co-founders on his team, that despite being part time at Textmaster, act as advisor, investor, team member, and mentor, with well-proven track records. Not to mention that their networks are immeasurably valuable too.
The problem that Textmaster solves is that getting translations, copywriting, and proofreading is an expensive pain-in-the-ass at the moment. Certified translators are scarce, they overcharge, and underperform, while their qualifications are often irrelevant to the actual job requirements. In addition, if, for example, you are in Paris and you need to find a Dutch-to-Romanian translator, this can be very difficult to find, for obvious reasons. One of the challenges is also making sure that your translator is doing a good job. If you pay someone for a translation, odds are, you don’t speak the language that’s being translated to. So how can you be sure the translation is correct, and sounds like how a native speaker would say it? People end up relying on informal networks for this, which is unreliable and inefficient.
Textmaster solves this problem by creating a global virtual workforce that is accessible through their website that are individuals that offer translation, copywriting and proofreading services. Quality of the writers and translators is established by standardized testing on the website (not certification!!) and feedback from prior jobs. This allows them to connect supply and demand in a very efficient way.
In a sense, it’s a crowdsourcing solution, but it would be more accurate, perhaps, to say that they are a C2B – consumers turned workers offer themselves to businesses. In any case, the similarities to Fotolia are there – consumers turning themselves into professionals, crowdsourcing, global marketplace. By bundling translation and independent proofreading, they are also removing the pain of verifying a translator’s work. In addition, they model themselves as a technology platform, with a strong API, inviting tight integrations with content creation platforms like WordPress and other CMS’es.
Started in June 2011, they are off to a good start: the community of workers is 26,000 people strong, and they are cashflow-positive. Their offering comes in three kinds: Basic (translation or copywrite only), Standard (translation/copywrite + verification), and Expert (translation/copywrite + verification + quality guarantee). You pay for them with ‘credits’, that you buy in bulk – the more, the cheaper. In reality, the work ends up being 85% cheaper than traditional services – a massive savings.
Some of the areas where they don’t shine are the more complex areas of the industry: for example, subtitles are translations that have to fit neatly into a specific number of characters by time unit, which makes it far more complicated than ‘normal’ translation work, requiring specific software to author it on. Other examples are translations of advertisements, where the translation is strictly limited to a number of characters and needs to be ‘catchy’ – a hard to qualify skill best left to the ad agency copywriters.
Their competitors include Genjo, a Japanese / US company, Textbroker, a german/US company, and Wordy – a Danish proofreading service. And the traditional translation and copywriting industry, of course!
VC money? We don’t need it! But we sure want it!
They are currently ‘founder-funded’ and cashflow-positive. They are shopping around for VC money, but are in the fortunate position that they don’t need it! As one would imagine, this improves a startup’s position at the negotiating table enormously – just like banks, VC’s are most likely to give you money when you don’t need it.
Textmaster is removing pain where it hurts – paying needlessly expensive translators where someone crowdsourced can do the job just fine. They are a true startup in the sense that they are proving a new business model – common sense dictates they will succeed. Will they ever replace complex translation jobs? Not likely, but they are at least giving them a run for their money!
As a BONUS, Textmaster is offering the first 50 readers 1000 free Textmaster credits for signing-up to their service. To receive the credits, first register here. Once you’re logged in, go to ‘Mes Crédits’ (My Credits) in the ‘Mon Profil’ (My Profile) section of the site and enter the promocode RudeBaguette.