Like many other rapidly growing, venture-backed Silicon Valley tech start-ups, Babelverse was born to address a universal problem. But Babelverse's universal problem is also a global one: dismantling communication barriers by enabling anyone in the world—tourist, tenant, corporate marketer—to access on-the-spot interpretation from any language and translation into another one.
"It's about being able to communicate as if you are native, whether you're sitting in a business meeting or at a café," said Mayel de Borniol. A native of France, he and U.K. co-founder Josef Dunne got the idea when they were having trouble communicating with their Greek landlord a few years ago.
Covering about 155 languages and 912 language combinations, 5,000 multilingual speakers power Babelverse's network, which works via Web-connected device or VoIP-enabled phone. The technology has broken down language barriers, but is language the mother tongue of disruption in the business world—the site of a good portion of Babelverse's potential profits?
Innovation or disruption, Babelverse is at the forefront of the tech-driven changes shaking up the $34 billion language-services market. Made up of multinational software companies that facilitate everything from machine translation to in-person interpreting, the industry is finally having its start-up moment.
With cloud computing driving down the cost of application development and crowdsourcing allowing user communities to tackle huge problems, a host of start-ups worldwide are challenging the status quo with sleek, Web-based solutions that drastically cut the expense and time it takes to translate any type of content—text, video, social media.
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"Mobile devices—these are the disruptors," said Don DePalma, founder of Common Sense Advisory, a research firm in Cambridge, Mass., that tracks the language-services market. "When you gang together hundreds of these devices into an intercommunicating network, all of a sudden you get all these benefits and economies of scale."
The innovations are enabling corporations to enter markets and disrupt many sectors that were previously unreachable. Language is the mother tongue of global business opportunity.
Coupa Software, a San Mateo, Calif., maker of cloud spend management solutions, wanted to test the waters in Latin America by sponsoring a trade show in Mexico City. But finding interpreters and building in-house technology to translate the intricate code of its websites, marketing materials and social media—for a project that may not result in new business—required too much time and other resources.
Instead, Coupa contracted with Cloudwords, a San Francisco-based firm whose project management software streamlines the translation process. What would have taken Coupa about three months took about four weeks with Cloudwords.
"They're taking a process that is relatively dated in the industry and turning it on its head," said Coupa CEO Rob Bernshteyn, who has three deals in the pipeline from the trade show.
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Babelverse's Dunne said his enterprise-level interpreting service costs half as much as the solutions peddled by more established competitors but draws the line there.
"I wouldn't say we're disruptive," he said. "We're innovating and offering new ways to do what they've been doing."