Life & Culture

Israelis successfully lost in translation


For Israeli entrepreneur Ofer Shoshan, the key to corporate success rests on one crucial factor — making sure that you and your client are speaking the same language.

In a global business world where time zones, trade differences and cultural clashes are of little significance, language is the final frontier — the one barrier between, say, a Chinese trader doing instant deals with a Peruvian consumer.

But Shoshan, 43, is well on the way to changing all that. As CEO of online translation agency One Hour Translation, he and his colleagues work to pair companies from over 100 countries with more than 15,000 human translators at the click of a button.

The USP? While traditional, professional translation services remain a fairly slow and arduous process, theirs is quick, efficient and streamlined. As the name suggests, they promise to provide a human translation of the finished product — be it a website, contract or business document — in only one hour.

“In the age of the internet, it just doesn’t make sense that a customer would have to wait a whole day for an end product,” Shoshan explains.

“And the need is there — more than 72 per cent of internet users are not native English speakers. Of those, 80 per cent would rather buy in their native language. These are staggering statistics regarding the business potential of translation, because the running costs are very small.”

Since its international launch in 2009, One Hour Translation has grown exponentially. Comprising a team of five Israeli founders, all with backgrounds in global finance, it initially focused on North America, where it provided translation services of 75 languages to over half the companies listed in the Fortune 500.

The demand was clear. Originally choosing to bootstrap the agency — to start it with very little capital — Shoshan and his co-founders saw profit from the first year of operations, culminating in a £10million investment last year from SodaStream backers, Fortissimo Capital.

And with English being the most widely requested language in the world, the company has now chosen to direct efforts towards the mother-tongue market with an official UK launch — capitalising on this country’s massive demand for translation, which, according to Shoshan, amounts to £1.2 billion per year.

“London is the hub for international companies operating in Europe and the rest of the world,” he says. “But while it’s a very multilingual city, English speakers have less incentive to know other languages. That’s where we can help.”

He stresses that, though the company is Israeli-founded, it is not the “typical Israeli start-up. Our offices are in Bucharest, Kiev and New York, while our headquarters are in Cyprus. We’re very international.”

But surely, as Israeli entrepreneurs on a global stage, they have witnessed first-hand the restrictions imposed on a person who does not speak the lingo? Does this give them the edge?

“For sure, it’s an innate thing for us,” he says. “The fact that Israel is a very multi-national country, where you have immigrants coming from all over the world, means you are exposed to different languages from a very young age. No one living there would ever question the need for translation.”

According to Shoshan, the company’s decision to work with corporate clients — including Coca Cola, Shell and IBM — was led by their focus on providing fast results.

“Businesses tend to translate more, and speed is more important to them. You can instantaneously send your presentation, website or contract for translation or proofreading — and a countdown timer will show you when its ready.

“And the cost is very small — it can be several hundred pounds for a typical website, which is tiny compared to the additional customers you can get by having your website translated into Spanish or German.”

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