On-line translation empire garners $10m investment

One Hour Translation COO Lior Libman thought he saw a major market opportunity in the translation market – and he was right

Locations of some of OHT translators (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Locations of some of OHT translators (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Necessity is the mother of invention, and innovation – and necessity is what led Lior Libman to build his innovative on-line translation service, One Hour Translation. With 15,000 translators in 120 countries working for him, translating between more than 2,500 language pairs (all the combinations of the 75 languages OHT handles), OHT, if not the largest translation service in the world, is, Libman said, “the fastest,” adding that the company’s name isn’t just a marketing gimmick; OHT will do translations (single page, up to 200 words) in an hour or less, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Now, the company has been bolstered by a huge $10 million investment, courtesy of Fortissimo Capital, a top Israeli venture capital fund. In exchange for its investment, Fortissimo got a third of OHT, with the money, said Libman, to be used to further expand the company’s services and products.

In an era marked by increased globalization, the translation market around the world is huge, as businesses seek to grab whatever markets they can wherever they can find them. The largest translation firm in the world in 2012 was Mission Essential Personnel, which does all the translations for the U.S. military; it had revenues of over $700 million (OHT did not disclose revenue or sales figures). According to marketing research firm Common Sense Advisory, the world market for translations in 2012 was $33.523 billion, growing at a clip of 12.17% annually.

The translation business is clearly a good one to be in, and OHT has found a winning formula that has helped the company become an important player in the on-line translation market, said Libman, OHT’s Chief Operating Officer. Clients request a quote (which is delivered within minutes), and once they hire OHT, they upload their copy and get it back when it’s done. OHT finds the appropriate translator for the type of document (with whatever technical skills are necessary), the language pair, and the ability of the translator to deliver the copy on time.

Lior Libman (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Lior Libman (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Although the vast majority of translators working for OHT are freelancers, Libman stressed that he is not operating a marketplace. “You don’t have to sort through the translators to figure out which one best suits your needs,” he told the Times of Israel. “We have a sophisticated algorithm that lets us zero in on the best translator for your needs, whether its a technical or legal document, marketing copy, an academic report, etc. OHT handles all the paperwork, hiring, payment, and delivery.” Translators who do a better job are rewarded with more work and more money, he added, thus guaranteeing customers top-notch translations.

Large customers can also implement an API developed by OHT for flowing translations. When a user uploads text into their company’s content management system, they indicate what, if any, translation services are needed, and the text automatically gets transferred to OHT, which seamlessly translates the copy and sends it back. Among the company’s customers are global giants like IBM, AIG, Amazon Web Services, Toyota, Coca Cola, and many more.

Besides human translation services, OHT offers its own version of machine translation, a translation toolbar where you can input text and get back translations in any of the language pairs the company handles, and an interesting tool called Is It Google? Google Translate, of course, is the service that lets you get the gist of a foreign-language text in your own tongue – but usually only a gist, especially in non-Latin character languages, because the translation engines for many of those languages isn’t very refined. The OHT tool will tell you if a translation you received (and presumably paid for) was done by a human or a machine.

Fortissimo’s is the first outside investment in the company, said Libman; Rehovot-based OHT will use the money to, among other things, almost double its workforce of 50, with an additional 40 people to develop and market new products and services. “We are not looking to sell the company or bring in more investments right away,” Libman said. “We want to become one of the biggest translation companies on-line, if not the world.”

And Libman believes that, despite giant players like Mission Essential Personnel, OHT has a shot at the big time. “I started this company with a partner (CEO Ofer Shoshan) five years ago because we needed some translations done and couldn’t find anyone competent to do it. We were running a blog about finance in Israel that needed to be updated daily, if not more often, and we couldn’t find a service that could commit to that kind of schedule.”

All the candidates, he said, told them they would need days, if not weeks, to complete the job. “That’s where the idea of OHT came from,” Libman added. “I believe there are a lot more people like me who need quick, accurate translation turnaround, and we intend to make sure OHT reaches them.”


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