Applying LEAN startup principles to translation companies
In 2008, Eric Ries first proposed the LEAN startup methodology. At first, the methodology was geared towards improving the management of high-tech startup companies but, over the years, Ries has adapted the model to apply to a wider scope of companies looking to introduce new products or services into the market. In 2011, Ries released his incredibly successful book The Lean Startup, which has since been voted one of Amazon’s Best Business Books. But what exactly is this LEAN startup model, and what can the translation industry take from it?
What is the LEAN startup methodology?
Historically, businesses startups have created a demo product or a BETA version of their software, getting it to the highest standard possible, then testing it. If this product or service worked, that would be great, but usually, the design of these products and services would be based on (mostly flawed) assumptions and poor business ideas. The improvements that came out of these feedback processes were often weak, as the process relied on little more than asking people’s opinions on an already complete product.
The LEAN startup model advises the exact opposite. Though it mostly applies to digital products, it is not exclusive to them. The model suggests that companies begin testing as soon as you have the most basic and minimal version of what you will be offering. You can test by allowing people to use your product or service, gauging how they react, and gathering information about what would make it easier to use or more appealing. You can then make gradual improvements, based on this real-time feedback, continuing to test your product throughout the whole development process.
This means you will be following the path that becomes evident as you make your way along it through testing. This gradual development gives you more freedom than if you had already committed to a certain design or outlook that is based on assumptions, rather than concrete user opinion. Not only will you save money as you only make decisions based on evidence, you will also achieve your complete product sooner, as you don’t waste time testing models that just aren’t feasible.
Thus, the LEAN model can be considered through the learning loop:
BUILD then MEASURE then LEARN then START AGAIN
Every new stage of this loop will be influenced by what happened previously so that you are constantly working on the feedback you receive and testing every change you make. Your assumptions should not be the only thing you build your business model on.
How does this apply to the translation industry?
Though the translation industry might not offer a tangible product, or a piece of software, there is definitely something they can take from what Reis advises in the LEAN startup model, and Integro uses this regularly.
At Integro, we help our clients test the viability of their products in international markets through a digital market test. Some companies striving for international growth attempt to simply recreate their business model in a different market, simply translating their websites, literature and brand appearance into the target language. However, we understand that this doesn’t work: different audiences respond to different branding and literature, and assuming something about your target market just isn’t good enough.
Instead, we help them to test a very basic version of their business model in a certain market, gaining feedback very early, making appropriate changes and repeating the process. We can do this through some minimal content marketing, or by translating just a narrow core range of products, then using the analytics feedback to refine the offering. This then helps us to advise clients on what changes might make their product or service more successful in a certain market, or if any changes would even make a difference.
The final result of this is that our clients are only spending their money and time on worthwhile international investments. We don’t want our clients to waste their time on money on projects that are simply not viable, and the LEAN startup model helps us to do just this.