First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Luke Palder: Thanks for asking. We’re doing well. My wife and I had a baby boy in January, so we’d be spending quite a lot of time indoors, regardless. We were fortunate he was able to meet his grandparents before the chaos of March, but, since then, it’s been FaceTime, FaceTime, and more FaceTime.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded TranslationServices.com
Luke Palder: I am passionate about developing online businesses that provide convenient and straightforward solutions to people’s problems. Some of the businesses I’ve started are ProofreadingServices.com, TranscriptionServices.com, and HoustonMovers.com (Thumbtack for movers in Houston). By keeping my businesses’ domain names straightforward, potential clients know right away what we’re all about.
Like all my other startups, TranslationServices.com was born out of a desire to make professional translation services more accessible. Many businesses believe professional translation services are a “corporate luxury” that only big companies can afford. Even if they had the money, many wouldn’t know where to turn to get a qualified translator who could cater to their specific language needs (medical translation from English to Zulu, translation about blockchain in Swiss Italian, etc.).
Searching for a professional translator who can provide accurate and fairly priced work shouldn’t be frustrating. Determined to make the process easier, I founded TranslationServices.com in 2019.
How does TranslationServices.com innovate?
Luke Palder: As a company, if you’re not innovating, you’re dying.
All of my companies are built in a distributed fashion. Over the past 10 years, there’s never been a central office. Our teams span countless cities and more time zones than I knew existed years ago. TranslationServices.com is no different.
TranslationServices.com is a virtual company built with a team that works from home. This keeps the company’s overhead low, which allows us to offer services at reasonable rates without sacrificing quality and while churning 24/7. Quality+Speed+Affordability are the trifecta of good user experience.
The other pillar of innovation at TranslationServices.com is our social mission. To encourage literacy and a love for languages, we donate five books to homeless shelters for every translation order we process. Our clients support our social mission simply by using our services. This increases conversion rates, helps us stand out in a crowded market, and adds additional purpose to the work our wonderful translators do.
We also support many nonprofits by providing pro bono translation. I believe we provide free ongoing translation to about 80 nonprofits right now.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Luke Palder: The pandemic has affected every facet of society, and business is no different. While many businesses have been shuttered during these difficult times, there are also many that have grown.
Fortunately for us, communication across cultures is a necessity regardless of the state of the world. In fact, the pandemic has made the need for translation more urgent than ever. Amidst the chaos, there are still important health documents that need translating and awareness videos that need subtitling. As a result, our team has translated a great volume of COVID-19-related documents in the past few months and contributed to a lot more pro bono work than before.
Our preexisting work-from-home model meant we didn’t miss a beat when the world shifted to pajama pants and Zoom calls.
Did you have to make difficult choices? What are the lessons learned?
Luke Palder: Fortunately, we haven’t had to lay anyone off. We’ve reassessed where and how we spend money and trimmed where appropriate, but all jobs have been preserved. The pandemic has been a bittersweet opportunity to trim out a lot of underperforming SaaS products that we were paying for but hadn’t reassessed in years. I’ve since added a “SaaS audit” to my calendar twice a year to make this budget trim more frequent. I imagine many people reading this are also paying for subscription-billed services that once made sense but no longer do.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Luke Palder: Not always well. Though we’re bootstrapped, I’ve always thought someone should start a VC fund that requires, as a condition of the investment, that the founders attend weekly therapy. Running a business is stressful.
I’m 33 now, but it took me the first 26 years of my life to realize that sleep makes everything better. Few problems are not made much easier by ensuring you have had a restful night of sleep.
In fact, the list of “low-hanging fruit” for stress reduction is longer than just “sleep”:
● Have you eaten?
● Have you had water?
● Have you been outside?
● Have you exercised?
● Have you spoken to anyone today?
● Have you done something fun just for you?
I also try to manage my energy, not my time. Some days that means two hours of work. Some days that means 10. When your brain turns to “mush,” ask yourself: “Is the task I’m about to spend hours on something I could do in 15 minutes tomorrow if I was well-rested?” If it is, stop.
During the pandemic itself, I’ve been blessed to have the wonderful support of my wife and the giggles of our son. “Commuting” from my home office to our living room to read my son books throughout the day is a huge source of stress relief.
Where do you see yourself and TranslationServices.com in the future?
Luke Palder: The goal of TranslationServices.com is to continually expand our team of translators so that we can offer translation in even the most uncommon languages. We’re heading in the right direction, having conducted projects in Yucatec Maya, Southern Quechua, Marshallese, Navajo, and even Arapaho (only about 1,087 native speakers left in the world).
The translation is about creating access to information and being inclusive. Some of our most meaningful projects have been working with organizations to translate key information related to the 2020 Census here in the US.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
There is no shortage of translation agencies. According to market research entity Nimdzi, there are at least 140,200 companies around the world that provide language services, with an estimated 2019 market size of 53.5 billion dollars (USD). Despite the big numbers, the market is highly fragmented; the top 100 companies make up only 13.5% of the market.
Luckily, when the pie is huge, the slices can be big. We aim to have a Thanksgiving Day-sized slice of that pie.
As for how we differentiate:
1) Our brand helps. We’re not A1Translators.biz. We’re TranslationServices.com. Our entire identity is what we sell. Is it the sexiest name? No. Does it pass the radio test, add credibility, increase conversion rates, and convey trust? Absolutely.
2) Our social mission. When you sell the same things as a whole lot of other people, the sales decision comes down to (A) who the buyer likes working with the most, (B) price (holding all else equal, like quality), and/or (C) meaningful differentiation where possible. We can tell people all day that we’re less expensive while maintaining high-quality standards, but our social mission truly sets us apart. With us, their dollars lead to more good being injected into the world, and the world needs more good.
Any final thoughts?
Luke Palder: If you’re lucky to find a good partner in life, it’ll dramatically help your entrepreneurial ventures. My wife and I dated for nine years before we got married, and she has supported me every step of the way.
When you’re bootstrapped, that can mean years of near-zero income (everyone else gets paid before you). If your partner isn’t on board with that, you’re going to have a bad time.
The early days, especially, require long hours. When we were living in San Francisco, I’d come home from the office at seven, have dinner with my now-wife, and then head back to the office from 8:30 pm to 11 pm or midnight. Was that healthy? Absolutely not, but I had to figure that out for myself, and my now-wife was supportive as I cranked away.
I haven’t seen data to support this, but I’d bet quite a lot of money that having a great life partner (wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc.) yields better business success.
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