Translation and Language Industry Observations

In a move announced this week, online translation company One Hour Translation has rebranded into BLEND Localization. As part of this move, the company also raised $10 Million from a venture capital company. As someone in the translation industry who has followed OHT from its inception, I want to share some of my thoughts on this move.

First of all, OHT created the online translation business segment and paved the way for other companies to sell translation services online (including GTS Translation Services). In 2008 when OHT started, no other company (with the exception of the now nearly defunct company Worldlingo) was selling translation services online. But OHT did not only start selling translations online, they did it with style and pizazz. They had a catchy name, a cool website, and a great PR team that scored them key exposure points on most kinds of media. This included commercials on Fox News, posts in Forbes and New York Times and many other media outlets. Their strength was in branding, which makes me more than a bit surprised that they are walking away from the brand that they so diligently and laboriously created.

Another thing that OHT pioneered to an extent was its positioning as a tech startup rather than an old fashioned translation agency. This positioning enabled OHT to raise money-LOTS of money. I won’t bother to list the numerous funding rounds. You can probably Google it if this interests you. What I do know is that they raised many millions of dollars. This was capped off this week with another $10 Million.

OHT underwent an internal transformation a number of years ago when they turned into a full-service, international translation company with offices and staff in numerous countries worldwide. Why did they do this? My guess is that they realized that the online translation business is limited and that they will not get the big accounts using an online platform. The online platform is great for private customers and small companies that do not have large translation needs. The big accounts (like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook) need account managers, localization and cultural experts, IT teams, computational linguists, sales people and the kind of staff you will find in large translation service companies. It is to be assumed that the rebranding of OHT into BLEND is part of the same shift. The brand of One Hour Translation is very closely associated with online, instant translation. Even its name, which was borrowed from the one-hour photo labs of yesteryear, implies an online business. OHT has also been pivoting into MT- and AI-based solutions, with an eye on the gaming industry and on the market in China.

Will BLEND (formerly OHT) be able to compete with the other large LSPs, wrestle away some of the mega accounts and become a localization powerhouse? I am not sure. Competition is fierce and they will compete with other larger and better-funded LSPs. And the new company name lacks any brand recognition, which will pose another marketing challenge to the folks at BLEND.

One of the things that BLEND has going against it is its dependence on VC money for growth. Each time they raise capital, the ownership shares become diluted and the management position becomes weaker. I am comparing this kind of management with Transperfect and the Big Word, which are large, privately-held LSPS. Both of these companies, as well as several others, are run by their founder who is also the owner. Not being dependent on VCs, these companies grow organically. They fund expansion the old fashion way, through investment of profits and owner capital. This seems like a more natural kind of growth. Indeed, it is surprising that after nearly 15 years of operation, OHT did not have sufficient capital to fund the rebranding on its own.

Another thing comes to my mind is that the great brands do not rebrand. They may rebrand products, like CocaCola famously did when it introduced New Coke. But has Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Ford or Microsoft ever consider rebranding into a new name? No, because why ruin a good thing?

I myself have met some of the people at OHT and you won’t find a nicer group of people. That’s why I wish them success in their new and continuing journey.


One Hour Translation raises $10M, rebrands

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