There are bilingual people all over the world, looking for work; travelers and businessmen, meanwhile, constantly find themselves in need of translation.
VerbalizeIt is a New York based startup that hopes to connect these two groups of people. For founder Ryan Frankel the problem was personal – he ate something he shouldn't have in China and struggled to get the proper medication.
"I woke up sicker than I have been in my entire life and managed to stagger my way to a pharmacy," said Frankel. "I knew exactly what medication I needed but unfortunately couldn't communicate with the pharmacist due to the language barrier. I came back from that trip really excited about the opportunity to make sure that what I personally experienced would never happen to anyone again."
Today Frankel's company is starting to solve that problem around the world. A map at VerbalizeIt.com shows people being helped in real time: "Sarah got help with Portuguese in USA", "Bill got help with French in Morocco", "Cameron got help with Hindi in India."
The help isn't coming from machine-based translators; instead, VerbalizeIt connects people in need of translation with bilingual speakers using a smartphone application, or even a simple phone call. Today 2,000 translators – all speaking English and at least one of Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi, French Portuguese or German – regularly help people around the world in ways machines translators simply can't.
"Machines translation has been going on for about 50 years, the military started it," explains Frankel. "They and various companies have done wonders when it comes to text translation, but because voice has thousands of other languages within every single language due to dialect, tone, nuance and intonation, machine speech-translation still has quite a ways to go."
VerbalizeIt avoids these problems by connecting people in need of translation with an actual human translator, quickly. Pricing for that help can vary, depending on volume, from one dollar a minute to fifty cents.
What percentage of that goes to the translators? It depends, according to Frankel.
"People who are just starting out and aren't doing a lot of work, they're not going to earn a lot of money," said Frankel. "As you engage our customers you move up in the system, based on the quality of your work."
Frankel said one translator recently managed to earn $600 in two days.
"It's a better opportunity, for income earning potential, than Mechanical Turk," said Frankel when asked.
Launched earlier this year, VerbalizeIt graduated from TechStars Boulder over the summer. Frankel is quick to say how much the program meant to him.
"TechStars did everything for us," said Frankel. "It was a fantastic, fantastic experience."
Among the highlights: access to ideas from mentors.
"Brad Feld helped us think about our funding situation and how we should grow the company from a financial perspective. said Frankel. "David Cohen helped us think about our distribution strategy through the developer community."
And what was the best part about being in Boulder?
"The startup community," said Frankel. "You are completely embraced by the community: every entrepreneur down there is looking to help out other entrepreneurs."
When asked what being back in New York City is like after experiencing that kind of community, Frankel responded quickly.
"I love New York," he said, "I think it's a great place to build a business. It's great to be a part of what has become over the last few years a technology hub."
Technology, of course, makes the world smaller. This NYC-based, Boulder-mentored business is no exception.
"Businesses are using VerbalizeIt a lot in Latin America," said Frankel. "Consumers are using it in China, Europe, you name it."
Visit VerbalizeIt online.