How DO Startups "DO" Localization?

I asked the audience after my coffee, context and crapplications talk to the International Multilingual User Group  (IMUG) in San Jose, California recently, if anyone had any insights into how the booming startup scene in San Francisco and Silicon Valley approached the localization of products and services. The “how” and “why” of startup L10n, if you like. Indeed, I also asked if such startups even considered L10n or the underlying need for i18n, and so on, at all? We know why startups fail, so wouldn’t localization (or cultural customization) play a key role in addressing such failures?

The risk of asking such questions is that you can be overwhelmed by a rush of localization services sellers coming your way, in all shapes and sizes, all willing to offer a solution on sale. That’s what happened this time. Ironically, some of sellers of localization services turned out, in themselves, to be startups too!


It’s important, of course, that sellers of such services exist and that they are are willing to reach out to requests for information and to share client success stories. That’s their business.

But, really, the interest a lot of people, myself included, have in the topic of startup localization is about hearing the stories from buyers or users of such services, from the startups themselves. How do they manage things, and why? Do they do it the “foreign language” and “international marketing” enablement stuff on their own? Do they rely on open source or proprietary solutions? Do startups learn from each other? Are there best industry practices they might follow? Are venture capitalists on the look out for localization plans and international growth before funding a startup? Who knows?

This is one great topic I will return to. There was a lot of energy generated by the question at IMUG; I expect this was not a one-off situation! I would love to see one of the industry conferences or meet ups feature startup localization from the startups point of view too.

In the meantime, check out how was launched and how Uber expanded to Dubai. And don’t forget about the IMUG meeting on Cloud-based Translation Management Systems For Start-Up LSPs & Freelancers Groups which may throw up some answers too for any startupistas in the audience.

If you have experience in startup localization or related areas and would like to share some thoughts, find the comments.

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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