Terena Bell is an independent journalist writing for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language and was on the GALA and ALC boards.
Danish startup Tiimo hasn’t bought professional translation — yet. And that’s a big yet, according to growth and business development manager Thomas Nymark. The company is also open to exploring translation management software as it grows, making Tiimo the first client we’ve profiled falling right at the prepurchase inflection point.
Welcome to Client Talk, where we chat with a different language buyer in every issue. When do they say professional translation is worth it, and why? By chatting away from the sales environment, we hope to uncover truths about how clients see the language industry.
Based in Copenhagen, Tiimo’s native language — of course — is Danish. The company makes an assistive technology app for people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and other cognitive deficits. The tool contains a calendar and visual timer, sends reminders and, in Nymark’s words, serves “as a digital friend.”
Users can “insert/write text in their own language[s],” according to Nymark, via an app interface in Danish and English. Tiimo also translates support chat, website, social media and other marketing materials. With users in Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and the United Kingdom, Nymark notes Tiimo will eventually expand into other languages.
Because the startup serves traditionally stigmatized groups, the language Tiimo uses has to be ultra-sensitive, as does the translation partner it inevitably picks. Working with the ADHD and autism communities “requires a great deal of trust and validation,” Nymark explains. “Tiimo might be [called] ‘welfare technology’ in one country and ‘assistive technology’ in another. Some countries might phrase it as ‘a child with autism’ and others as ‘a child on the autistic spectrum.’” It’s these “sometimes subtle differences” that help Nymark understand Tiimo’s inevitable need to hire professional translators.”
So why doesn’t Tiimo work with translators already? And how’s the work getting done?
“For our English translation for the website and app, we have used a native English-speaking person who has previously worked as a professional copywriter. For customer support, web chat and content for social media we have done the translation ourselves in-house. Our whole team is fluent in both English and Danish,” Nymark says.
“We definitely see the benefits of working with professionals,” he adds, but “as a startup company in growth mode, we have to stay lean and agile.” This means founders and early employees handle business needs in-house if they can. “Some tasks absolutely need expert translation, because they are vital to our business and growth. It is for this reason that we have a native speaker with experience in copywriting on our staff, and have made translation a part of their role. They are an invaluable part of our business.”
When will Tiimo start buying? And 1 to 5, how important is translation?
“Ultimately,” Nymark says, the decision to contract translators will depend on “the impact of that task on our potential business, brand and growth…We want to be taken seriously by existing and potential users, collaborators, press and investors. We want to be a global solution. So if the task is important, it will get that extra, professional love and touch.”
Language, he continues, is even more important because Tiimo is a startup: “I think big brands can sometimes get away with slightly inconsistent translations on their local websites and marketing material because they have that brand value and people are willing to buy their products regardless.” But startups have less room for error, which is why Nymark ranks professional translation’s importance a 4. “Language is really important when communicating our product,” he explains, but he can’t give it a 5 because translation isn’t currently tied to revenue.
An emerging pattern?
Tiimo offers the unique perspective of a company that doesn’t buy translation because buyers don’t understand its value, but because it just isn’t ready to purchase. Nymark admittedly is a soon-to-be ready client.
While we remind readers that this column isn’t here for translation providers to spam the clients in it, a smart vendor would study Tiimo to see what puts this company in the prepurchase sweetspot. On a personal level, Nymark used to work at IKEA — a company that frequently ranks high on John Yunker’s Web Globalization Report Card. He’s also lived in the United States and South Africa. When your product exists to help those with communication difficulties (more so autism than ADHD) and you’ve dealt with multiple languages personally, it may be easier to understand translation’s importance. At this point, a company like Tiimo just needs to make the business case.