Q&A: VerbalizeIt’s Ryan Frankel

Courtesy of VerbalizeIt
Courtesy of VerbalizeIt
Courtesy of VerbalizeIt
Courtesy of Ryan Frankel
Courtesy of Ryan Frankel

The story of VerbalizeIt is one that any startup would want to learn from and replicate. It solves a common problem (language barriers) with innovative methods (live, crowdsourced translators), backed by a strong team (of dare we say, hustlers).

VerbalizeIt was born from unfortunate travel experiences – CEO Ryan Frankel fell ill in China and couldn’t get the medication he needed from the pharmacy while COO Kunal Sarda found himself stranded in Paris at 2am.

Fast forward to last year’s season finale of U.S. reality TV series Shark Tank, and Frankel and Sarda are selling off 20 percent of their startup for $250,000. Eventually, they canceled the deal and secured $1.5 million in first round funding from private investors instead.

Today, VerbalizeIt has over 19,000 translators covering more than 150 languages, with prominent partnerships and clients on board.

We chatted with Frankel to get the scoop behind the human-powered translation app that took the market by storm.


Care to share who gave you your first round of $1.5 million in funding?

We closed an initial round of financing from a group of angel investors well-suited to support our vision for breaking down language barriers.


VerbalizeIt grew rapidly, especially after the exposure Shark Tank gave you. How did you tackle the biggest problem you had when scaling?

VerbalizeIt Logo Email HeaderWe have been growing by leaps and bounds, on the technology front, with our translator community, and of course with our business clientele. In any marketplace, it’s imperative to manage the two sides of the business so that they move in lockstep with each other. We increased our translator capacity as demand for translation services grew across our client base. Beyond the great technology and the amazing translator community that we have built, a big component to our business is having the operational know-how to manage such scaling issues and opportunities.


How did you find all those thousands of translators – and so quickly? 

Initially, we recruited from professional translation marketplaces, but we then moved towards a referral model in which our existing translators helped us identify, vet and on-board new members.


What are VerbalizeIt’s most popular languages? Which have the lowest demand?

Our most popular languages for translation are Arabic, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and French. Since we cover 150+ languages, it’s tough to say which are least in demand, but we have a few rarer languages for which only a select number of clients have a need.


What’s your Arabic market like?

Growing by the day! We talk to companies all day long and Arabic translation is top of mind, not just for the large enterprise, but for the growing small and medium-sized business.


Do most of VisualizeIt’s projects involve translation from English? You’re based in the U.S. and part of your operation is helping businesses go global. What about VisualizeIt’s plans to go global? There’s a huge need for translations between emerging markets…

Actually, it’s pretty evenly split these days. English is always one component of what we do, but we’re seeing more of a need from non-English languages into English than we originally anticipated.


Ryan and Kunal at Travel Summit. VerbalizeIt won Best Startup (Via)
Ryan and Kunal at the Travel Innovation Summit last fall. VerbalizeIt won Best Startup. (Via)

One of your available internships is for a “Chief Hustler”. It seems you and VisualizeIt co-founder Kunal are the real Chief Hustlers. Give us a tip or two on how to hustle.

Listen! We take pride in the number of great companies with whom we speak and we’re always listening to what their needs are so that we can respond and be attentive. Our business has evolved over time from purely live interpretation to a full suite of translation solutions. All of this has come from our conversations with customers who encouraged us to launch document, website, mobile application and video translation services.


Do you have any Arabic-related anecdotes?

Unfortunately, not personally, but when I do, it will most assuredly be a positive anecdote!


WE SAID THIS: Check out “10 Reasons It Sucks to Be Bilingual“.