Author: Yolanda Wang, Translator: Kevin Wang, Editor: Yunchieh Tsou
By beating the human brain at a game previously thought to be beyond machine comprehension, Google’s AlphaGo serves as a testament to the enormous leaps and bounds by which artificial intelligence has advanced.
Indeed, AI technology has found its way into a wide range of business applications, and has been one of the key instruments for startup companies to set themselves apart from the rest.
WritePath, one of Taiwan’s earlier startup companies, has within the past year incorporated big data and its own AI technology into its online translation service. In addition to seeing revenues soar, the company’s unique technological solution has attracted strategic investment from Taiwan’s United Daily News, as they seek to claim a slice of the US$50 billion global translation market.
WritePath is Taiwan’s largest B2B cloud-based translation service, using an army of nearly 10,000 crowdsourced translators across 35 languages to translate financial, business, and technological documents. Translating nearly two million words each month, WritePath counts more than 400 influential companies among its clients, including Oracle, Cisco, Adobe, Ogilvy & Mather, Leo Burnett, Asus, and HTC. Profits are split 50-50 with translators, which still allows them to maintain gross profit margins of at least 40%.
With a full-time staff of less than 20, how has WritePath managed to hold its own against larger competitors worldwide? The Taiwan-based company holds a secret weapon in its arsenal: their proprietary Translation-booster (T-booster).
By actively translating pre-translated phrases, T-booster cuts costs by 16-30%
WritePath founder and CEO Charles Chin describes the company’s translation services: “After a client uploads a document that needs translation, T-booster will first compare and analyze words and phrases in the document with a large database, and automatically translate phrases and sentences that have been translated before. After reducing the number of words that need to be manually translated, T-booster will then pass the document on to a human translator.
Not only does this cut down costs by 16-30% for the client, it also vastly improves the efficiency of human translators. Because T-booster has memory and learning abilities, the more our clients use our service, the cheaper it gets, which results in increased client retention rates.
With loyal clients passing on WritePath’s translation services through word-of-mouth, the company has seen revenues soar, accompanied by increased load for the T-booster software. Improving efficiency thus became a critical issue.
Chin continues, “The first version of T-booster would compare and analyze the second sentence after it had finished handling the first, which was just too slow in terms of our increased working load. We looked at synchronous messaging technologies in chat rooms, and found that by increasing synchronous computation abilities, we could have T-booster compare more than 10 sentences at the same time.
A 100-page financial report from a publicly-traded company, for example, might have required one hour for the earlier T-booster to parse through. Our current version only requires five minutes, after which the software will pass any untranslated parts on to human translators, thus dramatically reducing time and cost.”
Chin compares T-booster to a jet engine on a car. The company is currently developing advanced technologies to enable AI in phrase and sentence prediction and machine pre-translation, with the goal of having 70-80% of texts pre-translated. Freed from the monotony of rote substitution, professional translators can turn their efforts instead to polishing and error checking.
Legal grey areas in China caused early failures for Chin
The company’s current bright prospects belie Chin’s earlier setbacks; like all startup companies, Chin did not walk on a gold-paved road from the start.
In 2009, Top Admit was Chin’s first attempt at establishing his own brand. Focusing primarily on translating application documents for students wishing to study abroad, in 2011 Chin saw the increasing need, poor quality, and lack of competition for such services in China, and moved his entire family over as he tried to gain a foothold in the Chinese market. However, the murky legal situation in China, as well as substantial cultural differences, caused much difficulty in both Beijing and Shanghai, and Chin was forced to return and cut his losses less than a year later.
WritePath selects professional translators with financial and technological tests
After returning to Taiwan, Chin began to reorient his direction. Since most students wishing to study abroad will only use translation services once, Top Admit would be limited in its scope. To expand his clientele, Chin set up TopSCIedit as a service to translate medical papers, and in 2014 set up WritePath for corporate clients.
Chin notes that the hardest part of setting up a new company is talent and capital. To ensure the quality of translations, translators must pass a highly selective online test before joining WritePath. The test looks for correct grammar and high precision in wording, as well as knowledge of the vocabulary used in finance, information technology, marketing, and other fields of expertise. Such comprehensive talent is, of course, never easy to come by, and even though WritePath has recruited more than 10,000 translators from hundreds of online translation communities, professional talent is something the company continues to seek.
In search of funding? Take part in competitions and exhibitions; seek recommendations from earlier trailblazers
As for funding and capital, Chin says that he knew from an early stage that this would be a hurdle for any startup: why would anyone give you money when they don’t know why you are?
To increase recognition for his company, Chin took his team to startup innovation competitions around the world; their achievements include being selected by Tehnode as one of the top 6 internet startups of 2011, finishing at first place in the 2013 Echelon Japan Satellite in Tokyo international competition, receiving the Taiwan Venture Capital Association’s grand prize, and being selected into China’s leading startup incubator Kr Space, which brought funding from angel investors in Japan and Taiwan, as well as investment from United Daily News.
Chin’s suggestions for attracting funding? Take part in competitions and exhibitions, and talk to startup teams who have been successful in getting funding for their projects; getting a recommendation from people who have been down the same path before may save you substantial time and effort. Investors are also constantly on the lookout for good investments, and will often privately ask trusted investees for suggestions. Foster a good reputation and interpersonal connections, and these might help you out some day.
With funding from United Daily News, and expertise in translating financial documents, WritePath has targeted Shanghai and Hong Kong for expansion next year, both through digital means and on-the-ground personnel. Chin anticipates revenue to increase by three to four times next year, and looks eagerly toward the day that WritePath, with its unique AI technology, becomes the Asian leader in cloud-based translation.