Scaling a Translation Startup

Marko discusses the beginnings of Taia, its innovative translation solutions, raising 1.2 million VC funds, and building Catapult – a solution for companies that want to translate in-house

Localization will become a part of our life. Everything that we see and do will be localized. I remember Windows 95, no one imagined that Windows could be in so many different languages. Now, this is a standard and this will become a standard for not only software but for everything we do in life. 

Marko Hozjan, Co-founder @Taia

Marko Hozjan

Marko Hozjan

Co-founder / CEO @Taia
Marko Hozjan is a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder and CEO of Taia Translations, a company breaking down language barriers with the help of Artificial Intelligence, translation memory, and a team of highly experienced translators.
Florian Faes

Florian Faes

Co-founder / Managing Director @Slator

Florian Faes is the Co-founder and Managing Director at Slator AG, the organizer of SlatorCon, the language industry’s leading executive conference, and host of SlatorPod, the weekly language industry podcast.

Esther Bond

Esther Bond

Research Director @Slator

Esther Bond is a research Director at Slator. She has a broad range of experience and a successful track record of working in the translation industry being a Senior Localization PM and TMS product owner prior to joining Slator AG.

What you'll learn

  • Taia’s journey from its beginning to receiving a series A funding.
  • Marko shares his tips on how to talk with investors to get funding for your company.
  • How Marko is successfully managing an international team of a fast-growing start-up.
  • How Taia set itself apart from the competition with its innovative translation solutions.
  • Why company culture and team are two of your biggest assets when creating a successful business.
  • How to find your place to shine in highly competitive markets.
  • Why localization is the future and how will reshape our everyday life.


Florian Faes: What was your story before you went into the translation business? Tell us a bit more about your personal background.

Marko Hozjan:  I am generally a serial entrepreneur. I am an economist passionate about leadership, so I have started six companies already. I have had two small successful exits. Two of the companies that I founded are still going. One is the language school, and one is Taia. I failed with one company and the other I left, so for my age (38), I have a track record of six. Otherwise, I do a lot of other things. I am a bookworm – I read at least 50 books per year. I am also a passionate sailor so one of my businesses was that I made the biggest nautical school in the region. I taught about 500 people how to sail and I got a skipper license. I published four books, and so on. These days Taia occupies most of my professional time.

Florian Faes: That is quite the background. Why translation though? How does translation fit in here?

Marko Hozjan:  I have been searching for a tech business for some time and I have been searching for a scalable business because I could not scale most of the businesses that I had before. Now with Taia, I finally think that I am in the scalable universe, but the idea itself was born very organically. Matija, the Co-founder, and I own a language school, and out of the language, the school came the first questions about translation. Out of that, we started translating as a traditional LSP, but then quickly realized that everything is really outdated. This was about four years ago when we were checking out the market and seeing that most LSPs are outdated and using old tech.

Esther Bond:  What is Taia’s elevator pitch? Coming from that background in education, what do you bring to Taia as well?

Marko Hozjan:  Taia is now becoming a tech company, which means that we have solutions that are hand-in-hand with technology, and it is becoming a one-stop shop for all your translation needs. But, more and more, we are going into the SaaS market and we are grasping MT as a tool. Either way, the majority of our business today is still human translations, of course, post-editing. When it comes to languages, I have to be honest, we did not bring much from the language school. For example, we had 150 teachers at the time, but what we realized is that none of the teachers, not even one, could be a translator. When it comes to teaching a language, it is a totally different sphere than translating. Teachers usually have a language on a lower level than a translator, so we could not really harvest anything from that, except a general business experience and a reference.

Esther Bond: Tell us a bit about the current team size. What is the role and involvement of your Co-founder Matija?

Marko Hozjan:  I would say that we are a perfect match, like yin and yang. We are very different personally, but we get along. He is much stronger on the technical side, while I am stronger on the business side, so he is a perfect partner for me to have. Otherwise, we have 30 employees now all around Europe, mostly in Slovenia still but also in Cyprus, Spain, and the UK. That is why I am eager to go to the UK so that we can replicate the positive culture that we have set up here. I am very proud of the team that we have now. I have managed many teams, from a few up to a hundred, and this is the best and most motivated team I have ever worked with. When I mention the culture, we really went to the edge with autonomy, mastering, and inclusivity, which means that I push myself to have less power each day so that people can be autonomous and learn. With inclusivity, for example, we just started an ESOP program where we will include everyone in the company, and all this culture that we have created helps them with their motivation.

Florian Faes: What is the team set up? You have a fair amount of project managers, customer success, but probably no internal linguists. Is that correct?

Marko Hozjan:  We have four internal linguists out of 30 and three of them are translating full-time, but this is from the beginning, so we are not planning to expand on the linguist part, but mostly on research and marketing. The departments are Marketing, Sales, PM, Vendor Management, HR, Admin, and Development. Due to the way we are going, we will mostly grow in the Development part, but other parts as well for specific needs.

Florian Faes: How do you guys run the TMS part that you are developing proprietarily? Which parts do you build? Which parts do you buy? What can you share about that?

Marko Hozjan:  For now, the whole philosophy of the company is that we insource things, which means that we insource our team. We very rarely outsource development or marketing and in the end, it turns out it is very similar to the product itself. Of course, we use some other software as well, but we try to build everything on our own. Taia is becoming its own TMS and in some cases, even an ERP system. When people see the details of Taia they say ‘you can sell this to other LSPs’, but this is not our goal. We want to build this for ourselves and for customers in the end.

Florian Faes: When we talk about machine translation, are you connecting to some third-party big tech engines? Are you building some of them from scratch from these open-source frameworks? How does that work?

Marko Hozjan:  Both, so we are combining several different neural networks into one. We are trying to make a smart algorithm behind all of this to pick the best out of all of them and at the same time we are building our own neural network. This is why sometimes even our investors ask us, why do you need the LSP part when the SaaS part shows much more promise? The LSP part is a complementary business because we translate so many words each day that we can use them to teach the machine. It is a great complement to have when you are selling, for example, machine translation, if you have an LSP in the background.

Esther Bond: We covered Taia recently when you raised the series A funding. What can you tell us about raising capital during the pandemic?

Marko Hozjan:  In this case, a lot of people said we were lucky, but I guess it was just our time, regardless of the pandemic. Even today, there is a lot of money on the market, so raising capital, even with the pandemic, is not a problem in general. We got the initial pre-seed investment of 200k before, and then we started searching for the second one. But what mostly turned the tides for our investment was automation in general. When we explained how big the market is and how fast the market changes, it was really interesting for them and when we showed what we can do with the solutions, they were immediately on board. Fil Rouge Capital was not in the translation market before, but now it is actually very interesting for them. For us, it was quite easy, and even the impact on the transition industry was not so negative in comparison to some other industries like tourism. I think the drop at the time was about 15%, but overall we had a rise because we are a growing company.

Esther Bond: Why did you decide to partner with Fil Rouge Capital in particular?

Marko Hozjan:  Mostly it was chemistry and trust. I have experience now with VCs. They are not as tech-savvy as you would wish them to be. In my opinion, they do not understand in detail what technologies their startups use, which means at the end, what they decide on mostly is the team, the market, and the business model that has not got any holes. We proved to Fil Rouge Capital that we can do it, and we have been proving that ever since with our results, and just keeping that trust. We saw immediately that they are not a VC where we will need to fill in reports every month or have additional board meetings. It is most important for us that we can do what we have intended to do.

Florian Faes:Tell us a bit more about that journey from your MVP to your current offering. What will the next six to nine months bring?

Marko Hozjan:  Taia now is mostly useful for document translation, so we claim that we are the best partner. Within Taia, our customers will be able to order any kind of translation service, so Taia’s becoming a one-stop shop for all your translation needs. We are working a lot on other technical integrations, like software integrations, website translations, and so on, but as I mentioned before, the most interesting things that show the most growth are the SaaS products. About a month and a half ago we launched our first test product. It is called Catapult, so you drag and drop the document (about 70 file types are supported), you come into the CAT tool, everything is pre-translated, you post-edit, you click finish and you download the document with the formatting being 99% the same. We are selling this to different service categories quite successfully. Mostly it is legal, so law firms that translate by themselves or some marketing teams in manufacturing companies, or for example, e-commerce as well because of SEO optimization. What we see there is a big rise in the need for companies to translate by themselves, and we see that our very light tool – which you can learn to use in 10 minutes – is a great thing in comparison to a very big and complex tool that is meant for translators.

Florian Faes: That is such a hyper-competitive market. You are saying that your USP right now is the simplicity of it. How do you sell that? Is it mostly coming in through search or are you proactively going out and selling this to a confined set of target clients?

Marko Hozjan:  Since the product is new, we are doing outreach for now. We are getting some inbound leads, of course, but we are doing it by ourselves through marketing and through direct sales. When we talk to a company, there is a division or two that will use our LSP services, but there are other divisions that will use Catapult. It is very different, not only between service categories, not only between companies but even within a company. There can be a legal department within the company that would use Catapult and there could be a marketing department that would need LSP services with certified translations with TEP and so on. It is very different.

A lot of people are bilingual and there are a lot of cases where they want to translate by themselves. These cases are mostly related to the safety of their documents, or sometimes due to specific terminology, for which they are afraid to outsource because they have to double-check it anyway when they get it back. It is easier for them if they translate by themselves or if they give it to their colleagues in other countries. We found out that there are a bunch of reasons why people need this, and we are addressing this very niche market.

Esther Bond: On a management level, how are you balancing the tech development piece versus the services business?

Marko Hozjan:  Good team communication is key here. A lot of input comes from sales and PM and goes directly to Dev so we have many different meetings. We need to make a lot of decisions about where to go because if we were to listen to our customers, we would get about five different wishes each day about what they want. We need to keep our focus and we are just trying to see what the trend is and going that way. For now, Taia is becoming a one-stop shop, where automation is our middle name. Our goal is 95% automation of the PM process and about 90% automation of the VM process. We could automate part of the marketing and sales, of course not all of it, but the automation of these processes buy us additional time so our services can be faster, and it lowers our costs. We are looking for new developers every day. They are very difficult to get, but our current team does the job for now.

Florian Faes: For a more traditional company, it is probably super hard to hire. You at least have that edge of being a VC-funded startup, but how do you recruit domestically and globally?

Marko Hozjan:  We try to be open as much as possible, so we do it globally, but as it happens, most of our employees are European for now. There are two positive sides when it comes to employing. For developers, it’s that we have our own product. For example, developers, in general, do not like to work for agencies where they need to work on a different product each month and so on. The other is the culture that we have built, so we are putting a lot of emphasis on that. As a very young and small company, we only had 15 people. We employed our first head of HR and we are putting a lot of emphasis on the team feeling good, learning each day, and developing the ambition of the team. Whoever joins us immediately gets the feeling that we live our values.

Florian Faes: Customers come in and every day there are 10 new feature requests, but you want to keep the products simple and focused. I would imagine it is very tough to say no, but also that in the long-term it is probably better for the product. Is this your vision or is it just an early version, and then long-term you want to make it more complex?

Marko Hozjan:  We want to keep it simple, but we have to restrain ourselves because in every software you want to have millions of different functions, and our buyers are pushing us towards that, but we know that we have to keep it simple. Of course, new features will be added, but the main simplicity needs to stay as is. Otherwise, we will start competing with the biggest ones, for example, TMSs, CAT tools, or similar software and we do not want to go into that space.

Esther Bond: Thinking about the two to the three-year outlook for this industry, presumably, you and your investors have a fairly optimistic outlook, but where do you see things heading?

Marko Hozjan:  Exciting times are here because there is this big wave of automation that is killing a lot of businesses that are not willing to change, but at the same time, creating a lot of surfers. We consider ourselves as one of the surfers of this wave, who take advantage of the change. This is one of the reasons why we are in this industry and why our investors invested in us. When I talk about this wave, this is the wave of automation in combination with machine translation, when it comes to the translation industry. I see a lot of practical solutions, either way. MT is getting better and better. It surprises us each month. We will see the new tech like GPT-3 or whatever Google can bring to the table. New tech, new neural networks, or even something else can surprise us at any moment. Otherwise, practical solutions.

Localization will become a part of our life. Everything that we see and do will be localized. I remember Windows 95 – no one imagined that Windows could be in so many different languages. Now, this is a standard, and this will become a standard for not only software but for everything we do in life such as IoT, Speech to Text, Text to Speech. Everything will combine together and machine translation will take over. This does not sound so good, so a lot of discussions have been raised like “What about the translators?” Of course, their jobs will change, but I believe in a positive way. The industry, in general, will keep on rising and just the possibility to access any kind of content within your language is a great thing for everyone. That is how I see the industry.

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