Behind our $7M in Series A: How we are Making Translations Better for Everyone

Ivan Smolnikov
6 min readSep 7, 2018

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Dear friends:

Exciting news, Smartcat has secured $7 million in Series A funding led by Matrix Partners (www.matrixpartners.com), a top US venture firm with a focus on SaaS and marketplaces.

We believe that the translation industry should be a less stressful and more efficient place for both providers and consumers of language services.

With that vision, we started Smartcat in 2013. It is still what keeps our team motivated and encourages us to create a better product experience every day.

Today, Smartcat connects linguists, companies, and language service providers (LSPs) across the globe to streamline the translation of any content into every language on demand. You can use our platform to build and manage translation teams and get your translation management automated like an autopilot.

So far, we’ve been quite successful. Last year, Smartcat grew more than 500% in terms of revenue and translation volume. This means we are providing a useful and sought-after service to participants in the translation market. Each day, more users come to love our product. They are pleased to discover a technology that allows them to automate translation tasks and reduce stress related to project management, hiring linguists and LSPs, and processing payments. They appreciate seamless collaboration among all ecosystem participants, regardless of their location, that Smartcat provides.

The investment and support from Matrix will allow us to develop Smartcat faster than ever.

Market challenges and opportunities

With more content being produced by companies every year and drastic changes in content forms and distribution channels over the last decade (developments such as dynamic websites, user generated content, and agile software development), translation service providers, both companies and freelance linguists, have to meet new challenges.

When companies launch new projects, they expect their translated content to appear almost immediately in different languages regardless of the volume. This amounts to a nearly impossible demand for most translation providers. Standard TMS or CAT prove to be inefficient when you must have 100+ linguists working simultaneously on a need-it-now project, because of limiting user licensing approach and the lack of full cycle automation, from hiring to payments.

Meanwhile, the few LSPs who are also technology providers have been out-competing smaller LSPs that simply cannot provide fast and unlimited scalability or fully automated delivery cycles.

Smartcat enables every translation vendor to provide a plug-and-play experience to their customers. They benefit from being able to automate the full cycle, from content source to payments, as well as leveraging an unlimited tech stack and resource scalability for any language and at any volume.

There is no need for LSPs to own or invest a fortune in technology to meet the growing demands of customers. Smartcat provides them with all the technological tools they need to meet the rapidly shifting challenges and ride the growing wave.

Smartcat’s Partners

This year, our innovation will focus on the following areas:

  1. We will continue to improve our collaboration features for all market participants. If an LSP wishes to hire other LSPs or build a team of freelance linguists and project managers from various parts of the world to meet a particular demand, it can be done with just a few clicks. Our license-free approach makes such collaboration smooth and natural, the way it should be. This is why we chose not to sell licenses. We want Smartcat users to feel at ease about automation tech in general, and particularly comfortable with project assignment and management. We will be launching more features aimed at creating a seamless process — from hiring any specific professional or company in any country to paying for any task — with a just a click on the Smartcat platform.
    Not only do some LSPs hire linguists and other LSPs on Smartcat, they also automate their payments, including payments to their freelancers and invoicing their customers. For example, you can invoice customers in India, China or the US in local currencies from Latin America and pay to linguists anywhere in the world from your Smartcat account. Other interesting features to improve such collaboration and payments are planned for release in 2018 and 2019.
  2. The second area of focus is reducing the stress on project managers (PMs). I built a sizeable translation company in my previous career (around 250 employees when I left it in 2015). I started it from scratch and handled project and vendor management myself for the first couple of years. I’m well aware that translation project management is extremely stressful. The jobs are very fast-paced, the time pressures are huge, and PMs are never sure if they have relevant suppliers available to complete their project on time. Project managers tend to be the second largest group after linguists in any translation company and are often seen as the most valuable assets within their companies. Unfortunately, they are also often prone to burnout from their highly stressful positions. At Smartcat, we want to put project assignment and control on autopilot. Our users have reported a 2.5–3x gain in productivity, but we want to bring it up to 10x. More importantly, we want to make these tasks less stressful, so that project managers, executives, and linguists can actually enjoy their jobs. We see project managers as pilots whose expertise is needed only in emergency when the autopilot fails.

We will further improve the core CAT and hiring and project management tools. They are an integral part of the whole package, which we are happy to offer at no charge within the Smartcat ecosystem.

Growing with Matrix

I’m proud that Smartcat’s growth rate has been phenomenal. I previously posted highlights from 2017. Nearly 200,000 linguists and 5,000 translation companies are currently registered on the platform. With the help of Smartcat’s workflow automation technologies, they can team up to work together across the world to provide an incredible resource for companies that want to take their content to a global audience quickly.

Having Matrix Partners on board will help us maintain and even speed up the pace of development. Matrix is well known for discovering not just promising new companies but whole new industries. They have backed companies including HubSpot, Oculus, Canva, Zendesk, and Quora. Smartcat is pleased to join this prestigious roster.

We asked Hardi Meybaum, General Partner at Matrix and the person who led our deal, to comment on why Matrix Partners believes Smartcat and the translation industry. Here is what he had to say:

“The language translation market has great potential. We were researching it and came across Smartcat pretty quickly; they’re well-respected in the translation industry. Our first impression was that they have a unique product: one that allows companies to automate the translation process and scale content into any language on-demand, with just a few clicks. We also liked its network component, which makes collaboration and payments between all market participants really easy and efficient. Beyond that, Smartcat’s team has an incredible amount of knowledge and enthusiasm, so we’re confident they’re going to make a big impression as they expand.”

Hardi Meybaum, General Partner at Matrix

Matrix operates from Boston, San Francisco, and Palo Alto. We started Smartcat from San Francisco, but the time difference on the West Coast often made it impractical to work with European customers. We had been looking at Boston as a place with the best fit and potential. This summer, we finally completed and opened the Boston office. So far we love Boston very much, though I will be missing Silicon Valley a bit.

We’re nothing short of thrilled with the opportunities in front of us, and now we have even more resources to make positive changes in the translation industry. We know we can help make linguists, agencies, and their customers more successful than ever.

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Ivan Smolnikov

CEO & founder at Smartcat.ai, the market network platform for the translation industry.