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Inspired by travel #13: TranslateMedia

How one bilingual entrepreneur's frustration at constantly being used as the office translator while working in Chile inspired his unique media agency...

Company: TranslateMedia
Founder: Patrick Eve
Started in: 2005

While working in the South American country of Chile, bilingual employee Patrick Eve found that he was constantly being dragged into meetings to act as a translator.

It struck him that global companies were struggling to translate the same message, meaning and company culture across all of their offices, which were situated in different countries and utilised a range of languages. This, he saw, could be a costly mistake when executed ineffectively – which is why he decided to step in.

Going beyond simply interpreting important meetings, Eve's company TranslateMedia offers a range of innovative services, including document translation, recreation of marketing material to suit local customers, international search engine optimisation (SEO) services, and a language recruitment offering to help businesses employ multilingual staff.

Operating with thousands of translators across global offices in London, New York, Paris, Munich, Hong Kong and Texas, TranslateMedia has won an impressive range of awards, and works with clients including Harrods, Ralph Lauren, Microsoft, L'Oreal, PwC and Topshop.

But Eve is still able to seek his regular travel fix and, with notebook in hand, continues to keep an eye out for any international inspiration that comes his way.

Here, Eve shares how his time in Chile inspired a eureka moment:

Where were you when you got the idea?

I had been in South America for 13 years, living and working in Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. While in Chile it dawned on me that there were inefficiencies in the way that companies created and distributed their global marketing campaigns, and that many global multinationals were struggling to transmit their global culture across their offices.

Why were you so inspired?

More than inspiration, it was mainly a desire to create a format so that expat bilingual staff, such as myself, weren't constantly dragged into being the company interpreter and translator for all external and internal communications. The responsibilities of carrying the company's global message were too important to be left to a network of informal Chinese whispers.

Were you actively looking for a start-up idea or did it just seem too good to pass up?

I was actually working on another business at the time, but the opportunity came to sell that business which I did and followed my dream.

How easy was it to start the business on your return?

I had been away for 13 years so my local network and knowledge of the UK system was rusty. It was very much a question of starting from scratch, but the UK is as good as any country to seize that opportunity. The market is a good size and we have a relatively painless system for opening companies and getting bank accounts. The rest is really down to you and putting in the hours.

What research did you have to carry out to learn more about the sector and the market opportunity?

We did a lot of research involving a wide range of different types of UK companies to see what areas suffered the most from translation roadblocks. This included companies of all sizes and industry sectors.

Our main tactic for evaluating the market was that of secret shopper. We contacted more than 50 rival agencies of all sizes and requested quotations and details of their services. A staggering number didn't reply or did so with a level of client service that led us to believe we could provide a quicker and better service.

Our mantra became that we would return our work to the client before most rivals had even quoted on it. Speed, quality and service are still our core beliefs today.

How did you replicate what you'd seen overseas or use your experience there? Did you modify the idea for the UK market?

Coming from the client side rather than the industry has been extremely important for us. We use this experience as a way to ensure that we always tailor our service to exactly fit the needs of the client. Given the range of clients we serve, those needs can vary hugely, so we are constantly customising accordingly.

How much did you invest in getting started?

We raised £50,000 from friends and family to get started

How quickly after starting did you experience what you'd describe as ‘success'?

Success for me was the day that we pitched and won the business of a top five global advertising agency. We were up against four other agencies, all of which were more than five times our size. It was a true David and Goliath moment that I will never forget, and means we will never underestimate the drive and determination of the smaller agencies we pitch against today.

Where did you go for advice?

I am lucky to be supported by a fantastic board of directors and management team which meets regularly to discuss new ideas and growth plans. I am also a member of The Supper Club – an excellent club for managing directors of small and medium businesses, which meets regularly to discuss a wide range of topics behind closed doors. I highly recommend joining something similar.

What advice would you give to others who travel looking for start-up ideas?

I never travel without a Moleskine notebook and am addicted to Evernote as an app for recording new ideas, photos and cuttings from websites and magazines. You can tag the notes so you can search by topics further down the road.

Take the bus not a taxi, stay in hostels not hotels as it's the best place to meet people. Eat in cafes, not supermarkets or hotels, and don't be afraid to engage in conversations with strangers. It's always a good idea to learn the local language before you go, and if you're serious about starting your own business, remember that it might be a while before you get to go on another long trip so make sure you enjoy every moment of it!

What are your future plans?

I have spent a lot of time setting up the office in New York over the last few years, but never properly lived there. I would love to spend a year there or in Asia. I think it's also healthy to take a step back and see the business from afar which will hopefully also provide the platform for some more creative thinking.