Translation and Tech: The journey of bootstrapping a company from 500 dollars to millions

ARYZE spoke with Diction founder and CEO Martin Boberg about bootstrapping his company, adapting to industry tech advancements and his best advice for entrepreneurs.

We met with Martin Boberg in Diction’s bright and beautiful office in downtown Copenhagen. The office space was vibrant and busy, with large windows overlooking the old buildings of the city centre. There, we heard the story of how Diction made it to where they are now, and what Boberg has learned in the process.

While studying language at Copenhagen Business School, Boberg had a difficult time finding work experience opportunities that were relevant to his degree. Without the chance to gain hands-on experience, it can be difficult to find work post-graduation. Therefore, in 2010, he teamed up with a friend to brainstorm a solution, and they had the idea to create a translation agency run by students from Denmark’s universities. The pair only started with 500 dollars in capital, but soon learned that many companies were willing to entrust their translation needs to students, and the company flourished. The company has been bootstrapped ever since and has never received any investments.

Bootstrapping from 500 dollars to millions

Today, Diction functions as more of a traditional translation company, employing full-time translators instead of students. Starting with just 500 dollars, the company today has a yearly turnover of around USD two million. After buying out his partner, Martin Boberg now owns the company himself and Diction operates in Denmark, Sweden and Norway with a growing clientele across various industries. Diction hires only native speaker translators and always utilises proofreaders, enabling them to quickly provide fluid and accurate translations. 

Increasing digitalisation within the industry has allowed Diction to grow and scale quickly. In the past, translation technologies were expensive, giving companies with such tools a competitive advantage; now, companies like Diction are able to access the same technologies. This allowed them to quickly broaden their scope to address complex translation needs. 

Boberg does not feel that the increasing digitalisation of translation poses a threat to translators’ jobs: 

Even though machine translation is developing fast, we see more texts than ever that need to be translated. So that compensates for the technological development that we see in the translation industry at this moment.

However, he does feel that the nature of the role itself will change. As there is more and more demand for translation in an increasingly globalised world, machines will do the bulk of the work, with humans taking on quality control:

I do not believe [tech] will be taking over jobs from translators because there are so many translation needs, and the clients will have higher expectations,I do not believe [tech] will be taking over jobs from translators because there are so many translation needs, and the clients will have higher expectations, higher demands for delivery times and better pricing. The whole industry is ready to take this path, as we are already seeing that development right now.  higher demands for delivery times, better pricing. The whole industry is ready to take that path, that development that we already see right now. 

bootstrapping
Diction’s Martin Boberg in front of his new offices after bootstrapping from 500 dollars to millions

Boberg has several pieces of advice for growing companies incorporating tech into the core of their offerings. For one, he believes it is important to test out new tech tools as fast as possible, and to actually assess whether it adds value rather than just leaving it in place:

Try to see if it really creates more value for your client and, if not, try to look where you can improve your service, so it actually creates value for the client in the end. We see so many new tech services that sometimes you lose reality of what is needed in the market, so test it out as fast as possible.

Another important lesson is to ensure your business is ready to scale internationally before trying it. Boberg says they learned this the hard way when Diction tried to enter Swedish and Norwegian markets: 

We failed and, therefore, had to start all over again. So make sure that your concept is ready to go international because it requires a lot more than people think. You need employees who speak the local language. There are different work cultures even though it’s just Denmark, Norway and Sweden. You have to be willing to operate for a long time without the expected revenue – it might take twice as long as you expect, maybe three times as much.

Finally, Boberg stresses the importance of considering the benefits and downsides of taking on investors. Investors can offer significant financial resources and expertise, but they may limit your freedom with expectations for your performance and control over your ideas. Diction itself has, in fact, never taken on investors.

With full control over their company, a booming translation market and an increasingly globalised world, Diction is poised to thrive in the coming years. To learn more about Martin Boberg and Diction, please connect with him on LinkedIn and visit their website. For more profiles of thriving startups, scale-ups and entrepreneurs, please visit ARYZE’s blog and website.

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