While on university exchange in Italy, Oxford languages student Christian Arno came up with the idea for a translation agency that purely used the internet to market itself and operated 24/7 with staff based in every time zone.
In 2001 the 22 year-old launched Lingo24 from his parent’s spare bedroom in Aberdeen, and he has since built it up from a bootstrapped start-up into a global business with operations across three continents, 127 full-time staff and a 2009 turnover of USD$5.5m.
Christian Arno harnessed the opportunities provided by the multilingual internet, and by cutting edge technologies, to grow Lingo24 in foreign markets indeed, it was one of the few companies to experience growth during the global recession.
What are you working on right now?
Right now our major thrust at Lingo24 is the adoption of some revolutionary new technology that I think will eventually change the face of the translation industry. We’re embracing cloud-based technologies to streamline our work flows and working with some of the best minds in the field of localization to develop new, improved ways of delivering translation services.
We’ve also just recently expanded into the USA, with an office opening in Silicon Valley. This is particularly exciting for me as it’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time, and it presents a massive opportunity (as well as a massive challenge!).
3 Trends that excite you?
I’d have to say the number one exciting trend is the on-going growth of the multilingual internet as broadband access improves around the world, more and more people are using their native languages online. This is exciting not only because it adds to the heterogeneity of the internet, but also because it offers businesses great opportunities to export to foreign language markets with effectively localized online campaigns. I think businesses are starting to realize more and more how important it is to make sure that your marketing and business strategy is refined for every country, as every culture is different.
Another exciting trend is the way that cloud computing and online networking is allowing people to work remotely more and more. You can have staff based all around the world, all working effectively together. It’s no longer about having everyone all based in the one office.
And in that vein, I’m also excited by the technologies that are allowing people to collaborate globally or work remotely. Everything from the iPad and social networks like Yammer and LinkedIn through to cloud-based translation management systems like Lingo24’s XTM.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I tend to always go with my instinct and to have my own ideas about the way things should be. I find that if I don’t follow my instinct, nine times out of ten I’ll regret it.
As the Managing Director at Lingo24, my role now is less hands-on, and I more help to guide the direction of the business and its strategy, and to judge which departments could benefit from more focused attention. A huge part of my role now is finding the right people – making sure that we’ve always got the best people for each role, who will be able to effectively bring ideas and strategies to life.
What is one mistake that you’ve made that our readers can learn from?
One misstep we took a few years ago was relying too heavily upon clients finding our services through our Google rankings suddenly our rankings plummeted, probably due to Google changing its algorithm. For a company that’s dedicated to marketing online, to lose that prominence in Google was a serious problem.
It was a valuable lesson, though, as we then invested more heavily in direct sales teams, and also in a dedicated online marketing team, so now we get the best of both worlds, with us finding clients directly, and them finding us through our web presence.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?
I’ve read a lot of different books on business strategy and management, like Chris Anderson’s ‘The Long Tail’, which have been useful in different ways, but in general I find that I get the best results just from following my instincts, rather than blindly following the advice of a business guru.
As far as tools go, the ones that really stand out are Google’s Premier Apps, as the whole range of cloud based tools have really become essential for Lingo24 to function effectively as a global business. It makes it so much easier having one centralized version of every work in progress, which an infinite number of people can work on together.
What is one idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The number one business tactic I always expound upon is the value of exporting and using the internet to do it. The value of export is obvious in the numbers. There are more people everywhere around the world than there are in your local market. To start up a business on the ground in foreign countries is very expensive but to dip your toe in, with a localized website in the target market’s language that is search engine optimized for the local search engines, is comparatively very cheap.
What do you find are the essential elements of successful entrepreneurship?
I think an entrepreneur has got to be able to recognize what are the blockers to growth, to see what is it that’s stopping me from growing quicker and sometimes that’s people. Sometimes it’s the ability to differentiate yourself in the mind of your client. Sometimes it might be something legal or operational, but you’ve always got to be looking.
All these plates are spinning. The different aspects of your business – and you’ve got to be looking at each of them and looking at which one most urgently needs your attention, either because it’s a problem, or an opportunity, in some cases that means the same thing where an area of your business has the most to gain from your input is where you need to be focusing your attention.
What’s been the most interesting part of developing Lingo24 as a business?
I think one of the most interesting things is the way that languages have always run through the life blood of Lingo24, from its beginnings as an online business for beer money with some uni buddies, to today when we have more than 120 staff, all of whom are multilingual and have a passion for languages and learning about other cultures.
This follows through to the places where we’ve establish major hubs overseas. Panama, and Timisoara in Romania both are melting pots of different languages and cultures, and as such they’ve proven to be ideal spots of a multicultural, multilingual, multitalented business like Lingo24!