This week I caught up with Monica and Blaise from Dialexy, where we talked all things translation, machines taking over from humans and that old startup chestnut: how to get people to actually understand what you do.
Oli: What is it that Dialexy does?
Monica: There are two main tasks that we accomplish: firstly, we streamline the translation process for certified translators - who work with official documents such as birth certificates, transcripts etc. Currently translators do this following a manual process which is why it is very time-consuming. At the other end, clients need their certified translations fast, and the streamlined process of Dialexy means they can get it in a few hours (or even minutes!) as opposed to days.
O: Tell us a bit about the founders - what their backgrounds are, where the idea for Dialexy came from
M: In 2008, Michael [Berger, founder and CTO of fellow CodeBase tenant Speech Graphics] introduced me to Blaise who was doing his PhD. I had started my first company [Angelia Translations] while finishing a Masters in computer assisted translation tools at Heriot-Watt University. The idea came from me complaining every weekend about the time and effort I had to put in for certified translations, and Blaise working on technologies that could help. We applied for a Swiss startup competition, which won us 5,000 francs and the chance to spend three weeks working on the proof of concept. At this point, we had a business plan, we had a demo, but we needed to turn it into a business. We got SMART funding, the rest is history.
O: Why pick Edinburgh as a place to grow your business?
M: We were living here and we liked the city. I had my business here, as well as friends. Also, the business community is great and we already knew interesting things were happening at places like Appleton tower. It felt like a good place to be, and we did not need to move somewhere else. We were offered free space in Switzerland but decided to stay here.
O: What are some of the biggest challenges you're facing?
M: Our main challenge is getting people to understand what we do, people tend to pigeon hole us, as translation software does not have a good reputation. However, we are not doing machine translation - there’s a lot of other translation services out there where machines are trying to translate full texts. This usually goes wrong. Dialexy, on the other hand, uses an AI-supported platform to simplify all aspects of the processing of official documents to accelerate the overall certified translation process and ensure the highest quality standards. With Dialexy we’re trying to change the image of automated translation - people often have low expectations due to previous experiences, but we can offer certified translations of higher quality.
O: As translation becomes increasingly automated, do you think there'll be a point when humans will no longer be needed? When will that happen?
M: The short answer is: probably. The thing is, machine learning doesn’t understand text - it’s not thinking, it treats it as maths. That’s not thinking. If we can make machines understand, and more importantly create, then machine translation will probably reach human level. Maybe in 40 - 50 years?
Blaise (Potard, CTO): The problem with technology now is that people want to compare it to a human brain - a human brain is a million times more complex than the best software that even Google is running. They want it to do the same thing as a translator, but a machine can’t do that. A translator thinks about what the meaning is. A machine needs cultural background.
M: Machines see many more translations than any human - but still can’t get it right. What’s happening in the translation industry is they’re shifting from automated to augmented - giving the power to the translator and not leaving it in the hands of the machine.
O: How do you protect yourself from competitors?
Differentiation on two main fronts. Firstly, using the tech and the human components together. We’re not trying to replace humans, we’re giving them the best opportunity to produce what they need. It’s fast, but it’s also good. When you focus on the quality and empowering people, people tend to like you and want to work with you. Secondly, certified translation is also a niche market - there are not many competitors out there. Most of the translation agencies are focusing on larger projects. Certified translations, however, are still very important, especially for people who are going abroad.
B: Using the normal process, there are a lot of jobs that aren’t suitable for manual process (IE are too small), and we can fulfil that niche requirement. We’re not building a new market, we’re changing the rules of how it’s done.
M: Our technology backs us up as well - and we have the right people making this happen. We’re being different - not trying to do better something that is already being done.
O: Over the next 6 months, if you could get 2 or 3 ideal customers, who would they be and why would they be ideal?
M: We would like to work with people like the Home Office or The Foreign Office - we want to help more people who are moving around. We’d also love to work with universities, consulates, etc. - we want to help people achieve their full potential.
Investment raised: £170k + 5000 Swiss francs
Number of Orchids given out to fellow CodeBase tenants: 5