This post originally appeared in Forbes.
Earlier this month marked the one-year anniversary of VerbalizeIt officially becoming incorporated and closing our initial round of financing.
For most of us, this period also represented our one-year anniversary with the Company – and what a year it has been! Noteworthy accomplishments include: (I) transitioning into a business-to-business full service translation platform, (II) adding 15,000 new translators (III) interacting with thousands of business and individual customers and (IV) growing our stellar team. It has truly been a wonderful ride.
If I simply talked about startup achievements, then I would be overlooking the most important part of starting a business: learning from failure. In fact, we have learned orders of magnitude more from our mistakes than we have from our accomplishments. Below are our top three mistakes, resulting implications and corresponding lessons learned from this past year:
1. Driving Customer Engagement
A year ago we rolled out the first version of our live-interpretation app, which connected customers in need of instant access to an interpreter to a trained member of our interpreter community. We were filling — and continue to fill — a huge void between the traditional call-center market and machine translation technology. This initial product was extremely well-received and our company experienced some great media attention and significant app downloads, save for one key fact: our customers were surprised to actually connect with a live-person and hence were reluctant to become power-users.
In a world in which human-to-human interaction has been oftentimes been replaced with technology applications—think seamless web, online banking or kayak.com—we had to work hard to improve our messaging to inform our customers that their calls were being received by actual interpreters, not a machine translation technology. It wasn’t until we started surveying our customers on why calls were not being completed or even initiated that we realized our solutions lay in clearer upfront messaging and better customer engagement with our interpreters. Unfortunately, poor messaging and training early on, which could have been avoided through early customer focus sessions, cost us valuable time, resources and active users.
Now we’re iterating quicker to create the most enjoyable products and user experiences with our customer feedback at the core of all that we do.
2. Solving Supply and Demand
This is a basic economics 101 principal, but in a crowdsourcing model it’s much closer to rocket science. We started year one with 50 translators in the Philadelphia area. We ended year one with more than 15,000 translators and interpreters globally. Pacing this supply with the demands of our customer base has been challenging at times, particularly at the beginning of the year. Because our company is based on a robust and healthy translator community, we’ve had to dedicate ample time and resources to keeping these people, engaged, informed, and active. Six months in, we decided to flip supply and demand on its head.
We took a hard look at what our supply of translators could do to engage and grow our client base. We gave each translator a personal profile, launched a translator referral program, and connected our clients directly to their selected translator or interpreter. By tearing down the walls between supply and demand, we’re fostering a healthy but delicate balance to manage supply and demand growth.
3. Timing is Everything
We’ve been fortunate to secure some really strong partnerships with first-rate companies, headlined by Desk.com, American Airlines, Inspirato by American Express, Rosetta Stone, Travelport , and Skype. What we didn’t know a year ago, was that each of these would have to be handled differently and would take a different amount of time to secure.
Getting our API plugged into Desk.com’s customer service portal was seamless but took a year of thoughtful research to better understand their users through surveys and feedback. A year in the startup world is a long time but it gave us the opportunity to focus on securing other meaningful partnerships in the interim.
Pulling together an entire #FoundinTranslation campaign with Rosetta Stone and Children International to celebrate our appearance on Shark Tank, tested our marketing capabilities in more ways than we expected. We had Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels in place, but there was no way to prepare for the amount of two-way conversation required to keep up with a Shark Tank, Rosetta Stone, and Children International’s following.
Over time we learned that rolling out new partnerships, especially those with larger and more structured organizations, almost always takes longer than expected and requires more resources than we initially thought. You have to be ready to accelerate or put on the brakes and continue to think strategically about what your partner wants while also being mindful of your own time and business needs.
What truly invigorated me a year ago and continues to drive me today is that the best is yet to come. Much of the handwork has yet to be demonstrated to the marketplace and our team is working hard to ensure that we can capitalize on the great opportunities ahead of us.
Ryan Frankel is a 2012 TechStars alumnus, former private equity investor for Goldman Sachs and an endurance athletics enthusiast. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.