Integrity Languages


Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Day I Made Some Founders Sad

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 15, 2018

It all started so well. Two super nice and super enthusiastic founders asked if they could Skype call me to get my opinion on their latest project. As someone who has been known to gripe about people starting companies in the interpreting world without actually having a clue, I was pleasantly surprised and was happy to arrange a time to suit. And then, it all changed.


We got the idea from travelling around the world together.

We went to lots of countries where we didn’t know the language and thought “hey, what if you could instantly get an interpreter on your phone at the touch of a button? Then you could chat to literally anyone and get medicine and find directions and lots of stuff like that.”

So, our idea, and you might need to take a minute to take it in, is to build an app where people can get right to an interpreter in any language. It’ll be amazing for travellers and would help interpreters as we are sure there would be lots of work for them. (Cue winning smile). So, what do you think, as an industry expert?


Those who know interpreting would have seen hundreds of similar ideas. Very few have any real profile left. In the next twenty minutes or so, I would explain to those nodding start-up founders how the interpreting market works and the reason why so many companies trying to do the same thing have failed.


Here it is in a nutshell:

  • The interpreters who are offering excellent interpreting are becoming good businesspeople in their own right. Knowing the true value of their skills has led to them wanting more control over their work. This desire is pushing them to build their own client list consisting of good direct clients and/or established agencies who know the industry well and know how to work with interpreters.
  • This change is prompting a trickle-down effect, where younger and less confident interpreters are beginning to follow the same logic. This is leading in many places to a shortage of qualified/certified/experienced interpreters who are willing and interested in joining platforms for bulk selling their work.
  • There are still many people who are interested in such platforms but they will tend not to have any credentials or serious training. They might be good; they might be poor. The likelihood is that they have never been tested so you can’t know either way.
  • Machine interpreting is almost good enough to take away the need for human interpreters to do the phrasebook “is this the train for Salzburg?” “I have a sore throat” stuff anyway. Basically, if the phrase used to be in those small books you would buy from the airport newsagents before your flight, Google Translate has it sorted.
  • Put this together and you have a perfect storm of massive supply issues and dwindling demand for “on-demand instant human interpreting” for the needs of your typical tourist.


By about three-quarters of the way through the call, the smiles had become noticeably more fixed. I really did like these founders. They asked intelligent questions and seemed truly interested in what I had to say.


I just wish that they hadn’t chosen the world’s most oversaturated idea for their big business.


Before you think that this post is about arrogant self-congratulation, it actually made me realise my own business frailties. At the beginning of my career, I had my sights set on one market and one market alone. I realised that I might not crack it right away so in the meantime, I sold my service through precisely the kind of bulk selling platforms that most green founders think will work for interpreting by app.


It’s hard to learn that your marketing and entire business model is flawed. It’s even harder to pick up the pieces and start again. For me, it took a burnout episode and a PhD for the clouds to break. Even now, I am still finessing how I work and how I market.


The real lesson of this story is not that start-up founders in interpreting are likely to fail badly unless they ask interpreters first. It isn’t even that the days of finding excellent interpreters on bulk selling platforms of one kind or another are ending. It’s that we all need help and honest feedback, even though it might make us sad. Being sad today is much more beneficial than losing your house tomorrow.

What Does a Consultant Interpreter Actually Do?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 14, 2018

For most businesses who don’t have an HQ in Brussels, Paris or some other city where conference interpreting is ubiquitous, the phrase “consultant interpreter” will seem entirely foreign. So what is one and what can they do for you?

To answer that question, we need to think about how interpreters are traditionally hired. For many companies, hiring an interpreter means sending an email to an interpreting agency with a brief for the event, sending over documents and then waiting for the interpreters to turn up on the day.

There is not a lot obviously wrong with that model and, as I mention in my free Buying Interpreting Step-by-Step course, there are times when going to an interpreting agency is exactly what you need to do.

Yet, there comes a time in many businesses where running international events becomes a regular feature of your work. There might also be occasions where the event is so special or so valuable that you want greater partnership than the traditional agency model can easily provide.

This is where consultant interpreters come in. As both a practising interpreter in their own right and someone who knows how to build specialist interpreting teams, they know how to match your exact needs with interpreters on the market. They will know who is excellent for sales events and who is better in board meetings. Why? Because they will tend to have worked alongside the people they recommend and will have first-hand experience of their strengths and weaknesses.

As well as building you a custom interpreting team, a good consultant interpreter will also have relationships with suppliers of interpreting equipment. That relationship alone could save you hours of frustration!

Lastly, here’s something that few people know. Consultant interpreters really are consultants too. If you have a question about the best order to speeches to keep people awake or the right interpreting equipment or even the best way to address guests from different countries, ask your consultant interpreter. They will have the knowledge and experience to either answer those questions themselves or find you the right person to answer them.


Now that you have seen what a consultant interpreter can do, isn’t it time you chatted with one? Drop me an email using the contact form for a free Skype chat to see how working with a consultant interpreter could super-charge your business.