Anticipating Innovation: How a key player in the translation industry has maintained an entrepreneurial culture among their 4,000 employees to wow clients and anticipate their needs—before they even realize they have them.

Every entrepreneur dreams of the moment they’ll make it to the Inc5000, a signal of success and industry recognition. We’re interviewing B2B Inc5000 companies to crack the code of HOW to get on the list (and ideally stay on!). This series will hopefully become the playbook to your success too. Today, we’re interviewing Liz Elting, founder and CEO of TransPerfect.

NXT: What is TransPerfect?

We’re the world’s leading language and technology solutions provider. I started the company 25 years ago to fill a significant market gap. While we’re still a language solutions business, since then we’ve evolved and expanded into ancillary products and services for our clients.

We do everything from document translation and web localization to legal support and staffing services, alongside providing a variety of tech solutions for our clients.

We’re now in 90 cities with over a hundred offices on six continents, and we have over 4,000 employees and over 15,000 freelancers. We work with companies that do international business in every industry.

NXT: How did you get started in this language / translation business?

I’ve always loved languages. I lived in Portugal and Canada and studied four languages growing up, lived in Spain during college, and worked in Venezuela after graduating.

In the late 1980s, I worked for a translation company but was concerned that we only worked in WordPerfect and MS Word—meaning that we couldn’t deliver in every format that our clients needed. Worse, we often weren’t able to handle translations fast enough or at an acceptable level of quality. That needed to be fixed.

NXT: What’s the gap – the business opportunity – that you saw?

Back then, all the translation companies were very small, and they were started by translators who were doing the language work themselves. The problem with having a founder working for the business is that they can’t focus on professionalizing the operation and creating systematic growth.

Now, I wasn’t a translator, but rather came into the industry from the business side. And I felt that there was a significant need for a top-tier company that could offer stellar service to its clients.

After I went back to school and got my MBA from NYU in finance and international business, I saw that we were in the early phases of globalization. So when I graduated in 1992, it was the perfect time to start the company.

The idea was to wow our clients, spoil them with the best service, round-the-clock availability and support, and the ability to turn around any deliverable the client needed. From the beginning, we wanted to create a one-stop shop known for both quality and service, not one or the other.

NXT: So you decided to start a company in a highly fragmented and competitive market?

I’m really passionate about languages and how they facilitate global communications. I started TransPerfect with my business partner from an NYU dorm room.

Back then, you couldn’t get VC funding to start a business so I focused intensely on generating revenue. Calling up companies, finding out if they had any needs or who was the decision-maker within the company, and then sending them our info and arranging a meeting.

I would call hundreds of companies a day and a couple of thousand of companies a week. Within six months, we brought in enough revenue to move into an office, and a year after that we started hiring.

NXT: You offer a lot of services that don’t seem directly connected to language services… how does it all fit together?

The core of our business is language services. But as we grew and evolved, we saw that our clients needed a number of additional services in the same workflow.

For example, we would translate litigation documents and see that our law firm clients also needed a vendor to provide copying, scanning, digital forensics, deposition transcription, staffing and other services. They also need technology in the form of virtual data rooms, data security, and much more.

So we evolved and started offering all these ancillary services. They’re centered around language translation and are part of our “one-stop shop” strategy.

This adds value to clients because they don’t need to find, vet, and manage multiple vendors. Instead, they can work with just us. They know us and trust us, and they really appreciate our positioning. We constantly innovate and we’re super client-centric.

NXT: But how can you sell these additional services and create these offerings for them?

It’s all about earning their trust with your core services, and then presenting them with an expanded menu of options. We also acquired a number of companies in key areas. And the right way to do this is to target small companies without much revenue. We acquired them not for their client list, but rather for their product and team.

I believe we’re the world’s leading language services company, so we have the size and the client roster. We make acquisitions to add new products to our offerings. Think of it like adding new pieces to the puzzle; we see the clear picture of our clients because we’ve known them for so many years, so it’s about coming up with the incremental solutions that they need.

This helps us in two ways:

  1. It naturally grows our revenue with our existing client base. They already know and trust us so it’s a much easier sell.
  2. It helps us diversify our revenue streams and create more stable and predictable revenue, which facilitates further growth into our tech and product solutions. This is how we’ll fuel our longer term growth and make it harder to for other companies to compete with us.

NXT: How do you win new clients these days?

The vast majority of our revenue and growth actually come from our very strong and long-term relationships with clients. 97% are repeat business and referrals, either within a company, or from our clients to another company. It’s highly organic.

Of course, we’re still involved in tradeshows, we run weekend events for VIP clients, and we set up client-centric conferences. For example, we’ll do a conference on “going global” for our retail clients, or a conference where we discuss FCPA regulations for law firms. We continually offer educational conferences to benefit our clients.

We recently held a forum in NYC with more than 300 clients and prospects. The panel speakers are clients of ours who can demonstrate thought leadership and help educate our audience. But they also offer to be involved because we have ten- or fifteen-year relationships, and have built up a really strong rapport—they feel confident speaking on our behalf.

This works out well for us too because it exhibits the breadth of our client base, showcases our solutions through real case studies, and further increases our credibility.

NXT: Why do clients prefer you over competitors?

There are a number of ways in which we differentiate ourselves from the competition:

  1. Company mission: Our goal has always been to provide the absolute best quality and service. We operate with a sense of urgency, making our people available 24/7.
  2. Global presence: We’re in more cities than any of our competitors so we can provide the most extensive local presence.
  3. Certifications: We also have ISO certifications, which is very important in regulated industries such as healthcare, finance, etc. because it demonstrates that we have the right processes and a culture of continuous improvement.
  4. Innovation: We’re constantly innovating for our clients, with technology playing a key, growing role. We continually develop new technologies and products for our clients before they even know they need them.

NXT: What’s the secret sauce to your success?

It’s a combination of things…

  • being very client-focused,
  • attracting talented people,
  • giving them ownership through our entrepreneurial culture, and
  • incentivizing them correctly so they’re aligned with our company vision.

We’ve always been a very sales-focused company with more sales and client-facing people than our competitors. We have over 500 employees in sales and client-facing roles, which is considerably more than any other company in the industry. That kind of scale allows us to do things our competitors simply can’t.

But it’s not just about having the right people, it’s also about having them do the right thing. And the way you ensure that is through offering proper incentives and a strong culture.

Our people our compensated in a way that incentivizes them to help us grow the business. This is part of how we create and maintain a very entrepreneurial culture.

And of course, with an ambitious plan and an entrepreneurial culture, having the best talent is very important. So we constantly strive to be the employer of choice. People come here because they know they will be motivated and get responsibility to make things happen.

NXT: Where do you see opportunity in the next 3-5 years?

I think there will be growing momentum behind consolidation, technology, and streamlining processes.

  • There are many small companies in the industry that have been in business ten, fifteen, twenty years. We haven’t been consolidating for the past few years and we will get back on that. We have the technological capabilities and processes to really improve their capabilities.
  • Technology will keep playing an increasing role in the world of translation. Both in project management and for new product development, for example, machine translation.
  • Finally, we’re constantly working on streamlining processes for our clients to make it easier and faster for them, and technology helps tremendously.

NXT: What will keep you on the Inc5000, what will help you continue delivering rapid growth?

Our goal is always to wow clients, provide the best services and products in the industry, and be an employer of choice for our people. These all go together in order to win and retain the best clients and the best talent.

We’re all extremely passionate about this industry. Helping the world communicate is very exciting to me, and our people feel exactly the same way.

We hire smart overachievers and we create an intrapreneurial culture: we’ll hire a person in a city and say “you can treat this like it’s your own company. When you get to certain levels of revenue you can hire more people.”

One of our core values is “own it”, which means treat the company or team or project you’re working on as your own, which makes TransPerfect a very exciting place to work.

We really have the best of all worlds: the range and resources of a large company, and the entrepreneurial culture of a small company.

I’m VERY excited about our opportunities ahead…



Founder of Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. Specializing in B2B makes a big difference because we know what information your clients need, what works and what doesn’t. B2B communications can be very different than B2C, so if you get your video explainer from a B2C agency you may not get the results you deserve.

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