Gengo: The 2012 annual report

Gengo’s had a great 2012. It’s time for me to give you a (belated) recap, where we look back on the things we’ve achieved, the fun stuff, and a hint of what’s to come for 2013. Our mission to build the world’s communication platform is just starting.

Some of our achievements in 2012:

  • 40+ million words translated
  • 7,500 translators
  • 2 TV appearances
  • 32 flights over the Pacific
  • 1,230 Skype Calls (An estimate. Probably on the low side.)
  • 130 daily international standup videoconferences
  • 2 meetings held in the toilets of our Tokyo office due to lack of space
  • 2 roof leaks right next to our server rack
  • A 50.52 “Ekiden” (4x3km team relay) time
  • ~16 new team members (we kind of lost count)

Millions of Words


Getting a bit more serious, units translated* is the #1 indication of growth at Gengo. We saw a steady increase of units translated over 2012**. Standard is still our most popular level, and we’re very confident it’s a unique offering in the market. But all levels are growing, and we’re trying new things in 2013 to give you even more quality options. One of the big consequences of our growth is that a lot of our time and effort on the product side is simply to keep up with this demand, and scale. We have loads of new features we want to bring you, but we also have to keep our systems up and running!

Our ambition is to be the platform for global communication, so don’t expect this growth to slow down anytime soon. Read below for more about how we keep quality high while we scale.

*One unit is either a word, from a word-based language like English or Dutch, or a character, from a character-based language like Chinese or Korean. A character-based unit is ‘worth’ slightly less but we count them equally.

**You could try to work out Gengo’s revenue from these numbers, but due to units being sold at different quality levels, additional fees and other income, you’d be quite far off reality. Don’t worry. We’re doing just fine.

33 languages

Gengo added 14 languages in 2012, and 34 language pairs*. We don’t offer every possible language pair in the matrix (e.g. Polish to Korean) due to demand. Adding a language pair for Gengo is a matter of recruiting Senior Translators for the pair, creating standardized tests, recruiting translators and evaluating them as they come in. So we do this based on customer demand, and can normally add a new language in a couple of weeks if we need to. Gengo also added Arabic and Hebrew support in the past year, and we’re seeing these pairs grow in popularity nicely.


The most popular pairs by volume for Gengo were English<>Japanese. Partly this is a historical bias (these were the first pairs for Gengo to offer) but they are also great language pairs for the industry at large. English and Japanese have large “GDP” and generally high “GDP per capita” (I use those terms very loosely of course) and the Japanese population has great need for English. We expect this demand to continue. We’ve seen good growth in Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, among others.

*A language pair is a combination of source and target languages, for example English to French.

High approval rate

Gengo’s customer approval rate continues to hover very close to 100%. Revision requests by customers are rare (around 5% across the year) while rejections only occur around 0.05% of the time. We think it’s important to look at this data in parallel with the volume increase over the year, which shows how we’ve managed to keep quality high while volumes in most pairs have increased by 3-4x. We’re working hard to keep this standard going as we scale even further this year.


While customer appraisal of quality is important, we’ve always known it’s our job to rate translations, give feedback to translators, and when necessary ensure revisions for work that’s not up to our standard. So Gengo performs regular randomized quality audits, carried out by our Senior Translators.

Beyond just quality assurance, we’ve enjoyed additional benefits from this approach, by giving new translators specific and constructive feedback that has allowed them to measurably improve. This “mentoring at scale” technique is one that we expect to build upon in 2013. Additionally, we expect to make progress in the area of peer review in 2013, but our strategy will continue to emphasize expert review over anonymized peer review.

Speed and capacity

Kind of like an internet service provider, our job is to ensure you can get good quality and fast service from Gengo day-in, day-out, no matter the volume or the language that you order. A big part of this is ensuring consistent completion time. Historically, pickup time (the time it takes for a translator to start a job after you order) has been the largest and most volatile component of completion time, so we focus on these numbers as part of our regular weekly reviews.


While it’s relatively easy for us to cut pickup times by introducing new translators, we can also do things like improving our notifications, providing incentives for fast pickup, and improving translators’ ability to work on mobile devices. You’ll have to wait and see about specific features, but our teams are working on ways to improve many of these things in 2013.


A big goal at Gengo is to help new translators improve and develop new skills while they work for us. This is one of the things that sets us apart from generalist crowdsourcing platforms (who can tend to focus only on removing ‘bad’ workers), and it’s an area we’ll be investing in over the next few years. Our Translator Resources area, which we released this year, features fun, friendly introductions to key translation topics, which have gone down a storm with new and experienced translators alike. We’ve had many requests for new additions to the series, so we’re producing more over the next month.


With 7,500 qualified translators on the platform, community management is becoming a bigger, more rewarding and complex task. So we’re working even more closely with even more of our Senior Translators (there are now over 70) to provide more hands-on feedback and nurturing of new translators. We expect to increase our translator pool even more this year, and with that, we’ll increase our Facebook and other social media outlets to share the fun side of Gengo too.


It seems like a long, long time ago that we were myGengo, and colored orange and blue. But it was only in June 2012 we completed our rebrand from myGengo to Gengo (you can read all about that here). Rebranding can be tricky and time-consuming, but we’re all happy, relieved and excited to now be Gengo. We’re not looking back.


Apart from the cosmetic shift to Gengo green, we made several key changes to our product under the hood last year. We’ve moved to more scalable infrastructure, and coped with heavy and increasing API load by being creative and upgrading systems throughout the last few months.

A more visible improvement was the release of our Glossary feature, which has proved very popular with our enterprise customers who want to keep consistency across their translations. We’ll be working on expanding this feature next year, both making it easier for translators and customers.

Last year also saw the launch of a lot of cool new things that are a bit more hidden — our integrations with enterprise clients and partners. Customers like Vestiaire have achieved great success launching into new markets, and partners like Transifex and Dakwak have added the ability to translate within their app.

Gengo has just completed two very exciting API integrations with high-profile video partners, which will allow their customers to order translation of video transcripts without leaving their website. You’ll be able to read about these soon. Of course, translating subtitles brings a whole host of challenges. So for us, content awareness, and API features that allow greater control over output length, style restrictions and other considerations are coming.

In the product roadmap for 2013, we’re working on great things, including the following:

  • Better tools for developers to make it easy to integrate the Gengo API
  • Better API reliability
  • A better API feature-set, allowing more control for developers
  • Simpler tools for translators
  • Improvements to our glossary and translation memory technology

In general, we strongly believe that we make good product when we keep things simple. So you’ll see us refining and reducing as much as increasing features. Less, but better.

Translation Startups Worldwide


Translation (or localization, or internationalization, or globalization, or whatever) for apps and websites is an area where we’ve seen a lot of new tools and startups: TraductoPro, WordChuck, Tolk, GetLocalization, Amanuens, OneSkyApp, Transifex, LocaleApp, PhraseApp are just some of the companies out there. We think there’s still a long way for everyone to go before we make it truly a one-click proposition for a developer to localize an app. But we think these companies are doing it better than we have with String, resulting in our decision to end-of-life the product, so that we can focus on providing a great API for others to build on.

On the slightly more mature side, Smartling is growing and delivering great product. Our team continues to be impressed with their approach, and for many companies their ability to provide a ‘hands-off’ solution is very attractive. We’ve also seen new companies like VerbalizeIt and BabelVerse take on the voice interpretation space, and Duolingo do some extremely interesting things crossing between the language-learning and translation spaces (both of which are very hard nuts to crack :) We’ll continue to watch with interest, and it’s great to be part of a space with so much activity.



Gengo grew fast last year. We introduced a new San Mateo office in April 2012, led by our CRO Jeff Mills. The team got up to speed extremely quickly, and we’re proud to now be working with new US clients like TripAdvisor, Tribune Media, Airbnb and Zendesk. In addition, we added team members in China and the EU to complement our growing Tokyo team. We probably have over 12 nationalities now, and almost as many languages spoken in our offices.

As a company, we learned a lot in 2012. And we were ambitious. In some areas we succeeded hugely (new customers, new team, new languages), but in others we over-reached (most notably a platform rewrite). But our team has learned massively, and the nice thing is, we’re now in a position to roll out new features with much higher velocity and certainty, because we know our users better than ever. As CEO, I have never been more confident in our team’s knowledge, determination and ability.

We’re now hiring for 2013, in Tokyo AND San Mateo. So if you know a developer, a marketing expert, a project manager, account manager, developer evangelist… well, if you know anyone good, get in touch!

What’s coming up in 2013

The Road Ahead

We’re kicking off the new year with our first all-Gengo meeting in Tokyo. The company will be all in one room for the first time ever. It’s going to be a great chance to plan for world domination. We also have some really exciting company news that we’ll be able to share later in February.

So to end, a big thanks to our translators, our customers and our investors for making it a great 2012. We’re looking forward to a great 2013!


Robert Laing

The author

Robert Laing

Robert is one of Gengo's co-founders. He was born in Australia, and has lived in Melbourne, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Before founding Gengo, Rob was a designer and programmer, working for companies like, The Brand Union and Dare Digital in London. Robert speaks enough Japanese to get into trouble, but not enough to get out.

  • Justin

    Thanks for all your hard work. Looking forward to what you guys have in store for us this year in 2013.

  • Great information and industry analysis. Thanks, Rob!

  • antonio j espinosa

    Rob, nice message and recap of the market and its movement…..

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