Speaking To The World

June 20, 2013
BY Ron Snyder
Baltimore native launches international translation service

062113_ryan_frankelRyan Frankel turned a potentially dangerous health situation into something lucrative.

A few years ago, Frankel was on a trip to China when he fell violently ill. He staggered into a pharmacy, but the pharmacist spoke no English, and Frankel tried in vain to describe his symptoms. Frustrated, Frankel eventually made his way back to his hotel to deal with the illness without medication.

“It was difficult and scary being unable to explain my problems to someone who didn’t speak English,” said Frankel, a Baltimore native and 2002 Park School graduate.

When he returned home, Frankel vowed to address this need and, along with fellow University of Pennsylvania Wharton School student Kunal Sarda, formed VerbalizeIt.

Launched about 18 months ago, VerbalizeIt delivers real-time access to human translators to make sure that nothing is ever “lost in translation.” Frankel said his service allows businesses to instantly connect with a live translator any time of the day, anywhere in the world and from any device or application. In addition, the company also provides additional translation solutions, including document transcription, audio and video translation and subtitling.

“Many translating call centers are expensive and not a viable option for travelers, or they have trouble finding access to the right translators,” Frankel said. “Then there are computer programs and apps that are convenient but not accurate. Our service combines the quality of personal translation services with the conveyance and price of computer services.”

Based in New York City, VerbalizeIt has about 15 employees and apporximately 7,500 translators contracted around the world who collectively speak more than 60 languages, including English, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Korean, Arabic and Hindi.

Andrea Neuman is one of those translators. The Los Angeles-based German translator has more than 20 years of experience helping Americans with German and Germans with English. She said VerbalizeIt is the most unique translation product on the market.

“VerbalizeIt helps make the world more accessible to people as they travel,” Neuman said. “It combines the quality of the human factor with the ease of technology. There’s also an extensive quality-control process involved, where every call is screened to ensure accurate service. That is not always the case in this business.”

Frankel said VerbalizeIt is accessible by registering on the company’s website, verbalizeit.com, or by downloading a free app. Both avenues offer near instant access to a translator. Customers then have the option of purchasing one of three main plans: $9.99 for five minutes, $44.99 for 30 minutes and $99.99 for 100 minutes of translation services, Frankel said.

Frankel and Sarda have already received national recognition for their start-up. In May, the pair appeared on the season finale of ABC’s “Shark Tank.” VerbalizeIt was a success on the TV show, as investors Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary each offered $250,000 for a stake in the company.

Frankel and Sarda eventually liked O’Leary’s offer the best but decided against moving forward with the deal because in the months after the show’s taping, they received an offer from investors who were “better suited” for the business through TechStars, a business accelerator program that put them in front of hundreds of investors. Also during this time, VerbalizeIt entered into several partnerships, including one with Skype and one with Rosetta Stone.

“We’re on good terms with [O’Leary],” Frankel said. “We haven’t closed the door, but we felt this was the right direction to go.  The exposure we got from ‘Shark Tank’ was amazing, and we had so many people sign up after seeing the show. We believe our future is bright.”

Ron Snyder is a local freelance writer.

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