How a Code School Graduate Helped a Startup Win a Quarter Million

IMG_454727768

With a background in language and translation, helping the translation startup VerbalizeIt win $250,000 at CSU’s Blue Ocean Enterprise Challenge makes perfect sense for Nathanael Burt. But Burt (and his Romance Language degree) didn’t found the Boulder-based company, which marries the quality of traditional translation service with modern technology and business practices. He’s a code school graduate and one of the company’s developers.

“An important trend we’re seeing is the question of how to take your business from a national perspective to a global one sooner rather than later,” said Kate Shillo, Director of Galvanize Ventures. SurveyMonkey CTO Selina Tobaccowala recently emphasized that very point, citing her company’s early global expansion as a key factor in its success.

When it’s time to make the move to international business, there are currently two main solutions available to companies. The first is the Google Translates of the world—machine translation companies that are fast and cheap, but simply don’t have the technology to provide a quality level worthy of professional communications.

The other option is more traditional translation agencies. They use human translators and reviewers, which makes for a much higher quality of work. But most of these companies are mired by archaic business models and lots of overhead, meaning higher costs and long turnaround times.

VerbalizeIt takes the quality of traditional brick-and-mortar translation agencies and brings it into the digital age. It began as a more consumer-focused product, but pivoted to a B2B-focused model to capitalize on businesses’ need for global expansion. The service now connects a curated community of more than 25,000 translators to companies ranging from small businesses and startups all the way up to enterprise-level corporations.

From French to Javascript

After graduation from Colorado College in 2012, Burt started working for a small translation company in Aurora, Colorado. He wore many hats: translation, project management, business development, marketing. When the company website needed redoing, he started messing around with some basic HTML and CSS to make small changes. “I started learning on my own, then decided I wanted to accelerate that learning,” Burt said. The Galvanize Full Stack program allowed him to do just that.

Four months later, Burt was deep into his full stack training with graduation and the job hunt on the horizon. A connection through Galvanize Ventures Director Nick Wyman put him in touch with an up-and-coming translation company, and soon Burt was spending an hour or two each day interning for VerbalizeIt while finishing his Full Stack coursework. After graduation, he joined VerbalizeIt full-time, working out of the Galvanize Boulder campus.

“With my background in languages and translation,” Burt said, “I was able to apply a lot of those lessons that I had learned—such as common pain points that I encountered on the project management side of things—into the development role I have now.”

One example is how VerbalizeIt integrates into, say, Salesforce’s desktop client. Say a ticket comes in in Japanese—rather than having to copy-paste the text into a separate document to then send to a translator, VerbalizeIt integration provides a seamless translation with just the click of a button.

It’s innovations like this that helped VerbalizeIt take home the grand prize at the Blue Ocean Challenge last week. This was a huge win not just for the Galvanize Community, but also Galvanize Ventures, which invested in VerbalizeIt last October.

To be clear, VerbalizeIt didn’t receive any sort of free rent or preferential treatment at Galvanize due to Galvanize Ventures’ investment, or vice versa. The GV investment team makes their decisions purely on the viability of an idea and what they think could be a potentially large, venture-backable business.

Obviously, the Blue Ocean judges thought so too, as VerbalizeIt beat out 14 companies from a wide variety of industries in the competition’s head-to-head rounds of pitches.

“Winning was huge for us,” Burt said. “We’re going to be able to grow our development team here in Boulder, as well as get some of that really valuable mentorship from Blue Ocean Enterprises and CSU.”

“It was a well deserved win,” Shillo said. “We’re really proud of the VerbalizeIt team, and we love that they’re Galvanize Members.”