25 Years with Welocalize: CEO Smith Yewell on the Podcast
In the first episode of the Welocalize Podcast, CEO Smith Yewell chats to podcast host, Louise Law. Smith talks about the importance of relationships and some of the successes and failures he’s experienced over the past 25 years since he co-founded Welocalize with his wife, Julia.
In this episode, they cover….
- How Welocalize was founded.
- The importance of lasting relationships and trust.
- Lessons learned over 25 years – who do you trust in the foxhole?
- Future thinking: The main tech drivers impacting how brands build relationships.
About Welocalize Podcast
The Welocalize podcast considers all things localization, translation, and managing multilingual data, with a focus on innovation and tech-enablement. Guests share their stories and inspirations for creating the best customer experience in any language.
Well, hello and welcome to the Welocalize podcast. We’ll be talking all things multilingual, localization, translation technology, AI, NLP and loads more-helped along by a wide variety of guests. I am Louise Law, your host in this first ever podcast episode.
I am absolutely delighted to welcome Smith Yewell, Welocalize’s CEO and co-founder. I’m talking to Smith and he’s based in Washington DC at the moment, aren’t you Smith? So hi, Smith, how are you doing?
Hi Louise and hello to all of our listeners; thanks for joining.
So I think first and foremost I have to say congratulations to you as Welocalize is 25 years old. This year we’re celebrating 25th anniversary. It’s just great news because we’ve continued to grow and to now be one of the largest language service providers in the world. So you must be feeling pretty proud, Smith, that you’ve reached that 25 year mark.
I couldn’t be more proud-and let me just start by thanking my co-founder, Julia-my wife-for that partnership, without her support we wouldn’t be here 25 years later without Julia. And so many others I just want to thank as well, over 25 years what we call the Friends and family of we localize. Our company is all about relationships and building long lasting relationships. I just want to thank all of those who’ve been a part of it.
We’ve been on a 25 year journey. We’ve got many more years ahead of us. And it’s all because of these long lasting relationships, which we’ve been so fortunate to build.
That’s really nice to hear, Smith, and I think I always think it’s great the way you refer to the Welocalize family because it’s like any family-you grow and you have highs and lows over the years, don’t you?
I think it would be really nice if you could tell us a little bit like the story about how you and Julia founded the company.
It began with with our relationship and just unquestionable trust in each other and building trust with our clients. Cisco called us 25 years ago and was looking for a partner for their localization needs. And here we are, 25 years later and Cisco’s one of our biggest clients today. So that kind of long lasting relationship.
Trust, that’s what our story is all about, and that’s been the greatest satisfaction to me in this industry and in this company.
The thing is, the incredible relationships we’ve built with people all over the world and friends and family that have joined us in this journey into this great unknown.
When we started the company, our daughter had just been born. We put it all on the line. If the client didn’t come in, we struggled to pay the bills. Julia never questioned that, never questioned what we were trying to do is always supportive and tthrough the ups and the downs, the challenges of which there’s been me.
And what’s the secret? Our success is a commitment to relationships and perseverance through relationships and the challenges in relationships. That’s why we are here 25 years later.
It’s an absolutely great achievement and I I think that it’s interesting to hear about the first word that you asked to translate. What was that?
Well, there’s 2 interesting parts of the story at the very beginning. First, why are we in this business?
Well, because Julia and I couldn’t communicate, we didn’t have a common language. And then the interesting part of the story is being in the business of words of communicating. Our business started with our very first paying customer wanting to translate. Only one word. And that word was Pathfinder. The irony was not lost on us here – We were trying to find our path and that’s our first paying job, so I think it was a good sign.
That’s a good story. And so, Smith, it all began with a relationship and and the fact that you didn’t speak each other’s languages, does that mean you’ve learned how to speak that language now?Have you gone from speaking American English? Are you now multilingual or do you kind of, you know, leave that to the experts?
Well here we are 25 years later and I would say Julia and I have improved our communication. Maybe we’re maybe we’re halfway there. Another 25 years, we probably get all the way there and understanding each other.
That’s where we help our customers to do. How can they understand and build relationships with their customers through the most important thing-which is communication, which is language. If there’s a misunderstanding, whether it be in a business relationship or a personal relationship, what happens if things break down?
So the importance of what we do in helping our customers build long lasting relationships around the world is just absolutely critical for their businesses to continue to grow.
I’m sure it probably it probably hasn’t all been playing saying like as you say, you know any relationship, you have ups and downs. What do you think of the key lessons that you’ve learned over the past 25 years?
I was in the first Gulf War. Our unit led the main attack, so we saw a lot of action. And its relationships which come straight to the forefront in that kind of pressure. As we used to say, who do you trust to have your back in the foxhole?
So, what have we learned from that experience? Now, 25 years later is just the absolute importance of a commitment to building trust and persevere through challenges. Weather it. Then when the bullets were flying in the war, or ups and downs in the business cycle, of which we’ve seen several. We went through the dot com bust, we went through the financial crisis. We went through COVID. All of these challenges.
What gets you to the other side? It’s commitment, perseverance. Doing the hard work to solve misunderstandings to preserve trust-because once that’s breached, it’s very hard to repair. That’s what we strive for with our staff, with our customers with our partners, with the whole universe of Welocalize friends and family. That might be what we’re most proud of, Julia and I, is how much that has grown to involve so many people – wonderful people around the world. That’s what we’re really proud about.
Yeah, I think we’ve got two half thousand stuff and in counting. Haven’t we? Going from two to two and a half thousand, that’s quite a growth.
Of course, and people we work with externally over the years that’s been hundreds of thousands of people. Customers fortunately, to work with thousands of amazing customers and an incredible journey, we’re so fortunate.
Well, I mean, I’ve been with Welocalize and in the language industries, you know, for over 10 years and I think over that time I’ve seen a lot of change and progress, some good and some bad.
And I think probably the biggest change I’ve kind of witnessed would be how we use technology and innovation to help clients build those relationships with their own customers.
And recently Welocalize has very much transitioned into a tech-enabled company as well as the language industry overall and the fact that this new technology that we’re using in a different way and also the fact that we have so much data at our fingertips.
So what would you say are some of the main technology drivers that you’re seeing that will keep driving that transition, that will keep driving that whole tech enablement to kind of help the whole business, and you know, help clients build those relationships with their end users?
Right at the top of the list is artificial intelligence. That’s going to continue to change our industry dramatically-continue to change the world dramatically.
How does it apply to us? Well, we’re using artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency and speed and accuracy of communicating. When you think about it, in our digital world, there are only two ways to communicate:
You’re either typing something into a box, or you’re speaking something to a box, and that box could be anything. Could be your car or it could be your phone. It could be your refrigerator. So the power for AI to fundamentally change how we communicate-how we interface with each other and how we, in our day-to-day lives, just get things done. That is going to change profoundly.
If you think about it, when we started in this industry, what were the forms of communication? 25 years ago, e-mail was just getting off the ground. Fax machines were still being used, and phone calls now —
Land lines, land lines, people used land lines.
Exactly, not too many have a landline in their home. And go from that, to today, coming out of the pandemic where we we all got used to video. Fast forward 25 years from now. Will we be communicating invirtual forms, in the metaverse-will we be communicating with augmented devices?
There’s glasses, for example, several companies are selling now. And in those glasses you’ve you’ve got a a hybrid between call it the computer world and our typical physical world. Do those continue to merge?Do we at some point have devices that are even more ingrained in us, where technology is in our bodies?
I mean we have that today with medical devices. I see that continuing to grow and communication taking on all sorts of instantaneous virtual, hybrid… and our industry is going to be at the heart of that, that’s the exciting part.
Yeah, I mean it is, Smith, because obviously AI is is kind of a uh, a word or a phrase that’s been around for many, many years. But now it’s really starting to kind of become important to businesses and individuals. And that whole conversation around OK, well AI happens in in the source language in English, but you know not everyone speaks English. So how can AI be that communication bridge but in multiple different languages? So our industry is incredibly important in kind of bridging that gap between bringing AI to global audiences, isn’t it?
Yeah, and I think that the ability to harness that AI in ways that we haven’t even imagined is coming. We know all of our devices now can communicate to each other. I can take my phone and I can cast, uh, a movie to the television. I can Bluetooth to all sorts of other devices.Imagine if we as people would start to be able to do that as well through technologies which AI will support. Could we walk into a room and be able to communicate in a form would never even imagine, which might not be vocal noise. What do you think is?
Who knows what’s going to happen in the next 25 years then? If we sit and chat in 25 years time, what will we be talking about? We, we could be just virtual reality versions of ourselves chatting to each other in the Metaverse.
Maybe! It’ll certainly be a different form, and of course hard to imagine what that form, what shape it will ultimately take, but is it going to be a mix between physical and virtual? Yes.
Well, thanks so much for joining me today, Smith, I really appreciate your time and kind of, you know, shining some light on the past 25 years and maybe the next 25 years. So thanks again for joining us here today on the Welocalize podcast.
Thank you, Louise.