Smartcat, which enables app developers to overcome language barriers thanks to an Uber-like translation marketplace, has made its entry into the U.S. market this April. Conversely, developers are actively looking for new approaches to localization.

The tech industry has become very good at scaling in the last decade. A startup can go from 100 users to a million without blinking. The latest example of this is the remarkable download count of 小偶 — 我的3D萌偶 (My Idol), a free Chinese iPhone app. In My Idol, users take selfies and transform them into funny 3D avatars that sing and dance.

The application hit “maximum buzz” in just days. Featured on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Vine newsfeeds, My Idol has received coverage from TechCrunch, The Verge and BuzzFeed. Lady Gaga created (and posted) her own avatar. But there is one missing feature in the app that makes its success even more unusual.


All of the app’s interface is in Chinese. It has not been localized at all, even for English-speaking markets. Developers promise that an English version will come soon but most companies would be reluctant to risk losing even a day of traffic when interest is at its peak. Fans have chipped in, writing user manuals in English (such as at


The app is praised for being simple and fun, but even its fans acknowledge that the lack of localization prevents them from mastering all of the app’s features.


Viral popularity is hard to predict. An unlocalized app may be acceptable one day but fall short of its full sales potential on the next if localization fails to scale with user interest. In these cases, localization is needed tomorrow, preferably today, and even better — yesterday.


This is the market need addressed by Smartcat, a platform launched in mid-April 2015 after two years of development to help technology companies conquer the language barrier. The cloud platform acts as an Uber-like marketplace for translators, connecting businesses with vetted language professionals via a point-and-click interface. Applications and websites can be translated more quickly than with the standard translation agency model. For an application of the size of My Idol, localization could be completed literally overnight.

According to Smartcat Product Director Jeni Mayorskaya, the Smartcat mission is to assist startups and tech companies to expand globally with the help of quick, professional localization. She describes Smartcat as fast due to its automated workflows and friction-free order process, unlike traditional language service agencies (LSPs). At the same time, professional-level quality is ensured by human translators, as opposed to machine translation à la Google Translate.

Smartcat received an infusion of $6 million in seed funding from ABBYY to create its translation automation platform. Over 30,000 language professionals have signed up for Smartcat during the beta period. In the translation world, such growth is almost My Idol-like.

The translation process in Smartcat is familiar to customers of e-commerce sites, but nearly without precedent in the language industry. An app developer goes to Smartcat, uploads strings (or screenshots, which can be converted to text via OCR), and then sorts through the listing of translators in the Chinese–English language pair (in the case of My Idol) by feedback, experience, and availability. The developer sets rates according to price expectations and the deadline. Once the team has been assembled, the developer clicks the Launch button and work begins.


Smartcat search: use keywords to find Chinese–to-English translators via the web-based interface and add then to your MyIdol translation team

Translators then start work in the editing environment, which is integrated with the Smartcat marketplace. Linguistic technologies help translators to deliver texts more quickly: translation memory re-uses previously translated similar text, simultaneous collaboration allows multiple translators to work on the same text at the same time, and glossaries ensure consistent terminology use. Machine translation is available for creating draft versions. Combined, these translation automation technologies increase speed by 70% and reduce costs by up to 50%, as estimated by the company’s internal research.

During the beta period, over 2 million words of content for 30 Coursera courses were translated via crowdsourcing in Smartcat. Hotel Tonight entered new European markets, rising to the challenge of translating 3,500 hotel listings into multiple languages in just 3 weeks. iOS app developer Easy Ten rolled out 10 new languages.

According to Mayorskaya, the key advantage of this approach over ordinary LSPs is transparency and flexibility. Clients can communicate directly with translators to provide guidance as necessary, which most agencies do not allow. What happens inside most LSPs is a “black box” — the client sends a project, the project is processed in some way, but current status or how the final results are obtained is not clear. By contrast, in Smartcat, clients can see everything all the time, retain their favorite translators between projects, and do not have to maintain expensive translation software or servers for themselves.


Messaging functionality in Smartcat allows answering any project-related questions that translators may have

The platform include real-time visualization in the translation editor and payment options for simplifying and consolidating international transfers, a major headache for any company that must pay freelancers in multiple countries. At 1,000 language pairs available and counting, Smartcat continues to invite clients and freelancers to sign up on the company’s website.

Originally posted on Medium.