For my entrepreneurship profile, I had the pleasure to meet Mila Golovine from MasterWord Services, which is multimillion dollar company that provides translation and interpretation services all around the world with many awards including “Top 10 Largest Language Services Provider in North America”, “Top 50 Largest Language Services Provider Worldwide”, and “Top 500 Women Owned Business in the United States.” MasterWord’s mission is “to connect people across language and culture.” They are also proud to be ISO 9001:2008 certified which basically ensures the organization has a quality management system in place to have the ability to meet customer requirements.
History of the entrepreneur: Experience, education and path to business ownership
Mila was born and raised in Russia and was inherently interested in foreign language. She learned English at a very young age (as most Russian youths do) and when she grew up she continued to exercise her English through customer service jobs and tourism. Her parents eventually had the opportunity to go to the United States, and she applied to University of Houston to study international finance. While studying international finance she had to take an elective which ended up being the very first entrepreneurship class at the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. She basically picked the class because she couldn’t read, “entrepreneurship” nor knew what it meant.
Origin of the Business
Mila came up with her business idea for her entrepreneurship class. She had to write a business plan however, she waited until the night before to work on her project. This was also before the internet so she had no choice but to go to the library and think of something fast and the first thing she thought of was, “I speak Russian and English, I wonder if there’s a need for translation”. That’s when she saw in an encyclopedia that translation at the time (early mid 80’s) was an $8M industry. So she saw a lot of potential there and created her business plan around that idea.
MasterWord Services had absolutely $0 startup money. Mila came into the country with little money, and she was lucky to go to school on scholarships. It was just her, and she created MasterWord Services as an S-corp.
Mila created financial projections for her business the way they taught her in entrepreneurship class. She didn’t really specify what kind of revenues she initially planned for. However, when she first started, she was only offering translation and interpretation for one language: Russian. With little to no money, the business basically had to sustain itself from day 1. In fact, she had to work to even buy herself a computer. The way she first found work was through networking. She credited a lot of her techniques to Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson and would also attend every free event: from international conferences to networking events at the George R Brown.
Hurdles & Stumbles
Mila considers the fact that MasterWord Services is still alive and growing as the biggest hurdle/accomplishment to date. They have a compound annual growth of about 20%.
“The biggest challenge of course is people. How to work with people? Because many people at times don’t really know what they want to do and they apply for one position and then working in that position when really, their heart lies in doing something different. So making sure that the person is put in a position where they can really excel, something that they really like doing. And then of course, the changing dynamic of the people, the world, the economy, that’s another challenge. You may think you have a project, and then you wake up the next day and there’s a war going on or it is a political problem with some government and then suddenly, that particular mining project or development project is either not going on, or on hold for a year or two. Then of course the normal problem is capital, making sure we have enough cash flow, making sure we have enough working capital in place, how [to] finance technological advancements? So everything boils down into planning, flexibility, keeping an open mind, and being able to adjust.”
As for mistakes, she says she’s made many along the way; the biggest one was in 1997when oil prices went down to $12 a barrel and everyone was shutting down, merging, oracquiring. At this point, she had built her company up to 30 people and that year, had to reducestaffing to 3 because in ‘97 her work mainly comprised of oil and gas companies. So the greatestlesson she took away from that, was the importance of diversification and she began expandingher translation services into health care, government, and other industries.
“Our mission is to connect people across language and culture, so we would really like to expand the way we are doing it. We see we have 7 billion customers today, everybody who speaks a different language so we’re really looking to connecting people. We are expanding to where we’re talking, teaching, and educating our customers about multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity. We’re offering different types of services now, not just face-to-face interpreting but over the phone, over video remote, and not just human translation but also machine translation which is of course, lower accuracy at a much lower cost but gives us a lot of accessibility to people; so looking at what people need to communicate with each other better, what people need to understand each other better.”
I was really interested in how such a large and successful company like MasterWord was able to operate with just 130 fulltime staff. They also work with 13,000 linguists worldwide on a contract basis, but I was interested in how 130 people can meet the demands of the world and what kind of training was put into place to make it all efficient. MasterWord services has a division devoted to training and assessments which trains coordinators how to coordinate requests, specifically what is the difference between translation and interpretation requests because translation requires a lot of technology like translation memory tools, automation tools, as well as all sorts of files the coordinator must be proficient in such as HTML, Illustrator, etc. So there training for that as well. For interpretation, it is a lot more strenuous because they need to know how to interpret based on the situation. There are requirements and they all differ in industry. So for an example, if you were to do medical interpretation, they have a 40hour course.
Mila stressed that you can be fully bilingual and perfectly qualified to interpret but in order to work for her, as an interpreter, you’d have to know how to interpret in a wide variety of settings and be fully aware of the protocols for each situation.
This influenced my business plan because I did want to create a methodology or some formula to make it easier to create custom made workshops to fit the needs of the organization in terms of industry and department, which could still happen, the limitation would be specialized jobs such as medical, law, or engineering. I wouldn’t have the credentials or jargon to sufficiently help them. Instead, I would have to focus on other fields like fashion, electronics, import/export, or other manufacturing companies.