Localization and Global Expansion: Lessons from monday.com
Work operating system monday.com has grown from a small, Tel Aviv-based startup to a global success story. What role has localization played in their transformation?
In 2019, monday.com officially became a tech unicorn. And despite the challenges 2020 brought with it, the company managed to quickly shift their focus to remote project management and WFH - and they enjoyed even more tremendous growth because of it. We sat down with Eitan Avni, Head of Localization at monday.com, to see exactly what has made the company such a powerhouse in so many different markets around the world, and get his tips for becoming a global success.
How to choose new markets and languages for localization
Before making efforts to expand their business internationally, monday.com’s product offerings, customer support, marketing, and all other collateral were produced only in English. This worked for them, as most of their users were in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada. Though these are still the countries with the most users, it became clear over time that in order to really go global, they had to expand to other languages.
The first step was to figure out where their customers were, and what languages they spoke. They decided to first tackle Spanish, as Mexico was their fifth-largest market. But they didn’t stop there. Rather than only working to perfect Spanish for their Mexican clients, they decided to start with 8 languages. Eitan and his team looked at a few key factors to decide if a language would make the cut:
Traction – Where did monday.com already have good traction? What languages are spoken in these countries?
Language popularity – Is there a language that is very widely spoken - perhaps in many different countries, not just the ones where they already had traction? For example, although they are based in Israel and had traction there, Hebrew wouldn’t have been the best language to start with, as it isn’t widely spoken around the world – not to mention the UI issues it brings as a right-to-left language.
Region Potential – Is there actually potential for a large number of sales in the country or regions that speak that language? Do companies there actually buy from SaaS companies? Do they have the money to spend (high GDP)? Is the internet used widely enough?
After considering these three factors, eight languages were chosen: Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Dutch, and Italian.
Localization: Quality vs. Quantity
Once the first eight languages were chosen, the next question was whether to focus on quality or quantity. Would it be better to do a quick translation of the main website pages and product features in these first 8 languages, and then move on to tackle a large number of other languages in the same way? Or would it be smarter to localize across the board for these top tier languages before moving on?
Based on his experience working with various localization strategies in the past, Eitan decided that focusing on in-depth, high-quality localization of fewer languages to start would serve the company better in the long run. He decided that his first major move as Head of Localization would be to hire in-house, native-speaking Localization Managers to oversee the localization process for the top tier languages. These LMs would be able to ensure quality and bridge the gap between himself and freelance translators or LSPs. While working with LSPs is a great way to find talented translators, it was important to Eitan that the Localization Managers would provide final quality control to make sure translations were accurate, resonated with the target market, and aligned with the brand’s tone and messaging.
Order of Operations: What’s Most Important for Product Localization?
The decision was made to focus on quality, the first languages were chosen, and Localization Managers were hired – so now what? The goal was to localize everything – starting from the homepage and main product features, down to all other web pages, blog articles, templates, and more.
Phase 1: Build Localized Support
Of course, translated content is important, but a localized user experience and customer support would be the foundation for entering into these new markets. This meant hiring support representatives in each language, translating onboarding emails, and localizing the basic product and web pages for each market.
Phase 2: Localize Marketing Content and SEO
Once the basic experience and support was available to customers in the new markets, the next step was to localize everything that would help spread the word to their new audience. This meant targeting the right keywords in each region and language, optimizing pages for local SEO, filming localized YouTube videos, designing and targeting regional ads, building new landing pages, and more. By localizing their marketing funnel, they knew they would appear more like a local brand, one that can be trusted, and this helps to push local companies to make their purchasing decisions.
Phase 3: Close the gap
The final phase, Eitan says, is an ongoing process. As monday.com’s product offerings, blog posts, and other innovative ideas continue to be produced in English, it is constant work for the Localization Managers to keep up and continue to close the gap between what is available in English speaking markets, and what is available in other languages and locales. As their popularity in each market grows, and as they continue to add languages – they're now up to 13 – there is always more to learn and more to do.
Main Takeaways from the Localization Process
Localization for a global company is a big undertaking, and no process is flawless. Eitan shared a few lessons he learned along the way and tips he has for other companies looking to expand their presence in local markets:
- Get feedback from the ground and utilize relationships with local partners to help you succeed - In Japan, for example, the team got some excellent feedback from a local business partner that they might resonate better with Japanese customers or potential leads if they adjusted their local branding a bit. They learned that monday.com’s bright, colorful branding didn't jibe so well with Japan’s business culture. They were able to use this feedback to find a middle ground and be attentive to local nuances, without building a whole new brand.
- Help out your LSPs and communicate with them constantly - As Eitan learned, working with LSPs (language service providers) can be a great experience – but they need your ongoing support. That’s why he hired Localization Managers to oversee each language and work directly with the LSPs to help them understand the company’s goals, provide regular feedback, and brief them on what is expected for every project. The quality control is on the client, not on the LSP – they can only do the job so well without your assistance. This is also why he recommends using smaller, more boutique agencies who can give you more personalized attention as a client.
- Pay attention to technical localization – Localizing content and UI is important, but you can’t bring in the big bucks without focusing on technical localization. Make sure you use the right currencies, integrate with local payment platforms, purchase ads on local social media platforms, and tailor translations to the UI - or else all your hard work will be for nothing. Also be sure to pay attention to security and other technical aspects of localization that may be key to finding customers in certain markets. For example, monday.com learned that Germany puts a lot of stress on data privacy, so the servers that their data is stored on need to be up to German security standards if they want to succeed in the German market.
Monday.com serves as a great example of how to use localization to scale and resonate with new markets. However, localization is not a one size fits all process. At the end of the day, every company will have to decide what their approach should look like based on their product, resources, and priorities. In-house localization experts, or LSPs like One Hour Translation, can help you plan your localization strategy and decide what works best. Whether you’re a large SaaS company like monday.com, or a small business looking to grow, investing in localization could be your key to successful expansion.
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