Barely three months ago life partners Laurie Seliger and Sherry Braun opened their virtual doors to Keylingo Translations of Princeton (www.keylingo.com), the third of this firm’s now five franchises. The funny thing is, neither Seliger nor Braun has any linguistic or translating experience. Neither was an English major whose idea of a fabulous evening is poring over yellowed texts to produce that perfect bon mot. Rather, they are lifelong scientists and women of business. And in this analytical approach lies their advantage.
Prior to Keylingo, Seliger was a 28-year teaching/research scientist with a career that encompassed virtually all of New Jersey’s big pharma. She grew up in Boston with an engineer father who spent 30 years with Polaroid. After obtaining her bachelor’s from Elmira College in 1980 and master’s in biochemical research from Case Western Reserve University, she joined the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology.
Thereafter followed increasing responsibilities with Hoffman-LaRoche and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, where she taught and did research. This is also when the couple met at a conference. They hit it off and have been together ever since. For the last 15 years Selig has successively proffered her research abilities to Bristol Myers-Squibb, Rutgers University, and most recently as associate scientist for Schering-Plough.
Meanwhile, Braun, as a business marketing specialist, had focused her expertise strictly in the scientific field. After earning her bachelor’s in communication from Seton Hall and a master’s from Fordham’s business school, Braun began boosting the sales of such pharmaceutical firms as Bristol Myers-Squibb and Kos Pharmaceuticals. Most recently, Braun served as marketing director for GE Healthcare, developing strategies for Latin America, the U.S., and Canada for that firm’s varied media products.
The two met at a conference
#b#The franchise solution#/b#. At the start of 2011 the women faced a career and family change. Braun had been downsized from her GE Healthcare position. Both wanted fewer corporate late nights and more time to spend with their growing children, Jason (11) and Jillian (10). “We looked briefly at the MacDonald’s/Burger King level” says Seliger. “But they are on the million-plus buy in, and those franchise owners tend to eventually own about 40 stores. Definitely not for us.”
Besides, Burger King broke one cardinal Braun-Seliger rule: no booze, no food. “After growing up in Perth Amboy and watching my folks run a bar in that town,” says Braun, “both of us decided that was just not the life for us.”
After assessing their combined initial capital and funding potential, the two drew out a chart with the requirements: initial investment cost, amount of travel, time allowance for the children, growth time to break even, personal launch advantages, and individual satisfaction.
Against this they tallied a host of explored franchises, ranging from eldercare and in-house tutoring to digital solution sales and print and sign making.
It might have seemed more in keeping with these women’s experience to launch some kind of small pharmaceutical service that would supply the large pharma machine with outsourced services. But Braun noted that these feeder niches are woefully overcrowded in New Jersey, and the industry is not in robust enough shape to present strong growth potential to such satellites.
Additionally, Braun and Seliger had charted out their own financial goals over short and long terms. The relatively quick payback horizon required by a full family was just not offered by the extended pharmaceutical business models.
The Keylingo advantage. “With Keylingo,” says Braun, “we pretty much got all our initial ‘must have’ points met.” Founded in 2004 by mining businessman Fred Marx, Keylingo provides a full range of business translation services around the world. Selling primarily to $5 to $50 million-size clients, the company continues to recruit, vet, and train an expanding network of translator teams.
For franchisees like Seliger and Braun, this affords a solid service base with foreign project managers who know the linguistic nuances, the individual subject matter, and the newest communicative technologies. Neither speaks a foreign language, but neither has to. KeyLingo’s job is not to do the translating, it is to broker the translating.
“In the 1980s,” says Keylingo founder Marx, “a translator may have gotten a FedEx box of papers; in the 1990s it would have been a digital file. Nowadays hundreds of files come through on Quark, Framework, and a dozen different methods. You have to be able to work within them all.”
By selling a B2B service, the cost was right. The average Keylingo buy in for a franchisee is $55,000 to $75,000. The women were able to work with a specialized firm in procuring their 401k funds without incurring some venturist debt burden. With no hiring, no inventory, and no need for an outside office, the startup cash burn remains more of an ember than a bonfire.
Earlier this year the team journeyed to Atlanta to meet Fred Marx and his crew. They liked the man, approved of the operation, took the training, and put down the investment.
#b#Ramping up#/b#. Posting a sign “Will Translate for Food” scarcely sparks a commercial frenzy. Even though companies of all sizes are now reaching ever further abroad, many fear the expense and don’t see the necessity of a permanent translation relationship. Many try the electronic translators that have been so loudly touted in the press of late.
“Actually, the machine translators are fine as far as they go,” says Braun. “When you have a single E-mail that you just need to get the gist of, they’re O.K. But if you are training staff, or doing cross-cultural advertising, you need more. That’s why machines are only responsible for 1 percent of the translation market.”
Keylingo Translation Services of Princeton is reaching out with more subtly nuanced services required by marketing, advertising, litigation, high tech, in-person and phone translation, and business-to-vendor communications.
It is in this scientific and technical arena that the Braun/Seliger team is lining up the potential clients. Their massive business Rolodexes, compiled over decades, come into play.
Their most recent social media connections are abuzz with news of their new enterprise. Seliger ticks off a boggling list of local, regional, and state chambers of commerce, and other professional organizations they have joined and participate in actively.
Seliger and Braun are slated to exhibit in five new trade shows in upcoming months. “And, for now,” says Braun “our days are spent in an endless round of face-to-face meetings.”
It is hoped that as the client list grows longer, Braun will concentrate on business development, while Seliger handles the logistics of linking customers to foreign project managers and providing the required services.
Of course, nothing guarantees business success. It is possible that Esperanto, the universal language of the idealistic L.L. Zamenhof, may suddenly gain global favor. It is possible that we may encounter a political wave of conservatism so strong that nations miraculously cease to trade outside their borders.
But don’t bet on it. Where you might be a lot better wagering your investment is with the hustle and carefully planned, analytical business model of the founders of the new Keylingo Princeton.