Growing up, Justin Custer’s family moved often, introducing him to many different cultures at an early age. In high school, he learned a second language and began to realize the benefits of understanding different perspectives.
At university, Justin studied engineering and interned with French and German companies. His professional experiences fostered his interest in an international lifestyle. After graduating, he worked with Accenture for 5 years in 9 countries, helping global organizations solve complex problems. Often, these problems involved many languages, and resulted in complex, expensive workarounds.
Now at 29, Justin has traveled to 35 countries and worked in 11 of them. He experienced the challenges of language barriers personally and has designed professional solutions such as ChatLingual. You can reach Justin via Twitter @thinkjc. Learn more about him and ChatLingual with us below:
What was your inspiration for ChatLingual?
My impetus to build ChatLingual developed from a few things, though it was ultimately was inspired by a lifestyle I wanted to live. I wanted to run a company, and the quickest way to do that seemed to be starting my own. I had some experience in software development, and decided an internet company made sense.
At ChatLingual’s inception, I was living in Buenos Aires with two close friends who are ambitious entrepreneurs. Many late night chats led to a few business ideas that seemed to make sense on paper.
While researching their market potential, I took a trip to Panama. Through a series of events, I tried talking with someone who didn’t speak English, German or Spanish and thought: “This is dumb. It’s 2012. Language shouldn’t be a barrier.” That moment motivated me to build ChatLingual.
What is ChatLingual?
At the highest level, we’re on a mission to challenge convention. For now, we’ve decided to focus on the barrier of language.
ChatLingual is an instant messaging platform that enables you to communicate with anyone, anywhere regardless of language. Imagine chatting with someone, always reading and typing in English – it’s easy. The person you’re chatting with thinks the same thing, only she’s reading and typing to you in Japanese.
We’re excited about ChatLingual. We also know that chat is only the beginning. Taking that a step further, we’ve built a platform to improve machine translations by crowdsourcing feedback from our users.
Right now our team is focused on product – building one our customers love. ChatLingual doesn’t require annoying downloads, people can sign up via Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, and we support group conversations, translating up to 5 languages simultaneously. ChatLingual enables people to communicate across languages more efficiently than in our entire human history.
How do you see CL influencing global collaboration?
Many of the challenges discouraging global collaboration have already been solved. We’re able to communicate with anyone anywhere for a relatively low cost. I propose that our next biggest hurdle is language.
The approach most people take is to simply avoid talking with someone who doesn’t speak their language. If you only speak English, how often do you communicate with someone who doesn’t? It’s tough to do and fairly inefficient.
ChatLingual makes it efficient, and opens opportunities to share ideas in ways that haven’t been explored, especially on a global scale.
In the near term, we see some straightforward applications, such as enabling cross-language communication for businesses, nonprofits and travelers. We’re excited for that, and we’re also excited for the long term potential:
Can we improve business operating strategy? What if people could collaborate with anyone in their company, regardless of what language they speak?
Will ChatLingual help provide a better understanding of international events? What if anyone could connect directly with someone in Syria who only speaks Arabic?
Can we help NGOs make the world a better place? What if we can make it easier to sort out logistics and project planning before teams arrive to aid a foreign country?
Until recently, instant cross-language collaboration wasn’t a realistic option. Now, it is.
What are your target markets
Knowledge transfer and internal communication. Consider the merger of an American company recently acquired by a Brazilian company, or a fashion designer in Copenhagen who can now collaborate with suppliers in China and her sales associate in France.
Organizations with more than one voice, like Médecins Sans Frontières, Rotary Club and the United Nations have millions of people all over the world working together for one cause. The challenge now is that communication is limited to those who speak the same languages.
English seems to be the common language for travel. Non-native English speakers travel to foreign lands and both both parties attempt to communicate in broken English. The conversations are short, questions aren’t asked and great recommendations become lost in translation.
What are the applications for CL in social media (ex. A Small World (aSW), Couchsurfing)?
Firstly, I love www.CouchSurfing.org and the fact that they’re now registered as a b-corp. We want to use ChatLingual to help make the world a better place, and are looking at models like CouchSurfing that can meet our needs.
Being able to understand someone who doesn’t speak your language instantly is still an emerging concept. Facebook is now offering this through their use of Microsoft Bing, which is fantastic. The reality though is that people need a reason to want to connect with people who speak a different language. If you don’t speak that persons language, how do you know you want to connect with them in the first place?
The biggest submarket in the social networking space will be travelers and expat communities. These groups have similar interests; they want to connect.
Conversations within global, private social networks, such as InterNations and A Small World usually take place in English. Though many will understand English at some level, most people are far from fluent and would prefer to communicate in their native language. Enabling that will create a more engaging experience and increase participation.
Your company, Social Media Week is also a great example. Last year, I believe you had more than 60,000 people speaking at least 9 different languages, all coming together for the same reasons. I am curious to know how many of those people collaborated across languages, and how ChatLingual would have helped improve results.
What are some of the challenges?
In the near term, we see three major challenges: connecting with our early adopters, managing user expectations, and continually improving translations.
In learning to speak a language, it can take a year of living in the country to become conversational, three to become proficient and fifteen to learn every nuance. Many people who speak another language fall between the conversational and proficient range, which is enough to feel comfortable, but far from understanding everything.
ChatLingual provides a far better experience than that. Our early adopters are tech saavy and understand that proficient translations will meet their needs. Now, we just have to connect with them.
Helping users understand how to get the most of our services will also be challenging. Many users approach ChatLingual by typing the same way they would to their friends, using slang, colloquialisms and idioms. We are focused on enhancing natural language translation; until then, the best experiences will be through proper grammar and vocabulary learned in the classroom.
ChatLingual crowd-sources feedback for future translations. We are focused on improving the quality of translation, and translating more natural language. Another challenge will be designing an experience that encourages users to provide relevant translations, and engaging people who are as passionate about we are about removing the barrier of language.
Can you provide me with some use cases?
Imagine a billion dollar US-based company is acquired by a Brazilian enterprise. ChatLingual can dramatically improve knowledge transfer, reducing costs of the merger. Additionally, ChatLingual can enable more integrated operations and help build a better connected company culture.
A multinational nonprofit has decided to eradicate a treatable disease. Members are located in many countries throughout the world, and are all working together towards the same cause. The challenge is that many of the members speak different languages, and collaborating is highly limited to others who also speak the same language. In effect, any one person may only be able to communicate with 10% of the nonprofit, significantly limiting their ability to deliver the most effective results.
University students in France and Italy are interested in studying the technologies associated with autonomous vehicles. Students at Stanford have findings they’d like to share. With ChatLingual, the three groups could collaborate in real-time, each typing and reading in their native language.
When do you launch?
We’re live now!
Feel free to check us out at www.ChatLingual.com!