From A Passion For Languages To A Multinational Firm
The Story Of Sean Hopwood, Founder Of Day Translation
How can someone take his passion for languages and build a multinational translation agency? In this interview you will find out what passion and determination can do together. You will listen to the story of Sean Hopwood, founder and CEO of the translation agency Day Translation. In the interview he speaks about his passion for languages and for providing his clients with an exceptional service. He describes the technology used for language services and how he was able to retain a human nature in a highly technological environment. He describes how he was able to put together a team that is located throughout the globe and how they can work together from different countries for a common mission: helping people around the world communicating more effectively, in any language.
I hope you enjoy the interview!
Chiara: Hi everyone, I’m Chiara and you are on Translator Thoughts. Today I am going to interview the president and CEO of DayTranslations, a global translation agency with branches in New York, Houston, Washington DC, Dubai and London. I’d like to welcome Mr Sean Hopwood.
Sean: Thank you very much, good day.
Chiara: Thank you very much for being here today, it’s a real pleasure for me. I have so many questions I’d like to ask you so let’s get started. The first thing I wanted to know is how would you describe the essence of Day Translations?
Sean: Thank you very much. Day Translation is a company that I founded 6 years ago. It is a translation and interpreting company but it is branched out into a lot of other things. It was founded by me, and I am someone with a passion for culture and languages. Other companies are founded by more technical people who know how to make a website and things like that. I understand how to make a website and all the technical aspects but by my essence I am a translator and an interpreter. A lot of our employees and people who work with me understand and respect me as a CEO because I have been a translator and an interpreter myself. So it is founded with a passion for languages. I personally speak fluently 4 languages and 2 other languages with varying levels of fluency, but it’s something that I am extremely passionate about and that’s what I love to do.
Chiara: What were the types of translation services that launched the company?
Sean: It first started that I was unemployed and I started doing translations on my own. I would actually go door to door to different companies asking them if they needed translation and I would also go on classifieds like Craiglist and other in the Tampa Bay area asking people if they needed translation and luckily I found a few clients. My first client was a church. I went to the church and they needed all their pamphlets translated into Spanish, they needed their liturgies and all their church documents translated into Spanish because they had a big Spanish contingent at their services. So I translated their documents into Spanish, then I started getting more clients. I got a franchising company and that was my first experience with technical translation because they wanted me to translate a machine that makes crepes into Spanish. The translation took me about a month to do, I did a lot of research and there I learned how to do a technical translation. So trough all these things, learning how to do translation myself, I started to hire and train other translators to work with me and therefore, since I had the experience and I started the translation myself I could train the new employees exactly the way I wanted them to translate. That’s why our translation has always been very human, very detail oriented because I am a translator myself and I trained them myself. It started that way from the ground up and all the translators who work for us had that same training.
Chiara: And what kind of other services do you offer now?
Sean: We offer different services and these have come by necessity. I first started thinking we would do translation for people who need translation but then people called and they needed their document certified and people needed immigration documents translated for visa so then we started to do certified translation and then after doing certified translation people would need an apostille on their document sometimes when they would need a document translated for a different country. So then I had to learn what an apostille is. And then people would ask me simply if we do subtitles and voice overs and if we do interpreting for immigration and I would never say no to these clients so by necessity and people asking for new services we would just offer the new services so that’s how we got to do all these different services that we do now, like subtitling, voice over, certified translation, legalization for different countries. It’s all done by necessity. Anything that is within the realm of translation and languages we do that because we never turn down a client. As long as it has to do with languages and translation we do it.
Chiara: Sure. So how has technology helped to improve your business? Because I guess all the services that you offer require a lot of technology like subtitling, I know for sure, but translation as well like CAT tools, proofreading tools….how has this technology helped you to improve the business?
Sean: Technology has helped a lot. I have always been fascinating with technology. I originally wrote the original website myself with basic HTML. Now with the development of technology, with PHP, and different kind of website technology we have learned to make a better website. For example organizing and categorizing our interpreters has been extremely helped by technology because now I have helped create a database that categorizes all of our interpreters by their language and their location. When someone calls us and for example they need a French interpreter in Phoenix, Arizona, or they need an Arabic interpreter in Moscow we have all of them categorized and we can look them up quickly and dispatch an interpreter in any city in the world. So these databases and things like this have really helped to launch the business to the next level. And for subtitling we use subtitling technology. I have a manager for that department. The same thing for voice over. People used to have to go to voice recording studio to record perfect voice over but for a lot of our voice overs we have purchased high-end microphones that you can use from your actual laptop and it sounds almost or just as good as recording from voice recording studio. So all these different aspects of technology…I had to learn and implement this kinds of technology. One of the biggest usage of technology that we have is for the conference interpreting that we do. We have to have booths, we have to have special wiring, microphones and speakers, all the audio-visual technology and equipment in order to perform this conference interpretation. There are so many different aspects, it’s kind of overwhelming but it’s also fun and challenging.
Chiara: With all this technology, what is the key to retaining a human nature in such a technological environment?
Sean: like you said there are CAT tools, Computer Assisted Translation tools. Those tools have often, in my opinion, taken away from the humanistic approach. I’ve often told our employees “don’t use CAT tools!” unless it is a translation for a computer program where you know there are a lot of repeated parts in the translation because it is often hard to find all the repeated parts. But there are a lot of things that we do in order to ensure that things are done in a very human way. For example when you call our company you’ll never get a waiting robotic answering service you’re always going to have a human answering the phone. So we use technology in all the parts where technology is necessary. That way I can focus all of our employee workforce on using the skills that they have best to bring a human approach to the client. That way we are not wasting time doing things that technology can solve. We are focusing all of our effort on customer service and helping he clients. We have a lot of reviews online and most of them say “I can’t believe that an actual human answered the phone and they helped me out”. We have a very humanistic way of approaching things, and that’s one thing that I am very proud of.
Chiara: I can really tell that customer service is the top priority right?
Sean: Yes. Customer service and also service to our employees. I actually have an equal balance between the two. I think that you have to respect your employees and treat them like gold and also treat your clients like gold. I think if you treat them both equally then it’s going to reflect well on the company. Especially if your employees are happy they are going to be respectful and nice to the clients.
Chiara: That’s brilliant! Actually let’s talk a little bit about your employees, about your team. Like many companies today your team is positioned throughout the globe. How do you ensure the successful functioning of this type of personnel model?
Sean: As I was saying we have a lot of good reviews from our clients we also have good reviews on websites like Glassdoor, where employees actually review a company so we always try to ensure employee satisfaction. People are positioned throughout the glob because we have an office in London, we have an office in Dubai, we have an office in Frankfurt Germany, and also we have 8 offices in the United States. And what we do is that we have checks and bounces that I have put in place and managers for each region and each department.
11.00 – Like any company we have a management team or a manager for each department. And that’s something that has been really hard for me to do because as a manager when you start the company yourself you have to learn to delegate things to other people and you have to find people that you can trust, that you can manage and keep track of things. For example for our translation department we have a managers who manages all the project managers. We have a manager in day-time and a manager at night-time. They make sure that all of the project managers understand how to speak with the clients, how to quote the clients and stuff like that. Then we have a manager for the IT department. We have a manager for the accounting department. This has been a long process but I eventually found people who are willing and able to take on the responsibility to manage others that is something really important.
12.00 With regards to the fact that most of them are online, we have produced daily reports and weekly reports about the work that they’ve done, and they have certain goals and benchmarks that they have to reach. Often we evaluate them upon their ability to reach those benchmarks. With people working online managers can be scared because you can’t observe them you cannot monitor them and so you’re wondering if they’re actually doing their work. That can be a drawback but some of the positive things are that you know, if you have an office environment where people are all working in the same office and they’re all gossiping and chatting with each other that’s another drawback. So when they are not working together they don’t have the same level of talking back and forth. So there is some positive and some negative to it. You take the positive and you try to accentuate those things. These are some of the things that I think are important to managing people all around the world. And also the cultures, I love the cultures. I believe that cultural diversity is one of the most important things to making a company really strong.
13.21 – We have people representing every culture, religion, race at our company. I personally believe that makes us stronger because you have different opinion and they all learn how to work together. I taught acceptance of other people culture, accentuating the good things about their cultures and that’s one of the things that I love so much because I am really passionate about cultures. We have people from Middle East, from Africa, from Europe, from South America, North America and Canada and all these different countries and regions working at our company. It’s something I am really proud of, I really love it.
Chiara: that’s fantastic actually.
14.08 – What are the attributes in your opinion of an exceptional translator?
Sean: Like I said, I was a translator myself so I definitely know these things. One of the most important things is professionalism. I don’t know if you want me to talk about interpreters or translators?
Chiara: Well, the two roles have a lot of similarities. My question is, for example, does a history of travel or living abroad have an impact? I think that if a person has lived abroad for a long time for example, this can positively affect his work.
Sean: Yes, it is always a good thing if they travel in my opinion. But professionalism is at two different level for an online translator and an interpreter. For an interpreter, if you interpret in person, you have to be dressed professionally, you have to be well-groomed, and you have to be very professional in the way you interpret. In the United States is becoming more and more important because they recently passed laws where they said that you must have a certified interpreter in order to interpret in hospitals or a legal environment because they often would have their friends or family members interpret and that causes a lot of problems because they would actually put in their own information, add or subtracting or try to give their own advice during the interpretation, while any professional interpreter knows that you have to speak as if you are the clients. They know they have to speak in first person, don’t add or subtract any information. You just conduit for that person speaking a different language. That’s often hard for some people to understand but you don’t add or subtract anything, you don’t speak in the third person and say “he said this” or “she said this”. You just say directly what the client says, exactly what who you are interpreting for is saying. So that’s one really important thing for interpreters.
16.16 For translators is also important to be very detail oriented, because you can be translating a document the whole day and you might think it’s perfect but you have to step back away from it and give yourself time to walk around, take a break and then come back and proofread the document. You always are going to find mistakes that you did. You can be a perfect translator and in your mind you think you’ve translated it perfectly. You have to have detail orientation and you have to have the patient to do that before you turn in the document. One thing that all translators are going to understand is the respect for deadline. You probably get a lot of companies saying “this has to be done by this deadline” and they are pushing you, pushing you to get something done by certain deadline and you have to stay up late just in order to get it done. The translator have to understand that the clients often are under deadlines too so we need to get those things done under a certain amount of time.
(17.25) So professionalism, respect for deadlines and also a deep understanding of two languages is extremely important. Like you said, travelling is really important. There is another thing that is not necessary but it is a big plus: living in the country of the language you are translating into. That is a big plus. If you are translating into French, I think it is very advantageous if you are living in France or another French speaking country because you are always surrounded by the language. It could be little nuances, new words, slang or just things that you might forgive if you are not living in that country so I think that being in the language, being surrounded by the culture is really good so we often try to make sure that our translators are living in those countries, especially for the Arabic language. We prefer them to live in an Arabic speaking country and this is often because the keyboard is very different. Either we have to make sure that they have the correct keyboard or that they live in an Arabic speaking country where most of the keyboards have the Arabic letters on them.
Chiara: (17.55) I really have to ask you: where does this passion for languages come from?
Sean: Yes, I am definitely passionate about languages. I have always tried to figure it out myself. For example, a little bit through my family. I don’t know my father. He is from Europe, he is from Lithuania and from what I understand he spoke a lot of different languages. So that’s something that I have always been keen to understand, that side of my family. I have always had this desire to learn languages. Even when I was little I lived in a neighbourhood with a lot of Mexicans. They would always be speaking Spanish and I always wanted to understand what they were saying. So when I was about 7 years old I bought a lot of tapes of Mexican singers, Mexican comedians. I went to the market and I would buy these tapes and I would listen to them all day and all night. So I started to understand the Spanish language and when I got into the 8th grade I formally took Spanish. By that time I was getting known for my linguistic abilities and my passion for languages. So when I got to high school it became kind of my identity. Everyone would say “That’s Sean, he’s very good at languages”. When people say you’re good at something it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They’re telling you you’re good and then you become even better. Then I decided to take French in High School, then I took Arabic in college, and then it became a really integral part of my identity. I became passionate about it and people recognize that and this made me feel like learning even more languages. That’s why I took German 1 and 2 last year because even though I am graduated from college I still have this passion in learning languages.
Chiara: Good, that’s brilliant. I think with this we close our interview because we already spoke about a lot of topics. I’d really like to thank you once again for your time and for sharing your experience with us and I really wish you the best for your business!
Sean: Ok, I appreciate you interviewing me and giving me the opportunity to speak about all these things that I am passionate about. I also wish you a lot of success in writing about languages and everything that you do.
Chiara: Thank you very much.
Sean: You’re welcome.