From service provider to strategic partner; localization leadership with Deliveroo

From service provider to strategic partner; localization leadership with Deliveroo

Around the world in 7 localization interviews 

Hello reader! This interview is part of the series around the world in 7 localization interviews, in which I’ll talk to the world’s top figures in localization and try to understand their businesses.

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Yngvild Troan, Localization Senior Manager @ Deliveroo

Yngvild Trøan is the Senior Localization Manager for Deliveroo, which is a food delivery marketplace; the UK’s answer to GrubHub.

Delivery marketplaces sit at the intersection of several bits of strategy theory. For example, they have solved the last-mile delivery problem through a real-time flexible supply of drivers available in large cities.  When you match drivers to restaurants to buyers successfully, you create a three-sided marketplace with a network effect. By reducing the capex burden for new restaurants, they are facilitating ghost kitchens

All of which is very interesting, but what really interested me about Yngvild, who goes by Iggy and takes on the work of translating the partner (restaurant) side of the Deliveroo product, was what she had done to change the way that businesses think about localization.

Some of the businesses we have interviewed for this playbook are huge and have enormous l10n departments (Shopify, Google). Others have just required deeper and earlier l10n because of a legal or financial product (Pleo, Ceridian).

But Iggy’s career credits include the younger businesses, like Deliveroo and [fitness membership startup] ClassPass. In relatively newer localization departments, Iggy has helped to drive the localization function from its inception to a strategic partner, helping to set the globalization agenda.

I was curious to hear how she had done that; and how she’d challenged expectations along the way. 

The localization team genesis story 

Most businesses localize from a place of pain, argued Iggy. 

‘The way that localization teams start existing is that the company decides to expand into a majority non-English market. They think, well in France, everyone speaks French – so we need to have this app available in French. Then they realize that it’s quite complex to keep control over the whole translation process and system. So they need somebody to overlook it.’

This seems like an extremely natural genesis story for a localization department. But it’s also one which creates challenges: the function becomes a sticking plaster for complexity created by another team. 

‘It’s very easy to get pulled into being this in-house translation agency,’ said Iggy. ‘Or a necessary evil at the end of a process. And then you’re doing something which is serving a purpose, but might not be adding deep value. I’m keen to position localization as a deep value, a competitive advantage. That’s what I’ve tried to deliver for Deliveroo.’

So here’s the playbook, a way of taking localization from a service provider – in this case a translation services provider – to a strategic partner. 

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Getting the department closer to a strategic localization department

1. Keep track of your ROI 

‘The first thing to do is just free up that time and create a strategy… where can we deliver the biggest return on investment?’ 

In addition to ROI, you should ‘run research and identify how much money we’re going to lose by not localizing,’ argued Iggy. The opportunity cost is huge. It would be super interesting to measure the difference between localization levels of a new non English speaking market – the impact of not localizing or translating any of the product… versus doing a little bit of the most basic translation, or doing a full trans creation with a deeper process about the brand and the UX with that market in mind.’

‘Unfortunately, that's not possible. What we can look at is the incremental sales and monthly active users before and after the different stages of localization. We know the costs of the translations we undertake and our own team time.’ 

To calculate your ROI, positive metrics can include incremental sales, SEO rankings, page views, conversion rates.  Negative metrics include external and internal costs. And it’s prudent to keep down that cost.

‘Part of an effective localization strategy is to minimize the amount which needs to be localized, argued Iggy. ‘You can definitely get to a level with too much complexity. We have this concept of globalization – your user experience should in theory be the same in every language we offer.’

‘In all our visuals, some content referred to currency… and English speakers in the UAE will be seeing content and they’re obviously going to be seeing [British] £ symbols. Obviously the best outcome would be to have one version of each language for each market. But then you have to ask – what is the cost of that complexity?’

2. Routinely investigate the "why" of metrics

It’s also possible to run localization as a strategic department in a way which is reactive; which responds to mixed existing metrics, argues Iggy.

‘Say we have a market where we’re experiencing a decrease in market share. It creates a great case for us to start investigating our competitors, and to understand what they’re offering that we’re not. There might also be something about the experience that’s different.’

‘We start running tests, trying to identify whether there’s something in the localization remit we’re not doing. What are the obvious missed opportunities? If we do this regularly, we can keep pitching the kinds of iterations which will improve our performance in non-english speaking markets, or even in English speaking markets.’

One way to run such tests would be with a crowd of professional testers who can return reviews of product issues in a 48 hour time window – this is the Global App Testing speciality. 

‘We try to implement sort of feedback loops,’ said Iggy, ‘as well to make sure that our local markets are being taken into account.’

3/ Persistently pitch to stakeholders

Once you have reactive metrics and a sense of the ROI enough to put together a proactive plan, you should begin pitching to the relevant stakeholders, argues Iggy.

Previously, ‘I’ve been at the end of decisions which had been made. But you know if I was like – oh, that’s really interesting, actually I have some data here on market X… that they do things this way, or do things that way, or have more issues with that feature.’

“The first time you do it, your stakeholder might be like – okay, but why are you telling me this?’ But in time, ‘they should come to see the value. But at first, you’ll need to push.’

The easiest way to influence stakeholders, argued Iggy, is to talk in the exact language they’re used to. ‘I think you need to identify the KPIs of your stakeholders, and help them to be successful eventually.’ 

‘That's the only way that you can start changing the attitude of your stakeholders as well – who might think about you as a contributor, or a necessary evil at the end of the process.’.

In practice, Iggy says, ‘the strategy needs to be aligned across the teams from above – including the localization team. This quarter you’re working towards X, next quarter Y, and so forth. So it’s tough to become an expert in one metric, or a particular goal, but if you’re serving cross functionally for the business, you need to identify the business goals you can have a genuine impact towards, rather than having separate business goals.’ 

Service provider? Or strategic partner?

The tension between localization as a strategic partner and localization as a service provider has been there in every interview I’ve conducted.

In fact, those words – “service provider” and “strategic partner” – are not Iggy’s words, or mine, but Francesca’s, the Head of Internationalization and Design Program Management at Pinterest. She had told me that when she joined a new team, one of her biggest challenges was to build their position as a strategic partner.

But that’s not the only approach. Diana, the Content Localization Lead at Pleo, treats her localization department as a service department but has refined it to an art. She is explicitly targeted on the time that localized releases take to reach the market, and uses an agile framework in a CI/CD cycle. The department has access to engineering resources, and they have achieved the standard of “continuous localization” for the Pleo product. 

Oleks, who had been hired to run localization at Ceridian, which was a payroll SaaS business – he found that localized product processes were happening already and that it would not be possible to build an insight team. Something like “German payroll” is just too specialized for him to add additional customer insight, and country managers were already doing the work. Instead, he defaulted to an i18n infrastructure role and actively advises on the technical work involved in localization. His observation was that l10n has become ‘observably more technical’ 

I asked Iggy about this. Why choose the strategic partner route? How did she know it was right for Deliveroo? 

‘I think that’s why it’s really important to set out what the goal is at the start of the localization program.’

‘We very much want [localization] to be more than just the translation, which is why it’s so crucial that we're based in the team that we are being able to work closely with put design as an influence, design, and content from an early stage, even at or even at  the product discovery stage.’

‘What is your goal with localization? What is your goal as a company? What is your localization strategy – your globalization strategy? ‘

‘I can certainly advise on that. But I think it needs to be coming from the top.’

Iggy felt that the very ambiguity of localization attracted people with leadership acumen. ‘You can quite easily be a localization manager and provide translations… and there’s also room for exploring going beyond the status quo.’

‘We’re always asking, how can we add more value? How can we make sure that we're spending our time on the task that will actually have an impact for the company? That’s how we think – we’re looking at growth and working to define ourselves as a team.’

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