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.
If you would like to get notified when new interviews are published, or get the final ebook compiling their advice, with commentary and analysis on the trends we are seeing with customers using our localization service, you can sign up below.
Ten markets in ten months: Diana Georgieva, Senior Localization Manager at Pleo
How do you launch in ten markets in ten months? For most businesses there’s a simple answer: you can’t. But for Pleo, the business spending solution valued at $4.7bn, that was their 2022 – an odyssey which began in January and ended in November.
Diana Georgieva is the Senior Localization Manager at Pleo, and leads a localization team of six to deliver localized content for the rest of the business. Hired in 2021, she has been responsible for the enormous operational effort to support the launch.
‘At the beginning of the year we were available in five markets and four languages, and then by the end of that market expansion journey we were available in 16 markets, with ten languages,’ explained Diana. ‘It was one market per month, sometimes two.’
I wanted to understand how Pleo had undertaken this remarkable achievement.
How did you do ten markets in ten months?
How did they know that ten markets in ten months would be operationally manageable, I asked. Diana laughed.
‘To be quite frank, I think that the original plan was 15,’ she said. ‘We were ambitious… we knew we wanted to grow. We had done the research. Before you get to localization there’s considerations around compliance, around product/market fit, and we’d done that homework.’
The key to managing that pace, she said, was that the launches were not spaced evenly – they accelerated as the playbook refined, right up until November.
‘The first market took us seven weeks, and then the last one took us three,’ said Diana. The savings came from ‘a ready playbook, a core asset list, and all the dedicated resources frontloaded… having glossaries and style guides prepared.’
Diana had come to the conclusion that localizing fewer things, to a higher standard, is better. ‘I prioritized an MVP of localization based on what we had produced. So the apps, the website, the most popular landing pages, the most popular help centre articles,’ she said.
They have “team goals” at Pleo: speed, scale, quality. And even though the focus that year had been “scale”, quality was what mattered, argued Diana. You had to be vigilant.
‘It’s a very, very tight schedule. You might be looking into taking shortcuts to make [a launch happen] which would compromise quality in the long run, and cause you problems when you mature.’.
‘We worked with external language service providers… but we have internal people at Pleo who know what we stand for, who know our brand tone of voice, and who quality check on that material – so they set some time aside from their business schedules to help out.’
This process of corralling people across departments wasn’t too bad.
‘We were quite fortunate that we have a very strong company culture at Pleo, and we have a lot of people that are very interested… and very proud of bringing Pleo to their home country.’ That meant that so far at least, Pleo has been able to check every word.
We help localization teams reduce time to market and grow in new and existing markets for Meta, Canva, BBC, TripAdvisor and many more.
A growth business, growing
Pleo has around 850 employees. ‘When I started, we were a little less than 300 people. I started working on the function, and hiring for the team…. So I think there was a lot of focus on that in H1 [the first half] of 2022. We were fortunate to attract a lot of candidates.’
“Our learning is that not all qualified candidates can thrive in [a scale-up] condition. You need people have the right mindset, who are very comfortable with ambiguity, and building the process as we go along.’
I asked whether it was possible to imagine a “finished” team. What does the final localization function look like?
‘If you ask the engineers’, said Diana, everything will be automated, and there will be no longer need for us. So that's kind of the end goal for engineering.’
But on the marketing side Diana wanted more people. ‘If we talk about deeper localization rather than purely translating content, we can also look at writers, copywriters, and all of that. I would love to have dedicated in-house specialists.’
The purpose of a team is outcome, not headcount, pointed out Diana. So I asked her what she’d want the specialists to manage.
To take marketing as an example, ‘theoretically Pleo has one brand tone of voice. But that changes in the different locales to an extent – to fit the local market expectation. In Denmark, we’re very direct. We can also leverage a lot of the content written in English, because there’s a high level of English language proficiency.
In France & Germany, we localize everything totally. In France, we tweak the language to make it more formal. The playful tone of voice that our brand has in English, just doesn’t resonate with the personas we’re after in France.’
‘How do we make sure that we go beyond translation of the content? We can go deeper, use more local examples.’
‘We can go deeper,’ said Diana.
From marketing to product
Diana had previously worked as a localization marketing manager, but she had arrived in a product-first organization taking a product-style approach.
‘So something new for me with joining a product organization. I've previously worked a lot in global marketing.’
‘We have over 200 engineers’ at Pleo, said Diana. ‘They are all shipping features continuously, we follow CI/CD, [continuous integration / continuous deployment.]’
‘We’re dedicated to serving the rest of the engineering part of the organization, so making sure that when an engineer in another department is preparing to launch features, it’s super straightforward to request localization for their feature.’
The challenge was removing localization as a bottleneck. ‘localization, which is oftentimes at the end of the development cycle… to stop that bottleneck and have it within the development cycle. I have to say this is one of the things that I'm very, very proud of.’
The continuous localization process delivered by Pleo enabled engineers to request localization directly from the developer environment. Then the process is automatically split into tasks, sent to a translation agency, sent to reviewers, and merged back in.
Besides the product focus, was there differences between this role and Diana’s last? She’d previously been a localization marketing manager at a large multinational bank.
Regulation has been a bigger issue, Diana recalls. After all, Pleo is only in the UK and EU so far.
‘We had a much larger global footprint. Whenever we had to deal with APAC, for instance, there was a lot of local regulations.’
‘We could not mention certain trading instruments – very common instruments like CFDs [contracts for difference] in Hong Kong’ even when they were among the most commonly traded instruments in Europe. ‘So we needed to be extremely careful about having those mentions and rephrasing lots of the material.
‘Both workplaces have been similar in pace, and learning… but in a startup to scaleup you’re building things from scratch. It’s a good thing that you don’t have a legacy you need to maintain, but it can be challenge.’
Since her previous role, said Diana, she’d become ‘a lot more data driven…. and now I’m responsible for all the content – across products, commercial content, ads… So the role is bigger, and has more ground to cover.’
Enjoying the article? Browse more interviews below
At one market per three weeks, a business could launch in 17 further markets over 2023.
‘Market conditions have changed,’ pointed out Diana. ‘Now we’re focused on sustainable growth. Going deeper into a portion of the markets that we’ve found product / market fit with, doing more localization work there – that’s the new focus.’
The internal focus has changed, too. ‘Last year our focus was on scale…. And this year, we’re focusing on speed. How do we make the turnaround time for [localization changes] as fast as possible?’
Ultimately the role is about delivering a great product.
‘Nobody enters receipts in their free time. The majority of people do not love typing in expenses and attaching photographs of their receipts. So we want to make sure people have a nice time when doing this tedious work, and that it’s done in an efficient manner… you have to make sure that it’s easy.’
Remove Localization bottlenecks in your organization