Through crowdsourcing translations, Webflakes makes more international content available to English-only speakers

By Editor June 10, 2013

Webflakes logoA Q&A with Webflakes co-founder and CEO Nathan Shuchami. The San Francisco–based startup raised $3 million in Series A funding in early May. Investors include Orens Capital, Genesis Capital, Audible CEO Donald R. Katz, eBay CTO Mark Carges, Chegg co-founder Aayush Phumbhra and former GoDaddy CEO Warren Adelman. Webflakes takes international content and translates it for English-speaking readers through a network of translators. It was founded in 2012.

SUB: Please describe Webflakes and your value proposition.  

Shuchami: Webflakes is the ultimate go-to destination for English readers to discover the best international lifestyle content from around the globe. We aim to open a new world for English readers who love lifestyle and culture from around the world and have been prohibited from accessing that content due to language barriers. Webflakes features content from leading international bloggers and experts in topics such as fashion, wine, travel, food, and design, all translated from their native languages into English. While Webflakes launched focusing on lifestyle-related categories, the plan is to add other topics as well as expand our contributors beyond just bloggers.

We designed the site on a sleek and intuitive web-based platform that connects international bloggers to a crowd-sourced community of multilingual individuals who translate the content into English, thus helping to remove language barriers, allowing everyone to discover and enjoy a multitude of global perspectives all in one place.

SUB: Who are your target markets and users?

Shuchami: Webflakes approaches three distinct audiences: English readers, international writers, and bloggers and translators.

While we launched in the U.S., we target all English-speaking lifestyle enthusiasts—male and female—who spend leisure time online searching for content and have an interest in learning about international architecture, design, fashion, food and dining, relationships, travel, and wine straight from the source.

On the writers side, we are looking for bright and unique authors, trendsetters, and experts that have a unique and authentic point of view that reflects their local culture in the categories that are covered by Webflakes. We are currently focusing on writers from the following countries: France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Japan, Argentina and Peru. We will be featuring more countries and topics in the near future.

We also target passionate bilingual individuals who identify with our goal of freeing the Internet from language barriers, and are also interested in the lifestyle categories we feature as they act as the gate openers for us by translating the content into English. In return for their time and efforts, we donate $1 for every 500 words translated to a charity they choose from our list of charity partners.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Shuchami: In terms sites that offer international content translated into English, there are a handful of excellent websites that do this, including Global Voices, WorldCrunch, and Cafe Babel among others, but the content is focused on politics and news, not lifestyle, or very regional in the coverage.

SUB: What differentiates Webflakes from the competition?

Shuchami: In terms of the lifestyle websites, there are many English websites and blogs that feature lifestyle content. However, in almost all cases, the content is written by English writers and covers primarily the American culture, or is written by Americans covering culture abroad rather than locals covering their own culture. Webflakes is the only site providing unique and genuine content from the most authentic writers on those topics. We deliberately select verticals and categories where the origin of the author makes the content more authentic and more genuine compared to local writers—i.e. French experts on wine, Italian experts on architecture, Japanese bloggers on Japanese food and sake, etc. In addition, Webflakes is probably the only platform that matches international writers with a crowd-sourced community of volunteer translators to make this unique content available to the English readers.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Shuchami: The company was founded in January 2012, and the first step was launching a proof of concept that was focused on establishing the community of international writers and bloggers.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Webflakes? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Shuchami: It was more of an ‘aha’ moment. A conversation Webflakes’ co-founder had with a friend, who later became an investor and a board of directors member, around content accessibility led to the realization that cost overhead and the geo-targeting involved are barriers for many site owners, writers, and bloggers for getting their ‘knowledge’ shared globally. From the perspective of the content consumer—on the other hand—there is an overload of information and it’s often frustrating if you are trying to get to the source or locate the most authentic article on a certain topic. For example, if you want to read about French wine, many people around the world have an opinion, but if you want recommendations from wine enthusiasts in France, chances are you won’t be able to find them due to language barriers and search engine settings. Webflakes is designed to solve all of that. Therefore, we realized that geography is no longer an obstacle for communication and knowledge and that language is the last barrier. In addition, that discussion also led to the idea that a crowd-sourced, voluntarism type culture, similar to that of Wikipedia’s, can work in this case as well.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?

Shuchami: Just as each snowflake is unique in shape and size, so are the different opinions and perspectives of our bloggers. We’re collecting these different ‘flakes’: ideas, thoughts, viewpoints, etc. from around the web and pulling them into one place, and most importantly making them accessible to English readers.

SUB: You recently raised $3 million in Series A funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?

Shuchami: The proof of concept that was executed in 2012, i.e. getting the international bloggers on board, was very successful. In addition, the crowdsourcing and volunteering aspects of our community of translators, together with the real, tangible value we bring to the consumers made our case very attractive to the investors.

SUB: Do you have plans to raise more Venture funding in the near future?

Shuchami: Yes, our plan is to raise a Series B funding in mid-2014.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Shuchami: We encountered our most significant challenge thus far when we launched the bloggers’ proof of concept and approached the first bloggers. As no one had ever heard of Webflakes back then, and as we didn’t even have a website, the first few weeks were very frustrating and challenging.

SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Shuchami: Right now, as we are focusing on growing our readers’ community, the site is very clean and there are no advertisements featured. At some point in the future, we are planning to monetize our content, and share the revenues with all community members involved, including both bloggers and translators. Initial monetization ideas include content syndication with third party popular content sites, as well as placing focused ads on our website. Until then, we are planning to focus our efforts on growing our various communities.

SUB: What are your goals for Webflakes over the next year or so?

Shuchami: The company goal is to become a major hub for English readers to easily access authentic, unique, relevant, ‘from the source’ lifestyle content from bloggers around the world; passionate worldwide experts and trendsetters who want to reach a wider audience of English-reading followers; and bilingual individuals to help remove language barriers by utilizing their translation skills.

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