Lilt, a provider of AI-powered business translation software, today announced that it raised $55 million in a Series C round led by Four Rivers, joined by new investors Sorenson Capital, CLEAR Ventures and Wipro Ventures. The company says that it plans to use the capital to expand its R&D efforts as well as its customer footprint and engineering teams.
“Lilt [aims to] build a solution that [will] combine the best of human ingenuity with machine efficiency,” CEO Spence Green told TechCrunch via email. “This new funding will … [reduce our] unit economics [to make] translation more affordable for all businesses. It will also [enable us to add] a sales team to our existing production team in Asia. We are in three regions — the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia — and look to have both sales and production teams in each of these regions.”
San Francisco, Calfornia-based Lilt was co-founded by Green and John DeNero in 2015. Green is a former Northrop Grumman software engineer who later worked as a research intern on the Google Translate team, developing an AI language system for improving English-to-Arabic translations. DeNero was previously a senior research scientist at Google, mostly on the Google Translate side, and a teaching professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
“15 years ago, I was living in the Middle East, where you make less money if you speak anything other than English. I have never been exposed to that kind of disparity before and the disadvantage was extremely frustrating,” Green told TechCrunch. “I then returned to the States, went to grad school and started working on Google Translate, where I met [DeNero]. Our mission is to make the world’s information accessible to everyone regardless of where they were born or which language they speak.”
To translate marketing, support and e-commerce documents and webpages — Lilt’s principal workload — Lilt uses a combination of human translators and tools including hotkeys, style guides and an AI translation engine. Green says that the platform supports around 40 languages and offers custom term bases and lexicons, which show translators a range of possible translations for a given word.
The aforementioned AI engine, meanwhile — which is regularly trained on fresh data, including feedback from Lilts translators — analyzes translation data to make recommendations. But the translators have the final say.
“AI and machine learning are helping automating the process around enterprise translation, but you can’t automate it all — that’s why we are a human-in-the-loop process,” Green said. “We are leaving creative and emotional elements of translation to humans while automating the tedious and repetitive elements. This helps with the unit economics of our business and allows for businesses to apply translation across all customer touch points.”
Using Lilt’s platform, customers can assign translators and reviewers, track due dates and keep tabs on ongoing translation job progress. After signing an annual contract with Lilt, customers can use the service’s API and connectors to funnel text for translation from platforms including Slack, WordPress, GitHub, Salesforce, Zendesk and Adobe Marketing Cloud.
Translators are paid a fixed hourly rate, negotiated individually. They must earn at least $20 for rendering “linguistic services” through the platform to cash out, which can include review as well as translation. Lilt tracks hours automatically, counting only time spent actively translating and reviewing content and not time spent conducting external research beyond Lilt’s standard work limits (30 seconds for translation per segment and 50 seconds for review per segment).
A robust market
According to a recent Salesforce survey, the average consumer now uses ten channels — including social media and SMS — to communicate with businesses. Yet the average company supports relatively few languages, with a July 2020 study from Stripe finding that 74% of European e-commerce websites hadn’t translated their checkout pages into local languages.
This is where Green sees opportunity, despite competition from rivals like Unbabel. Grand View Research anticipates the machine translation market will be worth $983.3 million by 2022.
Already, Lilt — which has a workforce of over 150 people — claims to have customers in Intel, Emerson, Juniper Networks and Orca Security and others across the education, crypto, technology, defense and intelligence sectors. “It’s only becoming more vital to ensure an end-to-end multilingual customer experience,” Green added.
Existing investor Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, Redpoint Ventures and XSeed Capital also participated in Lilt’s Series C round. It brings the startup’s total capital raised to $92.5 million.