“I regret that I didn’t stick with Spanish”
Gene Schriver is the CEO and founder of GLOBO, a translation services platform, considered one of the fastest growing Latino startups in the US.
Gene Schriver is a prominent Latino entrepreneur from Philadelphia. He is the CEO and founder of GLOBO, a B2B provider of translation technology and services, giving organizations the ability to communicate in any language, 24/7 through one simple platform.
Basically, GLOBO connects customers with translators around the world over the telephone, online, video and in-person. The calls could be coming from a call center serving a customer who doesn’t speak English or a hospital in Bangkok where a doctor needs to talk to a French-speaking tourist.
My mother is from Argentina and I still have a lot of family there. Her family moved to the U.S. when she was about 7 for a few years during the Peron era. She moved here permanently at age 21 after she met my father. I was born and raised in Philadelphia. My mother is an interpreter, and when I was in college she started her own language services business. As a baby I learned English and Spanish at the same time, but by the time I was of school age, speaking Spanish was frowned upon, and people of different backgrounds were teased. So I started to reject Spanish. I have a near-native accent, but I am not fluent. Now that I run a language tech company, I particularly regret that I didn’t stick with Spanish. I never felt “Latino”; I felt human.
These are exciting times in Philadelphia. I love seeing the city embracing its multicultural citizens, especially the Latino population. It seems natural for a metro area this large, plus Philadelphia was founded on the basis of religious and cultural tolerance. There has been a significant increase in the availability of media outlets for Spanish speakers. I’m sure this has to do with the city’s demographic, which speaks for itself, and having Comcast/NBC Universal headquartered in Philadelphia may raise the level of awareness.
There are numerous live events and entertainment for Latinos, but the current political climate has tampered the enthusiasm for such events recently. Last week, the CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce announced the cancellation of El Carnaval de Puebla, one of the nation’s largest Cinco de Mayo related festivals. According to Philly.com, he cited fears of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and sweeps hurting the event, regardless of whether attendees are in the U.S. legally or not. However anyone may feel about immigration issues, I think everyone likes a good Cinco de Mayo festival! It’s become a national event during my lifetime.
I never felt “Latino”; I felt human
I cannot be more emphatic about how important I believe it is to be bilingual, or even better, multilingual! Being bilingual is one of the best skills a person can bring into the workplace. As the population of the US becomes more diverse, it will become even more important. New companies will be built by entrepreneurs who are bilingual, new jobs will be created for bilingual employees.
Throughout my education, I consistently started clubs, bands, groups, etc. Outside of school when I was a boy, I would produce variety shows and events with neighborhood kids, and charge adults to watch. So I suppose I was always entrepreneurial in spirit. I’m not sure I knew where that would lead.
Being bilingual is one of the best skills a person can bring into the workplace
When I started practicing Law, I quickly realized that I wanted to be my business clients instead of a practicing attorney. My legal background has also been extremely helpful as an entrepreneur. I was always interested in languages, and picked them up quickly, but only after I got involved in the first dot-com era and subsequently started working with my mother did I attain a vision of where I thought this industry would go. We built Language Service Associates (LSA^, a translation services company) from a small business to a significant one. I wanted to become a tech company.
Aside from other typical family-business issues, not everyone felt the same way, at least to the degree I wanted to develop it. It took a few years to really develop and launch our platform at GLOBO.
When I founded GLOBO, the language services industry was (and still is) littered with mom-and-pop shops with little business sophistication. Rare was a language service provider that could deliver every communication service a business needed. Even rarer was a company that viewed these services as the means to penetrating new markets and driving new business.
I realized that companies had greatly underestimated the number of people who have limited proficiency in English and, subsequently, they had not planned how they would interact with a large portion of population which did not speak English. That was the situation I wanted to address with my company. I also wanted to give large organizations a way to manage multilingual communications at a senior management level, with visibility into how their companies were interacting with diverse linguistic populations through data and analytics.
I have actually completed my tenure on the board at Villanova, but I keep my finger on the pulse of the tech and startup ecosystem in Philadelphia. It’s a fantastic environment for budding entrepreneurs. Lots of great schools, smart people, the infrastructure and culture of a big city, and a completely reasonable cost of living. Those are good ingredients for a thriving business environment. You can get by on very little in Philadelphia, but you’re still in the middle of an incredible city. You can’t do that in New York or San Francisco without deep pockets. If you want visibility and an endless pool of talent and money, you still may want to have a presence in those two cities - they are amazing cities but, they are expensive and attract people for a reason. I’d choose Philadelphia over and over again if given the chance.
There is needs to more infrastructure supporting all entrepreneurs. The area needs more opportunities for connecting good ideas to investors plus more network events for brainstorming and cross pollination of ideas. All entrepreneurs would benefit from more crossover opportunities.
I have read some positions that lawyers make great CEOs. That is not to say I am a great CEO, but I can see the reasoning behind that assertion. I didn’t love the day-to-day practice of law, but law school made me a better thinker, decision-maker, writer and speaker. And I made some of the best friends I will ever have in law school, so I wouldn’t trade that experience for business school. I still wish I got some of the knowledge that comes with business school, however. I am still learning to understand financial statements at a deep level. But I was never good at math, which is probably why I went to law school anyway.
Law school helps entrepreneurs to have a systematic approach to growing a business which I found valuable. It also teaches you to dot your I’s and cross your T’s. Whether a person goes to Business School or Law School, the important takeaway is growing their personal network as that is key in becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Philadelphia is a fantastic environment for budding entrepreneurs
I will never bet against technology - what we have accomplished through technology in the last decade alone is astounding. However, there are three components of an interpreted conversation, for example, that are required to be quite good and, currently, the technology does not work for those three components. Speech-to-text technology is not there yet (as you can test just by using Siri), machine translation isn’t there yet (as you can test by trying Google translate for any important message), and text-to-speech isn’t there yet (just listen to any IVR customer service system). And those technologies are being developed by companies like Apple and Google with the most resources on the planet. String them all together in order to interpret a conversation, and it’s still quite messy, and I don’t see that replacing humans in the next several years at least.
Some tech pundits believe tech may be able to achieve something meaningful in this space by around 2030. Additionally, even if the tech did exist, organizations will have to make the decision to allow their customers to communicate with bots. That might be okay in text form, but it makes for an awful verbal conversation.
What the future holds, I believe, is a concept called “communication platform as a service.” All content (text, talk, data, video or live stream) will merge and converge. In GLOBO we give organizations the ability to access six channels of service through this platform, including on-demand via voice and video, chat translation, project based translation, face-to-face interpreter scheduling, and transcreation/marketing adaptation - in 250 languages. While we built technology to deliver these services, professional interpreters and translators are actually performing the work. That means businesses can connect to best-in class linguists for interpreting, translating and transcreation instantly so they can communicate immediately with their customers, patients and constituents.
GLOBO has grown a lot since our founding. Last year, Inc. magazine ranked GLOBO as the fastest growing company in the Philadelphia area and 118th overall on the annual Inc. 5000|500. We had a three year sales growth of 2844%. I expect we will continue to push the boundaries for our industry, and expect our largest gross year-over-year revenue increase ever in 2017.
Seeing my team grow and thrive every day is the best. I adore the people I work with more than I can put into words. Seeing the technology work and get validated by the market makes all the days where I wondered where the next mortgage payment would come from seem like it a distant memory, but the lessons on running lean have not faded. The worst part is ever feeling like you have disappointed anyone (so I maniacally do my best not to)!
I would tell entrepreneurs to focus on solving a problem. Do not worry about becoming a unicorn, or the next Google or anything like that. Simply solve a problem and you will be a success. Dream big and crazy, but start by keeping it simple and solving that ONE issue.