SaaS Founder Interview with Heather Shoemaker, Founder of Language I/O
Andy Halko 0:03
Hey everybody, it is the tech founder show here at in Cydia. I’m alone today Tony is sick and has a little case of COVID. And so he’s not with us today. But I am excited for today’s show, I have a great guest to talk to. It’s Heather Shoemaker, of language IO. And they provide fortune 500, with breakthrough lead to break through language barriers for global customer support. So it’s gonna be a really fun conversation. If you’ve got questions, please add them into the chat. And let’s bring Heather on now. Hey, Heather, how are you doing?
Heather Shoemaker 0:45
Good. Andy, thank you so much for having me today. I’m excited to be here.
Andy Halko 0:49
Same, we’re really excited to have you. So I think the first place to start is the letter audience though a little bit about language IO. What does it do? Who’s it for?
Heather Shoemaker 1:00
Well, actually, you did a great elevator pitch for language I am. In a nutshell, we we sell technology that empowers companies to use their existing customer support team, often monolingual English only customer support team to provide customer support in any language. And we do that through a unique proprietary technology that we can dive into today. If if you want to.
Andy Halko 1:26
Yeah, that’s great. And so the thing that I always want to hear to start this out, as you know, how’d you get here? What’s the origin story? You know, where were you before and what got you into creating this company?
Heather Shoemaker 1:40
Sure. So I’ve always loved languages. my bachelor’s degree is in linguistics from the University of Washington in Seattle. And I so I graduated with this degree, you know, speaking Spanish fluently speaking Portuguese, and some French, and realize that I was never going to make a lot of money. As a linguist, I worked for a while as an interpreter for immigration, naturalization services, I tended bar I waited tables, I actually tried my hand at newspaper reporting, which was fine for a little while. And then I decided to go back to school. In engineering, it was back when it was the tech boom, yeah, this, this is a great path to go down. And I discovered that I also love writing code, it’s actually just another language, right? It’s just a really powerful one. And so I got my master’s degree. And after I got my master’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, I was able to combine my love for writing code with linguistics and the field of software globalization. So I spent the first decade or so of my postgraduate career as a globalization engineer, and I traveled around the world, helping big companies refactor their source code so that their software could support many languages. And what I discovered as a globalization engineer internationalization is the technical term for is that the biggest challenge that companies face when they go global is not what you might expect. It’s not like translating your website, or even doing the hard work of internationalizing source code, it’s pain, but it’s doable. The biggest problem that they face is the messier problem of providing customer support in many languages. And the way that customers were attacking it at the time, was to travel around the world and staff up native speaking support agents for every language, they needed to support, not really a scalable solution to the problem, but it was the only one at the time. And so, you know, I spent a while seeing this issue and not being able to do anything about it, I was focused on the internationalization side of things, but I started brainstorming how I might build technology to solve the problem. And eventually, I exited from an acquisition at a software startup that I was where I was directing the globalization process, and was able to at that point, I had the freedom to go out on my own and build a solution for for this problem. And it turned out there are a lot of companies interested in it.
Andy Halko 4:14
That’s a really amazing, and there’s a lot to unpack there, but I’m going to go back to the beginning a little bit. You got your degree in linguistics and knew all these languages. And I think someone would instantly say, Oh, well, how do you go to programming? How do you go to code? But I agree with you, it’s just another language. You know, I taught myself how to program in a bunch of different languages. And, but I would, I’d love you to talk a little bit about that idea for folks of, you know, were you scared to get into programming, was it was it a big shift in mindset for those others that are out there that might have ideas for things? And they think like, Oh, I’d love to have a background in this but that seems really scary.
Heather Shoemaker 4:59
Yeah, You know, it was, I won’t date myself and tell you how long ago it was. But it was, it was a while ago, back, like I said, during the tech boom. And at the time, I’d been reading a lot of science fiction novels, cyber science fiction by authors like William Gibson and Neil Stevenson and an even hard sci fi, like Ursula Gwynn. And I was already of the mindset that this is the future, like, the future is in cyberspace. So it wasn’t really a stretch for me to say, I’m going to go into software development, because it sounded like a lot of fun. You know, it’s back when, yeah, everybody wants to be a hacker, right. And so I thought, I gotta learn a programming language, this is gonna be a blast. And because I was already a linguist, for the most part, I’m going into writing code wasn’t, wasn’t as daunting. Because linguistics is technical. It’s very technical. For other folks who are more on the liberal arts side of things, writing code probably is daunting. But nowadays, if you’re interested in it, there are so many online free boot camps, you know, go learn Python, which is the most pervasive new language today. Don’t be scared, like, if that’s something that you’re actually interested in, it’s fun. It’s a challenge. And if you’re already an entrepreneur, you’re you’re no stranger to to challenges, right.
Andy Halko 6:29
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s so many resources now that you could teach yourself or get code resources or local. So exactly, have you found it valuable to have that technology? You know, background as you’re building a tech company?
Heather Shoemaker 6:45
Oh, yeah. Um, for me, it because I wrote the one version, one of our original product, being a founder, and knowing the code inside and out and knowing exactly what we could and couldn’t do, or what needed to happen to enhance what we already were offering was invaluable. And there aren’t strangely, a lot of technical ce o ‘s, not as many as you might expect.
Andy Halko 7:14
So, yeah, we have on this show all the time, that there’s folks that you know, they go out, and they’re always looking for that CTO. Yeah. Oh, and then there’s Yeah, yo, and the CEO. And so I really, that’s why I want to dig into it. Because I think it’s interesting that you’re really wearing both of those hats.
Heather Shoemaker 7:32
I will say that when you come in from the technical side of the house, the sales side of the house becomes a lot scarier, right? Because I didn’t have a sales background. And so that’s a completely different skill set, in my mind being good at selling it, I had no idea what went into it, what how hard, it was a courage that one has to have to go out there and make their quota. And that’s been the big learning experience for me.
Andy Halko 8:08
So I think that’s great. You know, so how did you end up doing that? For those that are the technical side? Like, what was your journey into the the softer sales side? Not that it’s always soft, but the sales side?
Heather Shoemaker 8:24
Yeah, I mean, you just need to partner with talented individuals who bring to the table the skills that you lack, and you have to be really honest with yourself about what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. And I knew that that that was a blind spot for me. So I needed to pull in partners, that that could do that work, and that we’re good at it. But as CEO, you can’t just leave it all to other people, you you do need to understand what’s going on you you need to understand that it’s a marketing sales is all data driven today, and you need to stay on top of those metrics, you need to know what your pipeline coverage ratio is. You need to know how close you are to making your quota what your numbers need to be this quarter, what your growth trajectory looks like, especially when you go out for funding.
Andy Halko 9:09
Yeah. So going ahead a little bit in your origins story. You know, you’re out implementing these internet nationalization solutions. For other people that are sitting there within organizations and they’re they’re doing something they’re saying, there’s a better way I see these problems. How long did that sit in your head? Until you until you really wanted to take the jump into it?
Heather Shoemaker 9:37
Years years, I’d been recognizing it as a problem because every company that I would go to have the same problem. And I knew that it was one that needed to be solved. I just needed to wait until I wasn’t financially in a position to go out on my own and take the time to build the solution to to partner with folks that would make can all happen?
Andy Halko 10:01
Yeah. Now for you to get started, did you start purely on your own? Did you go out and raise capital? Or did you bootstrap it from, from the ground up?
Heather Shoemaker 10:12
Yeah, the myself and the original team at language IO, we bootstrapped it for a couple of years, we actually coined the multilingual customer support term in the market, we recognized early on that it was a super lucrative space, and nobody else at the time was really focusing on it with that laser focus that we had, after the first couple of years of providing these solutions. We other other companies started to recognize the opportunity there, you know, larger language services, providers were recognizing the opportunity and started to compete with us, other niche players would come in and target multilingual customer support. And at that point, we recognize that if we were going to maintain our market share and grow that market share, we were going to need to grow faster than we could organically. And so I want to say it was about 2019 that I decided to go out and start the fundraising process.
Andy Halko 11:11
Okay. I’m curious about two big decisions that we hear a lot about one, you know, for you, especially as a technical founder, the roadmap what when you first started, how did you figure out like, these are the features, we need to look for an MVP or to launch? And then to the market/ Who are we building for like you it says on your website enterprise? Was that a very conscious choice of we want to focus on fortune 500? Or was it something that came later after you built the software?
Heather Shoemaker 11:48
Those are a lot of questions. So let me let me try to remember the first one. So as far as the product roadmap and what we chose that MVP, an MVP. Yeah. So this was largely driven by our first customers. Okay. The first I have a few of them, I can talk about a few of them, I can’t. But let’s suffice it to say that some of our first customers were large social media companies, or social media related companies. And initially, we were very much targeting big companies. And the reason for this is early on only the bigger companies were going global, right. So companies that would be interested in what we were providing were companies that were going global, inherent, that that’s the nature of the thing. And so we would work with these initial companies to understand what they wanted, we rolled out initially a solution that automated the human translation process of translating the knowledge base selfhelp, right, this is work, even today, companies save the most money, if their customers can find the answer to their own questions. And the best way to make that happen is to provide perfectly translated knowledgebase articles that are searchable so that, you know, when you’re hitting the support portal for whatever company it is, you can just google your your problem and find the answer on your own, then a company is going to save a lot of money because you’re not hitting them up by the more expensive email chat. God forbid phone channels, right? So that was the first place we went the low hanging fruit. And we were at a conference and a very large social media company, a group of them came to our booth and said, Hey, I hear I heard about this the solution that you’re providing to people in our industry. Can you do the same thing for ticket translation, but make it real time, not just kind of an asynchronous human automated human translation within the CRM, but real time translation. So our English speaking support agents who are all in Omaha, Nebraska, who don’t speak any other languages, can support our customers and Chinese and Russian and French in all of these languages that support emails are coming in as on. And so of course, we jumped at the opportunity. This was a huge, huge company, we wanted the business and I was still the only developer at the time. So I coded a enhancement to our solution that allowed for real time translation, and enabled these customer support agents to real time communicate with folks in any language. Basically, we’re making these monolingual support agents, multilingual with our technology. And then of course, chat became the number one preferred support channel, we had to expand our offering into chat. At the time, we had these turnkey integrations within Oracle Service Cloud, which was a dominant CRM it still is has huge market share. And we realized that we needed to expand that solution into Salesforce which started taking over market share wise in the CRM space, because what we do is embed our solution inside of CRM where the support agents already working. So they don’t have to go out to some other third party app, we make it very simple. So we expanded into other CRMs. And then we started to expand our core technology to make that real time translation process accurate for the company. And for an industry vertical. I’ll stop there because I could go on and on.
Andy Halko 15:20
No, I love hearing about it. I think this is great. You know, how did you being that sole developer? How did you attack that problem? Was it pretty innovative at the time, and it was something that, you know, you couldn’t go out there and find libraries to do like you can today for almost everything?
Heather Shoemaker 15:39
Oh, there was I use every library, I could, I’m not a proponent of building something that I don’t have to build. So yeah, where there were libraries to do what I needed to do, provided that they were secure, I would use those. And, you know, yeah, I just, it was a lot of hard work, it was a lot of late nights, a lot of stomach dropping support call when I was ready to go to bed. But luckily, we grew and I was able to build the development team. So I wasn’t the only coder. And eventually, we got to the point where I don’t get a code anymore. It’s kind of sad. But I have other challenges now that are a lot of fun.
Andy Halko 16:17
I understand. So going back to something that you said did you have when you first started this customers already lined up for the product?
Heather Shoemaker 16:28
Um, we did when I first started working on this solution, again, I’m not able to name names at this point for everybody. But we did have one major cut company asking for a solution. And that kind of kicked off the whole process.
Andy Halko 16:44
Yeah, that helps a lot. It really does. That’s great. So besides them, you mentioned this conference, but how did you start acquiring your first initial customers otherwise? Because that’s always a challenging piece for all of our founders is, you know, what’s that first month of our first six months of finding customers look like? And how do they do it?
Heather Shoemaker 17:08
Well, first of all, before you go out looking for customers, you have to ask how do you know what the MVP is? How do you know what the market is? Be very sure that what you’re building solves a big problem, right? You don’t want to convince people that they need your solution if it’s hard. So I mean, what made it so easy for us was we were solving a known issue, and a really hard problem to solve and, and few folks were doing it at the time. So if you’ve got something that solves a big problem, you’re way ahead. Now the way that we got our initial customers was we bit the bullet and paid the money to have booths and sponsorships at trade shows where we know people were going to be this was a couple of years ago, when everybody was going to trade show right person, it’s a little bit different today, I think they’re starting up again, you know, I’m headed to CCW in December in Las Vegas, but it’s not as prevalent as it used to be. So still, if you can get to those trade shows that that’s how we pulled in some of the big companies, we would have gotten in front of them otherwise, and we’re able to talk to them in person. Getting a good marketing person, a good marketing partner on your team is key. When it comes to generating inbound leads. Today, you can really leverage, you know, SEO, SEO, content, content promotion, there are so many marketing channels to get the word out about what you do. So I hope that answers your question. Yeah, for
Andy Halko 18:46
sure. Um, one other thing that’s been kind of bouncing around in the back of the back of my head while you’ve been talking is competition, you know, I know enough that the the space, I would assume over the years has become, you know, just generally with Omni communications, and I’m sure even with internationalization of that has become competitive. How much do you pay attention to competitors? And what’s happening in the industry? Or, you know, do you stay very mission focused and kind of keep your blinders on to that stuff.
Heather Shoemaker 19:18
Now that paying attention to the competitive landscape is, is critical. If you’re not on top of who you’re competing with you, you can’t effectively sell your solution because you’re going to go into the sales calls. And people will say, Oh, we’re looking at XY and Z and you and how do you compare? If you don’t know you can’t even answer that question. You can’t say how you’re better. So we pay very close attention to competition, who’s getting funding in our industry, how much funding anything we can find out about their strategy is really important to us. So yeah, it also it’s easy easy to get discouraged when you see new competitors arrive in your space. But if you’re confident in what you’re offering, you should see it as validation of the marking.
Andy Halko 20:15
Yeah, that makes total sense. And, you know, it’s interesting throughout this show, I’ve talked different folks, and most people are on that side of like really watching your competitors and having competitive intelligence. There are some folks that are much more like, here’s the mission and vision and, you know, I know what I want to accomplish and don’t pay as much attention. So I’m always interested in in the different perspectives on that. Yeah, sure. You also mentioned about that customer that you met at the conference. And the new feature for getting into, you know, real time, how much that’s a common theme that we’ve talked about is getting feedback from customers to make product decisions. How much have you done that over the years is, is listened into your listen to your customers to determine the feature sets?
Heather Shoemaker 21:10
Oh, yeah, that’s, that drives everything for us. So I mean, there are strategic decisions we may we make as well, where it might be operationally focused, like we have to, for example, we’re enhancing our self service portal so folks can do more for themselves, and not tax our ops team as much as they do. So there are strategic decisions like that, where where you have to expend development resources to make your organization run more efficiently. I won’t deny that that’s a component of what drives our product roadmap, but really what drives our product roadmap, is what our customers are asking for our existing customers, what new prospects are asking for? And what is the revenue opportunity associated with each ask? We have a great director of product, Carissa Bhardwaj, and she has a very scientific approach to this whole process by which she tracks every feature request every new product request, the revenue associated with that request, and it makes our priority prioritization decisions. Pretty straightforward.
Andy Halko 22:13
Okay, that’s great. I was gonna ask you if there was a system that you follow, because I think again, for like young founders that maybe don’t have a product manager, and they’re sitting there and they’re out talking to customers, they’re getting a lot of ideas. Yeah, a lot of things come in. And, you know, I hear over and over, it’s like, okay, well, how do I boil the ocean? Because they’re, you know, there’s so much that they want to do. Yeah, it was good.
Heather Shoemaker 22:41
It’s easy to get bogged down in all of these requests, just remember, tie it to revenue, make decisions based on what’s going to move your company forward, there may be something that sounds like a lot of fun that you want to do, but step back. And I mean, we did this back when we were a company of three people. What’s the opportunity here? And how is this really gonna move my business ahead?
Andy Halko 23:03
Yeah. So that’s always been something that you feel like has been part of the DNA is really making those revenue driven decisions?
Heather Shoemaker 23:12
Absolutely. You can’t do it. Otherwise?
Andy Halko 23:15
Yeah. No, that’s great. I’m, so you know, I’m interested in learning a little bit about I guess, the team, you know, how has it? How has it changed over time? Like you started? You said, you start out with three? How has it grown? What types of roles have you brought on?
Heather Shoemaker 23:34
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s kind of interesting, how COVID has changed everything for unlike most software companies. We are headquartered in the state of Wyoming. And we have a close partnership with the University of Wyoming. And we’ve always been able to recruit great development talent from there. For you know, it’s hard to find tech jobs in Wyoming. So when we actually all went into an office and worked together in person, we were very much focused on recruiting from the University of Wyoming and kind of growing that team here in the state when COVID head and we all started working from home, necessarily, we realize how productive we were like, how nice is it to not have to get up in the morning, get dressed, drive somewhere, park your car, walk to the office, you save so much time, just you know, getting yourself in front of your screen, and then like you have to look decent, right? Everybody’s on team today. But it’s just it’s so much easier. So when COVID restrictions loosened up and we could go back into the office, we met as a group and decided you know what, we’ll keep an office for those who want to go and work together now and then, but we like this remote situation. We all felt more effective and efficient working remotely. So that became the norm much like many companies that you hear about, like Twitter. Who said you know what, for the foreseeable future, we are a virtual company and language, I went the same route. And once we made that decision it, it actually freed us up to really look for talent when we were hiring key positions, not geographic locations. And we I wasn’t limited to Wyoming and Colorado for these key hires that we needed to make. And after we completed our seed rounds, earlier this year, we had some big scaling plans, big hires that we needed to make, you know, on the sales and marketing side of things. And we’ve just gone completely virtual. I’ve got people all over the United States and the world for that matter, one of our most talented developers is in Beijing. And he’s been working for language IO for a couple years now and is invaluable. Our CRO, is not too far from me in Denver. Our CMO is in Seattle, Director of Product is down in Texas, like I could go on and on. We’ve got folks everywhere now.
Andy Halko 26:09
Yeah, and I’m sure for a company obviously, that delivers the solutions that you do. Having a variety of folks with a variety of backgrounds is beneficial. Oh, yeah.
Heather Shoemaker 26:19
If if we can hire somebody who speaks at least one other language? It’s, it’s a big deal for us.
Andy Halko 26:25
So more on the team? Like, what were some of the key roles that you feel? Were important as you started the scale and grow? Like, what did you really need to place within the company?
Heather Shoemaker 26:39
That’s a good question. You know, like I was saying, my, my blind spot, of course, is sales and marketing. And so I just really needed to have talented people. Finance, right, especially as you begin to fundraise and scale, you can’t neglect finance as a SaaS company. The investors were asking for these SaaS specific reports that a few years ago, I had no idea what those were, you know, as far as your cohort analysis, and your, you know, annual contract, your average contract size, and all of these numbers that I was supposed to be able to spit out quickly, I had to come up to speed on those. And I thought, well, I was told, you gotta have a good finance person. And so we hired Meg Fahey, as our director of finance. She’s actually on the East Coast. And she, I rely on her very heavily I, I hire people who are smarter than me, you know, especially in these areas, where I don’t have the background and experience and the team that you pull around you and the build, and the culture of that team is critical to your success. You’ve got to hire really smart people who are smarter than you. And these areas, acknowledge your blind spots.
Andy Halko 28:06
Have you kind of grown the like, manage the culture if you let it? Yeah, it might not be like here Yeah. little technical difficulty.
Heather Shoemaker 28:35
Can you hear me now?
Andy Halko 28:36
I can. Sorry about that. Not a problem. I’m just gonna ask about culture. You know, I always wonder for folks how much it’s just something that you know, naturally comes about, or is it something that you actively try and shape? You know, how do you build that culture that people want to stay within the company because we know, it’s hard to keep people and how do you attract folks?
Heather Shoemaker 29:05
Yeah, I mean, we know it’s an employee’s market right now. And people have a lot of opportunities. So you have to foster a culture that make, like you said, makes people want to stay. And having come before I started language, io, I came from a large corporate environment that in many ways, was a toxic environment. I wasn’t happy there. It made me realize what I don’t want in corporate culture, where there’s a lot of backstabbing, and undermining and trying to get ahead of your colleagues at any cost. And that’s, that’s no way to live. Right. And I would get done with work at the end of the day and just be kind of depressed and six in my stomach. So I knew I was glad that I had that experience because I’m It made me understand what I didn’t want for the future, especially in my own company. I think what keeps makes people interested and keeps them is when they feel like they are contributing, they understand where the company is headed, they’re on board with where the company is headed. And they feel like they have a role in getting the company there. And that they will be supported, that they won’t be siloed, that they have a path for advancement. So, you know, there’s a lot that goes into creating that environment. But that’s important. People need to feel like they’re part of a team that is accomplishing something worthwhile. And luckily, in the field of linguistics, and helping people talk to each other, you do have that warm and fuzzy with the language IO, you know, goal of helping people effectively have conversations across language barriers. And then we try to make sure that our employees understand how they’re contributing, how valuable they are. We listen to them, we have this kind of servant leader, mentality transparency. Does that kind of answer your question?
Andy Halko 31:21
Yeah, you know, I’ll tell you, one of the things that I’m really passionate about is developing a vivid vision and something that you get everybody aligned towards, and that, you know, creates excitement within a company. So just kind of curious if you’ve got any personal, you know, tips or approaches that you’ve done to help evangelize that that vision that you kind of talked about to get people, you know, excited for the future?
Heather Shoemaker 31:49
Oh, yeah. It’s it’s critical that you evangelize. So first, you have to know what your vision is. And you have to clearly define it as a leader in your company and with your executive team. However, many are few there are on your executive team. So you, you have to what we we do at language IO is annually we define our objectives and key results are okay, ours, what are we doing this year, and what is our larger corporate strategy, document that in a meaningful way, not a 20 page business plan, a few businesses do that anymore, but I’m in small chunks that you can clearly communicate. And what I found is when you’re sick of hearing yourself, say something, that’s when other people have heard you, you just have to keep reiterating the same vision, reinforcing it, emphasizing it. And especially at a virtual company where everybody is working from home that that can be difficult, because you don’t have those in person experiences and opportunities. And in person is just more effective if you remember your in person. Conversations, I think, and what we’ve done to kind of counter that is we’ve, every year, we have an all all company off site where we all get together somewhere in person. This year, we did it in Jackson, Wyoming, which is a beautiful place. It’s an amazing place to have an all company off site. We all flew into Jackson, Wyoming folks drove. And we only spent about half a day talking about the vision. Everyone on my executive team presented what their part in that vision was and what their goals for the year were. We only did that for about half of the day and the rest of the couple of days. We just did fun things for team building purposes to get to know each other to to talk about that vision or just get to know each other. So we went on whitewater rafting, biking, hiking, and Yellowstone in smaller groups. So we could really establish those relationships that are so crucial to working effectively together.
Andy Halko 34:09
Yeah, that’s an interesting thing that talk about how you know these virtual teams and we’ve gone virtual to we were in an office for a long time. But and now our team is very distributed as well. But how do you continue the evangelize that vision as people go virtual? Which I think you know, companies are still figuring out we we’ve been doing a lot of different things internally, ourselves. But I do think a lot of organizations are trying to figure out with new employees and everything. How do you evangelize that vision?
Heather Shoemaker 34:42
It’s an interesting challenge, isn’t it? isn’t sure where where we’re headed, as in the workplace, like, things that you wouldn’t have thought of that would just blow up like Slack, right? We live in Slack as a team now, what would we do without it? I’m sure new technologies like that are going to be enabling the virtual workplace and making this communication more seamless than it is today. It’ll be interesting to see what pops on pops up next.
Andy Halko 35:12
Yeah, while we’re talking about that, I’m kind of curious how the pandemic affected you outside of obviously, the change in virtual office, but, you know, was it good for business? Not as good for business? How about like mental health of employees? What did you see some of the impacts of the pandemic on the business?
Heather Shoemaker 35:34
Yeah, as far as whether it was good are not good for business. At first, it was just scary, right? Like, right whole world was like, Oh, my goodness, what, what’s going to happen? And so we just moved forward, as best as we could and waited to see, we had an inkling that it would actually be good for language IO. Because before COVID, companies would still travel around staffing up teams of native speaking support agents to to solve the multilingual customer support solution. Even though it wasn’t really cost effective. They didn’t, they weren’t actively searching for a technology solution, because they did have this human solution that they could use. And that was the obvious one to use. When COVID hit, nobody was traveling, it was a lot harder to staff up teams of native speaking support agents all over the globe. And so people started more actively looking for a technology solutions that enable their already trained, effective monolingual or English speaking support agents, in many cases, technology that will just enable them to support folks in in many languages, and we saw our revenue and traffic and volumes of translations just skyrocket was COVID. It was a horrible things. But it was good for business.
Andy Halko 36:55
Yeah. Um, and just kind of expanding on that. The other idea that I’ve asked other founders about is, you know, if you take it out of context of the pandemic, and more of the thought of, you know, as, as owners and founders, we’re going to face external threats that we can’t predict, and we can’t control. How do you as a founder, you know, how do you look at that and handle it and manage through these things that just like, get jump on your lap and are a little bit scary?
Heather Shoemaker 37:31
Yeah, that is a great question. And an important one to think through when you’re considering starting your own company. Because the old style of writing a business plan and sticking to it, it just doesn’t work, you have to be flexible, you have to pivot. when market conditions change. When you see new trends that are going to be important for you, you have to jump on them. When you see threats like COVID, you have to regroup, retrench and figure out how you’re going to move ahead. And it requires a robust personality, it requires you to be okay with that level of risk, right? To be honest with yourself, take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself is this level of risk something that I’m going to be okay with, because it’s a lot, it’s a lot to take on. But if you have that level of robustness and your personality, you are good at listening, not just, you know, not just to data, but also to your gut. And you have to be flexible.
Andy Halko 38:49
So do you think I’m curious? And I think I’ve asked this one or two other times, entrepreneurship, nature versus nurture? Is it something that, you know, you can train yourself to be able to handle all the things that come with it? Or is it something that you feel like is part of people’s DNA?
Heather Shoemaker 39:09
I think it’s both sorry to be wishy washy on this, you, because I don’t believe that it’s ever just one or the other. I think it has to be part of your DNA, you have to have this disposition. But that disposition can be reinforced by life experiences that you’ve had growing up, you know, whatever, whatever contributed to me getting to this point where I was like, You know what, I hate the the corporate culture so much that I’m in right now. I’m willing to take that risk. And I’m willing to look into that abyss what’s the worst case scenario? I might fail? What am I going to do if I fail? Am I going to be okay with that? And what are the chances that I’m going to succeed? It’s, it takes a lot of soul searching, but yeah, In answer to your question, it’s a combination of both.
Andy Halko 40:03
Were there any experiences in your younger days that you think help prepare you to, like want to be an entrepreneur?
Heather Shoemaker 40:12
I’m not liking being told what to do. That’s a common one, right? Yeah. That’s not enough of a reason. But yeah, certainly, those of us who think we know better, and don’t do so well, in a corporate environment where our ideas aren’t listened to where we’re siloed, where we’re told, you have to stay on this path, this is your role don’t deviate outside of it. I mean, I’m so glad that I was in that world for as long as I was because you have to understand, when you’re selling into large corporations, you need to understand what that culture is like, and what protocols are right. But I also, I think that my independence and wanting to just get things done, I don’t have any patience, for what’s the right word here for, for delay, like, if I see something that needs to happen, my inclination is just to make it happen to just do it. And he kind of have to think that way as an entrepreneur. And as the company grows, however, you do have to back off a little bit and recognize, you’re not going to do it all yourself. You can’t, as in a scaling organization, like language, Iowa’s today I’ve had to recognize, Heather, you’re not going to do it all yourself, you are going to let these really talented people that you’ve hired do their jobs. So I’m kind of getting off on a tangent here.
Andy Halko 41:46
but it’s a fantastic tangent. And I was gonna say like that point is so important is that, you know, those traits that help you get started, sometimes can become a challenge as you scale.
Heather Shoemaker 42:00
That is an excellent insight, Andy. And I think that’s why a lot of entrepreneurs don’t scale well, because they’re not delegating. They’re not letting people do their jobs, they still want to control everything, and do it all themselves. And it’s something that I’ve struggled with that I’ve had to I’ve had to let go. If I’m going to remain CEO of language IO, I need to scale and I need to let let people do what I hired them to do. And give give up some of that control. And it’s been a learning process for me.
Andy Halko 42:35
Just kind of continuing on this tangent of the traits for entrepreneurship. I want to learn more. And I’ve asked a couple of our female founders about this of, you know, what the environment is like to start a tech company, as a woman and try and raise money and all of these things in a space that, you know, most people would agree is a little bit of a boys club, right?
Heather Shoemaker 43:03
Totally as a boys club. So many funny stories. I don’t even know where to begin with that question. Um, I will say that early, early on, when we were really small, it was easier. Because we weren’t raising money, yet, the stakes weren’t as high. But even early on, we go to these trade shows if we would have these are technical trade shows, they don’t expect women to know what they’re talking about. In, in SaaS, in software development, and so we’d be out of booth. And there might be a couple of women and one guy for language, I left the booth, right. All people who approached the booth immediately went, they’d be lined for the one male at our right. It was hilarious. I might be standing there, we would be, you know, the ones who knew everything. And this one guy might be brand new, he might even be an interest. That’s who they go to. Right? Yeah, we knew it was gonna be an issue. And what when it really hit and became a problem was during the fundraising process. Now, if you’re a woman founder in the area of fashion, or babies or cosmetics or things where women are expected to be the expert, yeah, it was easier for you when you’re in, in hard tech, not so simple. And I, you know, had some initial conversations with VCs in Silicon Valley. And when I explained that I wrote the version one of our software, I always got the sense that they were looking at me and thinking, Well, if this chip could write that code, how difficult is it to replicate like it just the barrier to entry can’t be that high? was just the the feedback that I sensed from people. And I even at one point, I’m told what am I colleagues? I think I’m gonna present as male now I’m going to put on beard, I’m going to change my name to heat and see if it’s easier. I didn’t go down that path though I very seriously considered it. I even researched voice modulation technology to make that real, but yeah, it was too much work in the end. So fundraising was a lot harder for women, I will say,
Andy Halko 45:18
I mean, just that you’ve thought about it, and that you’ve got that joke in your pocket, shows that it’s real. And it’s something that was like, truly in your mind, right?
Heather Shoemaker 45:28
A teeny tiny percentage of VC funding goes to women, women run companies, I want to say it’s like less than 2%. I have the statistic, I just can’t remember it off the top of my head, but it’s ridiculous. So yeah, it’s real, the struggle is real. Um, you know, and the other thing I’ll throw out there is that I’m a mom, too. And not just the founder of a tech company facing standard tech company founder challenges. But the woman in a relationship is generally expected to be the primary care provider for kids, I have two kids, and I wanted to be there for them. I was the one who was most likely to attend their honor roll presentations go to their sporting events be there when they are sick, we just have general things are changing, things are getting easier. But it’s it’s not equitable, yet. It’s not equal yet. We just have so many more obstacles in the way to, you know, it’s on our path to success, though, there are challenges that we have that men definitely don’t.
Andy Halko 46:39
Yeah, I’m curious to go on that a little bit, too. And again, I think it is different for me is the father of two girls and, you know, having my wife but that that work life balance, and I you know, always hate that word, but harmony, whatever. Yeah, it was a founder. I mean, most of us work more than a normal day. Yeah, thinking about it at night. And when we shower, and when we sit on the couch, you know, how have you as I think both just generally a person and a founder, but also that wife and mother and these other things, balanced that that, you know, what I need to do as a founder and how I live my life.
Heather Shoemaker 47:24
Yeah, there’s really no silver bullet, you’re gonna feel as a mom and a founder, you’re gonna feel guilty, and you’re gonna be like, crap, I didn’t make it to my kids event today. And I wanted to, and I feel horrible about that. But you have this is where you have to, again, be good at delegating, if you have a partner, you have to accept it, you’re gonna split that time equally as equally as you possibly can. And let go of that and say, okay, partner, you’re on today, you’re gonna have to, you’re gonna have to take our kids to their doctor appointment, because I have this really important pitch. There’s no getting around it. But you, I think, what makes it work, in the end, is if you love the process, and you love what you’re doing, and those sacrifices are worth it, I have two daughters. And I feel like having them see me in this responsible role and starting something, and seeing it through and being a leader is so important for them to see. My husband also has his own company. So we both are intrapreneurs. But they see us both doing it. So they know that it’s a possibility for themselves, that I want them to be leaders if that’s what they want.
Andy Halko 48:47
Yeah. No, I agree. And I, you know, I’ve had that conversation with others is the influence on your children of of doing this and setting that example. And I have two young daughters five and seven, I want both of them to see this and, you know, do whatever they want in life, so
Heather Shoemaker 49:07
they can do it.
Andy Halko 49:08
Yeah. Just the spin around a little bit fundraising we’ve talked about and it does tie into what you you’ve just kind of been describing, but you know, with every founder, I talk about how much of a bear that can be and you know, almost a full time job. What what insights for other folks that are thinking about going out to raise capital would you give?
Heather Shoemaker 49:31
Yeah, I will say there’s so many so many it’s, it’s, I will say a, don’t get discouraged and don’t let knows. I don’t mean knows I mean no answer no. Just make you feel inadequate, or that you you did the wrong thing, because you’ll talk to so many investors who don’t get your technology. They don’t have any have a background in your space. So they don’t see the opportunity that you see, nor can you make them see the opportunity. And they might say something like, like I heard so many times, we don’t see that there’s a big enough barrier to entry. Anybody can do this, like, invest in you. I knew that that wasn’t true. But they didn’t have the experience to know that it wasn’t true. And so yeah, you have to get, you’re going to get pushed down, and you have to get back up, get back on your feet. Don’t get discouraged from hearing the answer. No. Because eventually, if if you know that your technology or what you’ve built solves a critical problem. You’ve done the research, you know, it’s a large, total addressable market that you’re going after, and you’re confident in what you’re doing, and you love what you’re doing. And you believe in it. You just keep looking until you find the investor that gets it. I heard no many times, I always use the example of the the pet toys startup chewy, you’ve probably heard of chewy, you can buy stuff online for your pets. There was an article by the reason associated with the founder of chewy, where he was saying he had over 100, VC conversations 100 nodes before he got a yes. And then his business blew up, right? He got the funding that he needed, he believed in what he was doing. What really helps, is to find an investor that gets your space. If they’ve got investments in tangential markets, not they’re not going to invest in you if they’ve already invested in a direct competitor. That’s a no, no. But if they’ve already invested in, in a similar space, they’re going to get to market, you’re not going to have to work as hard to educate them and explain why it’s such an important problem to solve. So it really,
Andy Halko 52:00
and they bring more than money, they bring potentially connections,
Heather Shoemaker 52:03
options. You got it. You got it.
Andy Halko 52:06
Yeah, that’s great. So tell me a little bit, you know, as we’re starting to wrap up, what is what does the future hold for language IO? Where are you guys headed? What do you what are you excited about coming up?
Heather Shoemaker 52:19
So many things. So we’ve historically been very much focused on enabling humans support agents to provide support in any language, where customer support is headed today is in automated engagement, chat bots, digital assistants, conversational AI, most many, I’m not sure if it’s actually most, a lot of those customer support. Engagements today are initiated with a chatbot, you’re going to go to a website, you’re going to see a little chat bot pop up, ask you what you want to talk about, right. So interestingly, I’m finishing up or configuring a chat bot, especially a conversational AI based Chatbot. In one language is much harder than people realize that they put so much time and energy and resources into making a single language chatbot effective and efficient. When they’re faced with the daunting task of replicating that work for every language they need to support. Statistics show they abandon the effort in many cases. Oh, what language I was focused on today, is not just making those human support agents multilingual, but taking a monolingual Chatbot. And providing this layer between the customer and the chatbot that makes that chatbot multilingual. And we’ve already released a solution for this on the Salesforce platform, we’re going to be doing it for other CRM platforms as well and very near future. And we’re super excited about that. That’s, that’s where the word customer support is headed. We’re also diving into this speech, area arena. So also today, as you know, everybody wants to talk to their devices, they don’t want to type anymore, it’s so hard to type in your own and she just gets irritated. If she can’t talk to her phone, tell him to type she’s gonna give up. And so everybody’s kind of in that boat. And we recognize that whether it’s somebody talking to a human support agent, or a chatbot voice is the future. And we are our r&d team is very focused on a proof of concept in the voice space where we’re going to be converting voice into text accurately, which is a challenge unto itself as I need to do with translation per se. Again to once we’ve got the text, this all happens real time in microseconds, we are able to translate it into the language of the virtual assistant or into the language of the human agent whoever needs to consume that letting the ecosystem function model lingually like I described it And then when the response is ready, pushing that back out as translated voice. That makes sense.
Andy Halko 55:06
Yeah, totally. So before I asked by last question that I asked every founder, where can folks out there find you or language IO? If they’re interested in learning more?
Heather Shoemaker 55:19
Yeah, it’s pretty straightforward. Go to www.languageio.com. To be crystal clear, we do not have the domain yet. language.io It’s parked and very expensive. Get it one day, but languageio.com.,
Andy Halko 55:38
Okay, perfect. So the question that I asked everybody is, if you were able to go back in time before you started this business and have coffee with yourself, what advice would you give?
Heather Shoemaker 55:51
And she’s so much advice I would give, um, let me think about this one. I would, I would say self, get ready. Get ready for a really exciting ride, it’s going to be there’s going to be disappointments, you’re going to have very low points where, where you’re not sure it’s going to work. But in in the end, and I mean, end is a relative term, are we ever at the end, it’s going to be fun, and you’re going to have an adventure. And it’s much better than staying in the stifling environment that you’re in. I mean, it’s scary to leave the corporate world world where you have a high salary and comfort and security. And that was what was scary for me. It was leaving that comfort and venturing into this unknown, but I would tell myself that it’s worth it. That, you know, there’s no draft version of your life. Now, this is it. So So do what makes you happy.
Andy Halko 56:59
No draft version of your life. I love it. Awesome. Heather, thank you so much for taking this time with us. I really appreciate it.
Heather Shoemaker 57:07
Thank you, Andy. It was great talking to you. Awesome. Well, thank
Andy Halko 57:10
you, everybody for watching and tune in. We’ve got more founders coming and we appreciate everybody. Thanks again, Heather. Bye bye.