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Mila Golovine - Masterword Services

Mila Golovine

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We speak more than 200 languages in the Houston area. As an International Finance major at the University of Houston, Mila took a class from Bill Sherrill—the same Bill Sherrill who founded the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at UH. She never looked back and her entrepreneurial spirit has never failed her. Mila is a return guest to The BusinessMakers Show. Since her interview seven years ago, her interpretation/translation company has grown, technology has changed and she’s doing business globally.

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Russ: This is the Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com. It's guest time on the show and our topic today is the language business, and my guest is Mila Golovine, the Founder and CEO of MasterWord. Mila, welcome to the Businessmakers Show.

Mila: Thank you for having me, Russ.

Russ: You bet, and I guess I should welcome you back, 'cause you were a guest on the show during our first year.

Mila: That's right.

Russ: I think seven years ago.

Mila: Yes. It was a long time ago.

Russ: Well, congratulations on still being in the business.

Mila: Thank you.

Russ: And growing your business. That's pretty cool right there, but let's start at the top. Tell us about MasterWord.

Mila: MasterWord is a language services company, and what that means is there is over 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, so we help people communicate across those languages. Right here in Houston, people speak over 200 languages, believe it or not. So we have multiple divisions. One of them is providing interpreting services, and that means we facilitate verbal communicate between people in spoken languages. So we work with hospitals, with courthouses, with schools, with businesses, and we send interpreters, depending on the language that they need to speak.

Russ: Okay.

Mila: Another group facilitates written communication, and that group mostly works with the corporate world, and the corporate world speaks mostly in about 40 languages. We work with a lot of oil and gas companies and engineering firms, and another group provides training and assessment services. That's when we find an interpreter in a real language and we want to teach them how to interpret in a different setting.

Russ: Okay, really interesting, but is interpreting considered harder than translation, or vice versa?

Mila: It's just a different skill.

Russ: Okay.

Mila: One is verbal communication and the other one is written.

Russ: Do you have people that can do both?

Mila: Some people can do both.

Russ: Okay.

Mila: But it's just a completely different skill.

Russ: Right.

Mila: Some of the best translators may not have very good verbal skills and vice versa.

Russ: Okay. Now, it seems, Mila, in this era of capitalism kind of going all over the globe that it would be prime time for your business. I mean, do you see and experience that as well?

Mila: Our industry is really growing. Our industry is actually experiencing a shortage of a qualified translator, what it's called, and that's why we also have multiple tools that are being developed, such as machine translation that facilitates communication, but there is still not enough people.

Russ: Now, just out of curiosity, how many languages do you speak?

Mila: Well, I only speak two and a half. I speak English, Russian, and I speak a little bit of French.

Russ: Okay, and I know about your Russian background. I want to get to that in just a second, but just the myriad of different languages is mind boggling. What is the most common language that takes up a big part of your business?

Mila: Well, of course, Spanish, being here in Texas, and then Vietnamese, Korean, an amazing variety of African languages.

Russ: Wow.

Mila: And of course we do a lot of work in Russian, French, Portuguese, and other European languages.

Russ: Okay, and I guess at times, are you challenged with languages that you've not even handled before, very uncommon ones?

Mila: Absolutely. We would get requests for languages like Dinka, Sudanese, or languages like Blackfoot, which is a Native American language.

Russ: Okay.

Mila: So, all kinds of requests.

Russ: Okay. Now, I know from just a little bit of experience that it's real to make a mistake in language translation. I mean, the inference and sarcasm and jargon, and all of those things. In fact, I still distinctly remember in your interview before, you carrying us through a little exercise with Mary Had a Little Lamb. Share that with our audience.

Mila: Well, that is precisely the challenges that you describe that we face on an everyday basis. Mary Had a Little Lamb can be interpreted as a limerick, as in Mary had a little baby lamb. It can also be interpreted as Mary, a mother Mary, sheep, had a baby lamb.

Russ: Okay.

Mila: Or, it can be interpreted as Mary had a little lamb for dinner, that is ____ a little beef, and she didn't overeat.

Russ: Okay.

Mila: And depending on the context, you need to be able to translate it correctly.

Russ: Wow, do you experience those kind of dilemmas sometimes in actual translation and interpretation?

Mila: Absolutely. Absolutely all the time, and I have another example.

Russ: Okay.

Mila: I'm a big apple eater.

Russ: Okay.

Mila: I'm a big apple eater -

Russ: Okay.

Mila: - can be translated as "I'm a big person who loves eating apples."

Russ: Okay.

Mila: "I love eating apples."

Russ: Okay.

Mila: Or, "I only eat big apples," and you really need to know what apples you're talking about.

Russ: Well, how in the world do you get that right? I mean, you can't just have somebody that says, "Well, I think this is what it means," and they go, so are people double-checking each other?

Mila: Absolutely, absolutely. A lot of - well, first of all, as a human being, we can distinguish the context, and we can understand what we're talking about, whereas the computer cannot always understand the context properly, and that's why human translators are in huge demand, even though machine translation has made a lot of progress; and then of course, well, a lot of quality control and a lot of training.

Russ: Okay, and I would assume that in a business like that, you must have to have pretty substantial liability insurance?

Mila: Well, always, right?

Russ: Okay, sure.

Mila: Don't we all, in all businesses.

Russ: Yeah, sure, but in this one, my goodness.

Mila: Of course, we carry areas in omission insurance, and we're also one of the very few companies in our industry who are ISO certified for quality standards.

Russ: Okay, well that's pretty interesting. In fact, that leads me to my next question. I mean, I know there are lots of language translation companies out there. How do you differentiate yourself?

Mila: There is, on the one hand, lots of competition, but on the other hand, there is actually a shortage of companies that - in our industry. Most of the companies are very small, and the ones that have grown bigger, even the smaller companies or the bigger companies, they specialize in a particular industry. There is very few companies that can even cross industries. So company would be very huge in localization. Somebody would be very big in helping Hollywood, in interpreting and translating all the movies. Somebody would be helping translate all the different games and is in the gaming industry, you know, the games the kids play.

Russ: Right. So you're saying it's almost like different sectors completely.

Mila: Absolutely. Different sectors.

Russ: So, what is Masterword's categories of expertise?

Mila: Our main industries, of course, oil and gas, being here in Texas, and engineering firms. Then we are also in the healthcare industry, and in the government sectors. So those are our three main focuses.

Russ: Okay. Now, you mentioned machine translation a while ago, and I think we're all kind of getting accustomed to what Google's trying to do right now, but that really can't supplant what you do, can it?

Mila: No, but one of the biggest users of machine translation are some of the also biggest users of the human translator, such as the government, for example, because machine translation cannot differentiate what are you doing with the apples. Machine translation can only process huge amount of documents, and then people decide which documents really need to be flagged for further translation by humans. That's in the case of large volumes of documents. In the case of very serious documents - engineering documents, legal documents - machines cannot replace humans yet.

Russ: Okay. Well, but speaking of machines and technology, I mean, obviously you send documents around, but are you using technology beyond that?

Mila: Absolutely. We use technology, like translation memory, and those are tools that help you recycle texts, similar text that have already been translation, and there's lots of rules and lots of ways to use it that helps you improve your productivity. We're using databases to help us facilitate scheduling of interpreters. So we use technology every step of the way, and also, our business is global, where we may be working with people in Australian for desktop publishing, and somebody in South Africa for editing, and somebody in Russia, somebody in China. So even though we operate from Houston, we really operate globally on a daily basis.

Russ: Okay, do you do any kind of remote interpretation? I mean, do you use any of the communications -

Mila: Interpreting business is in a completely - it's entering a completely new phase now, where - for example, we're now offering video remote interpreting, and our clients can, through their iPhone, through their iPad, through their computer, with a click of a button, can have access to an interpreter.

Russ: Really cool. Talking with Mila Golovine, and we'll be back with more with her after this, and this is the Businessmaker Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com.

Russ: This is the Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com. Continuing on with Mila Golovine, Founder and CEO of MasterWord Services. So, Mila, I'm just real curious, because you've been doing this how long now?

Mila: Twenty years.

Russ: Whew, that's a long time, and you're still young. I like that. So, this must be kind of like your first business.

Mila: It was.

Russ: Kind of like your first job, to a degree, a serious job.

Mila: Pretty much.

Russ: Okay, so what triggered the idea for you to start a language translation business?

Mila: Actually, it was an accident, in a way. It was a school paper. I was majoring in international finance at the University of Houston, and I took what I thought would be an easy elective, which is Introduction to Entrepreneurship, some kind of class that sounded kind of funky, and I thought, oh, I'd sleep through that class easily and get through school as fast as I can, and the class was taught by a Professor Bill Sheryl.

Russ: We know Bill well. He's been on the show a couple of times.

Mila: And Bill is an amazing person, and as a former governor of the Federal Reserve, and he was teaching entrepreneurship in very different ways. So this business was actually my class paper, and ended up being my life's passion.

Russ: Wow, that is so cool. Now, I also know that you ended at the University of Houston, not in a direct shot. In fact, you didn't even come to the United States till you were 19 years old?

Mila: That's correct.

Russ: Okay, describe that a little bit, because we spent a lot of time on that in your last interview. We thought it was so fascinating that you grew up in the Soviet Union, and really didn't leave until Gorbachev was in charge, and kind of let people travel a bit, right?

Mila: That's correct. I was actually growing up in Moscow, and I studied my - started my education at the Institute of Foreign Languages at the time, and I was studying to be an interpreter, but I always was interested in finance, and it's interesting how it worked backwards, that when I got an education in finance, I started working as a translator and interpreter.

Russ: So when you were in Russia, were you leaning English at that time?

Mila: Yes, I was learning English, and - in school. In fact, Russia is very strong about education in a foreign language, and I don't know if it's very politically correct to say that, but historically Russia always studies the language of the country that it competes with the most.

Russ: I'll bet in that time it was the United States.

Mila: Unites States, and prior to that it was German, and prior to that it was French.

Russ: Wow, interesting. So that's pretty cool. So it worked well for you then, right?

Mila: It did. It did.

Russ: Now, I understand your parents, though, were both champion PhD physicists, and were even coming to United States before you got to _____.

Mila: My parents got - be invited to come to the United States back in the late '70s.

Russ: Wow.

Mila: But of course, the friendly Soviet government at the time told them that if they even look the wrong way, I'd be - I don't know, used for medical experiments and things, and so they never looked the wrong way, and they came back.

Russ: Okay, but when you left, you were acting like, "I'm just going to go visit the United States," but you knew full well that you were going to stay, is that right?

Mila: I came here to visit the United States. I knew that I was going to try. So when I came in with $304.00 -

Russ: Oh, big bucks.

Mila: - and I used my money to apply for schools, and so then I got accepted to a school, actually Cleveland State University, and then I stayed as a student.

Russ: Okay, really cool, and so - and what got you to the University of Houston then?

Mila: After my first semester at Cleveland State, actually they had quarters. After the two - first two quarters at the Cleveland State University, I applied for scholarships at different schools, and I was lucky enough to get a scholarship at UofH.

Russ: Okay. Well, as you know, this is a business audience here too, so I imagine they're curious. How do you win business today? I mean, in this business - I mean, it's - you say you're doing business all over the world, right?

Mila: That's correct.

Russ: And how do you market all over the world?

Mila: Well, business is difficult today. The economy is challenging everywhere, but of course, word of mouth, reputation. We try to do a great job with every job that we do. We also do just the regular marketing promotion activities. We'll participate in trade shows and conferences, and we also try to talk and education our clients on best practices, and how to write for translation, for example.

Russ: Okay. Well, now, this audience also knows that it's very difficult to start a company. In particular, to keep on going for 20 years. Has it been smooth sailing for you the whole way?

Mila: Oh, absolutely now. It's been an exciting adventure every step of the way, and as we were told in the business school, about 97 of the businesses fail in their first three years or so. If my statistics is off, I apologize, but it's a - the majority of the businesses. So the business school helped me, and the entrepreneurship program helped me tremendously, but it's - I had to pretty much apply everything I learned in school.

Russ: Okay, really cool. So, how do you envision MasterWord looking five years from now, if you had your wishes come true?

Mila: Hopefully we'll be double in size and continue to grow pretty aggressively. We want to continue growing internationally. We want to be more present, and pretty much the main company that customers call in all over the 50 states.

Russ: Real cool. So before I let you go, a standard question here in the Businessmakers Show is let's imagine an aspiring entrepreneur is tuned in, and hearing your story, and is impressed. What general advice would you give him or her?

Mila: Do the business plan. That would be the number one thing that was told to us in the entrepreneurship program, and I thought, "Oh, blah-blah-blah, whatever." The one year I didn't do the business plan, we almost went out of business. So, every November right now, we're going the business - we do the business plan for next year, and a five-year plan, and adjust it.

Russ: Cool. Really cool. Well, Mila, I really appreciate you coming in and updating us, and sharing your story your story with us again.

Mila: Thank you very much for having me, Russ.

Russ: You bet. That's Mila Golovine, the Found and CEO of MasterWord, and this the Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com.

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