We sit down with Gabriel Francesch, Managing Director of the blockchain-focused translations firm Kotoba. In this interview, we’re given an insider’s look into what the global stratosphere looks like in terms of language needs in the blockchain space, and what makes for a good marketing and communications strategy when communicating key messages to audiences around the world.
When and how did you first hear about and get involved with cryptocurrency and blockchain?
When I was living in Japan in 2014, I saw a documentary about Bitcoin. This was when Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy. At the time, the amounts mentioned seemed irrational to me. Then I kept hearing about Bitcoin from different friends in Thailand, who educated me on the basics.
Later on, in March of 2017, people were predicting a brutal fall of the Euro if an extreme political candidate won France’s election. I converted most of my savings into Bitcoin. Bitcoin seemed like a viable option to store the value I had accumulated. I didn’t want my family’s future to depend on a political process I couldn’t control.
How did your educational and professional background prepare you for a career in blockchain translations?
I have always loved languages. I learned English, Spanish, and Japanese in school and university. I picked up Mongolian and Indonesian while traveling and working abroad. In France, I worked as a freelance interpreter for business people, academics, and journalists in all kinds of situations. I also worked as a translator on highly technical content, such as patents and technical documentation. My focus has always been on seeing behind the words. You can translate the words but you may not communicate the message because the other party has a different understanding of the subject. So I make sure the message gets through. This mindset is critical with translating for the blockchain industry because we’re using words in new ways to convey complex technology.
What compelled you to start Kotoba Translations?
The blockchain space is still in its early days. We’re just starting to see the beginning of dedicated service providers for every segment of the blockchain industry, such as lawyers, recruiters, advertisers, and so on. In our case, we are a team of individuals who love languages and have great communication skills, so translation is the best way for us to contribute to the industry.
I also saw that the blockchain industry is missing out on large markets just because of language barriers. If you can double your market by translating into six languages, that’s low-hanging fruit. The blockchain is for everyone, no matter what language you speak.
What are the most popular translation languages for blockchain materials?
There is always a strong demand for Asian languages. Most projects want to communicate with Japan, Korea, and China because they’re large markets with lots of investors. We also receive a lot of requests for other Asian languages, such as Indonesian and Thai, and then Russian and Western European languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian…), since they are large markets that blockchain projects should be in to maximize their adoption.
What does your content type spread look like overall?
The types of content that we translate are quite varied: whitepapers, product documentation, websites, wallets, press releases, tweets… A typical project would be translating an ICO’s website, investor kit, and whitepaper into several languages.
How do you ensure quality material?
What happens before the translation begins is very important: we make sure we understand our clients’ projects and goals. We then work with select translators that we’re sure will understand the material and effectively communicate it in their native language. We give our translators clear instructions and provide ample explanation. If the project covers a concept we think might be new to them, we’ll give them supplementary material so they learn the concept before starting translation. This is the type of care that’s necessary for delivering translations that fully and accurately convey our clients’ materials.
Through your consultancy services, what are some of the key trends you pick up on?
We have noticed that more and more projects emphasize building a strong community. We are also seeing teams devote more energy to connecting with and educating audiences in different countries. Another trend is how the definition of a blockchain asset keeps evolving and expanding. Today, the tokenization of many aspects of the traditional economy means that a digital asset can represent many things, from a stake in a company to a share of physical goods.
You also manage PR campaigns. What are some of the key marketing and communication elements that make up a successful campaign in the blockchain space?
A successful campaign starts with clear and memorable messaging. Many blockchain companies struggle to succinctly explain how they provide exponential value. We start with a message that instantly connects investors to the future the company is building. Once we have the message, we get the influencer ecosystem to adopt it. The blockchain industry is highly driven by influencer marketing. So we figure out the markets that will be the most influential early advocates, and then go to the thought leaders in those markets. International markets are often a great fit. The Yen is the second largest currency buying Bitcoin, but the Japanese market has a fraction of the noise that the US dollar market has. NEM and Cardano are good examples of blockchain projects that took advantage of that and heavily marketed to the Japanese community.
What are some of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on so far?
During the summer, we worked with Jelurida on the Ignis ICO. Ignis will be the first child chain of the Ardor platform, a scalable blockchain that represents, in my view, the next significant milestone for blockchain technology. I had been following the project for a long time so it was great to support the dev team through our services. We also helped SmartCash add multiple languages to their website, and it’s been great to see the project grow since our contribution.
Kotoba Translations is an industry member of ACCESS, Singapore’s Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Industry Association. In your opinion, how important are industry associations, and why?
The blockchain and cryptocurrency industry is very young and therefore very vulnerable to changing regulations. The lack of understanding from traditional organizations could be detrimental to the industry. Industry associations play an essential role in sharing information and advocating for the industry.
Are you personally invested in blockchain technology? What does your portfolio look like?
Yes, I still hold the majority of my liquid assets in blockchain assets. My personal portfolio is only comprised of a few coins, though: BTC, ARDR, and IGNIS. There are many great projects out there, but it is impossible to invest in all of them, so I prefer to focus on projects that can have the most impact for the future of the industry and which I can see striving on a 5-year horizon.
Where do you see blockchain leading us in future?
I hope that the use of blockchain will lead to greater transparency in society and that people will be able to use these new tokens as incentives to build economic models that go beyond what we can conceive today. Also, I am very excited by the transfer of wealth that is currently happening, where anyone with the right knowledge and skills can start investing and become financially independent, regardless of their location and background. Ultimately, the blockchain revolution means greater freedom, as people reconsider many of the old models and try to do things differently.