Guest column

Using tech in the localization process is key in growing businesses in a diverse city like Houston

Ludmila Golovine, president and CEO of MasterWord Services Inc. and a founding member of newly formed Women in Localization's Texas Chapter, writes on the importance of localization. The new organization is hosting its first Houston panel on September 24 at Station Houston. Getty Images

Today we live in a world where we not only do business globally, but where our local communities are becoming increasingly more international. And yet, we don't always market to prospective clients' local preferences. Opening a website or an app that wasn't intended for you can feel a lot like being lost in another country: you cannot understand the street signs, everything is different, and you don't even know how to ask a question of where to go.

Localization has come to define the process by which we adapt information and products to offer them to new markets and regions, the end goal being to give a product the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter the language, culture, or location. CNN knows that there are more than 58 million Latinos in the U.S. who want their own Spanish language shows. Domino's Pizza has an extremely flexible localization strategy where they regularly update their menu and topping choices to incorporate local tastes and food preferences. These are prime examples of localization.

In 2014, Common Sense Advisory, a major independent research company, published a report titled "Can't Read: Won't Buy." The report summarized responses of 3,000+ consumers across 10 countries regarding their buying preferences. According to the report, 75 percent of consumers said they were more likely to purchase goods and services if the product information was in their native language, and 56.2 percent of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language was more important than price.

As most brands have growth on their mind, the significance of personalization and localized marketing cannot be underestimated. It is not only global or international corporations that benefit from localization. Domestically, it is estimated that that 30 percent of the U.S. population will be Hispanic by 2042, and the buying power of minorities in the U.S. is continuing to increase.

For many companies, success depends on capturing market share in communities that don't speak English and don't necessarily relate to our nuanced culture. Overall, today businesses competing in a world of more than 7,000 spoken languages face increasing pressure to have the right language strategy in place to properly capture their desired market share, serve customers, and attract and retain experienced talent worldwide.

Website and app localization are among the more frequently sought services. With websites and apps available in multiple languages with modified content to suit the preferences of a particular market, adapted graphic design and geographic references, units of measure, proper local formats for dates, addresses and phone numbers for instance, businesses achieve:

  • Increased credibility as consumers find reassurance and comfort when information is accurately portrayed in their preferred language;
  • Enhanced customer engagement and retention as customers are attracted and loyalty is developed when information is provided in their native language. In fact, research confirms that most consumers would pay extra if the information was available in their native language;
  • Improved brand recognition as consumers are much more likely to identify with a brand they can relate to, one that shares information in their preferred language through website content, marketing and promotional materials or when providing customer service; and
  • More efficient SEO as multilingual content helps drive more traffic to websites. Leveraging SEO keywords may provide a competitive challenge in English, but in languages other than English, there is significantly less competition.

To attain a global reach, or to expand into diverse local communities right here in Houston, localization is an effective way to broaden the market and reach more customers, starting here in our multi-cultural city.

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Ludmila Golovine is the president and CEO of MasterWord Services Inc. and a founding member of newly formed Women in Localization's Texas Chapter. The organization is hosting its first Houston panel and networking event on Tuesday, September 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, Suite 2440).

You need a specialized lawyer for your startup — but that's easier said than done in Houston, according to this expert. Getty Images

One of the worst, and most expensive, mistakes that we see startup founders make in the very early days of their company is not realizing that hiring lawyers is a lot like hiring doctors: when the stakes are high, you need a highly experienced specialist.

Law has numerous specialties and sub-specialties, and hiring legal counsel with the wrong specialty can mean paying to reinvent the wheel, or simply getting advice that is out of sync with the norms of your industry and the expectations of your seasoned investors.

This challenge can be particularly acute for founders of startups located in Houston. The legal market in any particular city tends to mirror the dominant industries of that city. Houston has some of the world's most prominent energy and healthcare lawyers in the country, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about Houston's economy.

Startup lawyers, or more formally —corporate/securities lawyers who are sub-specialized in "emerging companies" — are a different story entirely. Given the nascent status of Houston's startup ecosystem, finding local lawyers who work with emerging technology companies and early-stage funding day in and day out, and know all the norms and nuances, is a challenge.

Very often we see founders get referred to a local lawyer who is a broad generalist that dabbles lightly in many practice areas. Their lack of depth in startup or venture capital work usually leads to clients paying for things that a more specialized lawyer, with a deeper set of precedent forms and institutional knowledge, could simply pull off the shelf. In other cases, founders get referred to very expensive senior corporate lawyers from firms designed for billion-dollar public company representation; totally overkill (and overpriced) for an early-stage startup.

What the smartest Houston founders discover, if they do their homework, is that leveraging the broader "Texas ecosystem" can help not just with sourcing talent for their employee roster or finding venture capital, but with sourcing specialized legal talent as well. In the case of Startup Lawyers, Austin's venture capital and startup ecosystem has produced numerous highly specialized lawyers whose depth of startup/vc experience easily compares with lawyers found in Silicon Valley, but who also regularly interact with investors in the Houston market; and therefore know their expectations. In the case of our firm, Egan Nelson (E/N), a significant number of our clients are located in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and other markets in the general regional area.

Historically, businesspeople have assumed that if they really want top-tier, highly specialized counsel, they had to find that counsel at large, multi-national law firms. That is no longer the case. The broader Texas ecosystem has produced a thriving group of specialized, high-end "boutique" law firms that are recruiting top-tier lawyers away from the traditional mega-firms, and leveraging technology to deliver "leaner" legal counsel; saving hundreds of dollars per hour for entrepreneurs.

It is not uncommon for us to see Houston startups utilizing an emerging companies corporate lawyer in Austin, a regulatory specialist lawyer in Houston, and a tax lawyer in Dallas; all from different firms. This is the future for how emerging companies will source their legal talent, without the constraints of geography or old-fashioned "all in one" law firm structures.

This trend really isn't that new. VCs from Austin and other Texas cities (and the coasts) have regularly been visiting Houston to fund companies, and Houston companies have regularly leveraged contacts in other markets to source specialized resources for their companies. The same dynamics have extended to finding legal counsel. "Localism," and an over-preoccupation with hiring everyone in the same city, isn't really just last year, it's more like last century. There is nothing about legal services for startups that requires any of your lawyers to be within your same city. Videoconferencing works great.

The growth of the Texas ecosystem, and the emergence of specialized boutique law firms, mean that Houston entrepreneurs have far more options to choose from for sourcing specialized legal counsel. Leverage those options to avoid engaging lawyers who are insufficiently experienced, or overkill, for the needs of your company. For more resources on finding and assessing the right lawyers for your Houston startup, see Startup Lawyers, Explained.

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Jose Ancer is an Emerging Companies Partner at Egan Nelson LLP. He also writes for Silicon Hills Lawyer, an internationally recognized startup/vc law blog focused on entrepreneurs located outside of Silicon Valley, including Texas.