Recently, Bettercast founder Ben had a chance to talk to the CEO of interpretation platform provider Akkadu. 

Adding multi-lingual interpretation can enhance an event greatly, so in this video podcast, we will talk about Alvaro, and how Akkadu came about and of course, how it can add to your hybrid conference.  

Ben:
Hi, it’s Ben from Better Cast here. This is the first in a series of interviews that I will be doing with industry professionals in all aspects of online event delivery. So join me in talking today with Alvaro from Akkadu, where we talk about how multi-lingual interpretations can make your event far more inclusive to guests where English isn’t their first language.

Ben:
So Alvaro, thanks for joining me on the Better Podcast. I really appreciate it. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Alvaro:
Okay. I’m Alvaro, from Spain, from Barcelona, and I’ve been living in China for around 10 years, and I’m a telecom engineer. And I was working in the tech industry here in Beijing, always in Beijing. Then, about three years ago, I started Akkadu, where I started my MBA at university.

Ben:
Okay. What brought you to China? What took you to China?

Alvaro:
Oh, that’s a good question. Let’s see if I can summarize it. When I was at the university in Barcelona, I always wanted to learn from CEOs, to see how it is to be a CEO. And I used to do it in five years, I was always a driver. Such a part-time job. I always was a driver of executives that came from all over the world. We joined an event called the Mobile World Congress. It’s a big event that always happens once per year in Barcelona. So I had CEOS, and I was learning from them. But last two years, my client was Ren Zhengzhou. He’s the founder of Huawei. And yet, he doesn’t speak English, but he’s the vice-president of Huawei. Sometimes I also have to drive them to the restaurant, to the meeting. Some of them are very fluent in English.

Alvaro:
So I remember when they help us keep them like, Hey, what should I do with my life? I’m kind of lost. And because many of them are very smart, their backgrounds were like my background. They were more senior than me; of course, they were my precedents, but they stayed in China and ended up in telecommunications. They did an internship. They have to find their jobs, or it’s like everyday life now. But they were already executives. So I just was asking them for advice. And some of them told me, “Alvaro, you should learn Chinese and come to China because, in the telecom industry, we are growing very fast, and we may need people like you with a tech background, but also communication skills”. Because I was speaking already English and Spanish. And that’s why they said that with Chinese will be even better. And that convinced me, that convinced me. And I remember the last time I was with Ren Zhengzhou, I dropped him at the airport to him and his team. The following week, I started my Chinese classes.

Ben:
That’s fantastic!

Alvaro:
All in.

Ben:
That’s fantastic.

Ben:
I mean, people would usually pay thousands of dollars to get access to people at that level, and it’s like, they’re in your car. You can ask them to get advice. Fantastic.

Ben:
So, when you started learning Chinese, I imagine that you’re now mostly fluent, or I’m assuming you’ve got fluency. Is that kind of what led you down to Akkadu came about?

Alvaro:
Actually, Akkadu started out of frustration because I was studying for my MBA, so I was already seven years in China. Then I started my MBA, and I skipped some classes to join some Chinese lectures. Some professors are local Chinese professors, but they’re outstanding; but the course is supposed to be for 50 people, but you can fit two hundred in the class. The content is good, but sometimes they talk about ethics, but in a Chinese inspired also bring in things from the ancient times. How there are still some traditions, and it’s still in the business world in China?

Alvaro:
I wanted to learn from that, and the professor was using many Chinese idioms, whether you know what it means or you don’t know. I was so frustrated that even seven years, there were some things I couldn’t understand. Then I wondered why I cannot help people like me because we want to understand the Chinese culture to better understand it from these fantastic professors. So we need a solution. So that’s how Akkadu started. Also, at the same time, there was a startup competition team sponsored by Facebook in the university. As a participant who entered already with this prototype, I got the second prize. So that also incentivization me and push me.

Ben:
Fantastic. Awesome. So, I guess this is a good lead in to tell me a bit about Akkadu. What do you do? What does it do?

Alvaro:
Now we are… so it just started as a solution to help the students. It was a product that I build in California for the students. I always wanted, and I still want to help people understand the content in another language because I think we will live in a much better beautiful world if we could understand each other. And so I thought that with the students, and it was like kind of an AI solution, I was doing more customized. Customize each model that was more accurate and learning from the professor. The more the professor used it, the more accurate the machine was. And then the students can better understand what he’s saying, but I started to have a client. And the problem is that AI is not accurate AI. It’s not a hundred per cent real. It makes mistakes. And sometimes I realize the problem. Sometimes it’s not that the AI is wrong. It’s just that humans when we speak, we speak wrong. That the grammar is not correct. We said a sentence that I’m not correct. And that error, the machines recognize it. So that’s why-

Ben:
Yeah.

Alvaro:
And in the end, it was really bad.

Ben:
Hi, it’s Ben from Better Cast here. This is the first in a series of interviews that I will be doing with industry professionals in all aspects of online event delivery. So join me in talking today with Alvaro from Akkadu, where we talk about how multi-lingual interpretations can make your event far more inclusive to guests where English isn’t their first language.

Ben:
So Alvaro, thanks for joining me on the Better Podcast. I really appreciate it. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Alvaro:
Okay. I’m Alvaro, from Spain, from Barcelona, and I’ve been living in China for around 10 years, and I’m a telecom engineer. And I was working in the tech industry here in Beijing, always in Beijing. Then, about three years ago, I started Akkadu, where I started my MBA at university.

Ben:
Okay. What brought you to China? What took you to China?

Alvaro:
Oh, that’s a good question. Let’s see if I can summarize it. When I was at the university in Barcelona, I always wanted to learn from CEOs, to see how it is to be a CEO. And I used to do it in five years, I was always a driver. Such a part-time job. I always was a driver of executives that came from all over the world. We joined an event called the Mobile World Congress. It’s a big event that always happens once per year in Barcelona. So I had CEOS, and I was learning from them. But last two years, my client was Ren Zhengzhou. He’s the founder of Huawei. And yet, he doesn’t speak English, but he’s the vice-president of Huawei. Sometimes I also have to drive them to the restaurant, to the meeting. Some of them are very fluent in English.

Alvaro:
So I remember when they help us keep them like, Hey, what should I do with my life? I’m kind of lost. And because many of them are very smart, their backgrounds were like my background. They were more senior than me; of course, they were my precedents, but they stayed in China and ended up in telecommunications. They did an internship. They have to find their jobs, or it’s like everyday life now. But they were already executives. So I just was asking them for advice. And some of them told me, “Alvaro, you should learn Chinese and come to China because, in the telecom industry, we are growing very fast, and we may need people like you with a tech background, but also communication skills”. Because I was speaking already English and Spanish. And that’s why they said that with Chinese will be even better. And that convinced me, that convinced me. And I remember the last time I was with Ren Zhengzhou, I dropped him at the airport to him and his team. The following week, I started my Chinese classes.

Ben:
That’s fantastic!

Alvaro:
All in.

Ben:
That’s fantastic.

Ben:
I mean, people would usually pay thousands of dollars to get access to people at that level, and it’s like, they’re in your car. You can ask them to get advice. Fantastic.

Ben:
So, when you started learning Chinese, I imagine that you’re now mostly fluent, or I’m assuming you’ve got fluency. Is that kind of what led you down to Akkadu came about?

Alvaro:
Actually, Akkadu started out of frustration because I was studying for my MBA, so I was already seven years in China. Then I started my MBA, and I skipped some classes to join some Chinese lectures. Some professors are local Chinese professors, but they’re outstanding; but the course is supposed to be for 50 people, but you can fit two hundred in the class. The content is good, but sometimes they talk about ethics, but in a Chinese inspired also bring in things from the ancient times. How there are still some traditions, and it’s still in the business world in China?

Alvaro:
I wanted to learn from that, and the professor was using many Chinese idioms, whether you know what it means or you don’t know. I was so frustrated that even seven years, there were some things I couldn’t understand. Then I wondered why I cannot help people like me because we want to understand the Chinese culture to better understand it from these fantastic professors. So we need a solution. So that’s how Akkadu started. Also, at the same time, there was a startup competition team sponsored by Facebook in the university. As a participant who entered already with this prototype, I got the second prize. So that also incentivization me and push me.

Ben:
Fantastic. Awesome. So, I guess this is a good lead in to tell me a bit about Akkadu. What do you do? What does it do?

Alvaro:
Now we are… so it just started as a solution to help the students. It was a product that I build in California for the students. I always wanted, and I still want to help people understand the content in another language because I think we will live in a much better beautiful world if we could understand each other. And so I thought that with the students, and it was like kind of an AI solution, I was doing more customized. Customize each model that was more accurate and learning from the professor. The more the professor used it, the more accurate the machine was. And then the students can better understand what he’s saying, but I started to have a client. And the problem is that AI is not accurate AI. It’s not a hundred per cent real. It makes mistakes. And sometimes I realize the problem. Sometimes it’s not that the AI is wrong. It’s just that humans when we speak, we speak wrong. That the grammar is not correct. We said a sentence that I’m not correct. And that error, the machines recognize it. So that’s why-

Ben:
Yeah.

Alvaro:
And in the end, it was really bad.

Ben:
Yeah.

Alvaro:
So that’s why when… yeah?

Ben:
Oh, I was going to say that you seem like Google with their buds and IWS are all trying to get this AI level of talking to someone in a situation, and the audio will be processed and translate in your ears. And where are we in that respect?

Alvaro:
So that is where, for me, we are not there yet. And it still takes time. Especially audio to audio. So that’s why I decided more to better that the machine is still the human. The human [inaudible 00:06:44] They are much more accurate and the most important that they can recognize when the speaker is making a mistake, so the human interpreter can stop and then maybe control making a better way to [inaudible 00:06:58], so that’s why we became a remote interpretation platform and that’s how we started, and then it takes off. We’ve got many clients, we’ve got investment as well, private investment-

Ben:
Congrats.

Alvaro:
And then a company very much invested in us. Then, we kind [inaudible 00:07:17] with the companies as well, because the more that we were growing, the more that we were becoming a service company. That was not what I had in mind. I didn’t want it to become a service company. I think there are much better candidates to be a service company that, for example, [inaudible 00:07:34] 30 years.

Alvaro:
So that’s why we became a more remote interpreting technology. So that’s why we have four partner agencies. We deal with their applications, Android applications, or the program for the Chinese market. They are ready for remote interpretation. So we build for them, and then they can use it, or they use our platform for [inaudible 00:07:58] we have for SDK or API, but the views of integrating, but lets you get three more interpretations.

Ben:
Okay, fantastic. I kind of want to go back to something you were saying a little bit earlier, and this comes down to interpreters. So how far does an interpretation drift from being what said and do things like colloquialisms, sayings, terminology? I mean, you said, the Chinese were doing presentations; they were using stuff that’s very, very traditionally Chinese to explain ethical points. How do you find that interpreters deal with that? And is that a constant problem?

Alvaro:
Well, I’m not an interpreter, but I’ve been working with many interpreters. They always do a lot of preparation, or at least they try to. Sometimes it’s hard because maybe the client doesn’t provide them with videos or information, but they always try to prepare it in a sense. That’s why in the end, you always get accurate results because they know about the context. That’s very important. The context that the topic is about. And sometimes they also try to find some materials from a speaker, from other sources. So they know the way he or she talks, the accent that he or she has. And that’s why in the end, it’s always accurate, or we always get also good feedback.

Ben:
That brings me to another question about, like, do your interpreters need special skills or are you training them up? And how do you even find people? Let’s say I’m doing a… yeah.

Alvaro:
So, two things, first are we don’t provide interpreters since last year.

Ben:
Okay.

Alvaro:
Now, we are more partnering with agencies; the agencies already have many interpreters. So we are basically only the technology provider. And then the agencies bring interpreters. When we partner with beautiful platforms, then we have a list of agencies all over the world that there is a platform that all their clients can contact to get interpreters whenever they want.

Ben:
I see.

Alvaro:
We are not now involved. Before we were, but not anymore.

Ben:
So it’s more of a platform integration that you would help facilitate conversations between an event manager or an AV company, or even the platform into the agencies who then provide the interpreter. So it’s kind of an event manager to the agency. You’re the platform integration. That’s how it works.

Alvaro:
Yeah. And the agency is needed because of course, we were thinking about, why don’t we connect interpreters, so we don’t need the agency? But the problem is that interpreters are not one person. If I need to match to one person, okay, it’s fine. But if you need to match two-person people, that is the thing. So what happened if one of these two interpreters suddenly have some emergency, cannot join? Then this is a concern that we’re bringing to the event organizer. So when you’re dealing with an agency, the agency makes sure that there will be two interpreters ready for the event.

Ben:
Oh, fantastic.

Ben:
I think you touched on it before, but can you tell me a little bit about how a platform would look to integrate into Akkadu? Like how would that work?

Alvaro:
Oh, there’s many. It’s very easy. So we have different types of integration. It also depends if it is a web platform… the platform is a web app solution. So it depends on the frameworks that they are using. If it is in view, if it’s in react, or if it is in HTML. We have JavaScript, SDK. And integration usually takes around one to two days.

Alvaro:
We also have a demo player, which fit in a few hours already the platforms they are already; we can put them there. They are showing the CEOs, how it looked like. So it’s very, actually straightforward.

Ben:
Okay. So, pretty much any level of delivery, like video delivery, endpoint platform, a WordPress, or even just a pure HTML site, can integrate Akkadu into it?

Alvaro:
Yes, yes. There are different types of integrations. So we also have these kinds of, it’s not an I-frame, because we don’t like that much, the concept of an I-frame. There are too many limitations, but we also have kind of an I-frame, but it’s just a code that you can copy-paste, and you already get it. This is the simple integration, or there is more deep integration, but we will realize the beautiful platform; they like this more. The way it is now, it doesn’t look like this, and integration for anyone. From an outsider, it’s like part of the system.

Alvaro:
But yeah, we have the simple one, and then the more complex one, which is what I think people like the most. And then it doesn’t matter. It can be a video streaming company, a webcasting company, a visual platform, so many players or programs applications that can get this integrated. And I’ll tell you this is is important, we’re also building applications for agencies. Like for example, we have suppliers that they want; hey, I want my Android and iPhone app for remote interpretation, [inaudible 00:13:00] interpretation for meetings. And of course, here we’re using SDK. We’re also put in a building app. And that is the solution that we give to the client. There are so many applications.

Ben:
Yeah. I want to get onto a little bit about the actual delivery, like how event management or the AV company will deliver the content for the interpretation. But something that I thought of, how would a guest… we’re moving into a hybrid events situation where people are in-venue as well. Is there any way that people in-venue can benefit from the interpretations, or would they have to have some additional functionality somehow in the website? Or is there anything that you guys provide that would help that?

Alvaro:
Yeah, we do have AV companies working with us, especially in China. So there are two cases, for example, AV company. So one case is that the AV company already knows a platform, a visual platform that already has these multi-lingual streaming for interpretation. For example, if that AV company use these guys, then it’s like no need to think about it anymore. They can do it by themselves. And then if it is, for example, they talk to us, then they can, for example, use our old platform. And the only thing that they need is very simple is on the venue, opens the laptop, get the image, put it into the laptop. And that already gets moved into the interpreters. Also, the audio from the other treatment, you put into your laptop with a USB cable, and you already get out the audio image to the interpreters, which are remote. They can interpret.

Alvaro:
Now for the audience, there are two options. For the audience, if they need the translation, they just give them a QR or link. Then they can already at the moment listen to the translation, or sometimes it’s not AV company, but their client is traditional, and they still want a sufficient solution, the typical device is fine. You can also do it. You loop it to the transmitter of both devices, and then you give them the receiver to the VIP.

Ben:
That’s fantastic.

Alvaro:
Actually, we never thought about it. It just we learned that by partnering with so many companies. And then when I went because sometimes you need to be trusting of yourself. Then you go to the event as a surprise to see how they are using, or you realize, Hey, how you’re using this device, and you see the set-up that they have done by themselves. So, in the end, for the client still is the traditional solution. Everything is the traditional way. It’s just interpreters are not there, but they don’t even know that.

Ben:
I want to begin to wind up, but I want to find out a little bit about pricing. What’s pricing for your platform generally? And then what would an event manager expect pricing to be for a single translation language? I know every agency is going to have a different price, but in your experience, what can they be expecting?

Alvaro:
So, there are kind of two prices. In our case, it’s a technology price. And then there is the interpreter price. In the case of the technology price, it depends if it is our SDK being integrated with user platforms, then it’s about 0.007 dollars per minute per listener. But for a listener that is listening to the translation, if somebody is listening to the digital audio, I wouldn’t charge. This is one price.

Alvaro:
Now for the technology, for the SDK, for the user platform. Now, if it is the price, for example, for having an Android app, iPhone app, a web browser app that we built for them, then there is that development fee, and then we have the SDK price, 0.007. And then if it is, for example, an AV company literally coming to us, like this usually happens. I have many events, and I want to have a foundation.

Alvaro:
Then we have a package of $2,000 or $4,000 or $50,000. But for each package, you get a number of listeners that you can have in total, not for one event. So we have 2000 listeners, 10,000 listeners, or 50,000 listeners. So that means within one year if you haven’t reached 50,000 people listening to translation, it’s fine; you can keep using. It’s just a one-time payment, and they don’t need to think about it anymore. That’s how we charge.

Ben:
In your experience, what do you think an event manager would expect pricing to be for a translator? Is it a thousand dollars an hour or a hundred dollars an hour? What would you expect them to be charged?

Alvaro:
Well, it depends. It’s very important. Also, the language combination, because there are some languages that are common. There are some languages that are not that covered, and they are difficult to find interpreters. For example, if it is around half date, and let’s say the combination of Chinese English, then it could be around $1000 to $1,200 that they will have ready two interpreters for half days and bring it to professional events.

Ben:
Did you say, two interpreters? Why would you have two interpreters?

Alvaro:
You always need two interpreters because simultaneous interpretation is very brain consuming. So every 15 minutes, the interpreters are changing turns. So it always goes by the couple. So it’s around $1,200. And then you have these interpreters for half days making the simultaneous interpretation for the event. This is what it costs. But usually, we are always selling the gold package, which is for 10,000, and it’s just one payment that you do, and then they don’t need to worry about the tech anymore.

Ben:
And I just want to finish up, what are your thoughts, your personal thoughts on accessibility on multi-lingual platforms? Do you think, as an industry, it’s being adopted widely, or it’s still got a long way to go, and I also guess with the push on AI and automatic translations, how do you feel that the industry is moving?

Alvaro:
So, these are two questions. The first question regarding the multi-lingual audio? I think that’s the future. Sometimes we get approached by clients, like event organizers, but we don’t deal with them. We recommend them agencies or AV companies so they can talk with them. But when they come, it’s a good opportunity for the central market. I asked many questions, and I can see that they didn’t do in the past translation. They always had the event, for example, in English. Now that they are forced to having virtual, that they consider adding languages to reach more audiences. Because in the end, for many events, organizers, it’s about creating impact. So the more people that can reach it, the better. So that is how I see it. It’s like if I said, well, it’s not online, so let’s ask friends to see if we can reach more.

Alvaro:
It’s also ROI. They always care about analytics. I want to see if I ask. For example, the last one was talking about Bahasa, the Indonesian language. If I add Bahasa, I want to see the analytics, how many people are listening to that language.

Ben:
Of course.

Alvaro:
Because these are new markets, potential markets. People who are speaking Indonesian, there are millions, hundreds of millions.

Ben:
Okay.

Alvaro:
So this is answering your first question about the multi-lingual. I can feel like a trend. I think in the future, it will be UN-polite to have an event in only one language. Because look at this, Benjamin. 83% of the human population doesn’t speak English. 83%, this is real data. So it means if you have an event organizer that says that he wants to change the world, blah, blah, blah, make an impact, and if he’s doing the event in English, he’s missing a huge potential market just because of the language.

Ben:
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a very, very small frame of a worldview, or it’s only in English. It’s only going to be in English. Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. How do you feel that AI is going to take off? DO you think in the next five years it’s going to make you defunct, or will it never?

Alvaro:
Well, I don’t think so because we also have a visual platform that they were using for titles, and then it was very, very successful because the client still gives us a reason to ask the audience to read. They just wanted to enjoy like anyone else, just clicking a button. I remember the speakers speak so well English, the pace was so good, that the voice recognition was very, very accurate, very accurate, but it’s, still, the client still wants the audio translation. You cannot compare apples with bottles. So the same is with audio and text; there are different things. Now AI audio with human audio, that you can compare. [inaudible 00:22:10].

Alvaro:
There is one question, Benjamin, that would be great if you can ask me. You could ask me, what does Akkadu mean?

Ben:
Well, that’s a great way to finish off. What does Akkadu mean?

Alvaro:
Thank you, Benjamin, for asking. So here I go. Around 3,000 years ago in the Middle East, there was a city called Babylon city. And the citizens were building a tower called the Babel Tower, and this tower had one unique purpose, to reach heaven. Now, based on the Bible, God was not happy with this idea and punished all the citizens and make them talk in different languages so they cannot communicate and they cannot finish the tower.

Alvaro:
Benjamin, these are all the stories, but in real life, 3,000 years ago, the Babylon city, the language that the citizens were talking is called Acadian. Arcadian is a forgotten language. It doesn’t exist anymore, but it existed. You can Google it. One of the words of the vocabulary is Akkad. Akkad means something is coming from Acadian culture and language. So in honour of that forgotten language, we called ourselves Akkad. Thank you very much.

Alvaro:
Sorry, I always get dramatic with this speech.

Ben:
That’s fantastic. Awesome. Well, thanks very much. I appreciate your time.

Alvaro:
Okay. Thank you, Benjamin, for inviting me.