[Startup Interview] Lennart van der Ziel, CEO Travis
Please describe Travis?
Travis is a pocket-sized smart device that uses artificial intelligence to instantly recognize and translate speech in 80 languages with some unique features that include:
A total of 80 languages offered online and 23 languages without internet connection. Travis is designed for face-to-face conversations, with anyone; strangers, business, in the streets and in meeting rooms. Travis doesn't need earphones to work (no awkwardness of passing some stranger an earphone), simply press on it and start talking. Dual noise-cancelling mic + loud built-in speakers. Works independently without needing to use your phone, without zapping your phone battery. Translation quality: Travis is the first to integrate the best engines to give you the best translation, currently 7 engines with more expected in future. Cooperation instead of competition!
Travis goal is to change the way we communicate. We are at the beginning of a massive impact on how we all can communicate with everyone, across languages, in our own language. The technology is available and maturing, it's now up to us, together to make that step forward towards that vision. Go boldly forward across language barriers with Travis. Speak, laugh, communicate and experience Travis and grow the movement. We can only get there together.
Travis can change the world because it kick starts mass usage of translation technology powered by AI (Artificial Intelligence), so the engine gets the fuel that's needed, and the technology will get exponentially better instead of incrementally. On top of that we help people to make cross-national connections/friends/business partners, help refugees learn a new language (partnership with a global organization OLE - Open Learning Exchange and Movement on the ground). It is also a solution in places where languages collide for example hospitals, war zones, hotels, airports, refugee camps. The target audience therefore spans from passionate world travellers, to business people through NGOs and governments.
Why did you start Travis?
Nick, Lennart and Brend are the co-founders of Travis. During 2016 they decided they wanted to work together by launching meaningful products. With over 20 nationalities in their direct environment in the Rotterdam innovation ecosystem, they experienced a lot of language barriers to really make impact with innovation. This was the starting point of their new adventure. Bridging language barriers!
Lennart van der Ziel, CEO: "From law school to start-up scene, led multiple international teams in IT consulting, successfully launched various software products. A community builder, he loves making road trips."
Nick NM Yap, CPO: "is a product geek with over 20 years of experience in creating products in three continents. He has made countless trips and believes travel is all about human connection."
Brend Kouwenhoven, COO: "Combining innovation, entrepreneurship, and finance to improve the world. Brend boasts of over 20 years’ experience with corporates, governments and ventures and is now using it to remove language barriers with Travis."
Who owns Travis?
4 co-owners - A lot of hardware experience within the founders team (3 original founders now team, one in china, growing rapidly, currently 16 people from all around the world, who wanted to make a product with societal and global impact. This was informed by personal language barrier experiences from founders in business and travels. On top of that we believe that the people of the world should talk more to each other so there's more understanding and Travis enables that.
How and where are you located?
The leading team is in Rotterdam (CIC offices), but the shipment comes from China (Shenzhen).
How is Travis financed?
Travis started with a small investment from the founders to start the crowdfunding on Indiegogo. Within one month we had made 630.000 dollars of presales of Travis the Translator. This gave us the opportunity to finalize the first version of Travis. Till now we still do pre sales of the device and use the gross margin to further develop our product. Now we have a lot of feedback from the market we want to make a big step and are looking for 500k investment.
What distinguishes Travis from other businesses in the industry?
We strive to be a fast growing company. We know that the market for a translation device is big. Especially when the market we found, the one of professionals (doctors, police, and aid workers) is also taken into account. Our device and approach seems to be quite unique and about the only solution suitable for use of this type of people. We are different because we combine the best of the best available by constantly offering the best technology available for the language combination asked. For example, when you use Google Translate as your translator, all steps for all languages are done by Google. Using Travis means, we constantly look for the best engines available. So for example, for English to France translation, we use engine 1, because our smart engine knows this is the best for this language combination, after traveling to Germany it uses engine 2 for EN-D, because Travis knows engine 2 is better for this language combination. In addition we are working hard to make Travis more human by using better voices and even better by adding more engines
How does Travis as a product differ from others?
Plenty of differences, I'll name a few key ones. Travis is the first device to feature both online and offline modes. Our users have found this very important, the online power of always learning, always improving and the offline convenience.
The ability to have the best of best translations in 80 languages also offers a strong value to our users, who travel a lot for work and for leisure. We've seen others make an assumption that translating between English and few foreign languages is enough, no it's not. The world has 7500 languages, more than 20 major ones where English is merely number three. A trip across Europe would be a simple prove.
And a fuss free natural interface. Designed to function while held naturally in your hands (not held in your face), or placed on the table which means you can have a human to human conversation, eye to eye, complete with hand gestures. Dual noise cancelling mic, boosted built-in speakers, push to start, voice UI (tell it to change language) are some of the details in our design philosophy. The "job to be done" is "conversation across languages", not "merely translation".
Travis is special because in it we seamlessly integrate the technology from the tech giants with our own layer of software - in other words Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are used to improve both speech recognition and translation. In Travis, we've integrated speech recognition and translation engines from different sources, which gives our users a best of the best overall experience. As a device, Travis has been designed to be used without looking at it, and does not need to be held close to the mouth, therefore putting the translation in natural conversation.
What is it that clients want from you?
Being able to have a conversation regardless of their language differences
What does Travis need to grow?
Key elements: active customers giving feedback, strong team, capital, devoted community of supporters, also building own AI team.
Travis is founded as an Applied AI company, applying AI to usage scenario for human impact, giving AI a voice, a human interface. The hardware device is simply a physical user interface.
The software is an integration of several AI-driven translation engines (currently 5 engines, planning for 7 in the next MVP, you see where that goes). We're studying more engines to integrate incl. speech-to-text, text-to-text and speech synthesis, from the giants, as well as independents, startups and open source. We are happy to connect with people in these fields.
For our own in-house development, our plan is to invest in a team to develop a neural network based in Netherlands to be applied in 2 areas: real-time selection of the best engine for each task and narrowly focused translation for example professional terms/lingo, minority languages
What are your international ambitions?
Translation is international. Via Indiegogo we sold our first device all over the world. The feedback gave us a good insight into the different needs all over the world. We now use this insights to optimize our international strategy, ourselves, but also with partners and distributors.
Any recent news you would like to share?
Participation in many international events, e.g. UNESCO literacy Day in September http://en.unesco.org/themes/literacy-all/literacy-day, Impact Startup Fest in den Haag and Capital Week in Amsterdam.
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