Interview: Robert Lo Bue, Applingua

In our latest interview, we speak to Robert Lo Bue, the founder of Cardiff-based app translation agency Applingua. He tells us more about himself and his business and offers up some great advice for setting up your own start-up.

TD: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do, please?

RLB: I grew up near Cardiff before going to study International Management and German at The University of Bath. After several years living in Munich, I decided to start Applingua, an app translation agency based in Cardiff.

The idea is pretty simple. You make an app or website, but it’s only available in your native language. You come to us and we take that app and make it into French, German, Chinese, Japanese, etc, so other users in other countries may enjoy what you’ve made.

Applingua has been going for five years. Two of us work for the company, and we work in close contact with many freelancers and clients across the world.

TD: Just how big is the need for apps and services that support a variety of languages? How does Applingua fit in?

The internet has made many things possible and has removed many barriers to selling your product or service abroad. Devices are in the hands of many users, both in developed and developing countries.

Demand for our service is increasing. Developers around the world want to make their service available to users, regardless of language. That’s where we fit in, with the experience, language quality and skills these products and services deserve.

TD: What are you doing to support the Welsh language?

RLB: In late 2014, we noticed a lack of useful apps available in Welsh. Choosing to translate your app is a business decision, and it’s unlikely app developers, largely based in hubs like San Francisco, Berlin or Tel Aviv, are going to choose to translate their apps into Welsh. We thought we could change this and hopefully increase the number of apps Welsh speakers, learners and schools could access.

We approached Welsh Government asking for a small grant to cover professional translation costs. The team at the Welsh Language Unit were incredibly receptive to our ideas and very helpful throughout the entire process.

A year later, we’ve now translated over 50 unique and exciting apps, many of which have been featured by Apple. So many, in fact, that we had to create a directory for people to easily find apps in Welsh. Check out www.appsinwelsh.com or www.apiauyngymraeg.com to find out more.

TD: What do you think of the Welsh start-up scene – tech, in particular?

RLB: When I moved back to Cardiff in December 2010, Cardiff’s tech scene was almost non-existent. Then slowly and surely events started popping up around the city, events like Cardiff Blogs, Unified Diff, Cardiff Tweetup. People began talking, and it was great.

By late 2013, Cardiff Start was in full swing, trying to organise and broker events around the start up community. The Facebook group grew exponentially, with conversation buzzing. Events started. Like-minded people started communities in Swansea and Newport and local government started getting interested in our exciting industry.

Today, Wales’ tech scene can certainly rival or even exceed that of the little league players. While it’ll be a long time before we challenge London, Berlin or Tel Aviv, the tides are turning. I’ve noticed many new faces in the community and Welsh companies are finally attracting skilled workers from around the UK and Europe. If Wales is ever going to reverse the brain drain, it’s going to be lead by tech.

Exciting times lay ahead for Wales. We’re a small country, which makes us flexible. Standard of living is pretty high and overheads are affordable. The community is strong and growing. It really is one of the best places to start up, run and work in the UK.

TD: What was your first taste of being an entrepreneur?

RLB: I’m not a massive fan of the word ‘entrepreneur’. It puts barriers up. I think we can all be entrepreneurial if we put our minds to it, whatever we do.

One of the first times I can remember, let’s say, taking advantage of the market is a bit of a grey area. When I was 12/13, I lived out of the catchment area of my school. This meant I took a service bus to the town centre rather than being dropped off at the gates. I would buy sweets at the newsagents before school and then sell them at break time. I’m pretty sure we weren’t allowed to do this, but I made a few bob…

After that I dabbled in computer repairs and website design through my teens. I even made an app once before they were called apps.

TD: How has your career developed?

RLB: During university, I did an erasmus year in Munich, working for a marketing agency. I learnt so much in that year I didn’t really want to come back to the UK for final year. After university, I quickly made my way back to Munich, this time to work for a software company.

It was there I discovered it was too difficult for software developers to translate their apps for other markets. Traditional agencies were too cumbersome, slow and expensive. There had to be another way.

Then, in November 2010 I quit my job, moved back to the UK and started Applingua Ltd. It’s been quite the journey over the last five years, which has seen me experiment with many different business models.

In recent years, I’ve taken a step back to enjoy a different lifestyle being a digital nomad. It’s allowed me to travel the world, staying 1–2 months in different cities at a time and work online at the same time. I kept my flat in Cardiff to check in with friends, family and the Cardiff Start community from time to time. The experience has been second to none, and I’ve been making notes as I go, ready to take my own ventures to the next level now that I am back in Cardiff.

TD: What has been your biggest success and your biggest obstacle?

RLB: I’ve always known that the biggest obstacle in my business is me.

I purposely restrict business growth to lead an easier life. Some may think I’m crazy, but I believe in free time as much as I love working. This will change slightly over the next couple of years as we ramp up Applingua to become increasingly scalable and adaptive to the market. I’m ready, Applingua is ready.

Our biggest success is yet to come…

TD: What advice would you give to someone looking to set up a start-up?

RLB: I have two pieces of advice I believe I was fortunate to learn early on in my journey.

The first is to run your ideas by everyone and their dog. If someone asks what you’re doing, don’t shy away from telling them. If no one is asking, offer something in return for their time and opinion, often a coffee will be enough.

Please try not to get caught up in protecting your idea too much. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase Art is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. Starting a company is exactly the same. Ideas are cheap, implementation requires a dedication most others won’t be able to put in.

My second piece of advice is slightly ironic, all things considered. Ignore all advice. I should clarify, ignore all advice that claims to be ‘the only way’.

I’ve spent a good deal of the last 10 years listening to members of the start-up community pontificating about the latest book they have read, the latest advice they received, often professing it as the only way possible to have a successful startup.

Be lean! Use agile! Outsource everything! Get funding! The list goes on. And while I would say that there is merit in wider reading, in the end you need to decide for yourself. If being a lean start-up doesn’t work well for you, that is totally fine. If you want to self fund, fine, if you want to go the funding route, fine. Maybe you like waterfall management. It doesn’t matter.

Work hard and good luck!