Career 180: Investing in reliable translations
Ryan Frankel, 29, is the founder of VerbalizeIt, a phone application that provides a human language translator. Originally from Baltimore, Frankel now lives in the Union Square area. He was formerly an investor at Goldman Sachs.
Why the career switch? I spent the first four years of my post-college career investing in small and medium-sized businesses. I was really fortunate to learn from the investors, but also the entrepreneurs we worked with — what works, what doesn’t work, how to build your business. I switched because I saw a lot more opportunity and excitement being on the other end of the table. Having grown up in an environment where I saw things created out of nothing — both my parents were entrepreneurs — I wanted to take part in that process.
[HOWEVER], it was really born out of unfortunate personal circumstances. I was traveling in China while I was attending Wharton [University of Pennsylvania business school], I got very, very sick while traveling in Shanghai and unfortunately couldn’t communicate with any pharmacists because of the language barrier. I came back from China — I survived — and I found two very inadequate types of solutions for my needs: One was these traditional call centers where you pay $10 a minute to have access to a human translator, and newer machine applications where the quality is lackluster at best, but prices are cheap, if not free. … What if we can deliver the quality of those call centers but at prices that look like machine translator applications? That’s what VerbalizeIt does.
What are some pros and cons of your new career? Pros: You can be very agile when you’re an entrepreneur. You can make incredible rates of progress in a 24-hour period that might take six months to do in a highly structured organization. Results are very tangible, they’re very immediate; you know what’s working and not working very quickly and because of that you can make changes.
I would say cons are, it’s certainly less stable, there’s less certainty. When you work for a 30,000-person organization with $40 billion in revenue every year, that’s a very different risk profile than when you’re working for a new business. And if you’re someone who needs structure being an entrepreneur probably isn’t the right career for you. This is an environment in which I thrive.
Are you happy with your career switch? I’m unequivocally happy: I love every day, I see it in myself when I look in the mirror, I hear it from family and friends. I’m happier, healthier, and generally excited about the future than I ever have been before.
Do you have any advice for our readers who are considering a career 180? Being an entrepreneur, taking a career switch, it’s not a decision that can be taken without giving a lot of thought to it. Always take feedback, be it from your customers, your colleagues, your suppliers — you might be building something and you think you have all the answers but the reality is that you don’t. The best advice I’ve ever gotten is ideas are a dime a dozen so don’t be afraid to share your ideas and get constructive feedback.