Download the Waygo Visual Translator
TechFaster: Who are you and what do you do?
Ryan: My name is Ryan Rogowski. I’m the CEO of Waygo.
Rob: I’m Rob Sanchez, the director of operations at Waygo.
Ryan: Waygo is an instant visual translation tool that’s you can use on your smartphone. What that means is if you can imagine hovering your smartphone camera over foreign text and instantly reading it, that’s what our product does.
TechFaster: How did you come up with the idea?
Ryan: After graduating at University of Illinois I was awarded the scholarship from the US department of Defense to pick a language and learn it so I decided to go to Beijing and try to learn mandarin. I got there and I couldn’t read anything and it was really frustrating. Picking meals was frustrating because there would always be so many characters you never come across in a regular conversation. Part of my background was in image processing and linguistics so I thought it would be amazing if I could just point my phone at all this stuff and instantly be able to read it. After thinking it through and exploring the idea with a couple prototypes, I realized that it could be something big. With the rise of smartphones and cameras I thought it was a practical thing to start building.
TechFaster: What has the 500 Startups experience been like?
Rob: It’s been a really awesome experience. The caliber of mentors and other teams to be able to bounce ideas off of and be there when you been like crying because you feel like your product is dumb; that social atmosphere combined with the mentors really does help kick-start you. You have to be at a certain level for one of the high caliber accelerators to get in, but it really helps you jump start. The speakers that come in are really interesting successful people. Being around all those people just motivates you and drives you to do your best so it’s been awesome.
TechFaster: Does Waygo only handle Chinese translations?
Ryan: We have a beta version out in the app store that does Chinese food menu translation. It does one line of test at a time, but we’re actually releasing a first release Chinese translator version that will have multi line translation as well of general signage and travel translation. So you can point your phone not just at food menus, but at store signs and brochures. We plan to really ramp up the language releases. We’ll do Japanese and Korean in the few months and then build out some western languages.
TechFaster: Are you focusing primarily on character based languages?
Ryan: That’s the first focus. We picked the character based languages because there’s a much higher value proposition to the customer.
TechFaster: Can the application handle handwriting?
Ryan: Not currently. We don’t support handwriting because we focused on making the app offline and instant. So supporting handwriting makes it a lot more challenging to keep the app offline as well as keep it from performing in real time translation. Handling handwriting would take 10 seconds of translation verses quarters of a second.
TechFaster: What are the short-term goals for Waygo?
Rob: We want to release the Asia pack that we’re coming out with. We have Korean and Japanese in the works right now so we want to get those finished up. We want to ramp up the team a little bit by adding some people and finishing out the fundraising round. That’s sort term. Longer term we want to move to some of the romance languages; Spanish and especially Portuguese for the world cup and the Olympics coming up.
TechFaster: What have been some technical challenges of building the application?
Ryan: Definitely building the technology. There are two main components of the technology: one is the character recognition. It takes the image from the video feed and turns it into text that the computer can understand. That’s been a big challenge because we focused on doing it in the real world so there’s always a lot of interference and different types of fonts to deal with. The other big challenge is making the translation algorithm be all encompassing for the context that we’re building for it.
TechFaster: How have you been marketing the application?
Rob: We’ve done really well organically and with some of the campaigns we’ve been doing, but that challenge of hitting the user right when they need the app is something we’re still working on really nailing right now. A lot of people want to download the app when they see it because it’s really cool and they want to show their friends or play around with it, but in order for us to actually make it a successful business we need to hit the travelers right when they’re ready to travel.