Interview of Alexia Ohanessian, International Manager at Trello. The tool that keeps track of everything, from the big picture to the minute details.

Hello Alexia, could you introduce Trello in a few words?

Trello was created in September 2011 from the observation that there wasn’t any online & simple tool to manage professional or personal projects. So Trello is an intuitive online project management tool, that relies on boards and cards.

Trello offers a freemium business model, the basics are free and some additional services & features are charged.

Can you tell us a bit more about you?

I studied business in Grenoble (France) and then spent 3 years in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) immersed in the local startup ecosystem, as I worked at Deezer, 21212 (a local startup accelerator) & BPI (ndlr: the French Public Investment Bank). After those experiences I launched Yara Consulting in 2015 and this is how I started working with Trello. At first I was a consultant helping them launch in Brazil, but I quickly join them full-time to lead their global international development efforts.

How many countries is Trello operating in?

First of all I have to stress that our product is quite specific. It’s true that Trello grows thanks to a strong network effect and that we started implementing our expansion plans just a year ago, but we’ve had users from all over the world from the very beginning!

This means our main focus to sustain our international growth is to reduce friction to a minimum for our local users.

One of the basics is language. So we came up with quite a smart translation workflow.

What were the main steps in Trello’s international expansion?

Last year we decided to launch in three countries: Germany, Brazil and Spain. The idea was to compare the different approaches, what worked and didn’t work. We’ve written a great blog post about the lessons we learned launching internationally.

So we had the platform translated by professionals and tested what was happening after this translation process.

  • In Spain we decided not to do any marketing and see how the community would evolve after the translation.
  • In Germany we made a bit more efforts with a newsletter and some PR work (a few press articles). We didn’t observe any growth spike.
  • In Brazil we worked on content marketing, social networks and stronger PR (120 articles). The results were quick: we doubled the community within the first 2 months and then saw a 30% month on month growth. Content marketing was key to this success.

Following these tests, and the validation of our user acquisition model, we went back to the translation of our platform. We had the idea to ask our users to translate it! And as I’m French we started with France.

The entire product, 37,000 words by that time, were translated in under a month (Today we’re more around 47,000 words)!

Then we launched our marketing efforts, organizing and attending events in France with our CEO and CMO. We tripled our local user base! To sustain this growth we decided to hire a local PR agency.

So to sum up a “typical” country launch at Trello, we have:

  1. Translation
  2. Soft launch and local events with partners
  3. Marketing launch, growth hacking and PR

37,000 words translated in a month, all crowdsourced directly within your own community, that’s impressive! How did you manage that?

As I mentioned, what’s great with our product is that it doesn’t need any adaptation apart from translation, which is actually pretty light too. And this is exactly where we innovated.

For all the 16 languages we translated Trello into, we sent an email to our 2000 most active users in each language, asking them if they’d agree to help us translate the platform. Then we picked 40 users for each language amongst all the volunteers, and started… a Trello board to collaborate with them. At the same time we provided all these users with a glossary to make the whole process easier.

The advantage of crowdsourcing our translation with our users is that we end up with a results that’s exactly on target, truly respecting Trello’s core spirit. People don’t know each other so there’s kind of a natural monitoring.

Once these 40 people translated the product, we called for 3/4 users to proofread the whole thing, error-checking and making sure it’s coherent and consistent.

Using this system can obviously bring some imperfect translations. You have to stay open and keep in mind that there will be errors. But the goal is simply not to temper with Trello’s use.

But when it comes to updates, we need it to be a lot quicker so we’re using the services of a professional agency.

Implementing this workflow allowed us to divide our translation costs by 3 to 4, and to better engage our community at the same time!

How do you prioritize the launches in new markets?

We’re lucky to have worldwide traction. So prioritization is quite simple. We look at three main metrics:

  • The number of users
  • The market’s potential: How many more users could we reach?
  • The number of paying users and our local revenue

50% of ou employees work remotely. So we don’t really need to open offices. Thus we recruit local people but don’t need any local structure or subsidiary, and so legal & administrative headaches aren’t really a thing for us!

Listening to you makes it look very easy, what are the challenges you have to tackle?

We have a very lean approach at Trello. So we test a lot. Sometimes it doesn’t work and you have to detect and accept it, which isn’t always easy.

Today, international development at Trello is just me. I’m the only one working full time on this with no one to help me on the small & tedious tasks. So we really have to be agile.

Before we leave you, do you have a fun fact you could share with us about your international development?

We have a product that’s easily understandable, by everyone. That really makes the whole adaptation and localization process simple.

Quite recently we had a Trello team member who went to Croatia for a conference with 2000 attendees. When he asked who knew Trello, every single one of them raised their hand. The funny thing is we didn’t even translate it in Croatian!

Finally, what are the next steps for Trello’s international development?

By the end of June we’ll be 85 working at Trello, with two main development lines:

  • Invest in Marketing in the countries we already launched in.
  • If it works we localize the platform for new markets and launch in new countries.

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