Avi Staiman | Transitioning From Teaching To Building an Academic Translation Business
Smart Business Revolution

Avi Staiman is the Founder and CEO of Academic Language Experts (ALE), a company that assists academic scholars to prepare their research for publication. ALE works with top academic language and publication experts from around the world who help academics with their articles, lectures, and books.

Avi is also the co-host of the New Books Network ‘Scholarly Communication’ podcast and has been a guest lecturer at NYU’s Master’s Program in Translation and Interpreting, The University of Tokyo, and Bar-Ilan University. His essays have appeared in the Cambridge University Press blog, Scholarly Kitchen, Multilingual, and Times Higher Education. Avi is also a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization Israel chapter.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Avi Staiman, the Founder and CEO of Academic Language Experts (ALE), about his experience building an academic translation company. Avi talks about the challenges he faced early in his business, his diversification strategy, and how he has been growing his team.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • How Avi Staiman transitioned from teaching to entrepreneurship
  • Avi’s first translation job and the challenges he faced in the early days of his business
  • How Avi started building his team
  • The strategy Avi uses to translate various languages
  • How Avi runs a business in a unique niche and employs his diversification strategy
  • Avi talks about automating his price quotation process and hosting live webinars
  • The peers Avi acknowledges for their support

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of this show. And if you are new to listening to this program, check out our archives because we got all kinds of great interviews with intelligent CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of companies and organizations ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, just Quicken the other day, the co-founder of Redfin, and lots, all kinds of great interviews there. So check those out. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here today is Avi Staiman. He is the Founder and CEO of Academic Language Experts. It’s a company that assists academic scholars to prepare their research for publication and to give it attention that it deserves in the world. He’s also the co-host of the New Books Network ‘Scholarly Communication’ podcast, has been a guest lecturer at NYU and their master’s program and translation and interpreting, and also the University of Tokyo, and Bar Ilan University. And his essays have appeared in the Cambridge University Press blog, Scholarly Kitchen, Multilingual ,and Times Higher Education.

And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. And if you’re listening to this, and you’re curious about doing a podcast like Avi have done, go to rise25.com and you can learn all about how to do it. Alright, so great to have you here. And I want to dive straight into your story. First of all, you’re an entrepreneur now, but you studied to be a teacher, and there must have been something to happen along that path there. How does one go into dedicated you’re gonna dedicate your life to being in the classroom? And deciding I’m gonna go down this entrepreneurial path? That’s an unusual one, you don’t hear about that every day.

Avi Staiman 2:26

Yeah, so first of all, John, thanks so much for having me on. It’s a real pleasure. You know, I love what you do what you’re doing with the podcast, and, you know, the opportunity to speak today. So, yeah, you know, it’s funny, because sometimes when I listen to, you know, founder stories and, and hear about some of the founders who kind of were born with this entrepreneurial bug and kind of always knew that they were going to do something and tinkered in their parent’s garage, from the age of, you know, of seven, I can’t always relate, I like to say that I sort of fell into entrepreneurship, more than I chose entrepreneurship. I, you know, I was always creative as a kid, I like doing things that were out of the box, but I never thought of myself as sort of someone’s gonna, you know, take on an industry or disrupt and innovate in a, in a crazy way, I sort of saw myself more in the lens of trying to be able to influence positively, you know, the next generation giving over, you know, values, education, and sort of saw my life going down that path. Now, don’t get me wrong, even till today, I think that many of the sort of, you know, studies and experiences I had in, in the world of education, you know, as a younger professional, influence what I do today, but it kind of, you know, and it may have even laid the pathway, but it definitely is not your typical entrepreneur story.

John Corcoran 3:47

Yeah, I know, I can totally relate to that, because I was an English major. I worked in politics, you know, I was, I was a lawyer, you know, I kind of went down these different career paths. And so, I don’t feel like I was that kid that was out there, you know, with a hustle. And it’s, it’s kind of I admire people like that at times, but also I kind of feel like, God, I wish I wasn’t that person to even belong. It’s kind of the imposter syndrome stuff that comes up. So So what was it then you were in? There? Was it in your university studies that you kind of start starting to see this opportunity?

Avi Staiman 4:22

Yeah. So I’ll tell you a little bit about the story about how this all came about. And it really was started by mistake, to be perfectly honest. I, you know, when I went down the path to education, I would get many different responses, you know, wavering from Oh, good for you, too. You know, you’re crazy. You’re going to be on the breadline. The one thing that everyone kind of said to me, and this is both teachers as well as you know, in laws and, you know, friends is, well how are you going to, you know, kind of supplement your income and make sure that you can support your family. And that’s, you know, really important, even though I wasn’t yet married at the time, I kind of, you know, assumed that I would have, you know, at some point be shouldering the responsibilities of, you know, being a breadwinner. So, I said to myself, Okay, I need to be if I do want to be a teacher, and if this is my passion, I need to kind of have a have a supply something to back me up something to do on the side. Around the same time, I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree, I was studying in Israel, where I live until today. And half out of laziness half out of you know, I basically asked my lecturer, would you mind if I write my papers in English as opposed to writing and Hebrew, I was still kind of a new immigrant. And, you know, I knew it would take me about a 10th of the time, he kindly agreed, no academic can admit that they don’t know English. So you know, they kind of have third grade. And, and I did, and he was impressed with my writing just in my papers that I had written. And I don’t know whether that was deservedly so or not, but but he was impressed with what I wrote and said to me, you know, what, I’ve got this article in Hebrew that I wrote, I really love to get it published. And, you know, in a journal, what do you say you want to give it a crack for trying to translate it and help me, you know, kind of get it out there. And that’s, that’s sort of the currency. For those who aren’t familiar. In the academic world, your currency is, you know, how often you publish and where you publish, right? It’s the adages publish or perish, right, you always have to kind of be getting your work out there getting your name out there as often as possible. So I said, What the hell, you know, how hard could it be? Little did I know, it took me four months to finish. And it’s really hard. It is not simple, especially when it’s topics that you’re not previously familiar with, because kind of each academic branch has its own world and its own language and some jargon. But I took it on, and I did it. And I said to myself, on the one hand, wow, that was really hard. On the other hand, I can kind of do this from wherever, right? I don’t necessarily need to be sitting in an office, which was really important to me, because I wanted to teach, I didn’t want to have to commute to a second, you know, job. So I was like, okay, and I realized that, like, there’s a need here, right, I started hearing from other of my lecturers and asking them, and they’re like, oh, yeah, like, I really need help to get my, you know, to get my article into shape before I send it off. So I realized there was like this kind of gap in the market. So slowly, but surely, I was basically teaching during the day, I would teach from nine to two or three. And as soon as the school day was out, I would just kind of hit the computer, and I would open up my laptop, and I would start, you know, hustling and start started cold emailing my, you know, my own professors and being like, Hey, this is what I’m doing. Are you interested? I mean, I look back at my emails today. And I cringe at what I wrote, but hey, I was I was hustling, I was, you know, I was hanging out a shingle and I was, you know, I was doing my thing. So most of them, you know, would ignore me or write back, like, you know, who are you kid, you know, scram. But there were a few kind of took a chance, worked with me, I had plenty of screw ups and beginning and you know, and learned a lot of lessons quite quickly. But what happened was, after a pretty short amount of time, I realized it, like dawned on me, I really didn’t love the teaching, you know, it was 36 kids to two kids to a desk, you know, a lot of discipline. And I kind of was looking forward to when the day was over, and I got to hit my laptop to work on this side project. And at a certain point, I kind of realized, well, you know, what, if I’m really like suffering as a teacher, and I’m loving this other thing, maybe I should kind of, you know, give this other thing a go and see where it takes me. And that’s kind of how this business, you know, started?

John Corcoran 8:22

And was it generating enough money at that point that you could set aside teaching and move full time too?

Avi Staiman 8:28

You know, that’s a really good question. The answer, in hindsight, was probably no, at the time, we were kind of just it was, you know, I was newly married, so it was me and my wife, full credit to her, I think she was bringing in a bigger salary than I was. So that kind of helped to just make sure that we had a roof to put over adds food, you know, to put on the table. So that gave me a little bit of leeway to kind of experiment and play around with this. Also, in the beginning, you know, kind of like a lot of I imagined that a lot of your listeners alike, were entrepreneurs that started doing the service themselves, and then later on sort of pivoted to becoming a business. So that was kind of how we built it as well. So at the beginning, it was kind of like every dime that came in, did end up in my pocket. So it was like, That was enough to kind of get things started. You know, we never took on any outside capital investment till today. It’s entirely bootstrapped company, you know, kind of built based on every, you know, every dollar that we made, you know, I’d take the five cents, you know, home to, to pay for the bills, and then the other 95% would be reinvested in the business and kind of just grew organically from there. I mean, yeah. Luckily, it’s not a business that at least the beginning requires a lot of infrastructure or office building. You know, we’re talking about doing remote work, you know, already 10 15 years ago, that’s kind of out the range that I was in,

John Corcoran 9:43

then you touched on something I was gonna ask you about, which is, and I experienced this when I went out on my own from practicing law to working for myself, I found Oh, wow, I can charge a lot for this. And it doesn’t cost me a lot and it’s almost all profit. But the challenge is then you realize I was okay, if I’m not working, I’m not making money, I can’t go on vacation. So then you have to come and start building up a team and hiring people. But immediately you make less money because you got to pay them. Right. So how did you, you? How did you make that transition into, you know, oh, man, I’m not going to make as much money. I’m not generating a lot of revenue as it is. But I’m going to make even less if I give it to someone else to do the work.

Avi Staiman 10:23

Yeah, so I can remember a specific time where that like, hit me, I got lucky in that. I wasn’t great at my job. I know that sounds like ironic, right. But

John Corcoran 10:34

what I mean by that doing the translations, yeah, I

Avi Staiman 10:36

didn’t love it. I didn’t love doing the translation itself. I loved like everything around it. I loved finding the clients I loved, like building out the systems and the process, the actual sitting down and like, doing the work I didn’t love. And I remember one specific project in classics, it was like, you know, about, like, ancient history, and language. And I was sitting there and I felt like not just imposter syndrome, like, I’m an imposter. Like, I do not know, this field, I’m not an academic in this field. I’m making it up as I go along. And like, I didn’t feel like I was doing justice to the clients. And I also kind of knew, I think, in my gut, like, people aren’t going to use me if they’re not happy with the product. And, and I knew that kind of it wasn’t going to be complete. So so I kind of took a pause, and said to myself, Okay, for those projects that I know, and that I feel comfortable with, I’ll continue doing those. But those projects that I’m like, Hmm, I’m not so sure that like, I’m really the expert that should be taking this on, or a language set that I wasn’t familiar with, you know. So I would start outsourcing. And I would start, you know, the same way I kind of cold email the clients, I would start, you know, reaching out to different translators and editors, it really started as a language business, we’ve evolved since then to do all sorts of research support, but it was kind of like, you know, reaching out to translators and editors that were in my network that I found online, and just kind of asking them, you know, if they were interested in taking on projects, you know, I don’t know, taking a 15% cut for myself, and going from there, you know, we’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated over the years, and things have changed. But the basic premise of how the company is structured, whereby, you know, each project is allocated, and, you know, assigned to a specific expert in the field, that actually still continues to be the core USP, the core value that we have until today. So that kind of happened fairly early in the business. True, it did cut into are, you know, kind of like the bottom line. But to be honest, the bottom line wasn’t so big anyway, so I kind of knew that, like, if I wanted to grow this, if I wanted it to ever become something that would outlast me, and I had this intuition, like, you know, I realized, I can’t call this after, like, a lot of people, you know, call their businesses after their own name, I was like, I don’t want to do that, like I don’t want to be, I knew from the beginning, I wanted to build a business that could exist, you know, without me, and that could exist, like with me, kind of, you know, being that teacher going back to the education role, the hat of of, you know, modeling and education, but not being like the star, you know, centerpiece that everything would have to be dependent on.