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  • Writer's pictureJaney Wong

How to Start a Localization Program Within a SaaS Startup

Localization program for SaaS

Launching a software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup comes with many challenges, not the least of which is deciding if, how, and when to localize your product for international markets. While localization can open up huge opportunities for growth, it also requires thoughtful planning, secure stakeholder buy-in, and the right technology and budget to support it.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through the key steps and considerations when building a localization program for a SaaS company, from assessing initial needs to launching your first translated experiences.


Assessing the Need for Localization

Before committing resources to localization, you first need to objectively evaluate if there is truly a market demand to support it. As Julio Leal, as Head of Localization from Spendesk advises, there are four key signals to analyze:

Examine User Analytics for International Usage

Carefully comb through your user data and analytics to locate existing account usage or site traffic from other countries. Even a small handful of non-native English speakers actively seeking out your platform indicates interest in markets where English proficiency cannot be assumed.

Seeing even 1-2% international traffic is a clue that translations could better serve and convert those visitors into happy, long-term users.

Conduct Competitor Analysis

Research how direct and adjacent competitors are handling localization. Are their sites and products available in multiple languages? Which countries are they targeting? This intelligence can demonstrate if there are underserved international markets your startup might lose to the competition.

Moreover, complementing this with the previous point, you can identify opportunities that your competitor is missing. For example, if a rival company localizes for Spanish and French, but you notice they lack German support and you currently have active users in Germany (even though your app is not available in their native language), that data point suggests an opportunity to siphon away German-speaking customers.

"Examine how your competitors are handling localization. This will help you get some insights into the market expectation and standards." - Julio Leal, Head of Localization at Spendesk.

The Multilingual Content Podcast

Listen to Customer Feedback Requesting Translations

Lastly, directly survey sales reps, customer support, marketing staff, and other roles engaging end-users and find out if they receive inquiries asking for localized services or content.

That direct user feedback acts as tangible validation of interest in consuming your product in different languages. Once multiple teams anecdotally report fielding translation requests, that’s a clear sign to proceed with expansion planning.

Customer Feedback

Securing Stakeholder


Once data consolidates around launching a localization program, the next obstacle is getting executive and departmental buy-in across your SaaS organization. Without universal alignment, rollout risks being disjointed or underfunded.

During our conversation on The Multilingual Content Podcast, Julio highlighted financial projections and success stories as two convincing mechanisms for earning stakeholder investment. Moreover, there are several things to consider:

Present Market Opportunity in Target Geographies

Compile detailed market research documenting total addressable market size, projected segment growth, and potential user volume in priority countries identified for translation. Contrast this TAM against current percentages of international adoption. These analytics showcase a sizable upside still untapped without localization.

Back up data with anecdotes of customer interactions where language barriers obstructed conversion or triggered churn. Vivid examples humanize cold statistics to spark urgency around removing translation-related friction points.

Highlight Competitor Success with Localization

Find case studies of localization lifting revenues for rival SaaS players in spaces adjacent to yours. Whether 10% or 200% growth, real-world analogs demonstrate localization’s monetary impact. Also, highlight competitors yet to localize to emphasize gaps available for the taking. These peer examples make benefits feel tangible versus theoretical.

Forecast Localization ROI

Combine third-party market financials with current performance benchmarks to produce models projecting revenue, customer, and margin lift from launching translations. ROI predictions rooted in known metrics go further than hypotheticals. Maintain conservative assumptions related to entering into new markets,  but illustrate how nominal localization investment pays back exponentially.

Lady explaining Localization ROI

Armed with data-driven arguments around unlocked potential, case studies of successful peer precedents, and the expectation of material ROI, savvy founders can sway stakeholders sitting on executive signoff and secure the budget needed to proceed.

Selecting Localization Tools and Technology

Once leadership endorses funding a localization program, the next puzzle piece is choosing what technology and tools will support executing your strategy. Julio offers four chief criteria to evaluate when selecting platforms:

Prioritize Platform Integrations

A core translation management system (TMS), such as Phrase and XTM, will orchestrate key localization workflows. Assess prospective tools’ native and third-party app integrations. Creating seamless connections with your website CMS, product release tracking systems, support ticketing, and other infrastructure is paramount so that translation requests can automatically route between relevant groups.

"If you are in 20 or 40 markets, tools play an important role here. You cannot think of managing tons of UI strings without any string management tool or TMS translation management system. Otherwise, it's too much manual action."  - Stefania Russo, Head of UX Content at Glovo.

The Multilingual Content Podcast

Consider Future Scalability

While initially targeting 2-3 languages, localization scope may multiply 10x over subsequent years. Any TMS should flexibly scale to handle exponential content volume increases without forcing costly add-on modules or migration headaches as your localization program grows.

Vet Vendor Customer Support Responsiveness

Conduct preliminary tests on the customer service response times and issue resolution handling of TMS firms via free trials. Even starting small-scale, you want reassurance that support infrastructure and staffing can uphold SLAs (Service Level Agreements) as your business scales internationally. Customer experience will falter without solid vendor partnerships.

Confirm Support for Diverse Content Types

Beyond software and marketing copy, what other content formats like videos or e-learning courses might require translation down the road? Ensure chosen platforms handle multimedia. While niche needs may allow the use of specialized tools, having core support in one TMS allows smoother workflow across content types to balance costs.

Writing Diverse Content Types

Establishing Budget and Resources

With executive sign-off secured and enabling technologies selected, the next milestone is allocating adequate budget and resources to meet program demands.

Break Down Translation Volume by Market

Define your initial language selection criteria to the right-size budgets, whether targeting countries with the highest existing usage, the largest TAM, or other factors like regional proximity. Calculate the expected workload for software, marketing, legal, and support materials. Translation costs vary extensively according to content type, language combination, and other factors – budget accurately.

Weigh Build vs Buy Tradeoffs

An early decision is determining whether to rely on outsourced language service providers versus building in-house linguist teams. Third parties offer speed and diversity of language support, while cultivated internal talent ensures cultural brand fluency. There are many aspects to consider, and you can find more in our conversation with Valeria Nanni on whether to outsource or manage in-house your language team.

The Multilingual Content Podcast

Account for Fluctuating Demand

Budget to account for spikes in translation requests. As products expand features or marketing ramps campaigns, new content will continuously enter localization queues. Maintain monthly/quarterly forecasts aligning translation spending to roadmaps from product, marketing, and support. Identify peaks and troughs. Also, build 5-10% contingency funds to absorb rush projects.

Whether leveraging a partnership with a language service provider like Undertow or in-house translators, accurately projecting and budgeting for demand volume is crucial to right-sizing spending and resources behind your localization program from the start.

Launching Localization Efforts

With all the foundational planning in place, the exciting launch day arrives to officially debut your product and content translations in select markets. While eager stakeholders may push for rapid launches, a methodical rollout sets your efforts up for success.

Attend Ongoing Roadmap Meetings

Regularly participate in ongoing status meetings with product, marketing, support, and other teams to ensure you are consistently informed about upcoming releases, campaigns, or updates that need translation. Avoid operating as an isolated island that teams sporadically throw requests over the wall to. Integration across planning prevents surprise projects from derailing timelines.

Attend Ongoing Roadmap Meetings

Map Translations to Release Calendars

Foster collaborative two-directional dialogue with partner departments to map translation needs and language launch target dates to their existing calendars. Whether syncing software builds or localizing regional social campaigns, proactively scheduling translation timelines helps product and marketing stick to delivery commitments taken with customers.

Take Time To Understand Current Processes

Resist pressure to jump headfirst into immediate translations without grasping how existing processes operate. Spend 2-3 months meeting stakeholders, documenting workflows, and evaluating tools. Establishing relationships and knowledge of cross-functional nuances is the first step toward success.

Start Small and Grow Your Localization Program through Iteration

Identify your Minimum Viable Experience (MVE) to prioritize the localization of assets that are crucial to offer your customers a coherent journey. Analyze the results and iterate to gradually grow your program in markets that show the biggest potential. 

"Start with a pilot project, making sure that you have the basics covered, and let the metrics work for you." - Julio Leal, Head of Localization at Spendesk.

The Multilingual Content Podcast

At Undertow, we can help you discover your Minimum Viable Experience (MVE), plan for its implementation, and set up a roadmap for your localization journey. Find out more.

With these best practices in mind across assessing need, securing buy-in, implementing technology, budgeting adequately and strategically launching localization rollouts, SaaS startups can reap tremendous benefits from thoughtfully expanding products and content to new global audiences. Localization done right promises a huge upside but requires diligence upfront to pave success.

Starting a Localization Program with Undertow

At Undertow, we understand that multilingual content can significantly expand your reach, though managing the extra overhead can be a complex task. That's where our expertise comes into play. We collaborate with you to create a Localization Program Blueprint, developing a tailored roadmap that aligns with your business goals and adapts to your specific needs. Our team then executes this roadmap, ensuring your international aspirations are met within budget and timeline constraints. 

With Undertow, you gain access to a flexible team of experts, scaling to suit your requirements, and aiding in the daily management of your content strategy’s localization needs. Trust us to elevate your localization efforts to new heights. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Localization Program Blueprint


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