Give 'Em the Sack

On a shoestring

What: A translation company
Who: Elizabeth Elting and Phil Shawe of TransPerfect Translations Inc.
Where: New York City
When: Started in 1992
How much: $5,000

Right after receiving her MBA, Elizabeth Elting was ready to put it to use. With experience at a translation company, Elting saw a need for a one-stop translation service in the fragmented industry. After teaming up with fellow MBA student Phil Shawe, Elting started TransPerfect Translations with a $5,000 advance on her credit card. Shawe's college dorm room became TransPerfect Translations' office, and they bought a phone line, a fax machine and office supplies, and they rented a computer. Though the partners focused on marketing in the beginning, their material was minimal and inexpensive.

With no full-time employees for the first 18 months of business, Elting and Shawe handled all aspects of the company except for linguistics, for which they hired freelancers. Taking no real salary in the first year, the founders took only what was necessary to cover their rent, reaching sales of $250,000.

Now as one of the top five translation companies worldwide, TransPerfect Translations has evolved from Shawe's dorm room to 19 offices on three continents and now includes a network of 4,000 freelancers. The firm specializes in the finance, pharmaceutical and legal industries and is also the world's largest legal translation company.

With 2003 projected sales of $25 million, Elting, 37, and Shawe, 34, now have a small staff to help out with TransPerfect Translations' daily operations, but they continue to run lean in order to ensure profitability and reinvestment. "That's the culture of our company," explains Elting. "We're very much focused on making sure we have money before we spend it, so we never have to lay off people." In any language, that translates to success.

-April Y. Pennington
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This article was originally published in the July 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Give 'Em the Sack.

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