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The Colatris founders: Josh Deffibaugh (left), Albert Eloyan, and A.J. Cihla.

When mobile developers want to reach users in other countries, they need to translate their content. But that process can often be cumbersome, with characters and expressions not always perfectly fitting with an existing user interface.

Three techies from San Francisco knew this was a pain point, so they spent their nights and weekends building a tool for developers that helped localize mobile apps. The response was encouraging — so much so that the entrepreneurs quit their day jobs and founded a startup this summer.

The result is Colatris, a company that’s currently making its way through the Techstars Seattle incubator.

“Our main objective is to help companies effectively reach an international audience with minimal effort and cost — starting with mobile,” said CEO AJ Cihla. “With that in mind, we are aiming to dominate the mobile space, and eventually become the de-facto standard for localization of digital content everywhere.”

We caught up with Cihla for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We help companies address an international audience by adapting their product for multiple languages and cultures.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Josh, one of my co-founders, first thought of the idea to enable end users to submit translations while he was traveling in Chile and noticed the prevalence of smartphones along with a shortage of quality apps. We have all been touched by a broken localization process and the idea immediately clicked.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Angel. Convertible-debt is the most appropriate means of fundraising for us now given the early successes we’ve had with our pilots.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our in-context editor, crowdsourcing option, and robust versioning/delivery system set us apart from other technologies in this space. We make localizing your product easier than ever, and we give translators all of the context they need to finally do it right.”

colartisThe smartest move we’ve made so far: “Taking the plunge into starting our own venture and focusing on a few close customers has given us powerful drive and direction. Without having early use cases to build from, we would still be trying to figure out priorities of our feature set.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Our biggest mistake has been waiting until Seattle Techstars to really dive into customer development. Until we quit our full-time jobs, Colatris did not receive the amount of attention it deserved and it would have been nice to roll into the incubator with a bit more momentum. We’ve been working triple-overtime to make up for it.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Gates. I think he would fit our company culture better than Jobs, Zuckerberg, or Bezos. He is a well-rounded genius with the ability and skill to fill a spectrum of roles. He is often smiling and seems to be a much more lighthearted, positive individual than the others. If I had to be stuck in a room with someone from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., I’d pick Gates without a question.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “Technically, it started a couple of months ago. We are working to serve mobile teams better than ever before. We want to reach a point where one of the first things a mobile team does is drop in our SDK and launch their app across the globe, in many languages, on Day 1.”

Rivals should fear us because: “We have product vision that they cannot touch (partially because they are focused on building out sales and consulting resources as opposed to designing tech). Colatris also has the potential to grow into something much larger than any of our competitors. We see ourselves going deeper than translation or localization and eventually becoming the connector between domestic and foreign markets for companies all around the globe. We have the team to execute on our plan and we operate as a unit that our competitors cannot parallel via traditional recruitment and hiring processes alone.”

PrintWe are truly unique because: “We have each felt the pains that are tied with the process of localization and have a personal interest in resolving this problem for teams everywhere. We are young, resilient, and able to adapt with flexibility that any company would be jealous of. We are building a solution to a real world problem, and it excites me to think about how many people we will be able to serve.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Getting to where we are today. We’ve gone through the ringer in terms of quitting our jobs, moving up to Seattle, mentor whiplash, product development, etc. Every day is its own struggle in one way or another, but our mental muscle becomes stronger and stronger the longer we persist.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Start customer development early. Validate that there are people willing to buy what you are selling. Ask them what their problems are and go from there … don’t try to force-feed people a solution you think they need.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the 10 startup companies participating in the TechStars Seattle incubator in the lead up to the Demo Day pitch event and launch party on Nov. 6. 

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