Interactio: lessons from Lithuania's tale of startup “grit”
I met the founders at Login, Lithuania's technology conference, in 2016 and they told me about their early customer beachhead: evangelical churches in the USA. The churches wanted to attract parishioners beyond only those that speak English and the language barrier was huge. As weekly services, most could not afford to invest in expensive audio equipment and radio headsets needed to support existing simultaneous interpretation solutions. So Interactio's software-only app-based solution was ideal.
Did I think serving this market segment would be sufficient to build a massive company? Of course not. But it was a great example of the “grit” that these founders possessed. Being able to find, sell, deliver great service to, and get paid by customers on the other side of the Atlantic in an industry you don't know well is very hard. Being able to do it repeatedly demonstrated passion and perseverance: the combination of which is the Baltic grit that Change Ventures seeks in our founders.
In 2016, the idea that interpretation could be delivered over software and the internet, without giving listeners headsets, without setting up booths and audio equipment on-site at an event, was something only the founders of Interactio believed would become the norm.
Fast forward to 2021: the European Parliament, United Nations, JP Morgan and Microsoft are among the many customers buying Interactio's services. The pandemic suddenly meant that having interpreters on site was a health risk and the interpretation delivery model had to change ASAP. The Interactio team had spent several years patiently explaining how remote interpretation could be operated at high quality, low risk, with proper security and reliability. They had participated in the ISO standards process to define a standard for such solutions.
As a result, when I introduced Henrikas, the CEO, to Tae Hae Nahm, the Managing Director of the legendary B2B software investment fund, Storm Ventures, Tae immediately understood that this was an amazing opportunity with a fantastic team. A few months later, Storm Ventures co-led the $31M Series A round together with Eight Roads, with Change Ventures, Notion Capital, Skype founder Jaan Tallinn and other investors joining the funding round. Now, Interactio has the capital to rapidly scale the business across the globe to capitalize on their leadership of the remote interpretation platform market.
What are the key lessons to learn from Interactio's success to date?
- Keep selling the vision. Henrikas never got tired of explaining to customers and investors how simultaneous interpretation could be delivered much more widely than today and thus could help participants of meetings understand each other better, therefore lead to better outcomes from these meetings and events. He truly believes that more efficient communication will make the world a better place and goes to work every day to make that happen. This message, delivered in Henrikas’s infectious, positivity-laden words, has convinced many a customer and investor that they are working with a ground-breaking company that will grow huge.
- When you have conviction, don't give up. Interactio came close to running out of cash more than once. Change Ventures led the last bridge round of funding and we were encouraged to make this investment partly by the founding team's commitment. They all took deferred salaries to stretch the runway so that the company could build revenues and we could close the investment round. Never once did we have a discussion about giving up.
- Focus on customers first. Henrikas sometimes re-scheduled our calls saying that he had a customer call and that always came first. The whole team lavished service on their early and strategic customers, ensuring that they stayed on board despite the inevitable bugs and operational screw-ups. This led to enthusiastic customer referrals and excellent feedback on the product that could be incorporated to improve it.
The Interactio team was the first investment from our Change Ventures Fund I. We are so proud of the team we backed, so grateful for Henrikas, Simona, Marius and Domas to bring us along on this wonderful ride and wish them the best of luck going forward.
Andris K. Berzins, Managing Partner