The translation service DeepL is revolutionising global communication with AI. The Cologne-based company is experiencing unprecedented growth and is now worth one billion euros. In an interview with KölnBusiness, founder and CEO Dr. Jaroslaw Kutylowski reports how he has turned Deepl into a global player.
- Dr Kutylowski, you compete not only with Google but also with other US tech giants. How did you turn DeepL into a real global player?
Of course there is no secret recipe. What has certainly helped us is our focus. Unlike the US tech giants, we focused on our one target project from the very beginning. For Google, for example, the translator is only a small sub-project, whereas at DeepL we are pulling together with all our might. This has allowed us to focus our R&D efforts and achieve the best possible quality.
- What mental attitude helps you in this neck-and-neck race with the strongest companies in the world?
Again, I think focus plays a role. Of course we look at the competition. But we don't focus on being better than them, we focus on getting the best out of our products. We work very closely with our customers and listen to the feedback from our users. This allows us to develop our products and the company in a focused way, so that they can naturally compete with the best in the world. In addition, there is a good corporate climate, which we ensure from the very beginning. A good team spirit, a down-to-earth attitude and a bit of drive are always part of it. If everyone shares the same values, you can rely on each other - that's important.
- At what point in your career as a computer scientist with a doctorate, founder and CEO of DeepL SE did you have to muster the most courage?
It was definitely the first day of sixth grade, when I stood in a German school for the first time without knowing a word of German. That was not easy. But basically, it was that experience that led me to where I am today. Without this background of inevitable bilingualism, DeepL would perhaps not exist at all. The impetus to simplify communication through AI may not have come on that day, but it has shaped me a lot.
- What has been your biggest challenge in developing your AI?
We always wanted to provide the best quality for our users. Of course, this sounds like a very ambitious mission, which means more than just one challenge. It all starts with getting the right training material. The neural networks on which the DeepL products are based must be fed with vast amounts of data. It's not enough to throw in a few newspaper articles. What matters most is the quality of the data and then, of course, the training methodology. Among other things, we have developed special crawlers that automatically find translations on the Internet and assess their quality.
- What AI applications do you think will make a big difference to our lives?
Especially in everyday work, we are already seeing how artificial intelligence can simplify processes and make tasks more efficient. DeepL Write is a good example of this. If I want to write an email to customers in the US, I don't have to sit for half an eternity in front of a sentence that doesn't sound quite right. I don't have to research and rack my brains over what's wrong or how it could be expressed better. DeepL Write does that for me in real time - suggesting alternative phrases and improving spelling and grammar, so I don't have to worry about the accuracy of my email anymore. I think we will learn to appreciate AI in exactly this supportive role. Ultimately, it will depend on what we make of this development, how we deal with AI and what we want to use it for.
- And how will DeepL influence our lives? Who will the services of DeepL help?
I think our product range starts exactly where and when people need support in their communication. We see our products as companions in all walks of life - I also use the photo function of the app to get the menu translated when I'm on holiday in Italy. But we see the biggest benefit in everyday work. It's hard to imagine many offices without the Translator, and since its launch, DeepL Write has met with a similarly great response. Our products are also a great help for students, whether they are translating foreign language sources or writing term papers and dissertations.
- How are you developing your AI? Where do you see the next big opportunities for DeepL?
For DeepL, the focus has always been on research. This means that in the future we will continue to focus on optimising our network architecture, learning from experience and achieving the best possible results with our AI-based communication solutions. It's not about quantity, it's about quality. And I believe this will continue to set us apart from the competition.
- How important is the topic of "simultaneous translation" for DeepL? In other words, are there any plans in this regard?
We really don't like to reveal our future plans. But there is no doubt that it is a very popular feature. For the moment, we are concentrating on our new product DeepL Write, which is currently in the beta phase and is constantly being optimised. Of course, improving the quality of translations is always an important issue for us.
- Let's talk about Cologne: with 47 universities, 31 research institutes and 17,300 computer science students, the greater Cologne area has more potential than Berlin or Hamburg. Do you benefit from this?
Absolutely. We have a pool of young talent on our doorstep. The quantity and quality of the universities in the immediate catchment area is undeniable. So it's not hard to find professionals with the same values and sense of the development of new technologies. Like the city, we as a company are interested in nurturing this spirit.
- What else makes Cologne a good location for you?
For us as an AI company, the comparison with Silicon Valley is of course always exciting. I can only say that we have had and still have a good time in Cologne. Especially in the beginning - as a small AI start-up - it was an advantage not to have to compete with the really big companies from California. For example, we had less competition on the job market and were able to develop quickly and purposefully. Although we now recruit throughout Germany, as well as in Poland, the Netherlands, the UK and Japan, we benefit from the huge potential for skilled workers on our doorstep.
- What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Just do it. I think there is a certain basic scepticism about starting a business in Germany. If you are less afraid of the bureaucratic hurdles, you have already taken a big step. Then, of course, it depends on what you do with it. For us, as I mentioned at the beginning, a clear mission, a clear focus and a strong team were the keys to success.
- The interview was kindly provided by KölnBusiness. -