A chat with our CEO, Matthew Heaton

As we move into our 11th year of business, we asked our CEO, Matthew Heaton, to look back on TBSJ’s early days and development, as well as what the future might hold.


What inspired you to set up the company?

An opportunity with real potential was being overlooked. To be blunt, the industry seemed very messy and I was surprised by the negativity between translators and agencies. I recall being at conferences where translators talked like they were pitted against agencies, but I could see why. It seemed the profit model of many agencies was to scour the internet for whoever would do the work the cheapest, and it didn’t matter if they were not suitably qualified. To be clear, this wasn’t the case with everyone, but generally speaking, incentive or desire to build long-term relationships seemed lackluster on both sides.

If projects are run well, translation companies can create efficiencies that both translators and clients benefit from. Translators will be paid well, and clients will get good quality work at a fair price. It’s not always easy, but expert knowledge of available technologies and building good relationships with the right people will get you there. And the right clients really understand the value of working with vendors that treat their people properly. It’s this reciprocal relationship, and the potential that comes with it, that inspired me to reach out to some great industry people I knew at the time and start building a company together.


What was your vision for TBSJ?

Of course, to create a unique and valuable service for clients, but also professional opportunity for great people—and I think we’re achieving that goal. We have fantastic translators and project managers all over the world doing amazing work for us. We offer a flexible approach to work so people don’t have to choose between a professional job and something that’s important in their personal life, whatever that may be. I think this is so important. Most people will hit several intersections in their lives where they have to make a choice between what’s important professionally and personally. However, we’re living in a world where technology increasingly makes it easier to balance both.

We have staff working in regional Japan while caring for elderly relatives, others who log off at 3pm for the school pickup, and some who have even moved to another part of the world to start a family. If there’s a way to keep great people involved, we do it. Technology makes it possible and everyone benefits. Our staff don’t have to choose between personal or professional at those intersections in their lives, and our clients have the benefit of working with team members who have ample experience in our business.


What challenges did you face in the beginning?

Running a 24-hour operation is critical for the clients we serve, and we’ve been doing it since day one. However, you need a certain size of team to do this, and at the start, that was not us. Basically, the other co-founders and I managed it through sheer effort, and that went on for a couple of years. It took a long time to build the size of team you would typically expect for a 24-hour operation, and to be honest, when things get really busy we still feel like we’re short-handed. But that’s the nature of the business. You don’t know when a few big projects will come in at once.

The other challenge was simply having to turn good work down. Sometimes, we just didn’t have the capacity of right translators, and we would refuse work rather than deliver lesser quality. It’s a tough position to be in because you always want to be helpful, but at least our clients knew that we only took on work if we were sure we could do it properly. The result of our approach has been that our clients enjoy peace of mind, and we’ve built a great reputation.


How has TBSJ evolved over time?

 The most noteworthy evolution is in our technology. Thanks to a very open-minded and capable tech team, we’ve really stayed on top of all language technologies, including of course, AI. The TBSJ difference is that we’ve developed our AI technology working very closely with our translators, and they are now reporting meaningful increases in working speed. Since we work in areas where human translators are critical—difficult and important work types that must be done at high quality—we see increased translator productivity as the true measure of success in AI. We’re not aware of any other company that has achieved this and we certainly feel we’re on the right track. Integrations of our AI with other technologies in ways that really work for translators marked the beginning of Leveraged AI (LAI), and as our tech evolves, translators continue to be keen to give the system a workout.  

What does the future hold for TBSJ?

Our corporate culture is at the core of our success so far, and of course, that won’t change, but the technologies we can offer our clients will be rolled out at an exciting pace. We have quite a big tech team for a company our size, and we have the right linguists and tech people working together. We think this focus is the only real path to innovations that have true benefits for both language professionals and the clients they serve. LAI is a leap forward for TBSJ—and the translation industry.

We have also found that the right AI applications can accelerate a translator’s learning curve. This is a very exciting development because translation is a capacity-constrained industry. By engineering a system that aids translators’ training, we can help address the shortage of expert translators in the industry.

It’s all exciting stuff, and I love that we’re in an industry where people’s jobs can get a real boost from AI and they don’t have to be scared of it.

TBSJ were competitively priced and outperformed the competing translation vendors that we considered or had used previously in terms of quality and service. They were unmatched by other vendors.
Senior Associate
Disputes team at a major international law firm
I always choose TBSJ as my first option for translation service. TBSJ is really responsive and provides us one of the best quality translation for reasonable price.
Partner specializing in competition law at a Big Four Japanese law firm