By Sharon Fisher | July 13, 2022
Think of Liiingo – with three Is – as a QR code on steroids. Except instead of getting just a single canned text item when you scan it, the system automatically knows your preferred language and can present all sorts of content to you without your having to download a separate app for it.
“Forbes reported that, for 90% of people, their pet peeve is that they hate downloading a separate app for every business,” said Andrea Sorensen, CEO of Liiingo, based in Boise. “Now you don’t have to. You have the improved experience of a platform without having to download a separate app.”
How Liiingo came about
Sorensen’s background is as a process engineer. “My focus was, how do you remove the friction between the business and the customer?” she said. “In those key moments when a company is onsite, using a product, how do you up engagement?” One of the core methods is whether it’s simple to gain access to information, she said.
“The initial idea was, as a process engineer, looking for how we can make it simpler to deliver the information customers need when they need it,” Sorensen said. “I never intended to become an entrepreneur.”
Then, one day Sorensen went to the zoo.
“I was walking through the zoo, and there was a family speaking Spanish, and I wanted to make their experience more inclusive,” Sorensen said. “Everyone knows how to scan a code now. You can put a code on a sign, or on a product, and both of those can help deliver information that helps communicate why it’s special.”
Consequently, Sorensen is focusing on the travel and tourism market for now. “Think about how much that would open up the experience for people who speak other languages,” she said. “We all want to know the story behind and more information about what we’re curious about, regardless of our language.”
In fact, Liiingo’s user interface is so smooth that Sorensen said it was improving engagement even for people who spoke English and didn’t need translation. “Our engagement is exceeding even the top 20% of mobile websites,” she said. “People stay longer and are consuming more content. That translates into increased sales.”
How the technology works
The language detection aspect works by looking up the language in the systems setting in the user’s smartphone, without the user having to specify it. “We’ve removed the friction for the user to select it,” Sorensen said. No identifying information is transferred other than the language setting, so there’s no privacy concerns, she said. Thus far, the app supports the 15 most common languages, though more could be added, she said.
Sorensen notes that Liiingo isn’t an automated translator itself, but an automated delivery mechanism. The content can come from an automated translator, or from professionally translated material. “We wanted to start with the ability to have professional translation,” she said. “You can tell the difference. We wanted to enable that higher level of translation. We do have a plan to automate the translation as well.”
Liiingo thus far has about 40 customers, ranging from the Idaho Falls Zoo to Weiser Classic Candy and Historic Nauvoo, and is about to undergo a statewide rollout, Sorensen said. “Places that have a rich history and where you really want to be able to immerse yourself in the experience, that’s where it really takes off,” she said.
The app is also being used in verticals other than travel and tourism, such as medical, government, and public information, but Sorensen is focusing on travel and tourism for now. “In tourism, the adoption cycle is much more rapid,” she said. “We have to make sure we stay really focused on our targets.”
Liiingo is going through some changes. Sorensen has been accepted into the Women in Cloud’s Cloud Accelerator Cohort, which means she will be able to partner with companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon Web Services on enterprise sales and be included in online marketplaces as an approved partner, she said. “The accelerator is incredibly intense, an awesome opportunity,” she said.
Another is that Liiingo has been invited by the U.S. Department of Commerce to participate in an international technology trade mission in November to several European countries, Sorensen said. “We’re building out the model in Idaho that we’ll be able to take to other states, and also internationally,” she said. “Your tourists are going to multiple places, so this will help them have a consistent experience and help places cross-market each other.”
In terms of pricing, Liiingo recently introduced online self-service activation with a price point as low as $20 per month, meaning that entry level pricing ranges from $20 to $100 per month. “We anticipate at this point that our growth will accelerate significantly, especially paired with Microsoft and Google,” Sorensen said. Enterprise plans, which add services to that and create groups of associated applications, range up to $1,000 per month, she said. “When you look at a custom app, the average cost is still $60,000 to $150,000,” she noted.
And how about the company itself?
Currently, Liiingo has 15 employees, all but two of whom are in Idaho. The company’s offices are in the Kiln coworking space, with some employees hybrid and some primarily remote, Sorensen said.
Sorensen is also in the middle of a $2.5 million seed round, which she is expecting to close by the end of this month. “This round should take us to profitability,” she said, and it’s open to private investors as well as to angel investors and venture capitalists. She’s planning on a Series A raise next year. Thus far, Liiingo has been primarily funded by individual private Idaho investors. “The startup ecosystem here is very supportive,” she said.
And after that? “My goal was to build something we could partner with a hyperscaler to bring this globally more quickly,” Sorensen said. “I anticipate that within three to five years, we’ll likely be looking at an exit,” probably through acquisition. “It could be Microsoft or Google,” she said. “There’s a lot of good potential there for companies that can really help us scale globally.”
Fisher is a digital nomad who writes about entrepreneurship.