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Global Strategies for a Global Platform: Anna N. Schlegel, Vice President at Procore Technologies

Anna N. Schlegel

California-based Anna Schlegel presents a sterling example of tech issues involved in globalizing Procore, a mega software platform used for managing over 1 million construction projects in over 190 countries and localized into many languages. Anna describes the general principles for developing a global strategy; the meticulous details to coordinate mammoth upgrades and changes to ensure safety and regulatory compliance at local, state/provincial, and national levels; working with restrictions imposed by China; as well as the detailed conversations with customers before any changes are made. She also describes the importance of language localization, cultural adaptations for country markets; and the training of translators to ensure they understand the construction industry and processes involved.

Highlights:

The general principles for developing a global strategy.

Adjusting accordingly to specific country markets.

Working within the Chinese government’s restrictions.

Using in-house linguistic teams vs Outsourcing.

Cultural adaptations when working in different languages.

How to measure success.

Neural Machine Translation

Anna N. Schlegel bio:

Anna N. Schlegel is currently Vice President of Global at Procore Technologies. Over the past 30 years, Anna has led globalization, PLC, engineering, product, content, strategy, and marketing teams at top technology companies in Silicon Valley, including Cisco, VeriSign, VMware, Xerox, and NetApp.

Her work has been published in Forbes, Fortune, the European Union, Gala-Global, Multilingual, and many other industry forums. Anna has consulted for Google’s International Product Team throughout her career and is a requested speaker at the Berkeley Haas Institute, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Universitat de Barcelona, and Stanford University.

Today, Anna sits on three global boards, presides over the Catalan International Economic Circle study on Women, is a Catalan DIPLOCAT member, and continues her philanthropic work with the non-profits she has co-founded such as Women in Localization and STEMentors Silicon Valley. During her tenure at NetApp, Anna Chaired the WIT organization.

In December 2021, Anna was awarded the “Creu de Sant Jordi” Medal of Honor by the Catalan Government for her leading efforts in Technology and Business. This award is considered the highest honor as a Catalan national.

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Full Transcript

Since today’s guest comes from Catalonia, which is a region of Spain, I thought it would be appropriate to do a blooper in Catalan. However, I could not find one. So the next best thing is to do one in Spanish, and this is actually something very simple. It was a construction site that was walled off or boarded off with a little wooden fence and at the top it said in English. Do not enter here and in Spanish it said at the bottom, “Entero somewhere elso”. So basically, a play on English or for people who can speak Spanish and, “Entero somewhere elso”, sounds like Spanish, but Entero  in Spanish means whole or entire, and it should have said if the person spoke properly, “Prohibido el paso”. 

But in any case, that’s not what happens when you use a nonprofessional linguist to do translations, which should be done correctly. And our guest certainly knows that because she has worked in the globalization industry for many years. 

Anna Schlegel is truly global. She provides an insider’s look at how enterprises move into international markets to successfully deliver and scale their product offerings to customers across different cultures. She has unlocked new and significant net revenue for organizations she has worked with. In her past 30 years of experience leading expansion in the technology industry such as GM or the Vice President of Globalization, Anna has brought Japan’s NetApp business from ranking #12 to #1 in data storage as just one example. She has worked extensively in driving global market growth by ensuring new markets and enabling joint ventures in China through OEM partnerships in Asia and the EU. Their strategy leverages the product and enterprise’s strategic upfront investment to build a comprehensive strategy for global expansion and to support the company’s growth goals. And it’s a pleasure that you joined us today.

Thank you, Philip. Thanks for having me.

So, let’s start by asking what general principles you use for developing a global strategy.

Usually inside the corporation, which only works for pretty large corporations, we align very well with the CEO team and the Strategy Office, if there is one. Very close to this, the Chief Strategy Officer always… I worked very closely at VMware and met up with the Chief Strategy Officer here at Procore. 

So, we were very close to the strategy to understand what markets we want to go in and we do a lot of due diligence. So, my team is usually part of doing the due diligence. Of what countries? In what order? And why and how? Because once you get into a market, you’re in, you know, and it’s a really big investment you can get in obviously with opening offices and hiring people and placing a smaller setup to drive the products and the solutions. You can also get in just with language and some support, and some collateral, right? 

So, we look at what the markets are that we need to be in at Procore. We are in 192 countries; there are not that many more, but they’re really large, yeah. The platform has reached the world. Let’s put it that way.

And Procore is in the construction business, correct?

Yes. Procore Technologies is a cloud-based platform where general contractors and owners and subcontractors and anybody in the whole orchestration of construction work together. So, our goal is to connect all the tasks, all the workflows, all the processes that they need to take care of, compliances, you know, working with engineers, working with architects, working with subcontractors, working with folks that are financing these large construction projects. 

So, we have it all in one platform and again this platform is super powerful. We have some of the biggest, you know largest contractors around the world, general contractors, and we are globalizing it to get into many, many countries. We will all obviously not globalize it for 192 countries. But we have a good set of languages already.

I think the United Nations has 192 or 193 members, so it seems that you’ve covered the entire world.

And we do check, we do check against the list of the United Nations. We do check that for compliance.

Amazing!

Please give me some examples of how you have modified your strategy to enter some specific country’s market. I presume one size does not fit all. So, what have you done to adjust accordingly?

Right.

Yes. So, as you were saying, I’ve been in this space now for 31 years leading different strategies for different companies. Some companies are channel first, so there is a huge distribution model through what’s called pathways, and pathways can be distributors, pathways can be resellers, so there is a partner play or pathway play in China. I’ve seen only one joint venture which we made happen. And that was really very interesting and probably …

I’m sorry, for what?…

For NetApp we have a joint venture. And that was probably the most complex orchestration, the longest I’ve ever seen, and the most thrilling. Also, because you’re not a company that does joint ventures in China at the scale of, you know, a company like … And obviously, there are all the direct models of selling and inside sales and that tends to be most of the case. 

So, there are different ways of getting in. Obviously, you need the whole orchestration with the go-to-market teams for a lot of marketing, product marketing, sales enablement, and very strong support teams as well.

And you were just talking about your joint venture in China. China is increasingly becoming ever more authoritarian and restrictive. Do you have any special provisions or techniques that you cannot do, or you can do there that you cannot do elsewhere?

So, what you need to do in China is you… It’s a huge decision and not a lot of companies get to China at the scale of a platform. OK, at the scale of a technology or cloud-based platform. You need to study it a lot. You need to have connections there. 

So typically, people from the Board are going to have some connection in China. It can be that the executives of sales have a connection in China. And then you need to spend a fair amount there talking to analysts or their own analysts to even see if there is a place for you. It’s a very careful study and due diligence. It takes a few years in our case that made-up, it took several years, right? I work very closely with IDC, so we partner with IDC in China. They have a very strong presence there and they will go.

I’m sorry, IDC? I know International Data Corporation, but what else is it?

IDC is an analyst firm that is like any other analyst firm. They’re very specialized in getting into China. And so, we partnered very, very closely with them to the point that I would bring them to not speak to the executives. We did several workshops and brown bags to explain the opportunity that they saw. They saw it there. It’s one thing that they see the opportunity and they can help liaise with the Chinese counterparts that are dancing around to marry you, right, but then you need to make sure that the executive team wants to do it. 

It’s a significant investment and to do a joint venture, basically, you’re creating a third company and so there is a very careful design of a new board of a new team of a new office and new offerings because the joint venture will create a third company that will not necessarily be able to use your products, right?

Do those strategies for entering China differ from the strategies when you sell to Taiwan?

Yes, I mean, entering Taiwan usually happens through websites or through resellers or companies. For example, in the construction world, we have quite a bit of demand to serve Taiwan. And that can be done through just doing language for example. You need to have the platform perfectly globalized. You need to have support as well, right? Because they are going to call you, you need to have collateral. And I think it’s much easier to get in like that. You can do it just with language.

And that raises the question of language localization. Do you have inside or in-house linguistic teams, or do you outsource the language agencies?

I have always, in any company, always outsourced it. As I consider myself a businessperson because usually, I run more than just the globalization team and I have a P&L or a, or a GM [General Manager] sort of role where to me we have overdeveloped translating agencies and localization agencies that are great. They are perfect partners. And it’s unnecessary to me in the space that I’ve been to have to bring in translators. I think translators in my case, I’ve always been on the vendor side. What we do make sure though is that we train them really well, because every company that I have worked for has very, very complex products. They’re not … I’m buying a pencil. I’m buying a notebook that everybody knows how to translate those things. 

So, in the case of VMware, it’s all virtualization and not only is the software or the platform complex, but we’re also innovating. I’ve only worked for companies that are creating new things, things that did not exist. So, are we the ones that have to create the names of what we are going to call this product? 

And so, we work very closely with the naming teams in product marketing. We work very closely with the agencies, you know, leaders to make sure that we train or even certify the translator. So, we have created courses, for example, now for proper technologies, because there are not that many translators that really understand the world of construction. The world of construction is fascinating. How you say one thing in one country is not going to fly for another country. 

And so, we have to be very, very careful. So, for example, we’re serving a handful of English variants because saying Bidding in one country is going to be called a Tender in another country. And so, we have to constantly be localizing the keywords on the platform, and the world of construction changes all the time, all the time. There are new technologies, especially now with the official intelligence on how we’re going to call things in virtual reality, you know, things that we can do with ocular systems that these agencies are great at, but they need to be able to keep up with us. But we have a role in training them as well.

We raised two very interesting points and since, as you may know, I run a 30-year-old language agency, I’m very familiar with these points. And the ones that you made initially are critical and a lot of people forget them. A lot of companies forget and that is what I call name evaluation or name screening: To always check the name of your company and your product and your slogan or your tagline before you enter any foreign market and at least do it across ten major languages, because if you’ve got one mistake or one gaffe, it can make your company look incredibly foolish or stupid. And that’s not a reputation you want to gain.

You were talking about blunders. There was, I think it was a car. I believe it was named Nova and in Spanish Nova, it means “it doesn’t go.” It doesn’t run. So that was a big, big blunder, right?

Actually, that was one of the original blunders that was popular in the 1950s, and from what I’ve read, that actually never happened. Chevrolet introduced that in Mexico. And they did know that Nova in Spanish means “not go” so they didn’t do that. But Ford and others have made similar mistakes. Ford introduced the Pinto car into Brazil. Pinto in Brazilian Portuguese slang means, shall we say, male genitals. Not a very good name for a car.

Not at all.

AMC introduced the Matador in Puerto Rico and other Latin countries, and “matador” basically means “killer.”  So again, not a very good name for a car. So, you raised that excellent point. That’s the other point about language that you just raised. I just forgot what it was, but that will come back to me. 

I did want to ask also regarding language. What kind of cultural adaptations have you had for your products? Oh, I’m sorry. Before I get to that, I do remember what I wanted to say, what I wanted to add, and it dovetails with my question. 

Just in English alone, in British English and American English. In British English, they talk about the name of a building such as the Chrysler Building in New York. We would say the Chrysler Building, whereas in British English they use the word House: Trafalgar House, and that simply means again the name of the building. 

And the word Mansion in the construction business or certainly mentioned in American English, means an extremely large house whereas in British English it simply can just mean, not a house necessarily, but just another name for a building or a hotel. “Hôtel” in French can either mean hotel or it can just mean, again, a kind of a building. So just those simple words in construction have multiple meanings, and that’s where it can get very tricky in language, of course. 

So, I did want to ask you in terms of linguistic teams, or the cultural adaptations you needed to make. Can you give some examples of how that worked in different languages?

 

Yeah, the cultural adaptation that we do first is not necessarily around changing words right from the bidding to the tendering or the House of what the examples that you were doing are important, but to us, the platform is used by project managers, the document managers, architects, engineers, supervisors, the superintendents.

And so, what these folks need to have is a platform that resonates with their country’s compliance. So not everybody does taxation the same. Not everybody needs to be logging staff hours the same. Everybody needs to change orders the same and tell us where we spent a lot of time, or we do an incredible amount of customer due diligence in how they work. How do they run construction in their country? And in many cases, even different provinces are going to request different things, right? 

So, we are very strong in Canada for example. Where the Quebec region may be requesting new compliance for inspections or permits or safety rules, construction has a lot to do with safety, and project management, and safety is very important. So how are those things being tracked? Or their finances are being tracked. Of their documentation managers’ management. So, there are different ISO standards, especially very strong in the UK. They are not necessarily needed or the same in Australia.

So to us when we talk about culturalization, we call it product market fit because our clients are both. They’re either in an office making the deal that we’re going to make this construction in Paris or in Sydney or in the Middle East. 

And so, there’s a lot around the business part, the bidding, the preparing of the bid. But then once they get going, a lot happens inside trailers. We’ve all seen construction; you know architects with the hard hats in inside trailers with the project managers and the schedule. There are, but at the same time, you see the supervisors and the actual construction workers are live sites that can be highways, can be airports, can be subways, right? 

And so, we studied that. I don’t want to say it is more important, but it’s probably more important. Those processes will understand the sort of people that need to sign off papers that need to, you know, clock lists. We call them punch lists or once we understand that process, then we can name those steps. And so those steps are where we have to be really careful of how we call these things, right? 

For example, would be here in the States, you know the project managers have. These punch lists were needed to record what happened in every single corner or every single hour. And one of the blunders that I saw in Latin America as we were calling them “lists punch,” right, that was one of my first houses; like nobody knows where the punch is in Mexico. And so that was one of the first things to clean that up and it’s a little bit. Also, the journey of companies into getting into other countries is sometimes too fast or without the right resources, right? 

So, when we came here, I’d been at ProCore for two years. One of the first things I came to do was to run an international product and the flexibility of the platform and global infrastructure. One of the first things that I said, I would love to manage the localization team as well so that we could start addressing these things and we address them really quickly and it’s fine, right? 

Where I spend most of my time understanding what the governments require. What do these general contractors need to do for their job owners and all the subcontractors, etcetera? How do they use the platform?

So, as you’re saying, it’s understanding the compliance, the regulatory, and the financial issues of each country or each state or each province, which of course I presume you prepare in English first and then you translate it into the target language.

Usually, it is usually. Most of the ProCore employees are in the States, so ProCore did not start going global until 2017. My org was placed about two years ago, so that’s when we started to really step it up, and what we globalizers do is very deep product work, very deep internationalization work. A lot of engineering reengineering. A lot of them make sure that we can bring innovation so that we use the latest techniques in internationalization. And then obviously bringing in localization, testing, and a lot of things that we didn’t have before. 

And so, I feel that now after a couple of years. We have a very good time. The engine inside it is still obviously working on it, but do you know how to get into any language much, much better?

When you go abroad, do you primarily work with distributors in each country, or do you have actual development and Sales and Marketing offices in each country? Or is it a combination?

So for now, ProCore is very direct. So, we have the offices, we have the teams, we have the inside sales, we have account executives, so it’s very much direct, but we are starting to… we do have some partnerships and we’re heading that way more and more. And Latin America is a place where we were testing that out now.

At ProCore specifically or other companies in general because you worked with many firms, do you generally seek a market share or competitive edge or an ROI or some other measure? What constitutes success? And does this differ by country?

So, you know, companies are looking for annual revenue or additional revenue. So we do look at all of it, we look at the TAM which is the Total Addressable Market. We look at SAM, we look at the additional revenue.

Can you define SAM?

It’s the addressable market, it’s not the portal, but it’s the more, the more realistic one. So we then have targets obviously like every single company, right, we have targets per geography. I mean this is your typical sales setup. From a product perspective. We look at project activity, we look at tools that are being used. We look at what parts of the platform are not being used. We look at the bottlenecks inside a specific workflow.

So, we can say, you know, these many thousands of users or customers are using or not using a specific part of the platform, which is you know when you run a platform, it’s the same everywhere. It’s the same. I saw it at VMware or at NetApp where you look at what tools are being used the most or what products are being used the most and which ones are not and the ones that matter for the whole connection of the platform or the flywheel of the platform. 

That’s where we investigate quite a bit to untangle that to get it to unstick. Let’s say that project activity is very important. Obviously, we have a lot of metrics. We have the typical metrics that any I think globalizer would have. We look at technical debt, we look at quality, we look at speed of localization, but really also what’s very important is how the product is being used. 

We spent years, sometimes one to two years developing a product or making a product enterprise-ready. So right now, my team is working on two or three of those, and we’re about to call them GA, right? General Availability when the product is enterprise-ready, then we make sure that the field really is enabled to sell that product, right? There are a lot of things we’d measure.

And this is the process that you’ve used for other companies you’ve worked for as well?

Pretty much, yeah. I mean it’s your typical. 

A globalization process.

No, it’s not a globalization process. It’s like an operation of the company, right, like product and technology or R&D builds, something that is needed very much in the market. Otherwise, you don’t go there if it’s not needed, don’t embark on that. And then you need to make sure that what you’re building is going to be sustained. You can’t just like, create a tool and then drop it, right? 

So, you need a squad.. You need a tripod of engineering leaders and product managers assigned to that so that the product will keep growing and keep doing its thing year after year, then you need a very strong go-to-market function. That comes with understanding what are the markets, and what are the countries where the languages AP product market feed approach as well because you can’t one size does not fit all. It’s very, very true in this world of construction because of government compliances.

What kind of projects over your 30-year career have you been most proud of? 

The most I would say is the incredible amount of innovation that I’ve seen throughout the years being one of the first people in the early 90s already using machine translation, right, and then doing talk about blunders. When we were at Cisco, we were a small team, already working with IBM TM 2 that we were trying to localize using machine translation behind the scenes. 

What I’m most proud of is the contributions of my teams and how hard we’ve pushed for innovation and the fact that we had a really big role I think in anti and then in NNT and then in AI. One of my most proud moments was to see patents be in the US Patent Library, right? of things that have developed, or my teams have developed, especially around internationalization and bypassing a lot of manual processes. I’m very fascinated also with content strategies and AI and content.

So, I’ve been working in the field of content and AI, maybe for the past ten years where we ended up with a content lake where we could see who was authoring double. What’s the total content for the company? Is that content searchable? Is that content well-authored? You know things like this. I love to think really big and. Have patents or trade secrets. Those things like, really, I enjoy it a lot and then I would say probably even more to see people that have worked for me or in my teams doing similar things. 

I think I’m an inventor, you know, and I like to push the limit and some people say you’re not the cutting edge, you’re the edge. You know like. I think because I’ve worked so much in engineering and in strategy and in marketing and in product for 30 years, you can see how you can use different techniques that the chief product officers can apply them. Techniques that achieve their officers have you can apply them. 

So, there are so many models and frameworks out there right to think, to strategize, and then to just really connect the dots. Like we don’t have to stay in our lane of the typical workflow. I like to completely disrupt them, right? 

I remember at NetApp It was the first time, and I don’t know that many companies can do this. We were able to send content from the.com so from the Netapp.com. I think it was 17 languages. The first pilot that we did into an NT workflow that came back came back to the website within minutes. That was the wildest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and it’s possible because we have incredible workflows for translation management systems. It’s possible because of NMT.

Can you define NMT for our listeners? 

Oh, yes. Sorry, sorry, it’s. Neural Machine Translation.

Neural machine translation.

Which is the evolution of machine translation, right? And when you’re saying, what are yo most proud of. it’s  like gosh, translations are not the issue. You know, systems have a beautiful API and we’ve developed neural machine translation for so many years now. Come on, you know. 

So, I always ask the heads of websites or marketing or product content management systems that go globally should not be an issue because of localization. It may be an issue because of compliances or so standards or not knowing what markets to hit. But localization teams are incredible because they can speed up how you go to market so fast, so, so fast. And so, I think that is a victory because it used to take months and weeks. 

And so, I shrink it and I shrink it and I shrink it and I shrink it. I can tell you when I started at NetApp, I was one person. And we were able to do this beautiful thing of seeing content just go within I think it was within two hours the content was right back on the website and published. 

And I watched it. I was like, I need to see this thing. I watched the whole workflow go through with the Vice President of Digital Marketing. And we were. Like Oh my God, because we both had been at NetApp for many, many years and we almost cried because we’re crazy innovative. 

Yeah, yeah, cool stuff. You can do a lot of cool stuff, or internationalization in localization in the workflows to the translation management system, but for that you need a very strong platform, right? You need a content management system, and you need an incredible translation agency behind it as well. NMT Is only as good as what you’ve invested in, right? 

And so, if you have a great corpus of content which is we’re talking about LLMs, right, like these Large Language Models.  Well, guess what? We curated these databases for years. We paid for this beautiful content for years. So now let’s use it very quickly, right?

One of the aspects of the whole development process that you didn’t mention, but I assume as part of it, was market research to determine first whether the innovation would be welcome in a new market.

That’s right, yeah.

Right.

And how do you go about or how did you go about the market research process without divulging what you were planning to do? Was it hypothetical?: If we could develop this for you, would you adopt it? Or is it something else? 

No, no. It’s the complete customer base. So, all our product teams, so inside our product organization folks, we have a rule that people, if you’re a product leader, you’re talking to at least three to four customers a week. So, the product teams are inside different pillars or inside different divisions, right? So, we have product leaders inside the pre-construction part of the platform. We have product leaders dedicated to the financial part of the platform. We have product leaders inside the project management and safety side of the platform. 

So, they are completely in tune and In sync with what is needed. We don’t build, we would never, ever build without an incredible amount of customer phone calls. We are completely customer-first at ProCore because once we go, we invest, you know, a lot of humans in engineering in UX. In the product leadership team, there’s a lot of investment and this investment has to come with a lot of customer data. 

And so we get a lot of one-on-one customers, larger settings. We did a lot of deep dives. I send a lot of teams around the world to study and see it and do innovation labs. We’re constantly going every two or three weeks. We have a team living somewhere else. And coming back with the requirements, to validate the requirements as the engineering and the product work is getting done right. And usually, they come back. It’s like whoops, we forgot one thing, or we need to modify one thing, but we want to make sure that it’s very common… You know, we have so many customers and we’re in so many countries, right?

So, we cannot customize it for one customer. So, we look for the commonalities and what are the current customers asking for.

And this is primarily done by each of you, I’ll call them silos: project leaders or the project-leading teams and finance and safety and leadership teams and so forth, by talking to your customers and finding out?

Yeah, I mean. I would have called them silent because we were everybody. The product understands very well the network effect and how these tools need to be connected and what comes first and what touches what. 

So they understand. These are incredible product leaders. I mean to get into the ProCore, you need to be super top-notch. We have incredible these folks… I’ve never seen equal product leaders. And so, they obviously have their own teams, right? So, they have their own engineering squads, and they have their own UX team colleagues, so they’re all on a tripod. And they studied all the workflows, all the steps, and all the wireframes, and they validated a lot. We run product councils as well. So, we validate with our SEs, you know the engineers, the solutions.

I’m sorry. SCs did you say?

Yes, the Solution Engineers in the field.

SE?

Yes, SE  Engineers in the field to make sure that what we are about to change is actually very, very needed, because in construction you change a little step and it can mean a lot right for them. We were there to improve and to make it easier for them, right? So, we have to understand what will make it easier.

So, this information comes, I assume, by speaking to your customers or your prospective customers about what innovations they might want to see or what additions or tweaks they might want to see as well as what new solutions they might want to see. Is that correct? 

That’s right, yes. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

I would just love to… They’re coming in from the translation angle, right? I always like to ask folks managing the translations team or localizations team to really understand the business side, to not just pretend like, oh, we’re the last end of the engine. No, they need to be in front of the engine understanding the languages, the countries and the products, and the platform itself. 

If you’re just there to localize, you may be localizing the wrong things, or you may be localizing something that was not product market fit, or you may be localizing something that’s really not necessary. And I think to me the heads of Localization or Globalization need to be questioning what’s coming in. It’s not a ticketing service. It should not. Everything should be said Yes to because it can cause a lot of damage. Maybe you’re localizing a tool that the head of product doesn’t think is necessary, or that the regional vice president doesn’t need. Like it’s a business again. There’s a budget, and you need to use that budget on the priorities. And so, you need to make that decision and be seen as a business partner, right to the product leaders, etc.

Very good. Well, thank you. 

This has been an excellent conversation with Anna Schlegel currently at ProCore and, as I think our viewers and listeners have seen, you are truly global and have had these wonderful 30 years of experience doing this kind of work for some extremely large enterprises. Your extended bio will be on our episode page so that our viewers and subscribers can see your incredible background. 

Thank you so much for joining.

Thank you, Philip. Thank you.

Thank you for joining us today and I hope all of you will join us next week for another edition of global Gurus and their stories of international business.

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