JANESVILLE — From a U.S. perspective, the manufacturer's website was straightforward: The company makes safety seal caps.
But viewed in another country through an automated translation service, the message became wildly distorted: The company does whale hunting.
That recently happened to a client of Foremost Media in Janesville.
Somehow, “seal” was interpreted to mean “whale” and the erroneous translation was off and running.
“Unless you speak the language, you really have no idea what you are presenting to a foreign audience,” said Jon Ballard, chief executive officer of the company he founded in 2001.
Foremost, a full-service web design and web optimization company, now offers translation services to help companies that want to gain exposure and increase their reach into Latin American markets.
In general, the company concentrates on all aspects of application and Internet development and marketing from website design and visibility optimization to social media marketing.
Many major search engines offer translation services, but it's still easy for businesses to lose control of their message, Ballard said.
“There are language and graphic constraints if you just try and do a 'straight' translation from one language to another,” he said.
Ballard said Foremost can make sure website graphics make sense and convey the intended message in Spanish. That's important for companies that want to increase market share for particular products or skills, he said.
In addition, Foremost can optimize a company's second-language website onto proper search engines so it gets top-of-mind awareness in South American and Mexican markets.
“We are looking at this as the first of what we know will be multi-lingual services to give our clients a business boost wherever they need it,” Ballard said.
Ballard sort of stumbled into his business when he owned Big 10 Subs in Janesville.
“I was trying to build a website for the business, and I was collecting all these business cards with emails,” he said. “I thought 'there's got to be something I can do with these on a website.'”
He couldn't find anyone locally to help, so he tackled it himself, primarily from the basement of his home. He eventually sold the restaurant, but kept at the website development and launched Foremost Media.
He quickly hired Andy Walker, a graduate of UW-Whitewater's Management Computer Systems program and a fellow Ballard describes as the “hardcore programmer.”
They hired another staffer, and Ballard's basement soon became overcrowded.
The company moved to a building on Morse Street before buying a property on Excalibur Drive.
Foremost has grown every year, typically in the range of 10 percent to 20 percent. It now has 12 in-house employees, all college graduates who are holding family-supporting jobs.
“We're never going to be the next Go Daddy,” Ballard said. “We are very much relationship driven. We know the people we work with.”
The company started with strong roots in the Janesville area, although about 80 percent of its business now comes from outlying areas, some as outlying as France, Russia and New Zealand.
“Janesville has been very good to us,” Ballard said, noting the company he co-owns with Walker has developed sites for the local school district, Forward Janesville and others.
Ballard said Foremost hopes to add more positions in the next few months for its support and project development teams.