Volatia is a full-service language service company, providing on-site, over the telephone, and remote video interpretation and translation services in more than 280 languages. Volatia is led by Baraka Kasongo, recently recognized with the Regional Entrepreneur award at RBTC’s TechNite.
What motivated and inspired you to start your company?
Baraka Kasongo: When my family moved to the United States, we experienced first-hand the language and cultural disparities that exist everywhere in health care, government, education, etc. Language and cultural disparities also exist in smaller situations like, parent-teacher conferences where the parents do not understand the messages being relayed, or when a student does not fully understand what is expected of them in the classroom. I remember taking classes where I did not understand anything but was later expected to take a test on the information. A few years after I learned how to communicate in English I noticed other people experiencing the same challenges and I decided that something needed to be done about it. I never actually planned to start a company and take on the challenge myself. Instead, I saw myself more as a coordinator of resources trying to put together a team that I could pass on to someone else. The challenge is that nobody wanted that kind of responsibility. What started as a volunteer effort, to try to put together local interpreters and translators that could help with the various language disparities, turned into a business model that is really thriving and growing at one of the fastest rates in the country.
What does success look like to you?
Baraka Kasongo: I succeed everyday, because success is not some futuristic goal I have. Success for me is doing the absolute best that I can each and everyday and taking care of people I work with. Success also includes, making sure that I do not neglect the things that are most important to me, which are my spirituality and family. As long as I have meaningful work and contribute to the happiness of the people I work with, I consider myself to have succeeded.
Tell me a little about your team.
Baraka Kasongo: I get excited when I talk about my team because I genuinely love them. They are all great people and each helps Volatia to run and operate smoothly. We have a large team since each of the 280 languages is technically its own division. We have thousands of interpreters across the country and that is how we are able to place people anywhere that they are needed.
What is the biggest challenge your company has had to face so far? How did you overcome it?
Baraka Kasongo: The biggest challenge is hiring the right people and putting them in the right position. As a small business owner, I am used to wearing many hats, which can be dangerous when I expect others to have the desire and ability to do the same. I have found that when an employee is not in a position where they can achieve their maximum performance it really affects every aspect of an organization. The old adage that every link in a chain needs to be strong and tight is very true in the small business world. I try to understand what people actually want out of work. As for overcoming this challenge, I have performance benchmarks so both the individual being hired and the individuals on the team have the opportunity to assess themselves and openly share with me if they think they’re in the right place. By doing so, I hope to create a culture that encourages people to be okay with failure and to be opening to requesting department transfer without fear of being terminated or let go.
Has your company done something exciting recently?
Baraka Kasongo: Absolutely, we do something exciting almost every day. Some of the innovations and new technologies that we have pioneered are truly second to none. We are excited to see where our company is going in the future.
What advice would you give to those interested in starting a business?
Baraka Kasongo: I would start by asking them to truly define what success, happiness, and fulfillment looks like to them. I would also advise them to spend time with people that have similar definitions in order to ensure it is what they want to do. Running and leading a small business is one of the most rewarding experiences, but it comes with sacrifices. I think one of the reasons businesses fail is because people do not take the time to understand what they are getting themselves into, and they fail to calculate the cost of running a business from familial, spiritual, and personal perspectives. I would ask them to reanalyze what they are truly pursuing and if they are still happy with it, and then I would encourage them to put their full heart into it and it watch it succeed despite the challenges.