SAN FRANCISCO Despite the viral nature of YouTube, entrepreneur Otavio Good was still shocked when a video of his mobile translation app, Word Lens, became a social media sensation.
"It was overwhelming; we were unable to control it," said Good, who posted the video a week before Christmas and was forced to shut down his site due to traffic volume, as the link was shared rapidly across numerous social networks. It became the fourth-highest trending topic on Twitter hours later. "It's hard to deal with, but good at the same time. Obviously it's a great thing."
To date, the Word Lens video has been viewed more than 3.5 million times on YouTube and Good admitted it has been difficult to focus on improving the product while responding to the flood of email.
"With everything going viral, it's hard to make time to do the right things," said Good, 36, the CEO of San Francisco-based Quest Visual (questvisual.com), which makes Word Lens and which he founded in 2009. "You want to be able to quickly update it and just get something out there that's a little more polished."
Word Lens uses the video camera function on iPhone and iPad mobile devices to instantly translate text from Spanish to English and vice versa. Good primarily designed it to be used by tourists, who need instantaneous and accurate translations of things such as signs and menus. Good's litmus test for the application was to perform its function in less than 20 seconds, because otherwise "somebody could just manually look this up in a paper dictionary or type it in (to an online translation tool)."
The idea for Word Lens came about three years ago, when Good found himself in a bookstore in Germany. He spotted what looked like "a really cool" physics book, but was unable to read it, because he didn't speak German. Afterwards he wondered if he could turn his smartphone into a translator.
An accomplished programer, Good had previously sold a gaming company - Secret Level Inc - he co-founded to Sega for $15 million in 2006. He used an undisclosed amount to fund Quest Visual and develop Word Lens.
Good, who speaks Portuguese, said he chose Spanish in part after learning that approximately 100 million tourists visit Spanish-speaking countries every year, according to the United Nations. He said there were also plenty of Spanish resources in his home state of California and he could go to Spanish neighborhoods in San Francisco to test the software on real signs.
The buzz around Word Lens has venture capitalists calling, but for now Good said he's not interested in raising any extra cash.
"We are bringing in a consistent amount of money," he said, but refused to disclose any revenues. He added the day after he launched the video in December was his biggest day for downloads of the app.
Good said his main challenge is to recruit "exceptional" programers to help him improve "the quality of the product" and get the company to where it "can take advantage of some of the opportunities that we're seeing coming at us."
With just two full-time employees and some contractors, Good has had to rely on his mom to help out until they can hire. Good also wants to add more languages and said French is next on the list.
So far, it's only available for the iPhone, the iPad 2 and the iPod Touch and sells for $9.99 at the App Store. Good plans to launch Word Lens for other smartphone devices and said he's excited for the launch of more high-end phones.
"Just about all the high-end phones this year are going to have dual core processors and that just means more processing power to make Word Lens better quality."