Corinne is the Social Media and Content Lead at BLEND. She is dedicated to keeping global business professionals up to date on all things localization, translation, language and culture.
This month, we sat down with Mercedes Krimme, Product Localization Manager at Spotify. Spotify is a digital music, podcast, and video streaming service that gives users access to content from creators all over the world. Spotify is currently available in 74 languages.
Listen in as Mercedes shares her journey to the localization industry, her team’s strengths at Spotify, and ways they are scaling their localization efforts. Read the full interview, or watch the videocast below:
Thank you so much for joining us, Mercedes. Can you start by telling me a little bit about your career path and how you became the Product Localization Manager at Spotify?
Totally, I think everyone in localization always has a very strange path of how we get here. I grew up in a bilingual household, so I was always really exposed to multiple languages and speaking them and translating between family members. So this was always a theme in my life. It sort of continued through college and graduate school where I was a language major and did some interpreting and some German and English translating, which was a really cool experience.
I didn’t know that localization existed until I started working in tech. I started out in recruiting and tech recruiting.
Once I was in recruiting, I realized I wanted to be more on the product side, so sort of started figuring out how do I get from where I am to where I want to be? I still didn’t know localization existed at this point.
There was one point when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do that I was attending a lot of meetups in the Bay Area. So I was living in San Francisco at the time, going to a lot of different tech meetups to just learn about the industry that I was recruiting in and then I went to a localization meetup, and that’s when it clicked for me – I was like, this is what I want to do. This blends working in tech and working with languages, which is a passion of mine.
So I sort of had this path between recruiting to operations in tech working at Facebook, to project management, and then eventually I landed in the localization team as a project manager, where I stayed for almost five years. I ended up leading a team of program managers there at Facebook. And now I’ve been at Spotify for about a year. That’s been the path, a very short version of it, but it’s been really fun. Super lucky and happy to be where I am.
What does localization look like at Spotify? And how are your teams structured?
I lead the product localization team. We also have a Marketing Localization Manager and an Internationalization Engineering Manager, which was hired around the same time as me. We have some engineers on our team and a Senior Program Manager on that team as well. So the team has really scaled a lot within the last year. We’ll actually be speaking at this upcoming LocWorld conference about how we scaled the team, which is exciting.
So within our teams, we have project managers and then we have program managers on my product team, and they are aligned with different areas of the business. So this is a good strategy when you don’t have an embedded localization team to really get them to work as closely with the product teams as possible by having those relationships and having them dedicated to a part of the business. Within Spotify, the localization team is in the design platform, which I think is a really cool place for us to sit. By working really closely with the design organization and the designers that are creating our core components and how that works with i18n…it’s just really great to be with the design team and sit closer with them and the accessibility team as well. So that’s where we sit at Spotify, but we cover all of the products and everything that launches at Spotify, it’s really exciting.
Wow, that’s awesome. So what would you say is Spotify’s greatest localization strength?
My team is awesome. They are super knowledgeable on all things localization. They know way more than I do. The questions they raise and the way that they talk to product teams is just really amazing – the depth of knowledge. And I think they’re really passionate about music and about Spotify and about what we’re doing. Being really excited about the product and having that music knowledge is really critical. My team is great, I’m super grateful for them.
I think the challenge in localization is that we’re always at the end of the process and the product is built, and then I think everyone’s loc nightmare is, ‘there’s two weeks to launch, here are strings and translate them.’ But I think the team has been super successful at just pushing ourselves further up.
So that’s why sitting within the design platform is really great. We’ve had awesome relationships with designers and with the UX writing team and getting really involved in the product planning process. So when we’re roadmapping, my team goes through everything that’s coming up at Spotify and we make sure we connect with those teams if we don’t have a relationship with them yet. Just building up those relationships and making sure that we’re covering everything that’s coming up and being really proactive about that.
Obviously the hope is eventually that the teams know us and know who to go to. That’s happened in a lot of parts of the product, but there’s always new teams forming and there’s always new products that are coming up, so I think as a localization team, you do always have to be a little bit on top of what’s happening in the business, just so nothing falls through the cracks.
Yeah, I think that’s great advice. Jumping from your strengths to your challenges, were there any markets that were particularly challenging for Spotify to break into?
I think India is always a fun and challenging one for a lot of companies. I think finding ways to make the language landscape there make sense with the dominant English mobile and app usage and local languages is challenging.
So we’re doing a lot of work with India now as a market that we want to focus more on, especially figuring out what our strategy looks like for what script we’re showing. There’s some appetite for seeing more Roman characters instead of script.
How are we creating the right language experience for people in India? That’s something we’re thinking a lot about. We had a really exciting launch last year for Diwali where we launched a really big cultural moment and had playlists. It was really cool. So I think getting more into India is probably something we’ll continue to focus on.
Do you have any advice for anyone new to the localization field or someone that’s interested in localization and not sure where to start?
I think networking is always the best advice anyone can take. That worked for me. I think meeting people in the industry, going to meetups, reaching out to them on LinkedIn, is a great way to do it. There’s a lot of localization events, like Loc Lunches, that happen all across the world. It’s somewhat small, but a really tight knit community. Start by getting to know people. I think it’s a really open community; it’s the nature of what we do with cross cultural communication. I’ve found people to just be super welcoming in the industry. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people and get to know them and see what they’re working on.
That’s great. Now it’s time for our rapid fire questions: What’s your favorite language?
I’m going to say German, just because that’s my first language.
Your favorite localization tool?
I’m going to go a little non-traditional on this one and say dashboards. Our team has been working a lot more with product dashboards and looking at our metrics and seeing how our products are doing internationally. So looking at our data and looking at our dashboards.
What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
I think French Polynesia. I went to Tahiti almost two years ago now, and it was incredible. I highly recommend going there. It was a very long flight, but it was very fun.
What is the best localization advice you’ve received?
I think this is just general advice, not even for localization, but just staying curious and asking a lot of questions.
I think that’s sort of how we are able to successfully meet the users where they are and meet our Spotify listeners where they are, is just asking a lot of those questions, and I think that’s how we tailor a really good user experience.
The most successful market you’ve invested in?
I don’t know about the most successful, but I would say the one that my team worked on recently that was really exciting was when we launched the Catalan language in Spain and Andorra. Spotify has a really big partnership with the FC Barcelona soccer team. Catalan is obviously a really big language in Barcelona and Catalonia. There was just a lot of really positive reaction to that language launch, which happened last year. So that was super exciting.
Yes, I know that project, it was in our 2022 Localization Hall of Fame! What’s your localization nightmare? I know you mentioned the string nightmare earlier…
It’s the same one. And it’s happened – finding out about a launch two weeks before and there are so many strings. That doesn’t happen anymore, but yeah, it’s a nightmare.
Who is your localization role model?
When I said I went to a loc meetup when I was first working in Silicon Valley, the speaker was Iris Orriss, who’s the VP of Internationalization at Facebook. She hired me ages ago at Facebook and she’s just an incredible person and I don’t think I would have really had my interest in localization sparked without attending that meetup, so Iris is great.
And which brand is your localization crush? Any other company whose localization you really admire?
I think Disney+ is doing a lot of really cool stuff right now, so I’d probably choose them.
Awesome. Okay, just to wrap it up, are there any localization projects coming up at Spotify that we should be looking out for? Any shout outs you want to make?
We’ll be launching more cultural moment products throughout the year, which is really cool. We are going to be launching some more languages, which I’m really excited about. And as always in product land, there’s so much happening in the audiobook space and the podcast space just beyond playlists and music. The way that we’re expanding the business is really exciting and that gives us new localization challenges. So it’s going to be a busy year, but we’re ready, and we’re excited.