Found In The Rockies

Heather Shoemaker (Language I/O) \\ The Language of Coding

June 29, 2022 Les Craig Season 2 Episode 23
Found In The Rockies
Heather Shoemaker (Language I/O) \\ The Language of Coding
Show Notes Transcript

In today’s episode, we have Heather Shoemaker, who is the CEO and co-founder of LanguageI/O. She’s a linguist, but she doesn't just speak multiple languages. She also speaks programming languages. As a matter of fact, she wrote the first version of her company's enterprise software, the epitome of a technical founder and CEO, meet one of Wyoming's most accomplished startup founders, 

Here’s a closer look at the episode:

  • Heather’s love of language and communication
  • From linguistics to Java programming
  • Working as a globalization engineer on software globalization
  • Learning from experience at eCollege during the acquisition by Pearson Education
  • The importance of understanding the corporate world and cultures
  • The connection between coding and languages
  • Jumping off the entrepreneur cliff
  • Building the translation solution
  • Licensing the solution to other companies
  • Going from FAQ translation to real-time translation for email and chat
  • Solving the problems of nuances in different languages
  • From solving the problem to becoming LanguageI/O
  • Committed to staying in Cheyenne
  • Going from Angel funding to VC funding
  • The unique journey as a woman fundraising in tech
  • What is coming up for LanguageI/O
  • The future of tech in Wyoming
  • Advice for founders


Language I/O Website: 

Heather's Linkedin:

Heather's Twitter:

Language I/O Twitter:

Language I/O LinkedIn:

Language I/O Facebook:

Heather 00:00

If nobody knows about you, because you don't have the marketing dollars that your competitors do, you're gonna die. And that's just the facts of life. And it I will say it was hard being in Wyoming, especially four years ago, when you didn't get funding through virtual meetings, right? You had to be in Silicon Valley or on the East Coast, you had to go meet these investors in person. It was a completely different environment and ecosystem.

Les 00:37

This is Found in the Rockies, a podcast about the startup ecosystem, and the Rocky Mountain region, the founders, funders, and contributors, and most importantly, the stories of what they're building. I'm Les Craig from Next Frontier Capital. And on today's show, we have a linguist, but she doesn't just speak multiple languages. She also speaks programming languages. As a matter of fact, she wrote the first version of her company's enterprise software, the epitome of a technical founder and CEO, meet one of Wyoming's most accomplished startup founders, Heather Shoemaker, who is the CEO and co-founder of LanguageIO. Welcome to the show. Heather, just start off, why don't you tell me a little bit about you and your story, and how you came to live and work and build your company in Wyoming?

Heather 01:26

Thank you, Les. Thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be here.

Les 01:29

Well, I'm excited to have you today. You know, I gotta tell you, I don't know if you know this or not, but you are the first Wyoming founder, on Found in the Rockies that we're featuring.

Heather 01:40

That is awesome. I love being the first.

Les 01:45

Well, we've had some other really fun people from Wyoming some other investors, we had Baylie Evans, from gBETA, so you know, big expectations here. We're excited now. Now the pressure, the pressure is on. So Well, I'll tell you about why don't to start off, why don't you tell me just a little bit about your story, who you are, where you came from, and, and how you ended up in, as a tech founder in Wyoming. 

Heather 02:10

Okay, Les, how far back should I go? 

Les 02:12

As far as you want. You can go to the, let's start at the beginning.

Heather 02:18

The beginning, I was born in the state of Alaska. Oh, yeah. But it's no stretch that I'm here in Wyoming because Alaska and Wyoming are pretty similar. People who live in those states generally tend to gravitate to low population centers. So anyway, I I'm very happy to be in Wyoming now. And, like, as far as how I got started, as a tech founder, I got my undergraduate degree in linguistics, I love languages, I kind of when I, I didn't grow up in a bilingual household or anything. But, you know, in high school, I learned French and it was so much fun to speak another language. And then in college, I took Spanish and there was actually a population of Spanish speakers, you know, where I was going to school in Seattle. And it was so cool to be able to talk to these people in their language, because, you know, a lot of them didn't speak English, and it felt like a superpower. And I just got this rush, every time I was able to effectively communicate with other people in their language, and I loved it. And so I decided, you know, when you're an undergraduate student, you don't necessarily make the best decisions from an economic perspective. So I'm like going into languages so I got a degree in linguistics, came out of school, speaking, you know, fluent Spanish, Portuguese, French, just to be very clear, I speak horrible Portuguese and French today. So don't ask me to. But anyway, after I got my undergraduate degree, I realized that there wasn't a lot I could do with a linguistics degree. I was a volunteer interpreter for the Immigration and Naturalization Services department for a while. That was fun because I got to talk to people seeking asylum from like Central America. And I felt like I was doing a good thing. But I was never going to make any money at it. I tended bar even dabbled in newspaper reporting for a while, and then I decided, I've always loved math. And I remember hearing an NPR show at the time, where they were like, anybody who loves math should go into computer programming, that’s the future. And I know I'm dating myself when I say that.

Les 04:20

No, I was gonna say what era like what NPR? What what decade was the decade? 

Heather 04:26

I’m not going to tell you the decade…that’s too much.

Les 04:27

Okay, that's right. That's too much, too much.

Heather 04:29

No, okay. I'll be honest, it was I want to say in the late in the 90s. Sometime, I was listening to NPR and considering going back to school or what I was going to do with my life, and it was NPR and they were like Java programming. That's the future and I was like, You know what, like, going back to school Java program. You're

Les 04:48

like Java, you mean like coffee like?

Heather 04:51

Well, no, NPR explains things. But it was it was not coffee. It was a programming language.I was like, this is the future for me. So I actually went back, my sister at the time was living in Boulder, Colorado. And I loved it, it reminded me of Alaska because of the mountains and such. And so I thought, you know, I'm an applied to the University of Colorado Boulder. See how that works out for me. So I got into the College of Engineering there, spent way too long getting my master's degree because I had to take all of the prerequisites for coding that I never got in linguistics, but I did it. And I was right out of school really lucky because somebody that I had gone to school with was working for a startup that was focused on software internationalization tools, basically, tools that would refactor source code so that the code could support multiple languages. 

Les 05:44

Ah, I see where this is going. Yeah. 

Heather 05:46

So yes, I was able to combine linguistics and software development in the field of software globalization. And I spent maybe the first decade-ish of my postgraduate career as a globalization engineer. And I traveled all over the world. For various companies that I worked for, rewriting refactoring source code for big companies that were going global, and has a globalization engineer, what I discovered is that the biggest challenge that companies face when they're going global, wasn't refactoring source code. I mean, that was a pain in the butt. But it was doable. It's not rocket science. The biggest challenge they faced was multilingual customer support. It was this messy operational challenge, because they were, once they, they got their application, their software, able to support multiple languages, suddenly, they were like, oh, shoot, I now have to support my customers in all of these languages, right?

Les 06:42

Yeah, no, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta need regional offices now. Or,

Heather 06:47

Yeah, they're like, Okay, now I have to staff up and Russia and China and Europe. And it's just not scalable. And so that's when I started thinking about the problem. And just kind of brainstorming, what would I do if I were them? What what technology could be written, coded to solve this problem. And so eventually, I wound up working for a company in the Denver tech center called eCollege, that was a learning management platform. And we were, you know, I had shares there, we were acquired by Pearson for about half a billion dollars, that was, you know, a lucrative exit for us. And that freed me up and gave me some flexibility to go out and do something on my own. And started coding a solution to this problem. And yeah, that's, that's how it all began.

Les 07:39

So fun. And I would imagine to when you were at eCollege probably also had really built up a great network, and also had some really good experience, you know, on that journey, right? Like, like taking a company working with a company that was on a path to half a billion dollar exit?

Heather 07:53

Yeah, absolutely. You gotta like when you're gonna start your own company and sell in to Fortune five hundreds, you have to have some experience in a big corporation. Right. So I even stayed on at eCollege for a while after the acquisition was acquired by Pearson. And that gave me a lot of good corporate experience. And while I'm not personally cut out for the corporate world, you have to be able to swim in those waters.

Les 08:17

I'm glad you said that. Because that's, I think that's quite often underestimated by founders in our region, like when they're starting these enterprise b2b SaaS companies. And it's, it's can be daunting without that experience. And you know, trying to hire into that experience is like really the only path if you don't have it, but that's sometimes a real challenge.

Heather 08:39

Totally. And especially when you're trying to sell into Fortune 500s. You have to navigate that hierarchy and know corporate cultures and the different types that exists and who to talk to and such. So for sure,

Les 08:50

I want to go back to the Boulder because I gotta tell you, it's fascinating how many guests we have on the show that ended up in other places in the Rockies, but it seems like all like at some point roads lead through Boulder and then I did not have that your story was there as well. But can you tell us a little bit about that experience? Was that your first taste of the lower Rockies so to speak after you move? You came from Alaska or?

Heather 09:15

Yeah, absolutely. I've lived in other parts of the US but that was my first foray into the Rockies. I thought it was beautiful. Because growing up in the mountains in Alaska, you know, I lived in Washington State in the Midwest for a little while I live in even lived in Mexico for a while. And then when my sister moved to Boulder, and I went to visit her there, it was like, seeing the Rockies was this breath of fresh air is like this is where I belong. These are my people. This is my country, you know?

Les 09:47

Yeah. And then and then and then choosing I mean, I think, you know, choosing to go into programming like is never, never an easy and easy path. If, when you you know, unless you were like my, my nephew who like grew up in his, you know, coding his parents basement, it was an easy path for him to choose. But I mean, what what was that experience like jumping from a language background into a very technical field where you're probably surrounded by the norms, right?

Heather 10:19

Yeah. Well, I get where it would be weird for a lot of people, but I've always been kind of a weirdo. And I have always loved science fiction. And about that time when I heard the NPR broadcast, I was super into and again, this is going to date me cyber science fiction, like Neil Stevenson, William Gibson, and even hard sci-fi like Ursula Le Guin. And so I just knew that, you know, the metaverse was the future. Of course, of course, I need to be a coder. This is this is a natural progression. 

Les 10:59

Very cool. What about, you know, so I grew up in high school, I took four years of Latin. And so I never really spoke language until I lived in Italy for a year and I learned I took French in college didn't learn it spoke learned Italian speaking Italian, in Italy. But you might you might want to test me before you make an offer. But it's a little rusty. But I'm curious, your your experience, because for me, I was I was always kind of a coder before I really spoke and learned a language, a real language. And I I found some really unique similarities. What was what was your journey kind of doing it the other way around from linguists to you know, I mean, there's a reason we call them programming language or languages.

Heather 11:51

Absolutely. No, you're right. And not a lot of people make that connection. But I absolutely was thinking along those same lines. So I just felt like coding was a super powerful language, because you can write words and execute and they would do anything like spoken language was absolutely a superpower when it came to be able to communicate with people. Coding was just another level, it was so exciting,

Les 12:18

a language that obeys you…

Heather 12:22

Well, it's like talking to a toddler, when I first instructors is like, yeah, it's like talking to a toddler. It does exactly what exactly what you tell it to do. And what you think you're telling it to do, may not be what you're actually telling it to do. So I don't know if that makes sense.

Les 12:38

Yeah, no, definitely. That's fun. So tell us tell us a little bit about a little bit more about sort of the beginnings. I mean, it's it's very clear where your inspiration for LanguageIO came from, tell us about kind of the origins of of deciding to like, really, really go after this problem. Like when, when was it? How did you go about it? How did what was the what was the kind of, you know, the moment you jumped off the cliff and said, I'm doing this, that kind of that kind of stuff. 

Heather 13:06

The moment I jumped off the cliff is very clear, because I literally, I felt like jumping off a cliff, I was at Pearson. And after eCollege got acquired by Pearson, I knew things were going to change that, you know, moving from this company of 350-odd employees to 30,000 would be a big cultural shift. I just had no idea what I was in for. And the environment just it was not what I signed up for like, it felt not to throw any company under the bus. But large corporations are so competitive. And I guess it depends on the culture, of course. But it just didn't feel like I was part of a team that was all rowing in the same direction anymore. It felt more like we were competing with each other. And there was, you know, just corporate toxicity. And I just knew that I wasn't going to last very long there, that I just was not cut out for this life. Like I'm not. I know that sounds weird to say because I'm the CEO of a scaling company. But I'm not really naturally a climber, right? Like climbing the corporate ladder was never a big aspiration of mine. And that's kind of what was required of me if I wanted to stay successfully in that environment, I'm sure have you been in similar situations yourself?

Les 14:32

Yeah, you know, it's I've never heard it described that way. But that that is, I mean, I even think back to when I was in the military. It was there was always so much an aspect of teamwork at the lowest levels. But there was such an aspect of climbing and competing against others peers to get basically in order to have a career like that's what you that's what you had to do. I never heard of it heard of it described that way. But that's, that's so spot on. 

Heather 14:58

And I'm not trying to say that what I'm doing is not competitive, we are absolutely competing against other companies who are vying for market share in the same space. That's fine. What's hard is when within your own organization or your own department, where you feel like you're not on the same team, where you're where if people are ready to just stab you in the back, if it's in their interest, that's not a good feeling. I like like corporate culture at LanguageIO is so important to me, I really, really try to maintain a team that works well together, where we're all headed in the same direction.

Les 15:37

For sure. So you had this feeling of, of, you know, wanting to do wanting to step out and build your own culture, build your own team? And then how did it how did it come about?

Heather 15:46

Yeah. So I decided I was going to do my own thing I knew, I was living in Cheyenne, Wyoming at the time, I knew there wasn't a lot of software development services available. So I thought, I'm just going to start my own company. And initially, what happened is I started a company called Cheyenne Technology, just services, software development, was pretty easily able to get a lot of customers, because folks who wanted web development done or whatever it happens to be, we'd have to go outside of town to find resources. And so when I was available, you know, hung up my shingle in Cheyenne, I was able to get business pretty quickly. But I knew that services wasn't my long term goal. That's not, you know, a hugely lucrative thing. You get paid project by project if that's, yeah, I wanted to do a product. And at the time, a colleague that I'd worked with historically was at another company. And she had an opportunity for somebody to code a solution for a major surveys company, I won't say any company names, because I'm not sure what we are on aren't supposed to say, and, and she was like, Hey, can you just code this integration into client relationship management platform for this, this large company, because they have all of this customer support content that they need to get translated? And there's no way for them to get it out and translated it back in. And I was like, you know, as a globalization engineer for a decade, I ran into this problem over and over again. And yeah, I could do it as a one off just as a contractor for this company. But I think there's a product sizeable opportunity here, I know that lots of corporations are trying to solve this same problem. So we got this company to agree to license the solution after it was ready for them. And initially, it was something very simple. It was just an integration that allowed them to automate the human translation of knowledge base articles, FAQs. But as soon as we released that into the marketplace at the time, it was for Right Now Technologies in Montana, in Bozeman.

Les 17:51

Yeah. Yes. All right. So as I understand it, so you got you got this, you have this opportunity with a customer to translate FAQ content. And that's, that's kind of what what led to some, you know, more more progress on kind of the underlying idea or the business model here.

Heather 18:09

Yeah. So you know, translating FAQ content, again, is not rocket science. But it is important, because at the time, well, even today, self help is super important, super important part of your customer support strategy. Because if, if your customers can find answers to their own questions, saves you lots of money. And what was going on at the time is most companies as today used a client relationship management platform like Right Now Technologies, to author and publish those FAQs. But it was really hard to get them out. And translated and back end, they were kind of held hostage by the CRM. So at the time was just me.

Les 18:50

So essentially, if somebody in one question asked to lead or one language ask the question, unless it was asked in the other language, it would be lost to the world, basically.

Heather 18:58

Yeah, it was and you what they needed to do is translate all those FAQs into all of them, which is that they needed to support. So the first thing that I did was to code that integration, pretty straightforward. It just, you know, pulled the articles out of Right Now, push them into the translation platform, we have linguists translate the articles, and then we push the articles back into Right Now, all in this automated, seamless process. And the first customer was thrilled. They licensed it. And we were actually at a Right Now Technologies conference. And we pulled in a few additional customers at that point. And we were looking to sell our solution to anybody else who needed it. And one of the world's largest social media platforms, a group from this social media platform, approached our booth and they they said, Hey, I heard what you did for translation of FAQ content for this other company. We'd like you to do the same thing but real time for email and chat content. Is that something that you could do? And I mean, they're one of the world's largest social media companies. Of course, we could do it.

Les 20:03

Yes, it's on the roadmap, it's in the next thing

Heather 20:08

Yeah, no problem…two weeks. But I was the only coder at the time. So I went back and coded a more robust solution that would use real time machine translation, and some rapid turnaround human translation services to allow this social media company who had all of their support agents in Omaha, Nebraska, speaking only English, and they were trying to field these support sessions, you know, Chinese and Russian, they were cutting and pasting in and out of Google Translate, it was no good. So we just automated the whole process for them. And they're still a customer today.

Les 20:44

Amazing. So I gotta ask I, you know, I think probably the elephant in the room is like, so why wouldn't somebody like Google do that? Or like, why would Google make that make a customer copy and paste into your Google Translate? Like, why don't they have a business API that just does this? 

Heather 21:03

Well, Google does have API's issue isn't that that there are many issues associated with that. So Google is a great translation engine, it's one, it's one that we integrate with today. So as Microsoft, so is deep L. And there are lots of really amazing neural machine translation platforms out there that anybody can hit on, you know, by API. The problem is generating translations specific, specifically accurate for a company, one company. So to give you an example, we have companies in both the online video streaming, vertical, as well as the online gambling market. Now, both of those markets, customers, in both of those markets, video streaming and online gambling, very frequently use the word player. Because when you're placing a bet, as a gambler, you're going to place a bet on a player, you know, whether we're talking basketball, or tennis, or whatever it is. But when you're in the video streaming industry, you're using player in a completely different way. Now in English, it's the same word. But if you're translating the word player into Spanish, it's a completely different word if you're talking about a video streaming player versus a basketball player, basketball is Jugadora, video streaming player is Picador. And if you get it wrong, the customer has no idea what you're talking about. Of course, I'm not playing placing a bet on a video streaming player.

Les 22:33

This is this is like a classic language. I mean, we all have had situations like this when we're learning languages, right? Where you use the wrong word, like at the dinner table table of the girl you're dating in Italy's house, that may or may not have happened, and her parents and her parents dropped, their mouths dropped to the floor. And it's like, I didn't realize that, that the word to sweep meant something else. But anyway. So anyway, it's a good story, but not fit for the podcast maybe. I get it. I mean, this is a common common language translation problem that you're solving.

Heather 23:12

Now, the way Google is going to translate player from English into Spanish is the way the most generalized way possible the way most people want it to be translated, I'm gonna go with basketball player, you know, Google Translate doesn't know the context, it just has this one little sentence. And it's going to translate player the most popular way to translate player, when we're talking B2B content, where mistranslation of that word means a lost customer, the stakes are much higher, and companies are willing to pay somebody to help them solve that problem. Google is not going to solve that problem for every last company, you know what I'm saying? Neither is Microsoft, they're interested in solving, you know, unique people problems, they're not interested in these B2B specific problems for at least not where AI is concerned. So there's a huge market opportunity for companies like LanguageIO, who are like, You know what, we can make sure that this machine translation that we're providing you is accurate for your business. And we've developed really unique core technology to get it right. And it actually sits on top of the world's best neural machine translation platforms like Google and Microsoft…I could go on and on Amazon, we use all of them. Our intelligence comes in our ability A: to pick the best neural machine translation from a fluency perspective for that language. So when we're first going to translate a chat related to player, we're just going to know which engine is going to translate from English to Spanish the best. That's our first decision that we make, based on lots of learning. We have all sorts of machine learning models, etc, that we spun up to make those decisions. But that's still just a general translation. It's not going to know that Vimeo. It needs to play or translated as, or Betson needs it translated as Jugador, on top of that call to the NMT engine, we have a means of pre-processing the chat. So we can tell the engine that we select how we want these problematic terms translated. But furthermore, we're adaptively and dynamically learning so our customers don't have to call out every last term that requires a special translation. So asynchronously, we're sending each chat and email that we're asked to translate to NLP processes that run in the background, and are scanning each customer's content for new problematic terms and phrases that we start tracking. And once they hit a certain threshold of usage, we add them to the glossary for that company with the preferred translation.

Les 25:56

That's brilliant. So it's almost like it's sort of a supervised, Well, it's it's kind of a supervised learning approach in terms of how you're building kind of these, these lexicons or these indices. 

Heather 26:06

Yeah, we have both supervised and unsupervised feedback into our models.


Very cool. I mean, really, really unique approach. Very cool. So what So all from this is, like from Omaha, Nebraska, to you just describe, like the big vision and what you're doing now. But like, what about what was the next step after that was a success? Like, when did it become, you know, LanguageIO?

Heather 26:33

That's a great question. Because, you know, we, at first we were thinking, we can just grow organically, there's so much demand for the only company in this space. That's really laser focused on multilingual customer support, this is going to be awesome. We're just gonna gobble up the market. And I wasn't really, you know, no entrepreneur knows what they're doing. Unless at least not your first time, right? You go into this thinking this is a great opportunity. Let's see where it goes. And I knew that a lot of other startups went out for VC funding or angel funding, but I was thinking at the time, let's just grow organically because nobody else is doing this. We're the only ones in the space. Well, we knew it was a massive market opportunity. We did the research. And it wasn't long until other companies realize the massive market opportunity. And we started to see new entrants into this multilingual customer support space. And at that point, we decided we're going to have if we're going to compete, we're going to have to get funding and we're going to die that slow death because one of the competitors, competitors in our space, made the announcement that they just received like $25 million in funding. And you know, it's hard to compete just growing organically against another competitor, that's rocket fuel. Right? So at that meeting,

Les 27:58

Even if you're better, even if your approach… 

Heather 28:02

If nobody knows about you, because you don't have the marketing dollars that your competitors do, you're gonna die. And that's just the facts of life. And it I will say it was hard being in Wyoming, especially four years ago, when you didn't get funding through virtual meetings, right? You had to be in Silicon Valley, or on the East Coast, you had to go meet these investors in person. It was a completely different environment and ecosystem. And so at the time, I would get meetings with investors who were interested in what we were doing. But out of the gate, they would find out we were in Wyoming, they just be like, how do you run a SaaS company in Wyoming? It makes zero sense.

Les 28:47

You know, it's funny that you say that, Heather, because I think if you I was just about to remind our listeners that you are in Cheyenne, Wyoming because you tell the story. And it's like, this could be a any other company in any other Bay Area, you know, you name it location. And nobody would blink an eye. They'd be like, oh, yeah, sure. This is, you know, this reminds me of like, a company that is that is venture backed by a tier one VC in the bay. But you're in Cheyenne.

Heather 29:18

Not in the bay. Very different. Yeah. In fact, I remember I did a pitch No, it was a presentation at a language Industry Conference. And there were VCs, attending, listening to our presentations. And after my presentation, one of the VCs came up to me and said, Listen, you've got a great opportunity here a great solution, but you've got to move to San Jose, you're not gonna get anywhere until you move to San Jose. And I heard that over and over again. And I just didn't want to so yeah, I was just like, You know what, this is my life. I I like where I live. I've lived in large cities. I don't want that for myself. not gonna do it. And so I had just kind of resigned myself to doing it the old fashioned way. Wasn't sure really where to go. And I was at a tech event in Cheyenne. And let me just caveat that by saying there aren't very many tech events, and I'm, there was this little technical school called Array school that had started up in Cheyenne. And I was on the advisory board because I thought it was great. And we were there after hours celebrating the graduating class. And this guy that I didn't know came up to me and said, Hey, Heather, I'm Jared Stack, you probably know who he is. And he's like, I hear that you have a SaaS company. And I'm like, yeah, yeah. It's called language eye. And he's like, Well, we're looking for SaaS companies to invest in.

Les 30:52

You're like, you're like, what? Like, what am I getting punked right now? Like,

Heather 30:58

Like, where are the cameras? This? I'm like, okay, whatever, Jared. And he's like, No, really. And so he invited me to come pitch to his angel group Breakthrough 307. In Casper, Wyoming. Now, you probably know this, Wyoming is a huge oil and gas economy. And oil and gas is tough, you know, with environmental concerns, etc. And so the state is really looking to diversify the economy here in Wyoming. And so groups like Breakthrough 307 are looking to do the same thing and get companies to stay in Wyoming and provide tech jobs here, for obvious reasons. And so they're, they're an amazing group. And it was the best thing that could have happened.

Les 31:44

So good to hear. I was gonna say we actually had Jared on the podcast last week. So yeah, he's been he's phenomenal. I just have really grown to respect and admire everything he's done for that whole state in that ecosystem. So very cool. So so so now you're like, Okay, it's real. There's VC money. I'm gonna I'm gonna raise and it was what time it was this in 2019. Or what? Yeah,

Heather 32:08

Yeah, it was 2019. And, you know, we pitched to Breakthrough 307. They were interested, Jared helped me pull in additional investors. It was a small round, it was just half a million dollars. But at the time, half a million dollars was a lot of money for LanguageIO, and for a Wyoming company, it's massive. And we got participation from other Wyoming companies like Jonah, Jonah, Inc, it's it's a large company here, Jonah, Bank, etc. associated with the McMurry Foundation if you're familiar with those folks, we got and some of his folks to invest and we completed the rounds. And you know how it works Les once you have some investment. The rest of it's a little bit easier to get Oh, yeah. So we did that. We called it a seed round, but it was small. And then we did an equity based seed round. So the first round we did with real seven was a convertible note. Then I had to go back to the fundraising process. And VCs are a completely different animal than angel investors like 307. Yeah, the angel investors like 307 are just so much easier to interact with than VCs who are so much more jaded. Especially in the valley and on the East Coast. And that was hard. It wasn't I'm not gonna say it was easy, especially again, because it was still pre COVID. But then COVID hit, I had just started the series seed, the equity based seed, round raise, COVID hit and suddenly I didn't have to fly anywhere. Like all the VCs wanted to meet virtually. And

Les 33:56

Suddenly the VCs are like, Oh, you're in Wyoming. Is that where you have like your COVID getaway house?

Heather 34:02

Exactly. They thought it was normal. Yeah. They're like, Oh, this is awesome. We want to move to Jackson. Oh yeah, Jackson’s not very far away.

Les 34:13

Oh, of course. Yeah. Yeah, we're in the same state. It's just down the road. That's so funny. So I wonder I used to, it's almost like giving folks an excuse to come to a board meeting in Wyoming. Renewed interest. 

Heather 34:26

Little did they know that Jackson and Cheyenne are like night and day, but it doesn't matter. Right. Suddenly, it was relatively normal to be fundraising from Wyoming. And of course, you don't want to be in a major population center during COVID. So it did, to some extent, simplify, simplify the fundraising process. But I won't lie. Um, being a woman, and not just a woman raising VC capital. But raising it in technology was weird for VCs. They're totally familiar with a woman raising VC funds for the fashion industry or anything related to kids and babies, or, you know, but as soon as you say, Yeah, I'm a woman, I wrote version one of our solution. I'm a coder. And this is solid technology. I won't lie, I got a lot more negative pushback from VCs…it is dissapointing. There will be so many more questions about the legitimacy of the technology or the moat. The underlying premise was, if you can write that, how hard is it? You know, how hard is it to duplicate what you've done? And so

Les 35:44

That's really disappointing to hear. I mean, I, I just I can't imagine being being in a situation where there was like a discredit, you know, to, to an entrepreneur, just purely purely on those that's sort of a basis. And I understand I totally understand that it happens, but what how did you pull through that Heather? Like, how did you cuz that's, that's, that's tough. That's really hard.

Heather 36:10

It was, and it it really made me. I don't know, reassess what I was doing. And take a long, hard look, is this really the path that I want to go down? But I even was talking to some colleagues, maybe and I was serious about this. I was like, if I were male, this would be so much easier. I'm gonna change my name to Heath. I'm going to do voice modulation, because you know, these meetings are all virtual. Yeah, yeah, I can wear a beard and mustache. In fact, one person said, if you had a long white beard, it would be so much easier. Like, I know, I know. But I persisted. I maintained my female facade did not modulate my voice. And eventually, I just got lucky. Alex actually connected me with a group in the Boston area that focused on women founded tech, they in turn connected me with a major VC for a major investor in the Boston area. Robert Divoli, he used to be with Sigma Ventures. Then he started his own VC firm, called GutBrain. He's really well known on the East Coast and the environment, be very progressive. He knew the language services industry really well, which helped massively, because I wasn't having to, to explain to him why what we were doing was A: hard to do, and B: super necessary in the SaaS B2B world.

Les 37:47

Probably almost what it what it truly took for somebody to get it. Yeah, amazing. 

Heather 37:51

Exactly. So I wasn't having to start from scratch with him and explain why Google wasn't a competitor, you know. So he was like, Oh, totally get it. The market’s huge. Let me let me see your technology. And so it moves really quickly. Once Bob got involved. He pulled in some of his, you know, folks who invest with him regularly, we were able to raise the $5 million seed equity round, we moved very quickly into

Les 38:16

That’s a great size, by the way, I mean, regional seed round, that's, that's got to be near the top quartile in terms of size. So that's good work. That's awesome.

Heather 38:25

Thank you. And, yeah, once you've got a VC in your court, especially a well known guy like Bob, it does pave the way. And we were then able to subsequently pull in other investors. We pulled in Omega Venture Partners in Silicon Valley who've been amazing. And then we recently started to work with Caruso ventures in Boulder, we wrapped up a series A and to date, we've raised about $15 million will be going out for a Series B in early next year.

Les 38:58

Super exciting. Heather Congratulations, truly is amazing. It's such it's such a journey, and I'm so thankful, you know, that you that you stuck with it, because you know, somebody that is just obviously super talented as a as a as an engineer, as a leader, as a CEO, as a founder. Like your journey is just beginning, right? I mean, you got a lot, you got a lot of gas in the tank and a lot left to prove, which is really, really exciting. You know, and I would say you said you got lucky I actually I you know, I tell this to some of the founders in our portfolio, because that word gets used too often. And it's actually I feel like it's more about being it's, it's, it's it's more about the intersection of persistence and opportunity. You know, people that are persistent enough, like the opportunity eventually finds you and then it's like, oh, I got lucky. It's like it had nothing to do with luck. You did it. You did it.

Heather 39:54

Well, thanks. And you know, I a big hockey fan. So I like to make hockey analogies. Yeah, and you're right persistence is key. And in the world of hockey, if you watch hockey, you know, you have to keep shooting at the net to make a goal right? And you're not going to get every puck in, in fact, your most of your pucks are not going to get in. But if you keep bringing it to the net, eventually you're going to score and we just kept bringing it to the net.

Les 40:19

You sure did. You sure did. You know that that analogy rings home, especially for me because I watched my son plays first season and travel hockey this year. He he didn't score a goal all year until the state semifinals, he scored the goal that sent that tied the game in the third with like three minutes left. Going on to win. 

Heather 40:40

You must have been so proud. 

Les 40:45

Oh, my gosh, I'm so proud. But I mean, I you know, yeah, I'm so proud. I'm so proud of I tell it to everybody. But it's like, though, that's that's why you take all those shots. It's like, yeah, one that you make. You do it for right. That's why it's why you do it. It's why you get out in the ice every day. It's awesome. Awesome, Heather. Well, what what's in what else is in store for you for LanguageIO, what's what's next? You mentioned the series be potentially going out to raise that? How are you thinking about the future of the company and the future of of, of the region? In fact, like just what you're doing in Cheyenne?

Heather 41:22

Oh, yeah, those are so many good questions there. It's a whole new world LanguageIO, right. Because at the beginning of 2021, we were a 12 person company. We're now like a 65 person company. So the problems that I was facing at the beginning of 2021, are completely different than, than scaling a company like we are today, financially at LanguageIO. You know, it's what every SaaS company wants to do to get the valuation of, which is to triple, triple double, double, double. And we're on track for that, um, knock on wood. So we've been making our numbers we've been, it's an amazing market, and we've got a great market fit. Now as far as the region is concerned, I was just talking to the Wyoming Business Council last week about this exact thing, they asked the same question. My thought is, is if we could replicate what you guys did in Montana, we're with Right Now technologies that was Bozeman, right? Yep. That's right. It was awesome. Little little tech company that got big Right Now Technologies got acquired by Oracle, maintained a presence in Bozeman, and all of these other tech companies spun off from that success. And I want the same thing to happen in Wyoming. And for that to happen, you have to see growth, like it's absolutely crucial that you support entrepreneurs and the little startups. But it's equally important that you get those companies that are successfully raising Series B Series C, growing to a size that's large enough to become this kind of vortex of technology, and attract other companies into its orbit. And that's what needs to happen to Wyoming, like you've seen happen in Bozeman.

Les 43:11

I love it. I think it's such a it's such a big, hairy, audacious goal and such a good one, I think for for for Cheyenne, or for Wyoming. And really that that whole kind of southern corridor that that, frankly, is just like an extension of some of the goodness that's already happened in Colorado, right? Yeah, you guys aren’t that far from DIA. So, you know, I, I look at our ecosystem now. And if you look at our NFC portfolio across the the companies that we've backed, you know, the, I think we've backed 20-21, somewhere around there, Montana companies to date out of our 43 portfolio companies. But if you look across the portfolio, you will find sprinklings of Right Now technology, and I would beg to say every single one of them, whether it's senior sales professionals, CEOs, product people, you're absolutely right. Like that is a way to build an ecosystem and what what better company to be, you know, the one that they all come from then LanguageIO, I think it was amazing. Well, super fun. Heather, to have you on the show today. I love the vision. I love what you have have have in store. Is there anything you'd like to kind of leave just our audience with other founders out there that are trying to kind of do similar to what you're you're doing?

Heather 44:37

Yeah, I mean, there's so many things to say. But I think it all goes back to what you and I were just talking about earlier. Don't give up. Keep bringing the puck to the net, you're gonna get lots of rejections. You're going to question yourself worth question whether what you're doing is viable. But if you persist, keep bringing that puck to the net. You're gonna you're gonna score eventually.

Les 44:59

Awesome. Heather, thanks so much for being on the show. Could you just tell our audience where they can find a little bit more about you and LanguageIO online?

Heather 45:07

Absolutely. So thank you, Les for having me. And to find out more about LanguageIO, just go to or Either of those work, you can read all about what we do, who we are our growing company, and Heather Morgan Shoemaker. You can find me on LinkedIn as well.

Les 45:27

Terrific. Thanks, Heather. 

Heather 45:29

Thanks, Les. 

Les 45:38

Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Found in the Rockies. You can find links in the show notes or go to our podcast page at to get links and contact information for today's guests. If you like what you heard and want more, please rate review and subscribe to get notified as our new episodes drop. We'll see you next time.