All over the world, language barriers are limiting the ability of refugees and immigrants to seek help, and aid workers to provide it. Tarjimly is a new service that connects people who speak one language but need to speak in another, with a person who speaks both — in just a couple minutes. They’re part of Y Combinator’s latest batch and are now officially launched after a year building the product.
The company’s co-founders, Aziz Alghunaim and Atif Javed, told me how the company emerged from a side project built while they worked at Palantir and Oracle, respectively. It was a year ago, when the tide of refugees streaming out of the Middle East was growing.
“We wanted to do something to help refugees at scale, and decided to use our engineering experience,” said Javed. “We actually announced the first early version of the product during the first Muslim ban a year ago — we got a great response because people were happy to have another way to help other than give money or send emails.”
“We signed up like 1,500 people in two days,” added Alghunaim. “We decided to build a tech nonprofit to solve this problem, and quit in January.”
The basic problem is simply that there aren’t enough translators to go around, and the work they do can’t be delayed by the days or weeks it might take to find one; sometimes, as in cases where there’s imminent danger or critical logistical issues, it can’t be delayed by even an hour.