A Manual to Building Manuals

Manual.to is the ‘manual-builder for dummies’ used by multinational manufactoring companies.

Few things are as time-consuming as creating a simple user-guide can be. In some cases, illustrations are all that’s needed to pass on instructions. While as for other cases (those not involving Swedish furniture), it’s often better to clarify directions more thoroughly to prevent customers from calling Support. But even with state-of-the-art manuals attached to most goods sold; F.A.Q.’s are still…asked frequently afterwards.

To most businesses, creating support documents is a rather painful and slow process. More often than not, producers need different versions of the same document to accommodate their international market. Differences in language, regulations, local branch contact info,…are only a few things to take into account. And that’s the easy part. If an English manual takes up 10 pages, it’s far from guaranteed that’s the same for the Vietnamese translated ‘Hướng dẫn sử’. This implies having to re-edit the entire layout, to match translations. A routine that repeats itself for every different version required.

The founders of the Belgian startup Manual.to believed there had to be a better way for creating manuals. And they proved themselves right. The team has developed a tool that not only radically reduces the amount of time and money spent on making guides, but meanwhile also benefits the people actually using them. Their effective solution has already gained lots of attention the past few months, leading up to receiving the support of ‘the patriarch of Office Software’ itself: Microsoft.

Before co-founding Manual.to together with Bart Meyskens and Tom De Coninck, CEO Jorim Rademaker often experienced the frustrations coming from endlessly having to re-edit the same document. “Producing manuals that were multi-lingual was often a slow and costly project”, says the CEO “and not only because of the translation costs, but especially for what it meant in terms of layout. For every different language, we needed to set-up a new design from scratch.” To Jorim it was clear this could be done differently, and that there was a forest-sized room for improvement to explore.

This sparked the idea for Manual.to. What it offers, is a tool that empowers firms to easily distribute the last updated version of any document, 24/7. In a format that doesn’t require re-editing with every change in detail, not even when making it available in a different language. Text and graphics are always in-sync with each other, no matter what. This means users always have the most recent version of the user-guide, written in their preferred language, with images (or videos) accompanying the text to further clarify instructions.

Machine Translation

“Because our solution is display-agnostic, content will always be presented in the same format, regardless the device it’s being watched on,” says Jorim, “just as the format stays the same in any language, or alphabet used.” Translations are recommended to be made by people, but the tool supports machine translations (MT) as well. Noting that MT currently does not produce the same quality as human translation, the founders recommend to proof-read machine translated content before publishing. Despite MT not being perfect (yet), the time saved compared to the labour-intensive alternative outweighs only having to revise once. “You could say YouTube is our biggest competitor as a channel to easily distribute and share tutorials. But our solution is more user-friendly and efficient compared to pausing, and playback each time you reach a new step.”

Supported by Microsoft

Manual.to applies the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) business model, and targets primarily large organisations that offer multilingual directories to their users. The price at which the tool is being licensed depends on the specific needs of the business, explains CEO Jorim. This approach enabled the startup to enlist some big names as clients, carrying the likes of major players from various industries. To name a few, the company can account Europe’s largest engineering company, Siemens, as a customer, while also listing BNP Paribas; telecom-provider Proximus and the facility services company ISS among their happy users. These early clients allowed for the founders to self-sustain the company, during its first growth-stages; after having personally invested some hundreds of thousands of euros to fund the startup’s launch, less than a year ago. Just recently, the team raised an additional €200.000 through the issuance of convertible notes. Funds that will be used to further grow their business.

The team is determined to continue the business’ expansion, but with reason. “First, we want to focus on the Belgian market,” says Jorim, ‘from thereon we can gradually scale our activities.” He explains that “Right now, it wouldn’t add up risking to collapse on a global scale. In the end, we’re still a young organisation. But that doesn’t mean that, once we’re ready for it, it couldn’t go very fast as well, however.” From the looks of it, the team is using one of its own playbooks to speed up their learning curve, heading to ‘being ready’ rather sooner than later. This fall, the Belgian startup will spend 4 months in London, to join the prestigious Microsoft Accelerator programme in the City. Only 9 other startups have been selected in what is called “one of the strongest batches of the programme to date.” With Microsoft’s support and access to its network of both partners and customers,Manual.to can continue to grow its user-base with ease. Or as CEO Jorim Rademaker states: “With Microsoft as a partner, we will be able to roll-out globally in only 6 months instead of the year-and-a-half it would normally take. Speeding up the time it would have took us to reach ‘market-readiness’ with roughly a year”. Here come the smart manuals!

For more information visit manual.to

Based on the (Dutch) article first published on Datanews.