Talk about starting a new year. Olenka Polak just turned 20. She has left Harvard after completing five semesters of study toward a degree in the visual arts. And now she has moved to Los Angeles to launch a mobile phone app that she and her brother, Adam, believe will have a major impact on the motion picture industry.
The app is myLINGO, which Olenka and Adam created in 2012 to make movies come alive for those in an audience who don’t speak the language in which the film is presented. Olenka, who with her brother is a partner in Oladas Inc., the owner of myLINGO, is the company’s public face. Adam, 24, graduated from Johns Hopkins University last year. Olenka said they decided to base the company in Los Angeles because of the need for frequent contact with the studios.
“I had meetings in California with the studios once every two or three weeks, and I was always flying out there,” she said. “I wasn’t reall present in class. Phone calls take you only so far. We have to meet face to face.”
She has decided to live in Venice. But myLINGO’s headquarters will be on Melrose Avenue near LaJolla, on the fringe of West Hollywood but well within WEHOville. Her decision to locate here, prompted largely by a good deal on an available space, brings another tech entrepreneur to a local economy that largely is dominated by real estate and service businesses like hotels, restaurants and bars. She expects to employ 10 to 12 people over time, with speakers of different languages to help in marketing in different countries.
The inspiration for MyLINGO came from a movie outing that Olenka and Adam had with cousins visiting from Poland. “They didn’t enjoy the movie at all,” she recalled. “They didn’t understand the movie.” That was also an issue with Polak’s parents, natives of Poland, who saw going to the movies as a family experience, but one diminished by their difficulty deciphering the English language of the actors. The only other options were waiting for a DVD to be issued in Polish or finding some translated pirated version on the web. Olenka and Adam went to work on the idea right after that experience with their cousins. “I didn’t know anything about tech or entrepreneurship,” she said. “I was an aspiring film director, and my major is the visual arts. We found out we would have to put together a patent and get coders and legal advice. We’ve been working constantly on the idea and the technology since early 2013.”
The success of MyLINGO depends on the Polaks negotiating deals with major studios, which create audio tracks in up to 25 different languages for their films for overseas markets. Olenka Polak said an announcement of such a deal is imminent. United Talent Agency, a major manager of Hollywood talent, has agreed to serve on the company’s advisory board. Polak said the market for MyLINGO is enormous. “Our addressable market is really any one who is “language displaced,” she said, “being in a country temporarily or permanently where the language spoken is not your native language. There are 342 million of these language-displaced individuals worldwide. The smartphone distribution is 22 percent.”
“This will drastically increase box office sales,” Polak said. “Hopefully this will be as ubiquitous as popcorn.”
MyLINGO has decided, for marketing reasons, also to strike deals with theatre chains. That means a theatre’s management will be comfortable when a moviegoer using MyLINGO turns on a smartphone and plug earplugs into his ears when a film starts — a big no no at movie theatres. It already has reached a deal with AMC, a major movie theatre chain. A user of the app, which can be downloaded from Apple’s iTunes, can choose the language he or she wants to watch the film in (current options are English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and German). Then the user chooses a film, for which he or she is charged 99 cents for a one-time use. The soundtrack is deleted from the phone after use. At this stage MyLINGO has only several trailers available on the app. The soon-to-be-announced studio deal will change that.
MyLINGO is the latest in a number of tech startups to either locate in greater West Hollywood or serve as the home of their young entrepreneurs. In October of last year, WEHOville profiled Blaine Vess, co-founder of Studymode.com. Vess, 32, manages a network of study-help websites that receive 1.25 million daily visitors and generate annual revenue of more than $10 million. StudyMode employs 19 people and works from an office at 8939 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd. at Robertson. WEHOville will be profiling other local digital entrepreneurs in coming weeks and months.