WordFinder has come a remarkably long way from its humble beginnings running on DOS with floppy disks in the early 90s. Today, it serves over 25,000 businesses and half a million users globally as an indispensable language reference tool providing instant access to 500+ dictionaries in 28 languages.
The Genesis: Solving Frustration with Instant Dictionary Access
WordFinder was born in 1990 out of founder Ola Persson's personal frustration with constantly interrupting his work to look up unknown English words while selling software abroad. As Persson describes:
“I was too lazy to go to the bookshelf five six meters away…So instead I rewrote [sentences] with words that I knew.”
Tired of this inefficient process, Persson and two programmer friends conceived WordFinder over beers as a solution to instantly access dictionaries right on the computer screen.
They launched the initial DOS version in 1990 as a memory-resident program occupying just 7KB that worked with any DOS application. It provided the first Swedish-English dictionary with instant lookups via hotkey during word processing.
Pivoting Products in a Changing Tech Landscape
As operating systems evolved from DOS to Windows and Mac, WordFinder continuously adapted its software to maintain seamless integration. It launched Windows and Mac versions in 1991 and 1993 respectively.
Persson reflects on the challenges of supporting multiple platforms in a time of rapid technological change:
“We had to follow this all the time…We need to keep up with Microsoft and Apple and Amazon and we need to keep up.”
Going Global: From Scandinavia to Worldwide Reach
While WordFinder began as a Scandinavian-focused company, its vision was always global. Under Persson's leadership, WordFinder aggressively expanded its dictionary portfolio by licensing content from publishers worldwide.
It transformed from a regional player into an international force, serving the communication needs of translation agencies, corporations, law firms, and embassies across Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Solving Distribution Obstacles
In the early days, WordFinder shipped software and dictionaries using an antiquated distribution model – mailing stacks of floppy disks and later CD-ROMs. This resulted in significant waste as outdated inventory languished.
As Persson explains, WordFinder pioneered just-in-time fulfillment to solve this:
“We never prepackaged anything. We packaged the software the same day it was sold.”
Instead of printing thousands of copies, they produced small batches to order. This lean approach enabled rapid adaptation to evolving platforms over the years.
Vision for “Spotify for Dictionaries”
Over decades, Persson nurtured partnerships with publishers worldwide to license their dictionaries, paying them royalties based on usage metrics.
In 2012, he formulated a bold vision – to aggregate all these references into a single subscription like the Spotify music model.
After renegotiating agreements to calculate publisher royalties based on look-ups, WordFinder launched its flagship product in 2017:
WordFinder Unlimited – 500+ dictionaries for $11.99/month
This “Spotify for dictionaries” was an industry game-changer, providing unlimited access at an affordable price.
Product Evolution: From Disks to Cloud
WordFinder's remarkable journey has paralleled software's evolution from disks to downloads to the cloud.
It has continuously enhanced capabilities to leverage emerging technologies while maintaining its core value proposition of access anytime, anywhere.
Key milestones include:
- 1990 – Initial DOS version
- 1991 – Windows and Mac applications
- Early 2000s – CD-ROM/DVD distribution
- 2012 – Pay-per-use subscription model
- 2017 – WordFinder Unlimited launch
- Recent – Mobile apps, browser extensions, and AI-based translation
Despite its maturity, WordFinder continues innovating – integrating corporate terminology databases, adding new languages, and tailoring solutions to market needs.
The Future: More Languages and Markets
With over 25 years of perfecting its dictionary aggregation platform, WordFinder's main opportunity is expanding worldwide access.
Persson notes WordFinder has strong traction in Scandinavia and Europe but needs more penetration in high-potential markets like the US, Turkey, Poland, and Japan. It continues forging partnerships to extend its global reach.
For almost 3 decades across technological revolutions, WordFinder has remained an indispensable language tool for students, translators, academics, corporations, and more worldwide.
As communication and information flows rapidly globalize, Persson's vision of a “dictionary Spotify” is more relevant than ever. By aggregating the world's dictionaries and enabling instant access from any device, WordFinder continues powering clear communication worldwide.
Listen to our exclusive Software Spotlight podcast as WordFinder founder Ola Persson joins the Software Spotlight podcast to discuss the origin and growth trajectory of his dictionary software company. Launched in 1990 to enable instant in-text dictionary lookups, WordFinder now provides access to 500+ dictionaries in 28 languages for 25,000+ business users. Persson credits strong user focus for WordFinder's expansion from a Scandinavian tool into a global SaaS leader.
Frequently Asked Questions
What inspired the creation of WordFinder in 1990?
Founder Ola Persson was frustrated, constantly interrupting his work to look up unknown English words in physical dictionaries while communicating abroad for his software business. He conceived WordFinder to enable instant dictionary lookups on the screen while typing on any application.
How has WordFinder adapted its platform over decades of technological change?
WordFinder has launched new versions of its software synchronized with major OS evolutions – supporting DOS, Windows, Mac, mobile apps, browsers, and the cloud seamlessly. It continues updating capabilities to leverage emerging technologies.
What major transformation did WordFinder make to its business model in 2017?
In 2017, WordFinder launched its Unlimited subscription, aggregating 500+ dictionaries from its publishing partners into a single platform available across devices for $11.99/month. This “Spotify for dictionaries” revolutionized access and affordability.
Which markets are WordFinder targeting for expanded growth?
While dominant in Scandinavia and Europe, WordFinder prioritizes expanded access in high-potential markets like the US, Turkey, Poland, Japan, and others. It aims to serve more global corporations, translators, academics, and governments.
How does WordFinder continue innovating its platform even after 30 years?
From its DOS beginnings, WordFinder has never stood still. Recent enhancements include AI-powered translation, mobile apps, browser extensions, terminology integrations, and new languages. It continues tailoring capabilities to user needs.