Unbabel exists to solve a common business challenge — connecting with clients based overseas — in an innovative way. By using modern technology to tear down traditional language barriers, Unbabel can provide accurate, speedy translation services, at a price point that mainstream agencies struggle to match.
It’s a recipe that works. Founded in 2013, by early 2015, Unbabel had already been recognized as one of Y Combinator’s fastest-growing seed stage companies — and with a recent $23 million Series B funding round closed, this growth shows no signs of slowing. We spoke to Unbabel’s Finance Lead Sofia Costa, to learn more.
Unbabel is a translation as a service platform, which allows companies to communicate seamlessly with their customers across the globe, in dozens of languages. This is all thanks to Unbabel’s AI-powered translation services, which match machine learning with the combined post-edition efforts of some 50,000 bilingual freelance professionals to provide quality translations at a lower price and significantly quicker than a traditional service could. Sofia explains:
Our mission is to help companies understand and be understood by their customers in any language. We’re a translation company, but our core business is to make translations in a different way — more quickly than a traditional translation company, but with a higher level of quality compared with simple automatic machine translation. Our idea is to get an ideal combination between price, quality and the time it takes to prepare the translation.
Unbabel already has offices in Portugal and the US, and clients mainly in the UK, US and Europe. However, Sofia says that the plan is for further growth during 2018, commenting, “This year will be crucial to expand our business worldwide.”
With that global growth comes more need to send and receive money overseas. Presently, Unbabel is a US-registered company, but with a majority of its permanent staff at its headquarters in Lisbon, Portugal, and a network of freelancers and contractors spanning the globe. That means making payments in different currencies, to employees, contractors and suppliers — which can be a costly business thanks to the high fees levied by traditional banks for overseas payments.
Because of the comparatively high costs of using a high street bank to move money across borders, Unbabel uses TransferWise for many regular overseas payments. Sofia explains:
TransferWise is very user-friendly — it’s very easy to work with. I already know what kind of information I need for each beneficiary, so it’s very simple to use. The greatest benefit is that TransferWise has lower costs than paying via a bank. If you use the bank to pay directly, you have a worse exchange rate and higher fees to worry about.
TransferWise offers some of the best value international transfers available, and with Unbabel making regular payments coming in at six figure sums, from euros to dollars and vice versa, the savings quickly mount up.
In our connected world, even small businesses can easily tap into a global market. Marketplace platforms like Etsy and eBay provide a shop window to customers all over the world. And if you’re selling a digital product, or service, it’s even more likely that you’ll be talking to clients based on the other side of the globe.
That means that having some localised website content, customer service emails, or even a helpful FAQ to allow customers to answer their own queries more easily, is crucial — even if your business is pretty new, or sales are still low. And that’s exactly where Unbabel comes in. By offering good quality, reasonably priced translations, Unbabel makes localised content accessible to even the smallest of businesses — and this local voice with a global reach could be exactly the springboard a small enterprise needs.
Sofia goes on to describe how Unbabel works to provide added value on top of the type of translation you might get from a simple machine translation, or another online option:
Our translations are a mix between AI and our community of freelance bilinguals all over the world. As bilinguals they have a huge knowledge of the languages, and as they make more and more translations, our "machine" is nourished and, consequently, improved.
So customers can sleep soundly in the knowledge that their translation has been checked and polished by a native speaker, meaning no accidental howlers, or embarrassing mistranslations. If you don’t remember the short period when Google insisted on translating the word Russia as Mordor, then we’ll leave this here as a cautionary tale.
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