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Unbabel

Translation as a service at 1/5 the cost of traditional translators

Highlights

1
40 pre-launch paying customers
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15% weekly growth
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$1.5M raised in seed round
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Community of translators based worldwide
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Specific products for Zendesk and Mailchimp available

Our Team

Bruno Silva Lead Designer
Bruno was a UX and interface designer at Dezine and several other companies. He has worked as a 3D art director for Ludicartes.
CMO
Sofia founded Beta-i and solar power plant management company ActualSun. She was a director at the Founder Institute.
João Graca CTO
A computer science PhD, Joao has several AI and machine learning publications under his name. He organized the Lisbon Machine Learning Summer School.

Slides

The idea for the company that hopes to break down the world’s language barriers was hatched around a fire after a day of surfing in southern Portugal. Unbabel’s founders talked about a friend’s problem: when renting a local house to international tourists, he either had to stumble through using a rusty language or hope for the best with a flawed online translator.

“It seems kind of silly that in the 21st Century we still don’t have a computer that is able to translate,” says Vasco Pedro, Unbabel co-founder and CEO. “We realized that they’re close but they aren’t quite there yet. If we just get human to help the machine complete the translation, we could make the human so much more productive and produce things that are human quality and sound natural, not robotic, and don’t have mistakes.”

Unbabel’s five founders aren’t your typical beach bums—they have two Ph.D.s in natural language processing between them, along with extensive knowledge of machine learning and artificial intelligence. That background means they’re equipped to revolutionize the growing translation industry—$34 billion was spent on language services last year, Pedro says.

How it works

Unbabel combines the speed and efficiency of machine translation with the quality of human translators. First, a text—13 languages are supported so far— is run through machine translation, then a community of both bilinguals and professional translators edit the output of the machine, making sure it sounds natural and is error-free. Translators can work on their smart phones—a key feature that will attract a large community of editors, even in parts of the world where laptops aren’t widespread, Pedro says.

“Typically the industry works in a way that the human does 100% of the work,” he says.We use artificial intelligence to do 95% of the work, and then the human does the remaining 5% of the work. And since the human does 5% of the work, the costs go down significantly.”

Unbabel charges clients by the word with prices that are five to 10 times cheaper than direct competitor’s. Unbabel is faster, too—traditional services deliver translations in days, while Unbabel aims to finish in minutes, Pedro says. Translators are paid by the hour and get to skip common time-wasters like formatting, bidding for projects and negotiating with clients.

Currently, users can request translation through Unbabel’s website, integrate the API into their workflow or submit through email—forwarding messages to be translated to a language-specific address (i.e. fr@translate.unbabel.com for French). Unbabel plans to roll out plug-ins for platforms like Zendesk, Evernote and MailChimp to make it even easier for companies to communicate. Another future move? Shifting pricing to a subscription model where companies pay a monthly fee for unlimited amounts of a specific translation service—so web content can be updated automatically and customer service concerns can be handled seamlessly.

The founders see endless potential for the service to help businesses enter new markets and compete globally. It’s already having an impact—language tutoring service Cambly has used Unbabel for customer service and blog launches, while recipe site Yummly has used it to translate recipes from bloggers around the world.

The Lisbon-based team envisions their service changing the way people communicate on every level—we will be able to read news from other countries, comment on Facebook posts written in other languages and even complete academic research that wasn’t possible before, says co-founder and CTO João Graça.

“We can actually make a difference in the world,” CEO Pedro says. “’If you’re not in the West, you’re much more sensitive to what different languages prevent you from doing and what information you aren’t able to access. If we can do this then it’s really something that is almost magical. It’s a little like the universal communicator from ‘Star Trek.’ You can talk to people, you can engage with folks all over the world, without even realizing they don’t speak your language. I think that’s pretty amazing.”

Overview