Did you know that 75% of the world population actually doesn’t speak English? Imagine you just opened an exceptional vegetarian restaurant. One of the ways for you to reach out to your potential customers is via international food bloggers. Many of the best food blogs or recipes are not written in English. If you want to build a strong relationship with these bloggers, you might want to speak their language. And this is when Unbabel comes to the picture.

What is Unbabel

Unbabel is a platform of Machine Translation Engine and a Crowd of Human Editors. This means that any kind of content (by content of any kind, we mean emails, wikis, forums and other user generated content) is first translated by a software program and then corrected by human editors. Thanks to the editors, the translated message doesn’t lose its original meaning. Unbabel is not about having a machine helping humans, but humans helping the machine.

The combination of machine and human can create a better solution for human translation. Why? Current solutions are very expensive, starting on 5-6 dollars per one mail. The difference between Unbabel and other language translation systems is that it is not focused on machine translation crowd only; it focuses on a crowd of 17 thousand people. From those 17 thousand, it is easier then to select the right people for a particular translation. A Spanish person can have brilliant English skills. But it is still easier for a fan of arts to translate content for a Museum then for a Civil Engineer with the same English knowledge.

Unbabel creates the bridge to the customers of your company by speaking their language. Because language should never be an obstacle and either startups or big enterprises need something that can automatically send a newsletter to the right people in the right language.

This is something that has to exist, if we didn’t build it, somebody else would.

– Vasco Pedro, CEO of Unbabel.

Some interesting facts and numbers

  • Unbabel has now 300 paying customers;
  • Microsoft, Pinterest, Google and Coursera are also using Unbabel;
  • It has raised $1.5MM of seed capital from a mixture of venture capital firms and business angels;
  • There have already been 14 282 905 words translated (and it keeps growing every minute);
  • Unbabel translates content in 15 languages;
  • It is the first Portuguese company that entered the Y Combinator accelerator in Carnegie Melon, after an interview in San Francisco;


According to Vasco,

5 of us flew to San Francisco for the interview which lasted around 10 minutes. It was definitely an experience for us. You go in, there are no slides, no presentation, just 4 people hammering you with questions. It was very intense, we all had mixed feelings, but it turned out great in the end and we spent 3 months at Mountain View focused entirely on Unbabel.

How the journey started

Vasco Pedro and the other 4 co-founders were all involved with other startups before. Unbabel was the perfect way to connect them.

 “We used to discuss a lot a failed promise of machine translation and came up with the idea to have a perfect machine translation system. In my experience, there are many language translation systems, but they have not always been such a huge help. With some contents, it would have even been easier for a human to fix it. That’s why we created humans helping machines service

Now Unbabel has a sales and marketing team of 16 people located at the offices in San Francisco. The rest of the team (language processes, product development, and communication) is based in Lisbon.


Future & Challenges 

“Our biggest challenge now is not just to produce with quality, but to produce with quality at scale consistently. Unbabel is not just the machine translation system. Automating translation processes require a lot of technology, but what matters is also how the workflow is automated. What happens in translation agency is that there is a project manager that decides everything. We are trying to replace that with Artificial Intelligence.”

For the next few months, the team will focus on reducing the scope and one of the ways is to deploy the core AI to English and Spanish. So the main goal now is to have English and Spanish as the reference languages of Unbabel. The team has plans in the terms of product too. They are in the negotiation process with a few potential large companies in China and if it comes through, they will concentrate on Asian market as well.

The biggest challenge is to find the answer on How do you automate human process? There is a huge technology that Unbabel is building. And it is revolutionising the whole field. So indeed this challenge must be taken step by step…

To learn more about Unbabel, read about their customer support philosophy on their blog.