A Conversation with
Interview by Cameron Rasmusson
Born from an idea shared by husband-and-wife entrepreneurial team Isabelle Andrieu and Marco Trombetti in 1999, Translated has weathered the vicissitudes of technological development to become a leading provider of translation services. With two decades of operation under its belt, Translated has served over 234,330 clients in 194 languages and 40 areas of expertise.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we talked with Translated co-founder Isabelle Andrieu to learn precisely how the company navigated the stormy seas of the 21st century.
ML: Please give a brief summary of your professional history in the language industry, and your expertise or specializations.
IA: I am a linguist, a curious person by nature, and always knew that I would work with languages, travel, and help people communicate. I founded Translated in 1999 together with my husband, Marco Trombetti. Since then, we have grown the company organically using a combination of AI and human skills, serving all kinds of clients with a platform that was easy to use and would give users all the information instantly. Our main goal has always been to make a positive impact in the translation industry — bringing more technology and improving the translator’s and client’s experience.
As a business owner, I am passionate about human growth, and I am mainly responsible for helping my team grow as people and express their full potential within the company. I am passionate about work-life balance and have been on a mission to create the perfect working environment for my team to grow professionally and personally. I love seeing that Translated impacts people’s lives, whether it is because we solve a translation issue or because the training people receive in my company also impacts their lives.
ML: What first attracted you to this industry?
CM: I fell in love with the world of linguistics when I first heard the call to make the world a better place by allowing people from different cultures to understand and be understood in their own language. A trip to China planted the seed in my heart during my internship in a translation agency. I had been assigned as an English-to-Italian interpreter to help an industrialist expand its business in the region and had just graduated in Languages and Foreign Trade from the University of Grenoble, France. Back home, I knew I wanted to play a role in the industry to open up languages to as many people as possible. Even if I didn’t exactly know how to go about it.
ML: What kind of path did you follow to turn that aspiration into reality? How did the idea for Translated come about?
IA: My co-founder husband, Marco, and I love traveling and experiencing different cultures. The idea for Translated came out of nothing during one of those trips, the one to Nepal. It immediately sounded like the perfect mission for us; there were no other online translation platforms then.
I met Marco at the beginning of my journey as a translator. Soon thereafter I dropped everything and moved to Italy. We felt this choice wouldn’t have made sense if we barely saw each other at the end of the day. Marco has always been a computer geek, so it came as a no-brainer that we would have merged our skill sets to develop a business that would have satisfied our passions while enabling us to spend most of our time together. When we got back from Nepal, we bought the domain name www.translated.com for $100 and started our venture.
ML: What kind of environment was the language industry when you first entered it? How does it compare to today?
IA: When we started, there was no technology available. People were using dictionaries, and very few translators had CAT tools. We instinctively knew those tools would have changed everything. Having started as a translator, I always wanted our company to provide our translators with the best CAT tool, and we ended up building our own, Matecat. We strove to free professionals from the monotonous aspect of their work. This way, we could engage them with the beautiful nuances of our languages, those that make every single word unique and can change the meaning of a message. When we started, some professionals would even send in handwritten translations, and it would take ages to get through vast amounts of work.
Additionally, there were no translation platforms available, and customers sometimes had to wait days just to get a quote. Customers demanded to know how much their translations would cost and when they would be delivered. Translated was the first online platform to give instant quotes and fixed delivery dates.
ML: In terms of vision, what differentiates Translated from industry peers?
IA: We see Elon Musk as our competitor, not the other translation companies. That’s because we want to have everyone understanding others and being understood in their own language before Elon reaches Mars. Settling the language challenge will allow humankind to overcome our most serious challenges, such as solving the climate crisis. We will get there by providing every user with the closest-to-human machine translation, almost in real time. In our vision, the fastest and most sustainable path is a true symbiosis between humans and machines, and not replacing one with the other.
Imagine what would happen if every human being could contribute to a project without the need to know a different language, with access to information in their native language, or if we were all simply empowered to share a message with others using words rooted in our own culture, confident of not generating misunderstandings.
We work hard to ensure that professional translators can focus on the creative part of the translation process. It took us almost 20 years to fine-tune the approach to achieving the singularity in translation space. It will occur when the per-word operating speed of professional translators in proofing a translation completed by their best human colleague matches a translation that is “pre-processed” by a machine. It would take us a long time to get there by ourselves, so we recently welcomed aboard some investors, including Ardian, a world-leading private investment house, to speed up the process.
Furthermore, we are now carbon-free, having acquired and restored a hydropower plant that was designed by Albert Einstein’s father. We have a responsibility for what we consume and what we produce. AI is a game-changer, but it implies a huge energy consumption, and so we looked for a clean source of energy for our company. It’s a small thing, but we hope to inspire others.
ML: For you personally, what does it mean to be a woman in the language industry?
IA: Every industry has its battle of sexes, and from what I’ve witnessed, women are leading in the language industry, which makes me feel incredibly proud to be a part of it. Personally, I think the localization industry is perfect for women expressing themselves.
Statistically speaking, the language industry is female-dominated. Women are more intuitive and tend to use their emotional intelligence to communicate and convey messages from an empathic point of view, which is highly beneficial for nurturing great interpersonal relationships with clients and colleagues.
Women rely on their intuition and can literally “read between the lines,” which makes them perfect for the language world. Being surrounded by so many fantastic female figures really inspired me, especially in recent years, to use my voice to empower them and shine a light on the incredible work they are doing.
The more we support and stand for each other, the more powerful we become.
ML: Do you feel like you bring different sensibilities or priorities to your business as a woman in leadership?
IA: Yes, I generally believe that women have better communication skills and unique problem-solving abilities that allow them to focus on the solution rather than dwelling on the problem. It really gives a much broader perspective, as it offers a variety of possibilities when overcoming challenges. Women rank high in emotional intelligence, which enables them to build more meaningful relationships and better understand where others are coming from. As an empathic person myself, I’ve seen the effects of genuinely caring for other human beings and how that influences their motivation. I feel my job is to connect these dots and help my team grow mentally and professionally while we make the business grow.
ML: On that topic, I understand you feel a personal responsibility for your associates’ growth as professionals as people. How do you put that into practice?
IA: We do our best to put our talented people at the center of what we do and provide them with the best tools to express themselves fully. This way, we enable them to enhance the value of their work and reach outcomes otherwise unachievable. Our staff are athletes, and we must take care of them at every personal level, caring for their minds, muscles, and general health. We built our offices from luxury villas to provide our staff with the best possible international working environment.
We devised personal development projects for each team member and regularly expose them to challenging experiences, such as kick-boxing training or taking part in a round-the-world regatta without technology onboard. This way, we open their minds and encourage them to develop innovative solutions for our clients.
We selected a variety of perks for our athletes such as a personal trainer, pool, massage therapy, fully equipped kitchen with healthy food, and we reward them with additional benefits for healthy choices like salary bonuses for those who commute to work by bicycle or quit smoking. We also have gifts for new babies, weddings, and an instant no-interest loan for those in difficulties, such as having the partner losing the job or a family member getting ill.
ML: Likewise, your approach to business is to relieve employees of repetitive, boring tasks by implementing tools like AI. How do you do that, and what kind of more interesting and useful work does that free them up to explore?
IA: When repeatedly queuing at the post office to send payment to our translators at the beginning of our business, 20 years ago, I came up with this belief: humans are not designed to undertake repetitive and monotonous tasks. That’s what machines are for. Part of our mission, as a company, is to provide the best translators with the best tools to do their work.
Here’s an excellent example of the impact of our approach: We recently closed a deal with Airbnb to translate all content on the Airbnb website and app, including the user-generated content, into 62 languages. This is a job that would have required 300,000 person-years without the cutting-edge technology we developed. Nimzdi Insights’ founder Renato Beninatto told Fortune magazine that this could be the largest private deal ever signed in the language industry, based on the number of words and languages involved. This was the result of four years of collaboration, during which we ran a really challenging project. We worked with 1,500 professionals to provide Airbnb with 1,000,000 words in 32 languages in 3 months, guaranteeing the same quality of translations that took years to get fine-tuned. Projects such as those ones would have never been possible without the solutions we developed to increase the efficiency of the process and the effectiveness of the translators.
ML: Most people seem to know that Translated is a multicultural company, and that shapes its multicultural vision of the world. How do your projects and working environment contribute toward shaping that vision?
IA: We designed Translated as an inclusive and open company because we firmly believe in diversity as an asset. Being a multicultural company is mandatory nowadays, especially if you want to pursue a global mission. We carry total respect for every belief, and we crafted our office to stimulate networking.
On another level, we started our research center, Imminent, to share our love for languages and cultures with companies that need support and inspiration for their localization projects. We fund language data research and reward the best initiatives that advance technology and creativity in international communication.
These are two aspects that enable our staff and us to pursue a different vision of the world and instill it in every project.
ML: As a woman in the industry, do you find its opportunities more welcoming for women today compared to when you started?
IA: I believe there has been a lot of progress, but we still have a long road ahead of us. As a business owner, you need to set examples within your company to make a difference. And we’ve really done that from the beginning. We have so many women in leading positions in our company, and I’m proud of each of them. They are incredibly hardworking, dedicated, passionate, and just fantastic human beings.
ML: Does it come naturally to you to take the main stage, such as for this article and your LinkedIn activity, or do you prefer to work more behind the scenes?
IA: To be honest about it, no. Marco and I were concentrating on making things work. We felt more comfortable about communicating over the last few years. I then decided I could also take the stage, tell my story and express my vision for better leadership while also discussing the importance of helping people nurture their potential and grow. I find it enriching for myself as well. Translated has been working pretty well because Marco and I complement each other, and together we can do more magic.
ML: Do you believe there might be a downside to the hard and fast shift to focus on women’s leadership?
IA: This is a really interesting question, but to be honest, I don’t know. What I know for sure is that women are the majority of consumers today, and we haven’t even started talking to them. More and more women are taking on leadership roles, and we need to learn how to help them thrive, offer more opportunities and learn from them.
ML: How do you balance work, special projects, and your personal life?
IA: Well, when you run a business with three kids at home, you cannot put everything on hold until you feel amazing. It is more complex, but the truth is that you need to have some tricks up your sleeve that allow you to be more efficient. For instance, I try to concentrate on the things that impact my goals the most. Everything else is a distraction, and I let it go. To do that, you need to have very clear goals. And it is a matter of moving the needle a little further to reach that goal.
I try to spend more time preparing, even if it may sound counterintuitive. Spending time preparing meetings, discussions, and your daily plan saves you a lot of time and is imperative. You are less likely to get pulled into distractions. I have also created a support system around me that allows me to spend more quality time with my kids or go out with my husband and enjoy our time mindfully.
Lastly, I know what my energy drivers are, and whenever I feel low in energy, I practice sports, have a great cup of tea, or read a good book. Self-care is essential, and I try to listen to my body. It’s the key to feeling good, inside and out.
ML: Does it strike you that the previous question may not be asked as often of a male business leader?
IA: Absolutely. We all know that the mental load women have is enormous. Women experience first-hand how multitasking affects well-being, and it can take a toll on their mental health. The mental load is a “work of management, organization, and planning which is at the same time intangible, unavoidable and constant, and aims to satisfy everyone’s needs and smooth running of the residence” according to Nicole Brais (Université Laval, Québec).
This load is mainly borne by women, accentuating inequalities in the labor market. And I think it is about time we started talking about it and helping women feel less guilty when they ask for support from the system.
Cameron Rasmusson is editor in chief of MultiLingual.