Last Tuesday, the embargo was lifted, and the office buzzing with excitement. We could finally tell the world we had raised $60 million in Series C funding.
This round was led by Point72 Ventures, with participation from Microsoft’s M12, Samsung Next, Greycroft, Scale Venture Partners, Notion Capital, Caixa Capital, Faber Ventures, FundersClub, Structure Capital, Indico Capital Partners, and E.ventures, leading to a total of $91 million invested ever since Unbabel was born, in 2013.
Thanks to our tireless teams, partners, and customers, we’ve seen incredible growth. We’re now a motley crew of over 240 employees, spread across eight offices in Lisbon, Pittsburgh, New York and San Francisco. And as inbound volumes swell to record highs — over 1 million customer service messages translated each month as of last quarter — our AI-powered, human-refined translation pipeline doesn’t miss a beat. Translation? We’re enabling major brands in 20 countries around the world to be customer centric.
A lot has changed since 2013. Even since earlier last year when we announced series B huddled around a portable heater, cracking jokes about finally paying the gas bill.
“I think we’re certainly older and wiser. We have a more experienced organization that’s better prepared for what’s coming. We built on our leadership team, we built our management team, and we’re implementing infrastructure that enables us to take the next step. There have been a lot of changes,” Vasco tells me.
This time around, there wasn’t a gas heater in sight — and why would there be one, in the seemingly endless Lisbon summer? But nevertheless, Vasco Pedro, our CEO, and I sat down to chat about series C, what’s next for Unbabel, and the role culture played in the whole fundraising process.
Room to grow
“Series C will give us the fuel to do more meaningful things, to do more in shorter amounts of time and access different markets faster than what we could before,” Vasco says. “We’re now talking about really growing and scaling what we’ve been doing so far on a truly global scale, and that’s really exciting.”
In the next couple of years, he plans to accelerate expansion in the US, Europe, and across Asia. “I think looking at Singapore, Japan, or China as a potential base for Asia would be very interesting.“
We’ll also keep focusing on refining our award-winning Quality Estimation & Post-Editing technologies, but also building our most recent office, the Pittsburgh research lab, where Vasco lived for ten years while getting his masters and PhD in Language Technologies at the Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s a city that’s very dear to my heart,” he says. “And the raw talent that comes out of the university is just mind-boggling. And then having Alon Lavie, one of the world’s experts in MT, joining Unbabel to lead that office, is just a testament to how that community is thinking about us.”
A focus on Customer Service
Vasco’s vision for Unbabel has never changed, but it has matured over the years, especially his ability to understand the impact Unbabel could have, and how big it could be.
I think a lot of times you start something, and you don’t really understand its role in the world, but you have a feeling there’s something there — there’s a product you want to build, there’s a better process you figure out or some insight that you have. And then once you start building it and using it, it stimulates further thinking about its role in the world. And the more you understand the problem and the impact of the solutions, the more you’re able to articulate a vision that fits into bigger things. Unbabel is no exception, we’ve evolved the scope of the vision as we grew. But the fundamentals are all there.
The end goal is to become the world’s translation layer to build a Translation as a Service platform that will power enterprise communications of the future. But for now, our focus continues to be very much in tackling customer service interactions. “I feel like we’re still scratching the surface,” Vasco explains. “We’ll be working towards making those products not only world-class, but also further building the platform that will enable our customers to interact with these products.”
Growing the culture
One of the main challenges going forward is to grow the culture, and improve our communication lines, both bottom-up and top-down. “As you increase the number of people, the way you communicate things is even more important because there’s more of a chance for misunderstanding. And so then you have to continuously increase the clarity of communication, which not always easy,” Vasco says.
Working across seven offices scattered across the world, in different time zones, presents even more challenges. Company-wide moments such as Tuesday lunches and Friday All Hands, once a key aspect of our shared experience, become extremely hard to coordinate, no matter how much you invest in high res displays, cameras, and remote systems.
That’s why culture is so important to us. It’s not just about happy hours or ping-pong tables. It provides a value system that helps guiding our actions, work, and how we spend time together as we scale. And clearly, investors take notice. As Vasco told me, “Culture comes through in a lot of ways.” From the kind of events we host, the people we attract, the way they talk about the company to their friends and family. And when investors join us in Lisbon and see the company, they get to see people working together, catching up in the kitchen, making a joke or two. “At the basic level, they can see that everyone is at ease. That they’re comfortable, engaged, happy to be there.”
And I think this is true for an investor in any stage, but really, the earlier, the more important culture is. In the early days, there’s not a lot of data clearly pointing to the success of a company. And so a lot depends on the team cohesion and the ability for the company to face challenges, and come out on the other side. Culture is the glue that keeps people together.
Finding the right people
So one of the main challenges for the next couple of years is to take a great culture and nurture it as the company grows. It could be put as simply as “Hire great people, build great teams, and get the hell out of the way,” but it’s much more than that. It’s about creating infrastructure and processes to attract and retain amazing talent, and creating the conditions they need to do their best work.
So a key aspect is to invest in building a People Ops team that can take it on and build all the processes, such as career paths and career growth, so everyone can have a sense of their role within the company, as well as where they can go and how they can get there. “Word of advice, invest in People Ops processes earlier than you think. Usually, by the time people realize they need them, it’s too late.” These processes are important not only from the structure they create, but also from how transparency and clarity emerge from them.
“I think the most important thing is to find people that really complement you, that are brilliant, and can help you build what you’re envisioning. I’m finding great investors who understand our vision, and those two things tend to go hand in hand. Good people want to be with good companies and so do good investors.”
When it comes to looking back over all the choices the founders have made over the years, Vasco is not one to spend too much time second-guessing. “I think there’s a few things we could have saved time on. But it was all part of the learning process. So at the same time, if we hadn’t done those things, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m happy with the choices that brought us here.”
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