The co-founder of Translated speaks on how fostering understanding leads to genuine trust.
Isabelle Andrieu co-founded Translated, one of the largest global translation platforms. With 200,000 professional translators who are native speakers from around the world, they cover more than 180 languages. Today, Translated serves everyone from individuals and small companies to large enterprises like Airbnb, Microsoft, and Google. Isabelle is also CEO of Pi School and co-founder of Pi Campus, which support the growth of startups. Speaking to us from their headquarters in Rome, Isabelle shares powerful insights on building trust through skillful cross-cultural communication.
What stumbling blocks do global businesses run into in terms of communication?
Overcoming not only language differences but also cultural differences while conveying their company’s value, message, and uniqueness poses an enormous challenge, says Isabelle. “That’s why it’s so important to do a deep dive in the specific culture of each country,” she asserts. For instance, businesses must make sure they’re translating materials into the main language of a country. They must also ensure they’re using colors appropriately in China and Korea, where colors carry a deep significance. Further, companies may not understand that on their website, they’re using code that is not compatible with a multi-language platform. With right-to-left languages, for instance, a business must plan the code in advance to ensure the site makes sense to the audience. It can’t just be an afterthought.
“When you are a global company, you need to make sure that you act on all those layers, on all those levels. It’s not only about the translation; it’s the entire communication pitch, color, schema you need to take into consideration,” Isabelle explains. These elements all play a role in bridging cultural differences to build trust and understanding on a broad scale.
How are they influencing their field?
Translation is changing how translation work is done. When they launched in 1999, they merged her husband Marco’s tech background with her linguistic expertise. A linguist by training, Isabelle started off as a translator herself, speaking several languages fluently. By merging their skill sets, they’re making the field more human-centric. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Leveraging AI in translation.
AI forms the underpinnings of Translated, bringing innovation into the field. “We’ve been translating the same way for centuries,” Isabelle says. They asked one central question: “How can we have translators be more efficient?” For instance, how could they avoid translating the same thing twice within a document? This would benefit both the translators and the clients, allowing translators to handle a higher volume with better results.
“The philosophy behind that is, why would you do repetitive tasks if a machine can help you?” Isabelle explains. AI empowers people to use their full intelligence, adding value to what they do. “Everything that is repetitive within the company has been automated somehow,” she says. As a result, translators may spend more time talking with customers rather than writing the same email over and over, as AI cuts down on repetitive tasks.
“Humans, in general, need to do intelligent things. And machines can support that. That’s the philosophy,” she affirms—which leads directly into the next point.
Bringing a personal flavor.
Every translator has a unique approach or style, says Isabelle. “What makes the difference between an automatic translation and professional translation is the human flavor you put on it; the heart you put in your translation,” she asserts. Spending more time on human connection can help ensure the translator’s flavor matches the client’s. This aids in building trust and understanding between them and between the client and their audience.
Further, translators have different areas of expertise. “When it comes to translating a very specific document, maybe in a rare language, you need to have that one person who is particularly skilled to do that job,” she says.
They also prioritize the people who work with them, as we’ll discuss next.
How are they reinventing the way people work?
Isabelle believes that people will thrive when they feel comfortable in their work environment and culture. She began her career in a very unwelcoming space and realized she wanted to create a different experience. “I said one day, I don’t want to transmit the same experience to the people who decide to take the journey with me. I need to make sure that they can express themselves and thrive.”
So, they took the unusual step of purchasing a beautiful villa for employees to enjoy. No one would have been able to buy such a luxurious villa on their own, but everyone can share it now, bringing their families on the weekends. This is a particularly unexpected move in Europe, where employee benefits are rare.
In her own work, she focuses on training, empowering, and developing people. “I think if you have happy people, they produce more,” Isabelle says. “If you always talk about numbers, it’s not gonna work. You have to talk about people first. So we put a lot of attention on our team, and we make sure that they grow—that we accompany them through their professional journey.” They have a lot of female leaders, illuminating how this approach leads to more equal opportunities.
Along her own leadership journey, she’s gained self-confidence and learned how to lead by example. She’s also learned not to be afraid of the future, of change, or of doing her best.
How are they broadening their impact by investing in startups?
When Translated became profitable, they decided to diversify by helping startups in the AI industry in a variety of fields. So, they launched Pi Campus (named for Marcos’ birthday, 3/14) to invest in these companies, spanning fields from aviation to medicine. They have more than 50 investments based in Italy. For instance, they’ve been investing in Boom, a supersonic airplane in the early stages of development. And they’ve invested in Cambridge Cancer Genomics’ efforts to leverage AI to find the best cancer treatment for a patient.
Then, they started a spinoff called Pi School, helping companies inject more AI into their processes. They help them hire students from around the world who serve as AI engineers.
To reduce the impact of their AI on the environment, they decided to produce their own greener energy. Having purchased a hydroelectric power plant that Einstein’s father once owned, they’re now using it to power Pi Campus.
What are the biggest lessons she’s learned along the way?
She’s become a big advocate for empathy, she says. “Go even beyond embracing the culture of acceptance,” Isabelle says. “I think empathy helps you with understanding more the person you have in front of you and helps you communicate more.” Self-awareness plays a key role as well. As a leader, these traits have made her more sensitive to the needs of diverse people while setting the right example for others.
“You need to be open to differences and approach them with a non-judgmental point of view,” she affirms—and these qualities have helped her adopt that approach.
Today, she and Marcos are preparing for an epic around-the-world sailing adventure. In 2023, they’ll take part in the 50th anniversary of the Global Ocean Race, which began in 1973. Participants must use a boat from that era—no modern technologies allowed! Instead, they must rely on building trust on a human level. She and Marcos will have two boats and are training translators who will be participating with them. There’s a role for everyone, Isabelle says. “It’s all about the people. How can you make the perfect team?”
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