Sofia Pessanha
Co-Founder and CMO
of Unbabel, Portugal

Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home from work?

A: Navigating the startup roller-coaster, running keeps me healthy and sane.

Keep calm and try again

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I’ve always heard business being discussed at the table. It felt​ only​ natural to start my own! In 2006, I got the chance to join TIMWE, a startup selling mobile entertainment ​content. My business school friends thought I was crazy; why join a small company nobody ha​d​ ever heard of? ​Tech s​tartups were not cool yet, but I saw the potential.

​A​fter TIMWE​, ​I wanted to meet more tech people in Portugal, but there was no platform to make this happen. That’s why I ​helped start Beta-i. We organized meetups, mentoring programs and pitch competitions. It was ​also ​the first project Vasco and I worked on together, and it made us want to work on something even bigger. Unbabel emerged two years later. Vasco and João, ​two of my four co-founders, have studied languages. We wondered why language barriers haven’t been eliminated yet. We thought the connection between technology and translators was broken and that we could mend it by combining Artificial Intelligence and translators who work​ ​on smartphones.

During these ten years of building companies, I’ve kept a motto: ‘Keep calm and try again.’ Every time I experiment, I learn – whether I win or lose in the end. That’s what motivates me the most.

Sofia Pessanha, 36, is based in Lisbon and San Francisco. She is a co-founder of Unbabel, a Y Combinator company combining Artificial Intelligence and professional translators to deliver fast translation services with human tone and nuance. The company was founded in 2013 and now employs 26 people. Sofia studied Business Management at Nova University in Lisbon. Her areas of expertise include growth and people management.

This article was published in ‘the Hundert Vol. 8 – Female Startup Founders Europe’, May 2016.