Fri · Jan 8

How Unbabel's Five-Person Founding Team Sticks Together

In this episode of Startup School Radio, host and YC partner Aaron Harris sat down with Sofia Pessanha and Vasco Pedro.

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Pessanha and Pedro are two of the co-founders of Unbabel, the language translation platform powered by a blend of machine learning and human editing.

Later in the episode, Harris interviewed AJ Forsythe, the founder and CEO of phone repair platform iCracked. You can listen to the entire episode in Soundcloud right here, or via iTunes.

It was particularly interesting in this episode to hear Sofia and Vasco talk about how they built Unbabel with a total of five co-founders, and how they stay in tune with such a large founding team. This part starts at around minute 24:50:

Aaron : Five founders is a very difficult thing to manage. Normally companies have two, maybe three. How do you deal with having five different founders?

Vasco Pedro : Yeah. Not only do we have five founders, but we're all in it after two and a half years, and we're all happy and connected. Part of it is, we like to think about it in terms of emotional debt. The way we like to describe it is, if you're a startup, you tend to have technical debt, which is fine and which is accepted. You also have other types of debt, you know, sales debt and marketing debt. Basically when you start, you don't know what you're doing.

But the one thing you really can't accumulate is emotional debt between the founders. I think that's the number one killer of startups. You have the little issues that build up on a daily basis, the little tensions, and you don't address it. And then when something big comes up you kind of are discussing everything else.

What we do [to prevent] that, well, each company has to figure out its own thing. For us it's surfing.

We decided to start Unbabel officially on a surf trip. We don't do it as often as we'd like to anymore. But for us, it's a moment when we connect all together. Not only do we become tired physically, which helps to sometimes clear the mind, but it reminds us that we're [working] with people we respect and also that we enjoy hanging out with. Those are the moments we can have the best conversations: when you're tired and you're willing to connect.

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