Qordoba translated its 5 millionth word. Here's how it manages a distributed team

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Global translation platform Qordoba has just translated its 5 millionth word, hitting the mark last April on a Mandarin translation job, according to founder May Habib.

Since the company launched in late 2011, it's been able to build a community of over 600 linguists to provide crowdsourced translation with an online system that allows users to track the progress of their projects. Translating mostly in English, Arabic, French, Russian, Mandarin, Farsi, and Turkish (as well as 50 others), they've served clients that include local governments and international organizations, as well as UAE-based multinationals, which comprise the majority of their clients, says Habib.

In the broader sense, however, Qordoba isn't a translation company; it's a technology company. Their open source platform has been their main strength, allowing them to coordinate quickly with translators around the globe and maintain a flat organizational structure, says Habib:

"At a traditional translation agency, it could be years before they’re doing this type of volume. The adaptability of our hundreds of linguists to using the open source tools to doing translation is really indicative of how the industry is changing."

Their journey hasn't been without its challenges, however; setting up an office in Dubai and running a company with employees all over the world isn't easy. As she's pointed out, the company also crucially relies on Skype. We asked May Habib a few questions about how she runs her startup: 

How do you motivate your team?

Motivation is really important in a startup. Nobody has to be here. Our team is very mission-driven, so you are not working with people who are there just for a paycheck. And that actually is harder as a leader because you have to make sure that they continue to be motivated and excited and that you as an organization are continuing to live the mission that you recruited these talented people for.

How do you manage team members who are either older than you or more experienced?

There’s a maturing process that happens when you are leading a team, and I think it has nothing to do with age, actually. If I were making this transition [from the corporate to the startup world] at 40, it’d be the same as in my 20s. In some heated discussions over the past two years, I’ve had the urge to end internal debates by just saying, "We’re doing this because I said so." But you can't do that.

Do you recommend moving to Dubai for other startups?

I think as you grow, you really need to have a headquarters in Dubai, there’s no other option. How to be in Dubai is another matter, and I do think that some startups make the mistake of having a really expensive setup right away.

I think squatting and conserving resources and really trying to sell your service in a bootstrapped way is important, before you have to pay fees, expensive rent and visas, and get a formal setup. That’s what we did. But once you’re post-revenue, you really need to be here. Just try to get to that phase as economically as possible.

Disclosure: Wamda Capital has invested in Qordoba.

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