Interview with Mariona Puigdevall Sanmartin
“Be humble, stay strong, and don’t doubt yourself so much. You can turn the negative comments into future FAQ’s or blogs 😉.” – Mariona Puigdevall Sanmartin
Today we feature Mariona Puigdevall Sanmartin, the founder at Lotuly. We hear their story in their own words, their successes, their challenges and their insights.
Let’s start by getting to know you. Can you please tell us a little bit about you and what you do?
My name is Mariona and I’m a 24 years old multilingual entrepreneur, running Lotuly a bootstrapped translation and localisation agency.
I’m striving to help businesses communicate with their customers in the language of their hearts and helping them experience a world of understanding.
I have a passion for languages and sustainability, I also love dogs and playing the guitar. Being a native Spanish & Catalan speaker I struggled with fear of rejection (My husband/business partner having Romanian roots too).
We live in a world where people judge you depending on where you are from and both my husband and I have an accent so it was a struggle to go past that situation. However, that was a success, why? Because if it wasn’t for those times of struggling to fit in, we wouldn’t have gone past that point, onto our next achievements.
As a company has managed to successfully onboard Fortune 500 companies and work with top startups giving us the push we needed and the support we craved. We doubled our revenue after launching and we hope to keep on growing sustainably.
One of the best implementations is planting trees for translated words through our partners Ecologi. We strive to help businesses communicate more effectively and in a meaningful way because I know how it feels to feel judged, I know how it feels to speak other languages, I know how it feels to always feel that you don’t fit in a place that it’s not your own country,
I know how it feels to get judged by being too young to handle certain matters, I’ve been there, felt that and owned it. I moved through those challenges and strived to help other young people overcome the same feelings of rejection. We give a lot of opportunities to young people, to work with us and feel appreciated no matter where they are from.
A great introduction and start to this interview. Can you please tell us, how did you start, from what age, and what made you decide to change direction and start?
-The Lotuly story/ Our story-
In 2015, Robert Bolohan and I made our journey from Spain to England in search of new opportunities, we were 18 and 19 years old respectively.
We shared a love of languages and an entrepreneurial spirit. When we met, we both spoke English, Catalan and Spanish. Robert also spoke Romanian, which he taught me.
Before we moved to England we were selling antiques in several markets in Spain. It was here that we translated our first documents, explaining the specifics of the items we were selling to the buyers.
This led to a series of further enquiries for translations…
Eventually, it got to a point where we were making more money from translating than from selling. And we realised how much we enjoyed the feeling of breaking through the language barrier and helping people to understand each other.
We wondered, could this be the business opportunity we’d been looking for?
But little did we know that we were about to get the wake-up call that would change everything…
We had spent two sleepless nights researching our translation business and were driving home after a successful Saturday at the market.
It was a hazardous drive with several perilous curves to negotiate. And on one of those bends, we lost control of our car.
The car skidded and flipped four times, ending up in a field. Thankfully, we escaped unharmed, but our car was wrecked.
It was then that we decided that we needed to make some changes and start doing things properly. We would move to London and start the translation business we’d been dreaming of.
-The first five years-
In the beginning, we ran the business as a couple. It was very much a freelance enterprise.
But we found that clients liked our human approach and the fact that they were treated as people, rather than just numbers.
And, as word spread, there was a demand for more languages and industry specialisms. We responded quickly, recruiting more translators, expanding our fields of expertise and keeping up with the latest trends.
As the business evolved, we realised it needed to be more than just a network of freelancers — we needed something to bring it all together.
We needed a brand.
Lotuly was born in 2020. A culmination of the hard work and dedication to our clients.
Moving our brand online has automated many of our processes, making it easy for clients all over the world to access our services and manage their translation needs.
But, at its heart, Lotuly is still a people-first business, built on caring, helping and creating a world of understanding.
Thank you for that insight. So can you tell us…What does your business do and where is your company based?
Lotuly was launched in London the middle of the pandemic back in 2020, but we operate worldwide.
We’re building a growing and disruptive translation & localisation agency, focusing on investing in human translation rather than inaccurate machine translation.
Our aim is to plant 1 tree for every 500 words we translate and reduce our carbon footprint by doing our best in helping the environment and at the same time empower our clients to do the same.
The reason why we are trying to educate client to use human translation experts rather than machine translation is because their reputation as a company is at stake, you can check this article if you wish as it highlights top global companies such as CocaCola that made some serious mistakes that cost them a lot of money to repair https://lotuly.com/15-unfortunate-language-translation-failures/
We’ve created a unique instant quotation tool where clients can upload a file/or insert the number of words directly, the tool will count the words automatically and will show 3 prices based on over 300,000 possibilities (thanks to the algorithm behind the tool).
The way we are different is that no matter the package they choose, we offer the same level of translation quality across our packages, we don’t use machine translation only human qualified translators and we don’t compromise on quality (our prices are based on deadline). Some of our competitors offer machine translation in exchange for a cheaper rate but that won’t ensure efficient human quality.
We are currently making the quote tool even more unique by implementing the planting of trees through our partner’s API automatically depending on the wordcount of the project. Once a client chooses a package, the tool will automatically identify how many words will be and will relate that to 1 tree planted for every 500 words translated (wordcount of a file). So by the time the customer pays (through our website) they will be planting a specific amount of trees for example, a 50,000 words project will automatically plant 100 trees.
We are striving to solve the way we communicate making business conversations and marketing efforts more meaningful, essentially putting human back in human translation.
What’s the story behind your success? What led to your aha moment? how did you get to where you are now?
We are a bootstrapped translation agency and it literally started in our studio flat in London. Since we started we’ve had our first ever $35,000 turnover in just 1 month. Due to the pandemic we also had low turnover months but overall in the last 6-8 months alone we’ve turned over £79,000.
We’ve not been successful at securing any funding from the government or any schemes because we couldn’t find any suitable ones for what we do. But that’s not stopping us from growing. We feel that the government at this moment in time does not pay the proper attention/does not help to translation services as there are no grants or help for language providers (it’s always the “other” option in the categories section).
It all started with my husband and I freelancing as translators and we’ve grown a remote team of over 300 translators based all over the globe. It’s been very hard and it’s still being very hard but with a positive attitude you can do lots of things 🙂
In our industry and as an example the income per customer can be either £30 or £20,000 the possibilities are endless as they are based on whether it’s a one time project or a long term one, the amount of words (we usually charge a per word rate), the type of language service whether it’s translation or localisation (SEO, keywords research, etc.) the latter has extra costs, the subject, the language pairs (some are less popular than others and therefore few translators available/higher the cost) and so forth.
We plan on growing our business while increasing our sustainability goals. With the right marketing team and investment we can turn over £250,000 and plant 5,000 trees by the end of 2022 through the implementation of a referral program with marketing agencies, we can partner up or even implement our quote tool through our API into their websites.
We are a bootstrapped start-up and as founders we are looking to invest and give opportunities to young people and we are always on the lookout for creative people because we know getting a chance is quite hard to achieve and having gone through the same experience we want to change that.
Our aha moment is every time a client says that they are satisfied with our services, it makes us proud of what we’ve achieved as it’s very easy to have the impostor syndrome and feel like you have not accomplished enough or that it could be better.
In regards to who helped, family and friends have supported us but some of them still don’t understand what we are trying to do, so it’s been more ourselves and the clients who have trusted us.
To get here we had to work work work and more work, we sacrificed our early twenties in the sense that we had to grow up fast when we moved countries and we did not feel identified with people our age at the time as they were not going through the same things we were, professionally speaking.
Thank you for sharing that. What’s been your life’s biggest lesson so far?
One of the biggest challenges it not being able to get funding, we have to reinvest everything we earn to the business, this means we cannot save for a house for example.
We are trying to overcome it by onboarding more clients.
Something we’ve learnt is that nothing is as easy as it seems, lots of people say, yes you can get funding, is so easy, just pay £250 and we’ll add you to an exclusive list and you’ll get funding.
We have never engaged with this type of approach but we were tempted to do so as they make it sound very appealing.
The only thing I would change is to not lose the time and months of research we spent in trying to get funding before we launched, I would launch before and then spend that time or not spend it at all 🙂
Don’t work if there is no payment upfront, there is a client in America that still owe use $4k and I don’t think we will ever see them.
If you were to go back in time, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell to myself that is not an easy journey, that is very hard, that you need to work more than your competitors, and that when people criticize you or don’t believe in you, don’t let that put you down.
I would also tell myself that when you see family and friends supporting other businesses much more than yours to not take it personally, and yes, it hurts but just let it go, otherwise it hurts even more.
Yes, of course, sometimes you have the feeling that you should just go and work for someone else and leave everything but when you are trying to change how an industry works and you have a purpose those thoughts leave quite fast from your mind.
For people who doubted us I would say, it’s ok, I doubt myself too but we’ll see in a couple of years how it goes, if it does not work then fine but what if it does? If it does not work I’m going to be the one who lost everything not you, so why not be kind enough to say, yes sure, you got this!
I would also tell myself that the imposter syndrome is very real and to not listen to it, we are young and we are accomplishing quite a bit so be proud of yourself and keep going, the journey is never over!
We’re nearly halfway through our interview so it’s a great time to ask how does your business run. What three tools make your business run better?
We are very thankful Starling customers. Here’s why. We deal with 3 main currencies Dollar, Euro and Pound.
There’s no other bank that offers online banking (we opened an account in the middle of the pandemic) and offer multi currency accounts and the possibility to make and receive payments not only in those currencies but also to be able to exchange from one currency to another within our own account. We pay our translators upfront and therefore we needed a fast and reliable solution that integrated within our processes.
Our Starling account works really well with the platform we use to handle our projects and communicate with our translators and also with Stripe which is the method we accept on our website and it’s integrated in our check out.
The way our quote tool is set up online is to allow customers to choose their currency when requesting an instant quote and then pay accordingly. Having the Euro, Pound and Dollar currencies in our account allowed for such a smooth process and our customers are very happy.
In the past we used PayPal and the fees they charge, etc are a nightmare so we are very happy with the change.
We hope we never have to look into other options as it would be quite stressful but if we had to we would do proper research to make sure the new providers are suited for our needs.
We are in the process of developing our own internal tools, at the moment we use Slack and Zoom quite a lot.
What do you know now that you wished you had known before?
Don’t work if there is no payment upfront, there is a client in America that still owe use $4k and I don’t think we will ever see them.
What has been your greatest or proudest achievement or moment?
Our biggest achievement is when we are able to educate our clients to see the value of human translations rather than machine translation and the damage to their reputation that the latter can bring on their company. That and the fact that we’ve been trusted by Fortune500 companies at such a young age.
Being able to pay our freelancer upfront, in the translation industry you normally get paid 60-90 days later so this is a big change in the industry.
We also love that we are able to plant trees for the words we translate and this way help the environment.
What future life goals do you want to achieve and why?
We would love to onboard new clients that have similar values as ours and help them reach their customers in their native language.
We also want to be able to search more ways of being sustainable and of helping the environment, for example helping clean the oceans, etc
To finish our inspire questions…”We believe that sharing inspiring words can inspire others.” If there was one positive thing you would say to someone to inspire and empower them what would it be and why?
I would say avoid procrastination, start ASAP, launch your product, test it, ask for feedback as early as possible and be happy if someone says something negative as this way you can improve it. Be humble, stay strong and don’t doubt yourself so much.
You can turn the negative comments into future FAQ’s or blogs 😉
“Thank you it has been great learning more about your founder story and Lotuly”
To learn more about Lotuly Visit www.lotuly.com
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