Founding a Translation Company can Change Your Career: An interview with Amaya Montoya

Leading a translation company is not for everyone. To succeed, you need to manage a team of in-house employees and freelancers, make sure to meet your customers’ deadlines, search for new clients, invest in software applications for your business and keep your talent pool motivated, among many other tasks. At times, the job can become stressful and you can feel like there is never enough time to run operations thoroughly while keeping a bird’s-eye view.  

Why would anyone ever ask for such a job? Running a translation company is tough and time-consuming, but when the passion for language meets an adventurous mind, the truth is things become a little easier and what for most people would be a problem, for others becomes an exciting challenge.

Such is the case of Amaya Montoya, the Managing Partner of On-Global. More than 10 years ago, Amaya decided to end her career at reinisch GmbH, a German technical documentation company, and establish her own business with Gonzalo Urriza, her business partner, and friend.

Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you became a translator?

It goes back to my childhood. Back then, I used to learn English after school and practice when I traveled abroad with my parents, my sister, and brother, so I used to be the official interpreter for our family holidays. There were many funny stories! I still remember vividly a forced landing on a trip to Egypt and as the aircrew communicated the message to the passengers in the plane, I had to translate it simultaneously to my parents… It was rather intense and stressful, but now we treasure those little moments.

I believe it was this early exposure to different cultures and languages that set me up for a career in translation. I studied translation and interpretation at the University of Cluny in Madrid and my first working experiences were a bit peculiar but I remember them fondly:

The first one was an interpreting job at the wedding of two Jugglers in an American circus in Vitoria-Gasteiz, my hometown.  And later on, I worked two years  as an interpreter for a Tibetan doctor. These days, sometimes it feels like I am the one who is juggling all the time!

My last job as an employee was at reinisch GmbH, a technical documentation company where I spent almost 9 years, first as a translator, then as a project manager and finally as the translation department manager.

You went on to set up your own company. What made you take that step?

Being an entrepreneur is a mix of nurture and nature. My role model in my case was my mom, who owned her own business as well.

I had my first opportunity to become a business owner right after I finished my studies. My family owned a hotel and I wanted to re-convert it into a hostel. I carried out the feasibility study and was close to launching the project, but it never materialized in the end because I decided to take on the job at Reinisch.

During my last years at the company, I had realized I enjoyed more working with people than translating per se. I was in contact with clients on a regular basis, addressing their needs and raising up to their challenges. It was then that I met Gonzalo Urriza, my business partner at On Global. We shared the same excitement for the translation business and meeting client needs and this is why we took a step forward as partners. We had the guts to do it without fear of failing.

It was a bold move because we did not know each other very well. But at the same time, we relied on being extremely straightforward between each other and that has been the foundation of our business relationship throughout these years.

Being a company owner is the dream of many. How would you describe the challenge? And what surprises you found along the road?

I am not sure if being a company owner is everyone’s dream. It is a very exhausting challenge! From the outside, everything looks easier and simpler than it really is. Being a business leader changes the way you prioritize things in life.

There isn’t a schedule for entrepreneurs, but at the same time you learn to maximize the time that you spend with your company, your family and friends. You just want to have time for everything!

Plus decision-making is especially challenging during the early stages, because you don’t have enough experience or background in business and management. Suddenly you find yourself deciding on finance or human resources matters that are outside of your comfort zone.

Surprises along the way, well we had many! At the time we launched On Global we were four partners, and we thought each had the same goal but it turned out that was not the case. A few months after, one of them realized that her true passion was translating not managing, while the other decided to step out after having her first child to prioritize family. The challenge is not the same for everyone and having a company is very demanding.

The good side of being a business owner is that all the hard work and effort is for you. It’s your reward! Plus the little moments, like the overly exaggerated way you celebrate your first customer. When I think about that, it makes me realize how far we have gone… today we don’t celebrate new customers with that kind of intensity because everything is part of an established process.

The translation industry has become very competitive in the last two decades. How do you make sure your company stands from the rest?

It’s true, the translation industry has become super competitive, even the number of translation companies and freelance translators out there. When we started, clients simply asked for quotes from a single supplier and it was very likely that they would accept them. Today, the same client requests quotes from three or five companies. But competition is not really a problem because there is still work for everyone.

The volume of content being translated in the world is on the rise,  and even if English is still the most important languages in the world, translation opportunities are everywhere.

I believe On Global stands out from the rest in one way by being avant-garde in terms of technology, but also by keeping the human side of the business. We know that by using advanced technologies a lot of contact with the customer takes place online, via email or platforms. This is why we try to balance things out by bringing back the human aspect to our daily relationships. A phone call to confirm the receipt of an email can lead to a different kind of chat with your client that helps you understand them better. That same phone call might be the reason why I find out they want to export a new suite of products to a different market and can provide them with meaningful advice.

We need to understand that our business is not only about translation. At the end of the day, I want our clients to think of On Global not just as a language service provider but as a company that offers solutions to their problems.

With regards to technology and innovation, On Global has always been equipped with a stack of translation technology and design tools that makes us extremely competitive. Investing in technology is another way of finding solutions to simply the localization workflow of your clients. For one of our customers, we bought a specific tool that allows them to edit Indesign files without the need to have purchased the tool.

A few years ago, you decided to open up a new office in Cataluña. Why did you choose Barcelona?

We wanted to give On Global greater visibility, but there is also the fact that Barcelona is an economically vibrant city and many high-tech companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, WeWork or have set up offices there as well. Then there is the logistic advantage; traveling and planning trips to other countries is easier from Barcelona than Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Nowadays, the Barcelona office features a team of project managers and translators, but it has been our sales team that has grown the most. And because Barcelona is so cosmopolitan, the talent pool is bigger and wider than in other cities of Spain. However, staff turnover may also be greater due to wider job offers in the city.

How is translation now different from when you started out your career? Do you embrace technological changes within translation?

I think I have experienced almost every possible technological change within our industry! But I like to adapt and this is why I am a promoter of technological development.

When I was still translating, I remember coming back home with dictionaries to finish my translations. My bag was super heavy!

Instead, today we can fully localize the manual of an hydraulic machine without a single book because everything is online. But then again, you must be smart enough to filter your research and end up with the right source of information.

So yes, I do embrace technology because it has radically changed the way we translate, and we see the benefits in terms of speed, quality, and accessibility. Nowadays, I wouldn’t translate a single paragraph without a computer-assisted translation tool.

And, what’s your take on Machine Translation?

It’s becoming very useful for certain market verticals and specific document types, but the challenge is knowing how to use this tool properly. I believe the key factor is taking into account your target audience and your client expectations.

If your client has to translate a 60,000 words document in just a couple of days, and everything is meant only for internal use, then it might be important to give them the option of machine translation plus post-editing.


About Amaya Montoya: Amaya Montoya was born in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain. She completed her degree in translation and interpretation in Madrid at the University of Cluny. In 2007, in collaboration with Gonzalo Urriza, she established her own translation company, On-Global Language Marketing, which is now one of top 20 language service providers in Spain.

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