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Aberdeen entrepreneur sells his global Lingo24 venture 20 years after it began

Serial entrepreneur Christian Arno
Serial entrepreneur Christian Arno

Lingo24, the translation services business launched from a young entrepreneur’s bedroom at his parents’ home in Mannofield, Aberdeen, in 2001, has been sold to international artificial intelligence company Unbabel.

The deal, which was for an undisclosed sum, comes two decades after Christian Arno, now 43, got the Lingo24 ball rolling.

He went on to win a string of accolades, including a Shell LiveWIRE north-east entrepreneur of the year award, in 2003, and Scottish exporter of the year gong.

Christian Arno after being named Shell LiveWire north-east young entrepreneur of the year in 2003.

Mr Arno, who was Lingo24’s majority owner, is now steering Edinburgh-based eco-technology start-up Pawprint to success as chief executive.

His first stab at running his own business came in 1999, while he was studying in Italy.

The following year he set up, an online translation, proof-reading and European marketing service. Four languages were covered: French, German, Italian and English.

Science centre link

Mr Arno, whose father, Per, successfully oversaw the establishment and development of Satrosphere – now Aberdeen Science Centre – after its relocation to the Tramsheds in 2001, had already shown a flair for linguistics.

The former Cults Primary School and Robert Gordon’s College pupil studied French and Italian at Oxford University.

Nowadays, he can also get by to varying degrees in German, Spanish and Romanian.

His initial website – using professionally qualified translators around the world – evolved into Lingo24, which was formally established following a £5,000 loan from the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust.

One of the firm’s early projects involved helping Rothienorman-based Mackie’s of Scotland to sell its ice-cream in South Korea during the 2002 football World Cup.

The tie-up meant Mackie’s was able to communicate more effectively with a Far Eastern trading partner, resulting in significant ice-cream sales.

Today, Lingo24 boasts offices in Europe, the Americas and Asia, turning over around £11 million in 2019 and just under £8m last year, when Covid-19 impacted the business and its 138 payrolled employees.

Mr Arno took his Lingo24 business all over the world.

Commenting on the sale of Lingo24 on LinkedIn, Mr Arno said: “I had the privilege of working with exceptional people all over the world, and the business was a big part of my life.

“The business grew, and continues to thrive, with amazing customers like eBay, Eventbrite, Patagonia and Virgin Pulse.

“Today marks the end of that journey for me as Lingo24 has been acquired by Unbabel.

“Relationships built through Lingo24 have served me and the team at Pawprint well.

“Many of those involved as investors, employees or customers have invested in the Pawprint crowdfunder.

“Now, I wonder who I’ll call as we launch Pawprint around the world in 2022.”

Unbabel, which splits its headquarters between San Francisco and Lisbon, said its acquisition was part of its strategy to “bring consistent and reliable translation to businesses around the world”.

The company added: “The addition of Lingo24 means Unbabel can provide more consistent, high-quality multilingual customer experiences across marketing and customer service – accelerating international growth, while improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.

“Lingo24… is experienced in delivering multilingual content at scale for global enterprises, and will advance Unbabel’s vision of enabling businesses to execute on their unified language strategy.”

‘This… is an important step in our journey.’

Unbabel co-founder and chief executive Vasco Pedro said: “This acquisition is an important step in our journey to give global enterprises the ability to fast track and automate their language operations.”

Andrew Campbell, who took over as CEO of Lingo24 in 2019, with Mr Arno becoming the company’s president, said: “Joining forces with Unbabel means we can now grow beyond localised content and offer multilingual customer support to our customers looking to expand into new regions.”