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More than 20,000 customers, 4.4 million translated words processed every month, 80 different languages – Grant Straker, founder and chief executive officer of Straker Translations (, knows their stats read well in any language.
The world translation industry is high value, and highly competitive. Worth an estimated US$36 billion, it has approximately 27,000 vendors each vying for a share of the global market. 
“We translate some fascinating things, from ancient manuscripts to long lost World War II postcards, to subtitles for foreign television advertisements,” explains Grant from his office on Auckland’s North Shore. Projects range from single page legal documents for members of the public, to complete books and technical publications, complex multilingual websites, videos, games and apps. Around 80 percent of the company's clients come from the corporate sector, including multinationals such as Fonterra and Caterpillar. 
The global translation industry is in good health, and that US$36 billion figure is growing year on year. Grant believes this is because translation addresses one of the business world’s biggest but most basic constants: “True, we’re all working faster and closer than ever before, and geographical workplace boundaries are blurring, but there will always be the obstacle of language when it comes to business,” he says. 
Ironically, export-led growth and finding their place in new territories is just as much of an issue for translation providers. “Competition is intense in this part of the world. We’re performing well at home – our domestic sales contribute around six percent of our total revenue, but at the moment our principal export market is the US, which accounts for almost 40 percent of total company revenue,” says Grant. 
Straker Translations operates predominantly in nine markets, including the UK, Germany and, of course, Australia and New Zealand. It leverages revenue in several ways. “Google AdWords is very important to us. We have fine-tuned our online advertising overseas, and that has been our main customer acquisition channel to date. We currently spend around NZ$1 million on online advertising annually,” he explains.
Straker localizes its various multi-language landing pages to ensure maximum exposure through its online advertising. A lesson for wider business? Grant believes export success can be achieved by getting to know the local markets and understanding that some approaches which might work in some countries, might not necessarily work in others.
“It’s not enough to simply translate a website from one language to another. Localized content, which shows an understanding of local markets, cultures and business practices, breeds customer trust and loyalty,” he says. 
“There are countless examples of companies, big and small, not doing their local research, assuming that just because one campaign worked in one territory, it will automatically work in another.”
Satisfyingly for Grant, Straker’s repeat custom level is off the scale – a 140 percent increase from corporate clients for the first quarter of 2013 compared to the first quarter of 2014, “so we must be doing something right.” 
Award winning
Straker Translations was named ICT Exporter of the Year at last year’s Auckland ExportNZ Awards and has just been announced as a finalist in the Grow Wellington Innovative Services category for the 2015 NZ Hi-Tech Awards.
Tech company or translation service? The answer’s both, but Grant insists it’s the technology that gives them an edge. The ultimate aim is to provide fast and easy translations by automating the service as much as possible.
“Our technology requires less human interaction, and reduces human touch points,” he says. Straker’s own in-house intelligent software matches up language pairs instantly. A team of translators then get to work, giving the translated text ‘sense’, while tackling any cultural nuances in language and differences in layout, such as when translating the different character sets of Chinese Mandarin, for example. 
The Straker pricing model for larger assignments is based on per hour costs rather than per word, which is different from the industry norm, enabling Straker to make significantly higher gross margins than the industry average, while being cheaper for the client.
“We always use qualified and expert native linguists from [each] particular country, who understand the complexities and intricacies of communicating in the specific target language. We also have real-time views for large projects, so clients can see exactly how their job is progressing,” adds Grant.
Translators are regularly tested, to maintain standards, and clients can select specific translators to work with, who might have specialist translation expertise in a particular sector (be it healthcare, legal, engineering, etc.).
Across time zones
Straker’s pool of translators numbers around 5,000, so it has the capacity to branch out work at any time of day anywhere in the world. There’s also a dedicated behind-the-scenes support team of 50, working out of offices in Auckland and Barcelona, with an additional sales force in Washington State. “Having centres in New Zealand, Europe and the US means that we have that work overlap – the business operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It’s a far cry form Grant’s days as a young Kiwi in the British Army. As a paratrooper he saw service and was present when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. 
A driving accident cut short plans to become a commercial pilot, so he returned home to New Zealand in 1994 to study mechanical engineering. After initially selling software to companies to fulfill their own translation needs, Grant saw a window of opportunity and Straker Translations became a ‘complete’ translation company in 2009. 
Grant believes his export strategy has been instrumental in his success, and the company is well on its way to achieving a growth rate of 50 percent a year. He has ambitions to build the business until it hits the $100 million turnover mark, and there are plans to list on the NZX's new NXT market in 2015.
“We’re growing fast, but we’re not growing recklessly. Growth has been steady, but deliberately so. We built and own our entire technology stack, and we manage the whole translation process from beginning to end. 
“I like to think we’re in charge of our own destiny!” 
Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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