Small Business: Rapid growth - in any language

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Grant Straker's advice to other growing firms is to bring in investment sooner.
Grant Straker's advice to other growing firms is to bring in investment sooner.

Rapid growth for a new business is exciting and daunting at the same time. Grant Straker, founder of Auckland-based translation company Straker Translations, has seen his business grow by more than 1000 per cent in the past two years.

Last year's turnover was $3.6 million, compared with $150,000 the year before, with the present year heading for revenue of up to $7 million.

Straker Translations came into being three years ago. It emerged from Straker Interactive, which developed multilingual content management systems and then went into building translation tools.

"We could see being a translation company was better than building tools for translators so we pivoted, renaming the company Straker Translations," says Straker.

The company translates documents and websites and operates in a $40 billion industry.

"Two years ago we had 12 staff and now we have 35, including eight in our European offices in Ireland and Barcelona," says Straker. "We have had to move to bigger offices in Auckland and add another layer of management."

The company's extraordinary growth is attracting notice. In March this year, Milford Asset Management's Brian Gaynor invested $2 million in the business, which is investigating a potential stock market flotation in the next 12 to 18 months.

This kind of growth has a price.

"Early on it was very, very hard work. My wife Merryn and I, along with our European office manager, were working 18-hour days and every weekend," says Straker.

The bulk of Straker's sales were to Europe, the US and Asia so the team were contending with a "24/7 delivery cycle". It had to build up staff numbers to run an effective shift system between New Zealand and Europe.

"With no capital other than our cash flow, this took a while to do," says Straker.

The company has a relationship with the translating department at the University of Auckland University, which sees it hiring graduates.

For any business to have growth problems is a good thing, says Straker. Straker Translations' clients are coming in through various sources including Google AdWords.

Customers include Fonterra - Straker translated the dairy products exporter's Chinese website - energy and mining companies in Australia, a German engineering company and game developers in the US.

With the right systems in place, high demand can make you a better performer, Straker reasons.

"We could see each time we delivered for a client we got better and more efficient and we have also been building up a growing list of repeat customers."

Straker's advice to other fast-growing small businesses is to bring in investment earlier.

"We tried this and got turned down or had unrealistic valuations, so had to prove the model was going to really scale, which we did this year." That is when Brian Gaynor became involved.

"Milford Asset Management is bringing some good disciplines, which we will need as we head towards a listing. ... It's good to get a new partner in the mix looking in and giving advice."

Straker has big ambitions.

"We would like to build a $100 million turnover company based in New Zealand. We got investment in order to build a significant New Zealand company and not to build some sort of strategic value and then sell."

Top tip

Work hard until you are at a point to get investment at the right valuation and from the right people.

Best business achievement

Survival.

- NZ Herald

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