Found in translation

Straker Translations is a Māori founded and led business based in New Zealand is taking on the world and succeeding in the competitive and in-demand field of language translation – while also setting a market-leading example for other Māori businesses in the Kiwi tech industry.

A famous philosopher once said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” In an increasingly globalised business world, being able to communicate across languages is the key to creating unlimited business opportunities.

In Māori culture, language is seen as a precious treasure – or taonga – that should be highly valued and nurtured. It was this very approach that led to the Māori language – te reo Māori - finally becoming recognised as an official language of New Zealand thirty years ago.

It is fitting then that a New Zealand-based Māori owned and led business is taking on the world and succeeding in the competitive and in-demand field of language translation.

Straker Translations is a cloud-enabled translation services provider, which over the last five years has built a technology platform using Artificial Intelligence that enables human translators to deliver faster and more accurate translations at a lower cost.

“You name it, we translate it – computer games, smartphone apps, website localisation projects, historic manuscripts – anything that needs to be understood in one language to another,” says CEO Grant Straker.

With capabilities for translating more than 70 languages, the company’s Auckland based team liaises with over 5,000 professional translators and 10,000 customers each year, using the power of technology.

In the 18 years since the company was established, Straker Translations has matured in financial and cultural strength to the point where, today, it is recognised as one of the world’s fastest-growing translation businesses.

In fact, out of more than 27,000 translation vendors worldwide, Straker Translations is ranked in the top 100 by the industry’s leading research organisation.

With major centres in New Zealand, Spain and the USA, as well as sales offices in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, the UK, Ireland and Germany, the company offers a 24/7 service to customers – a valuable capability in the always-on world of international business.

So, how did this company, founded by a Māori ex British Paratrooper who links back to a small Māori community near Putāruru, achieve such success?

“We started on this journey with the realisation that machine learning was going to play a significant part in the translation industry going forward,” says Straker.

“We could clearly see that the blend of humans and machines working together was going to gain efficiencies that would match the explosion of content and global trade. Our challenge was to build the world’s most advanced translation platform”.

“The result of our innovation was that we could produce rapid translation, delivering exactly the same quality as traditional agencies, but considerably quicker and more cost effectively.” 

Straker says that being an industry outsider and based a long way from primary markets, he and his team had to believe they could build a product that would solve issues that global customers were facing.

Additionally, having served in the military, including several years with British paratroopers, Straker understands the vital need for discipline and commitment to delivery.

“I was inspired by my ancestors – they took long, risky journeys in small boats to get here and had to figure out how best to do that. I thought if they could do that then we can, as a relatively small company, successfully engage with the world. ‘Not giving up’ is central to Māori culture.”

Straker cites his Māori heritage as providing a solid foundation for the company’s success, and he works to imbue Māori values throughout the work they do.

“We’re not just trying to build a super-fast growing, make-lots-of-money tech company – we’re trying to build something that’s sustainable for our customers. As they say on the marae, you’re just a custodian, there to preserve the marae for future generations.”

“For us, it’s about using the core culture that we’ve developed in New Zealand and employing staff around the world with a similar mindset and values,” says Straker.

“We bring staff to New Zealand to meet the team and engage with the Māori culture. Many have never had a marae experience, so it’s great to do that with them and get them more immersed in our company culture”.

“Storytelling is part of being Māori. This helps our people better engage with customers, who trust us to translate their words accurately and allow them to tell their story to wider audiences.”

That customer trust has resulted in several awards for Straker Translations, including the Te Tupu-ā-Nuku Award for Business and Innovation in 2017, a New Zealand International Business Award for Excellence in Innovation, and the Innovative Service Product Award at the 2015 Hi-Tech awards, among others.

Straker says it has been important for him to take these awards back to his marae.

“We accept awards on behalf of my iwi – my tribe – to show our young people what’s possible. Māori have done incredibly well in sports and other domains, but technology and business is what we really want to get them thinking about,” he says.

“The Māori tech sector could be the most successful within the New Zealand tech industry. There’s a long way to go to achieve that, but the first step is changing the perceptions around Māori, and of Māori themselves. We need to showcase that from the ground up and from the top down.”

For Straker Translations, it’s an approach that has already translated into great success, and will no doubt continue to do so in the future.