Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week he talks to Grant Straker, co-founder and CEO of Straker Translations.
You might have seen a great tech story recently about a globally successful Kiwi company offering its staff the ability to work in Gisborne, so they could enjoy that city’s lifestyle, cost of living advantages and great quality of life. It was just the latest in a long run of cool initiatives from the company, Straker Translations. The family-founded tech company has become a global success, with offices, partners and 40,000-plus translators working all over the world. Former paratrooper Grant Straker is the company’s co-founder and CEO, and he joined us to talk the journey, opening up high-growth to more people, and what’s next…
Shall we start with opening up tech and high growth to people from all kinds of places and backgrounds? You didn’t have a tech background in the early days, did you?
It’s a journey that I followed with my heart in some ways. After leaving the army I studied engineering which then took me into computers. At the age of 30 I hadn’t even really turned a computer on. I was at an engineering firm and started to work with Excel to model some calculations and it wouldn’t do what we needed, so I took a look under the hood and realised we could actually program this stuff. So I taught myself how to program and eventually the IT guys in the company were asking me to write software programs which I thought was a bit strange because I had taught myself how to do this.
So I thought, if I could do a course on this it would make sense, so I went off and did the course and ended up knowing more than the instructors. The lesson for me was that I really enjoyed doing it and I was obviously quite good at it. When you find something you like, are good at and can make money off, it all matched up together.
Having a paratrooping background, you would have dealt a lot with discipline and team structure. Did these kinds of skills come in handy?
Discipline for me is not so much about getting told what to do but more disciplining your life: apply yourself to the right things and you get the right outcomes – this is something I try to teach my kids. If you don’t apply yourself you won’t get the outcomes; when you train and learn, it teaches you to do the best you can.
I came from a military family so we were taught from a young age to push yourself to your limits both physically and mentally. I think in business you find the same thing: to achieve the really really hard things you’re going to reach a point where you don’t want to [continue] any more and so you’ve just got to keep going. That’s what paratrooping taught me: keep pushing your limits.
Did you know you wanted to create your own thing?
I don’t think so, I just really followed my heart. There are times in your 20s where you just want to go surfing, drink some beer and play a bit of footy right? And that’s when you should be doing it, because later in life you’re not going to be able to get that opportunity. After leaving the army I used to play in a pub band in London and that was probably some of the best years I’ve had. Me, my brother and my friend would play footy and in pub bands every night and it was great fun.
I think I knew I had to do something to make money or make a career, but I learnt that the corporate environment wasn’t quite me. I knew I needed to be my own boss because I wasn’t very good at working for other people.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.