In the sixth issue of GALA's "If I knew then ..." blog series, our CEO Gary Muddyman shares his insights from founding Conversis back in 2003.
Back in 2003 I made a decision. Frustrated at working in a very large organisation, I spotted what I perceived to be a gap in the translation and localisation market. I was and am convinced by the role it could play as a strategic business tool, and thus Conversis was born. My first challenge? To determine what would make us different.
Looking back as a new entrant to the market at the time, the scale and diversity of our competition, real and imagined, was overwhelming. Fast forward 15 years, and there are 30,000 suppliers of language services worldwide, each vying to establish Unique Selling Points (USPs).
In any industry, USPs are difficult to identify and even more difficult to develop. Within the language services industry – a sector in which quality and attention to detail are basic prerequisites – there has always been a strong temptation to passively accept the scale and scope of competition, and concentrate on ‘just being excellent’. In the early days, that is exactly what we did, and to a certain extent it worked, but growth was slower than I expected.
As a long-term strategy however, I never felt that simple excellence was enough. It bought us a ticket to the game, but didn’t make us memorable, unique or invaluable. It soon become clear to me that differentiators really are vital. Learning from the best in our industry, those successful businesses that managed to find that uniqueness, that are confident and consistent in what they do, was a real lesson. Ours is an industry with some clear, stand-out, excellent businesses that are a benchmark for the rest of us.
We therefore set about trying to answer the ‘why Conversis?’ question. Why do we do what we do? Why do our clients continue to work with us? These are questions we continue to ask ourselves on a regular basis. Because even though we are confident that we know many of the answers, we can’t ever assume we know them all.
If I had a time machine and could go back and give myself some helpful advice, I’d tell myself to be committed to establishing the differentiators from day one. To consult my peers, listen to client feedback, and trust my instincts from the very start. To perfect, perfect, perfect those differentiators - then review and perfect them again.
I would emphasise the importance of good communications, to all stakeholders, in that they should be both clear and unambiguous. I’d reiterate the importance of managing expectations, internally and externally. I’d encourage myself to be confident, but not to make false claims. And I’d remind myself to continuously ask ‘what difference are we making to the client’?
Ultimately, I’ve discovered that the best decisions are arrived at through consistent application of two essential states of mind. Firstly, the application of calculated bravery – that is the drive to make innovative, brave, but considered decisions. Secondly, the ability to remain curious. Business changes and markets change. Be restless in the search for knowledge.
While these mantras have no doubt proved invaluable in my day-to-day running of a growing business, it is an approach that has also paid dividends in terms of understanding how and why we stand out from the crowd - the essence; the ‘special sauce’ that drives our clients to continue dealing with Conversis over alternative suppliers.
As Conversis continues its journey, pushing towards the revenue ceiling at which many small companies stall, I am more convinced than ever of the value of differentiators. I am also very aware of the associated difficulties in establishing anything ‘unique’ in such a crowded market, particularly as a start-up.
So, in the absence of time travel, I will continue to regularly ask myself ‘why Conversis?’, and to seek the recipe for that ‘special sauce’. I’ll let you know how I get on.