Meet Anna Bastek, the Polish entrepreneur translating exports into profits

Anna Bastek's company Wolfestone has landed contracts with the likes of IBM, NATO and Coca-Cola.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 18 May 2016

The financial crisis and its aftermath may have slowed down the pace of globalisation, but the four corners of the earth continue to be increasingly well connected. International trade has recovered slowly since 2009 and was up 2.9% last year according to the World Trade Organisation.

One of the  companies hoping to take advantage of this trend is Swansea-based Wolfestone, a translating firm that was founded back in 2006 and now counts the likes of NATO, Coca-Cola and IBM among its list of recent clients. The firm is the creation of Polish entrepreneur Anna Bastek, who moved to sunny South Wales in 2004 to work as a marketing manager for a small electronics company. After watching the company grow, she decided to strike out alone.

'I was thinking about starting my own business because my boss wouldn’t give me unpaid holiday,' she tells MT. 'I got the travel bug and had very limited flexibility in that job. I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny and be my own boss and have flexibility.'  

The obvious route might have been to start her own electronics business, but Bastek had other ideas. 'Wolfestone was one of the ideas I had because it had low entry barriers I didn’t need much investment,' she says. 'I could just utilise my skills which were marketing and building a business up from nothing.

'I didn’t know anything about the electronics industry when I joined that company, but I learned it very fast. It was the same with translation. I’m not a translator, I didn't know anything about it, I just thought I know how to get customers, I need to know what the demand for the product is, and how to sell it and market it.'

After initially running the business part-time because she couldn't afford to quit, she eventually got Wolfestone into a position where she could make a living from it and took the plunge. Now the company has a network of more than 8,000 translators, who adapt websites and marketing copy for new markets and translate technical, legal and financial documents. It turns over 'a little over £2m', employs 40 staff and is making a profit.

Not bad for a business that's taken on no debt and is still fully owned by Bastek and her business partner Roy Allkin. The pair also launched a spin-out company, VoiceBox, last year, after discovering a rapidly growing demand for translation of media content, like video, audio, subtitles and dubbing. It's still a young business but things are picking up. Bastek says she is having to take on more staff to keep up after landing contracts for the BBC, Warner Brothers and Sony at a recent trade show.

It may be growing, but the translation business isn't immune from disruption. Google and Microsoft have both ploughed lots of cash into language software like the latter's Skype Translator, which converts speech into a different language in almost real-time. Bastek doesn't seem daunted though.

'A lot of our competitors are scared of it and they don’t want to embrace it...[some] translators are very old-fashioned in their thinking and obviously they think they don’t want to lose their jobs,' she says. 'Google has its uses, but you wouldn’t use it for highly technical medical, financial or legal documents, or to translate your website if you really want to have an impact on customers.'

South Wales may not be the most obvious place to start a business, and Bastek admits it can be difficult to find enough staff. Nonetheless, 'there’s actually more benefits than obstacles,' she says. 'There’s a lot more Government support, overheads are lower, our profitability is a lot better than a lot of our competitors in London. The transport links are pretty good. Because we do a lot of business electronically anyway, it doesn’t really matter where we are, and some of the people I’ve employed actually live in London and don’t come into the office - they just work from there.'  

Bastek says the UK is '100%' a welcoming place for foreign entrepreneurs to start a business. 'I came from a communistic background in Poland, so obviously everything was owned by the Government', she says. 'I didn’t know any entrepreneurs, nobody in my family ran their own business. There were a lot of restrictions and red tape. It was really hard. And when I moved here it was so refreshing to see there were no barriers – anybody can start their own business.'

As well as Wolfestone and Voicebox, Bastek, one of MT's 35 Women Under 35 2014, also owns a couple of property businesses, is vice-chair of the Wales Exporters Association and is training for an iron man triathlon. 'I’ve got a lot of hats at the moment, but I like being busy,' she says. That's just as well.

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