Personal Growth

Disruptive DNA: Conor Bracken

January 2016

Irish-born entrepreneur Conor Bracken is well-known in Asia-Pacific business circles as the CEO and founder of Andovar, a multi-million dollar localisation and translation company with locations on three continents. Bracken is also a regular speaker at business conferences and a founding director of the Irish-Thai Chamber of Commerce.

His remarkable success in growing Andovar from start-up to an enterprise now employing over a hundred staff, was born as much from a sense of adventure and a struggle against the odds as it was from determination, drive and a strategic approach to business opportunities.

Bracken, never short on new and innovative ideas, says he's constantly looking for new opportunities to disrupt traditional industries, with moves afoot for new clients in the financial sector

The Struggle

Bracken left his hometown of Dublin, Ireland in the mid-1980s to study computer science at University College, London. Although his interest in technology served Bracken well in later life, the financial struggles of student life propelled him at first in another direction and he left before completing the degree, enticed by the broader possibilities he saw would open up by studying and work overseas as a teacher in Asia

Teaching work eluded Bracken - but he followed his entrepreneurial instincts and, in the early 90s, moved through several countries in Asia looking for new opportunities. His stories are varied and colourful, including running a successful hotdog stand in Hong Kong before planning on a teaching job in Japan. En route, he met with an accident in the Philippines. Hampered by a difficult recovery and mounting medical bills, Bracken also missed out on the teaching job in Japan.

It was a defining moment. Bracken had just 500 baht (twenty Australian dollars) in his pocket when he landed in Bangkok, which offered a cheaper lifestyle than Japan but also plenty of opportunities. Now determined to make a go of it in the bustling city, Bracken taught English - while teaching himself to read, write and speak Thai and to become expert in layout and publishing software. His first-hand insight into the technical and practical difficulties of translating to and from Thai led to his first startup, one based entirely on his newly acquired and in-demand language skills.

Bracken soon found a financial backer - for his start-up focussing on Thai localisation projects. As the managing director and driving force behind the operation, Bracken owned a 30 per cent share in the company and a small salary. Over several years, the company grew to 100 employees and expanded to many more languages.

However, with new investors coming on board, there was a shift in the culture that impacted Bracken's role. This is when, in 2007 he decided to go it alone and establish – Andovar.

 

"It was only as I grew as a CEO that I did things in a more strategic way."

Learnings from starting-up

Having full control of his new company, Bracken believed in the niche market he had identified as ripe for localisation services. He concentrated on high-end projects, Andovar offered technical translation expertise, the latest audio and video technology and project management skills.

By providing a full-service localisation service, Bracken leaves the smaller text translation projects to the plethora of companies in this market, instead concentrating on projects that encourage innovation.

“It was only as I grew as a CEO that I did things in a more strategic way. I decided that I wanted to look at specific industry sectors, focusing on e-learning gaming, apps and online travel," said Bracken.

He believes any larger localisation companies could be at risk of being" dinosaurs, as they're unwilling to evolve along with a growing number of operating systems, device types, file formats and coding platforms."

He compares his philosophy with that of entrepreneurs in the California Gold Rush, where the supply of goods and services was often more lucrative than gold-mining. This strategy worked, as in the first few months, a single $200,000 contract partly accelerated the company's startup phase.

Today, Andovar is headquartered in Singapore and has additional locations in Thailand, India, Colombia and Miami.

“Twenty-four hour production is the aim, and the primary decision when selecting company locations. In fact, future plans for the company include an office in Dublin, which will give ready access to European clients and reduce the requirement for late shifts in India and Thailand."

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Philosophy for Success

In his business activities, Bracken is not afraid of a challenge. “I do have an appetite for risk, chasing industry sectors that are complex and constantly changing. I can't be successful by doing the same thing as I did last year," he said.

“Being aware of barriers to entry is a critical part of a company start-up. Nobody can copy my company or strategy. Many can try but it's not something that you could easily replicate, given the complexities involved," said Bracken.

Looking back, Bracken says the best moment of his career was securing his first big clients in the early months of Andover's start-up phase, and realising that turnover would exceed one million dollars in the first year, after starting with nothing a few months earlier.

And the worst – being fired from his own company.

Meanwhile, the future holds plenty of opportunity. “I am approaching the point where I could consider an IPO or an acquisition by a larger company," said Bracken.

His struggle is a part of who he is. His move from poor student to wise leader complete - despite not completing his degree, Bracken has become a leading entrepreneur in the region.

 

Contributing Writer: Michael O'Dwyer

Contributing Photographer: Vincent Sung