Tell us a little about PunditArena.com Richard…
PunditArena.com is a Cork-based sports media website powered by articulate fans and established journalists, that I co-founded with Ross O’Dwyer. The site is making waves in the digital media sphere and 2014 has been a big year so far. Our company launched last November, and now has over 200 contributors, a sub-editorial team of six, and a further trio involved in digital marketing. Traffic to the website has increased substantially with over 70,000 users of the product in the last month. We’ve just been named Bank of Ireland/ IGNITE Business of Year 2014 which is a great honour!
What inspired you to start your own business?
There was no real ‘eureka’ moment per se. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I wanted to start my own business. I guess it was quite progressive.
I had worked a number of jobs growing up; varying from landscape gardening to teaching but was always left with a lack of fulfilment. I felt that I could offer more to certain things and working for someone else was quite restrictive.
I’m an advocate for testing something in the market and then analysing the positives and negatives. We do a lot of that at Pundit Arena. In previous jobs, I had to adhere to certain guidelines and that restrictive aspect was very off-putting.
Having set up a sports website in early 2012, I decided to apply for the 2013/14 IGNITE Graduate Business Innovation Programme as I knew the benefits of earning a place on such a prestigious innovation programme. Luckily, the decision to apply for IGNITE paid dividends tenfold as that’s where I met my business partner, Ross O’Dwyer. Ross was also involved in online sports media and had experience in early entrepreneurial ventures so we decided to co-found PunditArena.com after little over a week.
How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?
Eamon Curtin, course director of IGNITE, was instrumental in helping Ross and I get Pundit Arena off the ground. IGNITE gave us access to office space and invaluable mentoring, while also providing us with funding. It was a great start for our business and I think we’ve been in the office more than we’ve been home over the last ten months!
The fact that Eamon is available at all times is a massive help. His door is always open and the support he has provided has definitely enabled Pundit Arena to progress so far in such little time.
The support of the Local Enterprise Office has been monumental in helping us to expand Pundit Arena. We received a priming grant and a marketing grant, and Sean O’Sullivan of South Cork LEO has been very supportive from the beginning.
We were also lucky enough to receive an innovation voucher from Enterprise Ireland that enabled us to build our app, which will be launched in the coming.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I think the following quote from Drew Houston of Dropbox resonates with all entrepreneurs: “Don’t worry about failure, you only have to be right once.”
In business, you’re going to have highs and lows and it’s a person’s perseverance (or lack thereof) that ultimately determines their future.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
There’s one day back in early 2014 that will always stand out for Ross and I. We found ourselves in a situation where we had an abundance of high-quality content, but were struggling to get people to read it. Then it dawned on us: we had the correct product, but had no distribution points. Once we mapped out our distribution points and implemented a plan on getting our content in front of the right people, we never looked back. We’ve broken every traffic target since.
Who is your hero?
I think it’s tough to put my finger on any one particular individual. There are a number of people that have influenced me in different ways, and it would be disrespectful to others if I was to choose one above all. I have no doubt a few of them are reading this right now. Everyone has different advice and opinions and it’s important to utilise the best parts to advance myself and the company.
What’s the best thing about having your own business?
The pleasure of watching people using and enjoying your product is something special. To take a business from nothing and watch it grow into something that has been used by 70,000 different people in the last four weeks alone is a feeling like no other and it motivates you to work harder day on day.
Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?
I think at the start we found ourselves falling into the trap of analysis paralysis. We were listening to what everyone else wanted, rather than getting the product out in the market. We learned a lot more in the first week of the site going live than in the previous month’s research. Research is important, but you learn a lot more from releasing your minimum viable product.
What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?
We have just started our seed funding round and are currently seeking investment to scale the product. We will be making a number of hires in the final third of 2014 and we have no doubt that this will help us to accelerate Pundit Arena’s growth.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?
Cancel your holiday and appreciate the people that are supporting you, be they mentors, family or friends.