Brendan, tell us a little about your business…
Vconnecta, founded in 2012, combines extensive political experience with the latest cloud and mobile technology, to deliver the most innovative and sophisticated voter relationship management software on the market. Our main product is currently Ecanvasser, a solution to help plan and manage election campaigns and constituent engagement.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I founded Vconnecta after choosing to develop an early prototype of Ecanvasser as a research project in college.
I had been involved in political campaigns at both a local and national level and saw firsthand the need for a more intelligent and innovative solution than pen and paper to manage something as complex as planning political canvasses over large electoral territories. Politicians and their campaign staff were spending massive amounts of time doing data entry, and even sticking pins onto maps to plan target areas, and the whole system seemed old fashioned and inefficient given that other industries with similar needs were already adopting far better systems.
During an election campaign, especially at local level, resources are extremely stretched — it often comes down to a big effort by the candidate and a small group of friends or family members – and it seemed like a massive waste of time to be doing manual data input when there were far more pressing priorities at hand.
As I had a background in technology, gained both during my degree and at a placement in a Cork software company, I thought that I had the skills and knowledge to put the bones of a product to solve that need together. The business essentially grew from there.
How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?
I received a Business Priming Grant from the South Cork Enterprise Board, now known as the Local Enterprise Office South Cork, as well as a place on the IGNITE Programme that helped tremendously to bring the product to a level at which I was confident in exhibiting it as a prototype to politicians in Leinster House.
From there, it was a lot of hard graft with very little pay until I received a six-figure private investment from an angel investor who came onboard in April 2013. Since then, we have grown from just myself to a team of six in about nine months. The scale of development and expansion has been incredible and has exceeded our forecasts.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best piece of advice that I was ever thought of was to go with your gut!
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
Everyone on the team counts, and each member has to adopt skills and take on responsibilities that might be outside their job description if they were working at a bigger firm.
But that’s also part of the joy of it – no-one’s workday is boring or repetitive, including my own, and we all get to try our hand at things that we might not have done before. It’s a process of growth as well as a necessity.
Who is your hero?
Steve Jobs’ philosophy of concentrating on design and usability, and letting everything else follow on would be similar to my own outlook. I also agree with his belief for the product to be “insanely great”.
What’s the best thing about having your own business?
The flexibility of working on a problem in your own time, which you can bring your own ideas and creativity to. I also enjoy the challenge to get to grips with various different skill-sets that I mightn’t have had the chance to if I were working somewhere else.
Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Implementing ideas gained from our user feedback sessions has been integral to our growth so far, and has enabled us to deliver a solution that has exceeded peoples’ expectations.
I don’t believe you can ever spend enough time listening to your customers. Convening these groups from the get-go, before we even had a product, would have made our launch even smoother.
What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?
The plan is to expand the team to nearly double the amount of staff we currently employ within that time frame. Increased development and technical resources will inevitably lead to an even better product and will also allow us to expand into the UK within the next eight months, ahead of our previous forecast. Given that we’ve just recently begun operating in the US, this will be another hugely exciting time for the company.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?
If you have an idea for a business just do it! Get talking to as many people as possible, and take it from there.