Tell us a little about your business…
Ottera, which I founded with Kieran Desmond in March 2013, is a leader in proficiency based progression training technology for high value training such as Healthcare. Our technology in the form of video capture glasses, a docking station and clinical training software have been quantitatively proven by world renowned experts to reduce critical and non critical errors of Healthcare professional trainees by 49% and 65% respectively.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I have always looked at very successful people not in awe, but rather with curiosity, asking myself a number of questions. Why can’t I be that successful? Why can’t I achieve what they achieved? Why can’t I employ the amount of people that they employ? Why can’t I build a company as large as they did? As soon as I realised to take the word “can’t” out of the equation, I decided to start my own business.
How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?
Ottera was developed during UCC’s IGNITE Programme in 2013 with the financial support of the Local Enterprise Office South Cork (formerly South Cork Enterprise Board) and Allied Irish Bank. In addition, Ottera has built up a working relationship with world renowned training experts, as well as Healthcare trainers and trainees all over Ireland since 2011.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Pay yourself first” – As soon as I decided to pay myself a reasonable salary it was like a switch went off. My time became more and more valuable to me. So much so that I was getting much more done and delivering much more value to the company. If I kept going on and telling myself “I don’t need a salary at all” the company would be stagnant and not be where it is today.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
Credibility – We started the business when we just came out of college, so looking back we were naive. I was good at college projects and getting the top results but very inexperienced in the real world. This really impacted our credibility in the early days, as most people would look at us and think but not say – ‘Sure these guys are straight out of college, they couldn’t be charging that money for the thing’.
In most fields, particularly a field like Healthcare, credibility is very important. We overcame this by aligning ourselves with people with the credibility we needed. For example a world renowned expert in proficiency based progression and a number of very innovative Healthcare professionals. Now anytime we talk to people they instantly treat us differently.
Who is your hero?
Billy Connolly – Billy originally started off doing something he was reasonably good at – playing the banjo. He used to do gigs where he would play music and then tell jokes as a side. It was then he realised that he was in fact a better comedian than a musician, so he decided to become a professional comedian. It’s here he found his calling as it were. People told him over and over that he could never break into the US comedy. After numerous ups and downs of trying to do it, he finally got his break and is now one of the world’s best comedians. Plus the guy is hysterical.
What’s the best thing about having your own business?
Input = Output when you have your own business. I am a firm believer that what you get out of something is directly related to what you put into it. Putting everything you got into a business where you’re an employee, will indeed show a good return/ output, however I believe that if you do the same when you’re the business then you will get the best payback as you are investing in yourself. You’re building your own long term value.
Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Don’t be afraid to say no. At the beginning we were so naive that we thought we could enter the Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry and Veterinary markets with our technology at the same time. We met a lot of people at networking events who would say things like “Hey you should really talk with this guy, he’s a dentist/vet/surgeon/lecturer in X”. We would meet the person and they would suggest an initial few changes to the technology, followed by another few and so on… you get the picture. Different markets wanted slightly different tweaks and importantly, each one loved our technology and vision. Saying no to anyone of them was never part of our mind-set. However after a number of months with very little success trying to satisfy all, we finally decided to be brave and say “sorry but we can’t right now” to all markets except one – Medicine. Looking back we should of said no much sooner.
What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?
In the next 12-18 months we will be on our first funding round to grow our team and take the US and Canadian markets by storm with our technology. In addition we will be establishing a number of innovation centres within a number of selected Universities & Hospitals around the globe.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?
Time is precious, so for heaven’s sake value your own time. I must hold my hands up here and say that I have previously underestimated the worth of my own time. It has taken me eighteen months to realise that my time is precious to both myself and the business. In addition, I have noticed that if you value your time more, 1) You will deliver more value to your business and 2) People treat you differently, but for the better.