Just do it, like… Padraig O’Sullivan, Paradering.ie

Tell us a little about your business Padraig…

ParadeRing.ie is an online thoroughbred catalogue for buying and selling horses. We give small to medium sized breeders and trainers a platform to sell their horses in a more cost effective and time efficient manner. We help buyers source quality Irish horses easily and provide great information on each horse. We created this online community for thoroughbred buyers and sellers to interact in a more convenient way. 

What inspired you to start your own business?

I loved horses and horse racing from a young age and was always interested in starting my own business so I wanted to work at something I loved doing.

How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?

I started talking to trainers and breeders around Cork to find out what their main problems were and found that selling their horses was their most pressing problem. They were complaining about the high costs of going to the sales and so I came up with the idea from talking to them and then went about researching the idea. I researched the market and put together a business plan to see if the idea would be viable. I got accepted to the IGNITE Programme in UCC which was a huge help and gave me lots of support. Through that I also got a mentor from the Enterprise Board, now known as the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), and this was great help to me.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Know your audience. For example, my customers wouldn’t be the biggest Facebook users so it’s better focusing my marketing in other places. It’s important to get to know what your customers use and don’t use so you can focus on the key areas that will get your message across to them. Try as many things as possible to see which works best with your customers.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

Getting customers is never easy and especially when you are a new company with a new product that has way of doing things that people aren’t used to. I needed to educate the customers on using the internet to sell their horses.

Who is your hero?

I don’t really have one, but I think what Jeff Bezos from Amazon has done is amazing when how on paper the company has kept making losses because he keeps re-investing in the company to grow and improve constantly. That is different to most companies and almost all start-ups can resonate with that philosophy.

What’s the best thing about having your own business?

It gives you freedom to work on what you love doing and you are not restricted to certain hours in the day. It also gives you a sense of pride to see something you have created standing on its own and trying to grow it to the best it can be.

Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Loads! I suppose getting it to market faster and getting more customer feedback as quickly as possible. That is the best way to make a product that your customer needs and wants to use, as you never know until you get them using it and paying for it.

What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?

At the moment we are working on a re-development of the site and are tailoring it towards horse buyers so it will be more useful to buyers from all over the world. We are working with the latest technology to help buyers to search, analyse and predict the best horses so they can buy for their individual needs.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?

Keep an open mind as you go along and always listen to what your customers are saying about their problems are and what they need.

Just do it, like… Will Martin, LiveDuel

So Will, tell us a little about your business…

LiveDuel makes games that engage readers of sports media content. Content producers already produce content on a daily basis, and LiveDuel’s games compliment this content and give it an extended life by adding readers’ thoughts and opinions. ??

What inspired you to start your own business?

Being a part of online communities is something I have been passionate about since I first went online in 1998. Bringing together strangers based around a shared interest is a powerful thing. Building games to help foster that community is something that I am passionate about.

How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?

A lot of hard work and conversations with people who could help me. Having the drive to get up every morning and just do it like is something unique to entrepreneurs as you can’t just go through the paces, you have to go above and beyond on a daily basis.

The South Cork Enterprise Board, now known as the Local Enterprise Office South Cork, and Enterprise Ireland have been a great resource and support.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Write things down and break things down into small manageable tasks. When I started on the IGNITE Programme at UCC I was told to write things down as you will forget things, and it reaffirms things having them written down in your moleskin. Breaking things down to their smallest parts ensures you can get through your to-do list but also to do it in a natural flow.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

Conveying the concept to customers, users, investors, mentors etc. Being involved in the idea so closely, it is easy to get caught up in it, so being able to communicate efficiently to people who have never heard of you is a constant job of refinement.

Who is your hero?

I don’t just have one. There are many thought leaders around the world that I take inspiration from, but the ones closer to home are people I look up to greatly. They have been there and just done it, and have all the time in the world for you if they think they can help you. People like Pat Phelan, Connor Murphy, Peter Coppinger and the SoundWave guys are inspirations and very easy to talk to and get value from.

What’s the best thing about having your own business?

Being able to build something innovative is something that I am fortunate enough to be able to do. Building your own company up from nothing has given me great experience in all aspects of business and I have met some amazing people. Being a part of that unique community is amazing and I love giving back to it.

Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Talking to customers earlier and focussing more on customer development instead of product development. It is easy to stick yourself in your office night and day trying to build your vision and put all the polish in the world on it, but talking to customers earlier will reduce a lot of the wasted costs and allow you to build a product your customers actually want and will use, rather than building something you assume they want.

What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?

Rolling out existing products to more customers, focussing on international growth and building on our product offerings with the help of our vision and our customer feedback.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?

It’s hard to just offer one piece, but talk to as many people as you can, don’t be shy and don’t feel like you can’t discuss your idea. If your idea can be copied after one conversation then chances are that there are many others out there doing the same thing as you. You will need help and guidance, so go out and get it. Distil this advice down and form your own opinion, it is easy to follow every bit of advice to the letter and end up going in circles!

If it’s a technology focused business, then attend a Start-up Weekend, it’s like a 3 day crash course in technology entrepreneurship and it will accelerate your learning, as well as showing you what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.

Just do it, like… Sarah O’Sullivan, Seahorse Atlantic

Tell us a little about your business Sarah…

Seahorse Atlantic, which I founded in 2013, produces Kelp Care, a natural Irish animal feed supplement, derived from 100% organically grown seaweed.

What inspired you to start your own business?

Once I finished my college education in Zoology and Marine Biology, I really wanted to have a career with research and/ or animals. From a young age I always had entrepreneurial tendencies and ran a successful cattery business for a year in-between school and college years, so I was never a 9 – 5 person. My passion and love of the marine environment together with animals brought me to the concept of the idea behind Kelp Care products. I could see huge benefits in the research into seaweed properties and how these could be utilised and developed into products to successfully treat poor causes of health in animals.

How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?

I initially self-funded a lot of the business at the early stages, and then approached the West Cork Enterprise Board, now known as the Local Enterprise Office Cork North and West, while I was living in West Cork at the idea stage. They provided the business with a feasibility grant which assisted in developing the product from concept right through to packaging etc.

I had to move back home to Cork whilst setting up the business and it was here that I approached the Cork City Enterprise Board (Local Enterprise Office Cork City) for a priming grant to help support my full time dedication to getting the business up and running.

I also took part in the IGNITE Programme which was of great support in offering advice, mentoring and practical training workshops along with support of fellow entrepreneurs like myself. I spent a full year conducting the research and veterinary trials behind the product before I set up the company in 2013, which is when I moved onto Enterprise Ireland to help grow the company internationally.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Never give up… if one idea does not work out, then you have just figured out one way of “how not to do it”.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

There have been so many challenges and each one has just spurred me on to work harder and never give up. The hardest challenge is asking yourself “am I doing the right thing?” when you have those days that are quite hard. Running a business is like a rollercoaster, some days good, some days bad. One of those hard challenges is being able to switch off from the business mentally which is very difficult as you almost become the business itself, also the amount of time and hours you put into the week makes seeing friends and family quite difficult.

Who is your hero?

I don’t have a particular hero but I admire anyone who puts themselves out there and gives something a go. If you have the drive and passion to try something out and not worry about the consequences, then I believe that is truly admirable in a person. Bill Branson always springs to mind, I am currently reading his book to keep my motivation levels up!

What’s the best thing about having your own business?

Best thing about it is when a customer comes back to me with a simple thank you or sends me a testimonial of how my once “idea”, now a product, has helped her pet/ horse’s life – this makes all the long days and hours worthwhile. A trend in recent testimonials has been “Kelp Care has changed both owner and pets’ life” which has been an inspiration for me to develop more for the future Kelp Care range.

Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?

There have been lots of things I would have changed, but each one has only made me stronger and developed me as an entrepreneur and as a person; so no, I do not think I would change anything.

What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?

The Seahorse Atlantic plans for the next 12 – 18 months are very exciting, we have a lot in the sales pipeline here and abroad, and we plan to develop into new markets and further develop our current markets. We hope to expand our team to reflect the growing demand for Kelp Care, and my main target is to conduct some exciting research and development into new Kelp Care products.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?

Be yourself, believe in your product/ idea, and if it doesn’t work the first time, there is an infinite number out there for trying and trying again, believe it will work! Always ask for help and assistance and approach your Local Enterprise Offices, they are there for friendly chats/advice and can guide you to the right point. Consider an entrepreneurial start-up programme that is connected with the Local Enterprise Offices, such as IGNITE in UCC or New Frontiers in CIT… and just do it like!

Just do it, like… Jack Crotty, The Rocket Man

So Jack, tell us a little about your business…

The Rocket Man is street food company that does farmer’s markets, events, and has just opened its first shop on Princes St in Cork City. I believe a healthy balanced diet should consist of tasty ingredients and plenty of them. For too long we have watched people suffer under the physical strain of dieting. It’s time to satisfy those cravings and no better way than with our range of salads, stews, pulses and seeds. 

What inspired you to start your own business? 

As soon as I hit college I discovered the ‘awesomeness’ of fast food. I came from a home of respect of real food and it wasn’t long before my body started fighting back. It was a harsh awakening but I quickly realised fast food meant bad food! I thought, why should convenience mean compromise?

I always wanted my own simple fast food concept and it’s been born from there. It’s not where I want it to be yet but it’s definitely getting there.

How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?

I was introduced to Rupert Hugh-Jones who runs the Mahon Point, Wilton and Douglas Farmer’s Markets. He demonstrated the perfect blend of commercial enterprise and true devotion to honest, proper food business. It was a risk free way for me to test the market. So, with full time job in hand, I started taking on markets and eventually became The Rocket Man.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Cater to your audience. If you have an idea and you want to force it on everyone then your time will be short lived. Listen to your customers and grow with them.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

I can’t particularly pin-point a challenge as my Everest, but everyday something comes up. It’s all about how you overcome the challenges really. Recently for instance, I had a veg order come in short and none of my suppliers could help; so I called around the English Market asking could I borrow and replace the veg the following day. Bearing in mind that it was also my first time introducing myself as Jack from The Rocket Man round the corner, I was very lucky and everyone helped me out. It’s there if you ask!

Who is your hero?

This is going to sound like I’m bragging for brownie points or selling a story, but honestly it’s my mum. Her support and style has shaped my business as much, if not more than, me over the last two years.

What’s the best thing about having your own business?

As much time off as you want and all the money… Eh no! Honestly, I’d have to say the notion that the sky’s the limit. And happy customers!

 Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Honestly, nothing. It’s better than I ever imagined.

What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?

If I told you that, I’d end up changing it. I plan to open my first fixed location this month. My main plan for the next 12 – 18 months is to make the best of that. Outside of that I’m just going to say yes to everything I can.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?

Remember you have a life outside of your work. Finish for the day and do something great. It took me a long time to learn that.

Just do it like… Mike McGrath, Supply.ie

Tell us a little about your business…

supply.ie is an online marketplace for Irish businesses that I started before I reached 30. It delivers value as it is easy to gather quotes which essentially saves companies time and money. supply.ie provides a “simple tendering” process for businesses with free usage for buyers, while the winning supplier simply pays a small referral fee. 

What inspired you to start your own business?

I always planned to work for myself when the time was right. I have numerous family members running their own businesses and I was inspired by their risk/ reward motivations. The ‘time was right’ when I identified a problem – as a previous IT Manager within an SME, I spent hours and days identifying, sourcing and negotiating with suppliers whereas now with supply.ie, we ‘shop around’ for our clients, to source the best prices and suppliers.

How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?

I got my very first clients through family, friends and contacts. I learnt very quickly the importance of networking and built up our first clients through organisations such as CorkMeet, Cork Chamber and it@cork.

South Cork Enterprise Board, now known as Local Enterprise Office South Cork, was also paramount at the start of this journey. Before we had any business, they helped with the business plan, queried our business model, and thereafter provided some much needed seed funding.

I was lucky enough to then take part in UCC’s IGNITE Programme, driven initially by Cork City Enterprise Board (LEO Cork City), which again ‘opened doors’ to get the business motoring.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I have been given lots of advice since I started the business but the best advice has been ‘to solve a problem that is big enough’. When we started out, we were focusing on ‘nice to have’ benefits, whereas now we continue to develop ‘must have’ offerings.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest initial challenge was the patience required to launch the business. I thought we would have our prototype up and running within 12 weeks, when in reality it took almost 12 months! That was an early lesson highlighting the patience and determination required.

Who is your hero?

Denis O’Brien. Being from Cork is a good start! However, building a business empire across numerous industries and continents is very enviable. Denis is also supportive of other entrepreneurs, while he has ‘failed’ a few times which is important in a role model.

What’s the best thing about having your own business?

The reward and recognition associated with success. Most aspects of the business are difficult initially, so the successes need to be celebrated.

Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Yes. Not going it alone would be one thing I would change. The right business partners could have driven the business forward at a quicker pace.

What are your business plans for the next 12 to 18 months?

Continue to grow, expand and add products and services that save our clients money.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?

Get your business model right before you invest time in a business plan. Talk to as many potential customers as possible to define a value proposition that resolves a pain for them. Searching for a business model is the most important task for any start-up.

Just do it, like… Brendan Finucane, Vconnecta

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.

Just do it, like… Richard Barrett, PunditArena.com

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.