We asked a number of established Cork entrepreneurs to share their gems of wisdom and advice with young entrepreneurs in the region.
First up is Ciara Crossan, founder of WeddingDates.
Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to start your own business?
After completing a BIS degree in UCC I took off travelling for a few years. I ended up going into an IT recruitment firm in Melbourne to see if they could help find me an IT job. As it turned out, all of their clients wanted someone who already had IT experience but the recruitment agency themselves liked me and offered me a job with them!
When I moved back home to Ireland I stayed in the recruitment field but went in-house to the HR department for Apple. When my contract ended I moved to Abbot Vascular in Clonmel, again in the HR department recruiting 450 production operators. Moving into a medical device company was a big change for me with all of the corporate structure and processes and procedures. I then took 3 months out and travelled solo to Ghana to volunteer in a small school there. While in Ghana I really had time to reflect on my life, the path I was taking and what I wanted for the future. It was there that I made the decision that I didn’t want to work in a corporate environment anymore, I wanted to do something that would challenge me creatively and test all of my skills.
My family background is in the hotel industry, so like a lot of new business ideas, the concept of WeddingDates was developed around the kitchen table. At that stage, 7 years ago you could easily book a hotel bedroom online in a couple of clicks but if you wanted to book your wedding there was no easy way to do it. I knew instinctively that the modern couples planning their wedding would want a more efficient way to find out this information and so – WeddingDates.ie was born. Newly engaged couples log onto the website and can search hundreds of hotels, venues and suppliers that have availability on their chosen wedding date.
How did you get your business off the ground and what supports did you avail of?
I started the business in a home office with a small start-up business loan from Bank of Ireland in February 2008. I had meetings with the Local Enterprise Offices in Cork City and South Cork, and was appointed a Mentor by LEO South Cork (formerly SCEB). Colette Quinn, a market research expert was assigned to me and was a massive help in scoping out the market for my idea and doing the initial research. I applied for the Genesis Programme in April 2008 and was delighted to get a place on the programme. The Genesis program enabled me to avail of free office space for 1 year in the Rubicon and participate in intensive training and seminars with various experts over a year long period. It also opened the door to Enterprise Ireland and apply for CORD funding which contributed to my salary in year 2.
Looking back now, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Probably not, any mistakes I made I learned from along the way.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone considering starting a business, what would it be?
Reach out for help straight away. There are fantastic supports available through the local enterprise offices to help get you started. Research your idea extensively before you start – particularly your revenue model. You might have a great idea for a service that lots of people would use but if no one will actually pay for it then you probably don’t have a feasible business.
Anything else you would like to add?
It is never too early to start selling. Too many entrepreneurs wait till their product/ service is “perfect” before talking to potential customers but the truth is, it will never be perfect and you can get fantastic insights and feedback from prospective customers even before you launch. The hoteliers that I did my initial research with on my early concept before www.WeddingDates.ie was even live turned out to be my first customers, and 7 years later they are my most loyal customers and advocates.
To any budding entrepreneurs out there I would say “Just Do It, Like!” – IBYE could be the ideal launch pad for your business.