Ron, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for ITN.
You moved over to Ireland back in ’95. What brought you here?
Fell madly in love with an Irish girl in February 1994 (and I am talking madly) and followed my heart and moved to Dublin in November 1994. Got married a year later, now have two kids and a divorce.
Why did you stay?
For the kids. We have a shared parenting arrangement on a week on week off basis. Does not leave much room for travelling back to Holland.
How do you find Ireland compared to Holland?
Ireland is incredibly exciting. Holland is more boring. Holland is also much better organised, the less I say about that the better.
What do you miss about Holland, (or wish that they did here?)
My brothers, liquorice and cheese.
I love Holland, and the Dutch, but I find Ireland a little less dogmatic about some things, fair comment or not?
We have the tendency to raise our finger and wag it. We (=the Dutch) are dogmatic about some core principles such as liberalism and equality). Outspoken combined with poor command of English, does not mean we are dogmatic. Arrogant maybe.
You’ve written a lot about starting your own business over the years. How has it changed with the development of recent online resources, the ease of making prototypes and everything else?
Talking about dogmatic. I think we (myself and Brian O’Kane) were way too dogmatic about the need for a business plan. Which is invariably is the most boring document you can read. When you allow people to express themselves through a pitch or story, a start up idea comes alive in the way a business plan never can do.
Now I would advice start up to focus on the 30 second pitch first, the 15 minutes presentation second and the business plan third.
As a tool to prepare a business plan still works and in a perverse way it is probably more needed then ever. Starting is easy, staying is much more difficult and I am not sure the gamification of start ups paints a true picture for the blood, sweat and tears that are needed to create sustainable, long term success.
You love to read, and have been able to convert that into a business opportunity, tell us about that, and how it’s going (book buzz especially)?
I am a book geek. And have been since I was 4/5 years old. I love books. Which got me to writing books, publishing books and now I make a living out of reading business books.
Books expand the mind and why should it not expand an organisation? Why would you not have the best business minds help you with making your business the best possible? Why would you reinvent the wheel?
If you combine that with the need to (re-) engage staff you have a concept that combines the collective wisdom of the best business minds with the collective wisdom of the organisation.
What we do is we create context and contrast to business, issues, training needs, innovation challenges and use that a platform to engage solve and execute. Better solutions, high engagement, more cost effective, no need for consultants, lower barriers to change and higher acceptance of that chance. No need for the book. We do that bit.
Companies use us for briefings, engagement programmes, problem solving, communication, culture and training. But fundamentally we are about staff engagement.
We are part of the slow flow movement. When things start moving at breakneck speed, it is time to slow down
And it resonates. We have developed a very nice client list. More welcome.
The added bonus that it keeps me sharp(ish) as well.
As you have several other companies still existent too, how do you balance them all, and then as well the work life balance aspect also?
We were asked a long time ago to write a book on work life balance for entrepreneurs. It does not exist. It is work life management. Or about moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.
My personal view is that you need to understand what is important and it certainly not only about business. Family is more important. Health is more important. Well-being is more important.
The kick is in the sense of independence, achievement and freedom. But business success comes at a price and some pay a very high price.
Personally I think self employment is the only real option in the current labour market and the only way to achieve some equilibrium between work and life. If you love what you do, work is life.
PS If you bring it back to Holland, there they would have a much better understanding of balancing work with family life. In Ireland it is all mangled.
There is a big debate about whether Irish startups are scaling well enough to become global players? Is there anything you think they could be doing better / differently?
I am a fan of the German model where companies last for generations and are focussed on developing a LT income for the family. They are not concerned with scaling or global players. They are interested in long-term sustainability. My favourite book on this is “Hidden champions of the 21st century”, super niche, being the best, people and strong sales focussed. All family businesses.
We’re starting to see some interesting tech businesses grow out of Dublin. Do they need to move to California, or can they continue to grow from Dublin?
Why USA? Why not UK and tap into the commonwealth? Why not look at business and scaling models that allow you to stay in Ireland. Why not apply the upcoming technologies to make it location independent. Location might become less and less relevant. Happy staff that are happy where they are, might be more important.
UCD Innovation Academy, you’re a mentor. How’s that going? What are the fun parts of this role?
Worse, I am the resident entrepreneur. My job is to help anyone in the innovation academy to move their ideas forward. They are not beating the door down. Which is a bit disappointing. Entrepreneurship is about leveraging all the resources at your disposal as much as you can. Maybe I am not seen as a resource.
And that is my fault. Should be more verbal about the 20,000 entrepreneurs I can access through Smallbusinesscan, my own network of contacts and friends, which is not bad and the experience I have with literally hundreds of start ups and businesses. If you need help, contact me, I can and I will.
The fun are the people, the passion, the new and wacky ideas, the limitless possibilities, the buzz, the hunt, the contact sport, the innovation, the conversation, the diversity, and I can do on. I am an entreprenerd.
Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and a lot of other people with successful ventures, also got involved with initiatives to help humanity. What’s your own particular philosophy on this?
We just started to use a book called “exponential organisations”. An absolute cracker. To grow in the new world we live in, you need a “transformative purpose” that staff and client can belief in and aspire too. I think social entrepreneurship and “normal’ entrepreneurship will start to merge.
It has too. The old way of doing business has destroyed our planet, it is time to take a more holistic approach. If you want a wake up call, I suggest you read “Leading from an emerging future; from ego system to eco system”.
How much legacy should be left for the kids, to ensure they have healthy balanced lives, but not so much that it causes problems for them?
One of my key priorities has always been my kids and I try to lead by example. Including showing them that self-employment is the only option and to be allowed to follow their heart, their passion and their talents. I am a fan of Ken Robinson. As a parent you should read “Out of our minds” or watch him on TED.com.
Struggling a bit with the education system. Not sure it allows for that attitude and I am fairly sure they are not getting prepared for the new world. So I have ensured that both my kids have arts as one of their subject. And try to stay out of their way.
Did you play any sport? It can be a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs. Any thoughts?
I run and cycle (which is part of the Dutch DNA). I do stay to stay fit. Mentally as well, which is why I meditate as well. I think there is massive overlap between sports and business. I think that entrepreneurs are the athletes of the business world and that entrepreneurs can learn a lot from top athletes. Particularly about commitment, persistence, the ability to suffer and the laser focus on the end game.
There is an increasing amount of books about this. From “Coherence” (the physiology of Leadership) to “Move, eat , sleep” (health) to “Rare find” (character and attitude as key factors for talent).
Is there anything else I should have asked you?
What are the books every business person should read?
Ok, enlighten me?