By @SimonCocking

We are delighted to bring to you an interview with another successful Irish entrepreneur. Leonora O’Brien is the head of a dynamic Irish company, Pharmapod  @Pharmapod rapidly going places, at the same time as reducing harm to patients all over the world.

Niamh and Leonora at Office opening

What is your background?

I’m a qualified pharmacist and journalist.

What is the problem Pharmapod is trying to solve?

Millions of people are harmed unnecessarily by medication errors every year. One of the barriers to improving this situation is that there is a very low reporting of medication errors by healthcare professionals, so we cannot analyse the data and identify how our systems can be improved. As well as that, the problem for the healthcare professionals is that reporting errors is becoming a legal obligation; so we are providing the most effective solution to solve both problems. We help them record and analyse errors and problems with medicines. We help identify the common root causes and patterns over time so that further harm to patients is prevented.

Engine Team

How is Pharmapod doing?

We’re doing well. 2014 was all about raising a seed round, building our dream team, getting our systems and processes in place and establishing an experienced, supportive board.

What were your big wins in 2014?

We completed a successful pilot with the National Pharmacy Association in the UK and are now working with some fantastic thought leaders there. On average in the UK, only 1 error has been reported per year per pharmacy; our pilot increased this to an average of 5 per week per pharmacy – an improvement factor of 260. This is a vital first step in improving the system for patients and driving costs down in the healthcare system. Closer to home we also won tenders to develop an e-tool for pharmacists to assess their competencies and a training programme for chief pharmacists, the first programme of it’s kind in Europe, through the Irish Institute of Pharmacy (IIOP).

Anything you’d like to do differently in 2015?

Well, 2014 was all about laying the ground work in terms of product and preparation for UK roll out. 2015 is the next phase where it’s all about scale; we have some ambitious targets to achieve in terms of sales. It’s going to be a challenging and exciting year and the team are looking forward to engaging with hundreds of new healthcare professionals.

Most useful software or tools used this year?

Geckoboard is great, as it keeps our goals and progress constantly visible in the office – it’s up on one screen, so at a glance you can see how we’re doing. We also have an daily quote up there for an injection of inspiration.

What tech innovations do you wish were already invented and available to you in your line of work?

The ability to generate revenues and investment at the push of a button!

You’re active on twitter, with a following, any tips? 

I believe in ‘bringing yourself to work’ because we spend so much time there. I don’t suppress my personality at work or on social media. I think two things are most important,

1. To be yourself – sometimes I get useful information from someone’s account but no sense of who they are, which is a pity because people engage well these days with personality led businesses.

2. To be positive – life is too short to be reading negative comments. We do have a business account but as we’re B2B, it is more a nice to have. We find that direct engagement is more valuable to our community so that is always the focus. I personally follow Pharmapod’s Twitter account myself as I find the posts really informative! 

How do you define success and are you afraid of failure?

Success to me is just being happy and feeling like I’m conforming to my own agenda and standards and not to other people’s. I’m not afraid of failure; not because I think I wont ‘fail’ as it is commonly interpreted, but I really do believe you only ‘fail’ if you don’t try something. People who fail are enlightened. There’s a lot of celebration of failure at the moment, which I believe is a good thing because if we fail, there is a safety network to catch and support you. This helps ensure that important lessons on what works and what doesn’t are fed back into the business community.

It makes sense to consider why companies have not succeeded and our team have all read certain articles examining why companies failed. However, my advice to myself and the team is to absorb the tips and quickly move on. I think it’s dangerous to preoccupy yourself with the possibility of failure; it can be self-fulfilling because of the positive correlation between thought and behaviour. When you are running a business, you only have the capacity to absorb positive counsel that will help you succeed.

Well done on winning Irish Tatler Women of the Year 2014 (and Image) Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2014!!! What tips would you give to new businesses starting out?

  • Soak up the many supports available to startups, feasibility grants, early stage funding, accelerator programmes. The energy from the startup ecosystem can help you innervate your company. That said, I think it’s important to join networks for more mature companies as soon as you can, even if you’re told you are too early for that. I’d like to have a cent for every time I was told we were too early for something.
  • Surround yourself with good counsel and people that are more experienced than yourself. Look around for people that have scaled a business or exited, or earlier stage companies that have a strong sales process or are achieving significant revenue. Go for a coffee with them, or better, ask them if you can call into their office and get a sense of how they drive things.
  • Delegate and communicate well from the start. Never presume people understand exactly what is expected of them.
  • Don’t be a CEO if you’re not prepared to be a lead sales person, at least until you are at a stage where you have a full sales team. If you don’t have a sales background, do your best to upskill yourself.
  • Listen to your instincts about people and recruit the best. Only work with people that say ‘we’ not ‘you’.
  • Outsource what you can, for example, we use HR Suite for our contracts and HR counsel, an excellent, Irish company. I met their CEO Caroline McEnery through the Going for Growth business network.
  • When you have down days (and you will have many!), give yourself credit for the fact that you are trying and for what you have already achieved.

A number of US startups have included philanthropic goals into their businesses from the beginning, what are your thoughts on this? Should Irish companies be doing something similar? Nb your Community Christmas countdown was a great idea.

Thanks for that Simon. Alison, our Community Manager runs our social media accounts – she is a qualified nurse and her healthcare background fits perfectly with our culture of caring for customers as well the wider community. Personally, I couldn’t work for a company that does not demonstrate a corporate conscience. Whether you decide to include actual philanthropic goals into your business or not, everyone prefers to be involved with a company that does the right thing and all companies should strive at least for that.

Doing the right thing is about getting it right internally first – creating a culture with the right procedures and an emphasis on cash flow, accountability, respect and good management. This flows naturally into your external processes and everything you do, such as transparency and respect with customers, tone of engagement and focus on quality. This all helps build trust, which is the cornerstone of business. An ability to build trust levels can have a significant impact on revenues – it informs customers buying decisions as well as investment decisions. Demonstrating awareness for society and the greater good is also a feel good factor and motivator for your team and happy people are likely to be more productive; so yes, I think it makes good business sense for Irish companies.

Work / life balance, how should this be managed?

I try to think of ‘life blend’. To me ‘work life balance’ infers an equal distribution of time must be spent on both sides, work and life. You’ll never win at that game – you’ll criticise yourself if you’re spending more time on one over the other. It also separates work from life when the reality is our work is very much a part of our lives these days, especially if you’re doing something you love. I think as long as you’re achieving happiness on the whole, you’ve managed to get the right life blend for you and not what other people may think is right for you – everyone’s life blend will be different. I find spending time with friends and family and appreciating what I have helps keep me grounded and content.

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