Your background briefly?
After completing a Masters in Electronic Engineering in the University of Limerick in the early Nineties, I went straight to work for Siemens Telecoms in Munich. I returned to Ireland as a software engineer for Motorola and worked my way up through the ranks to head up its global division. But then the recession hit and the company shut down, meaning I was laid off. So I got together with my colleague Colum Horgan and we decided to take the leap and start up Aspira.
Does it seem like a logical progression to what you do now?
When I was cleaning out my desk after being made redundant in 2007, I found the CV that I had used to apply for that job seventeen years previously. On that CV, I had said that, one day, I wanted to own my own tech business.
So while it may not have been the most straightforward route, it seems it was always something I knew I wanted to do.
— Digital Week (@DigitalWeekIRL) November 8, 2016
What inspired you to speak at the event?
When I was considering setting up Aspira, I was blown away by the generosity of many business founders who shared their experiences and let me pick their brains. It struck me that there was no single formula for success – each person had a unique story to tell. Almost ten years on, I am always keen to pass on the lessons I have learned to people interested in setting up their own business. I share the reality – the ugly and the bad as well as the good.
What will you be talking about?
I will be focusing on how start-ups can use project management skills to establish and grow their business. Being both an entrepreneur and project manager, it can feel like having a split personality because, in one mode I’m taking risks and in the other mode, I’m working to minimise risk as much as possible.
What I find is that my project management approach has given me better insight into risks, helping me identify how to mitigate risk, and ultimately which risks to take and which to avoid.
Looking back at your own startup experience what would you have done differently?
Back in 2007 when we developed our first product, I made the call not to make it a Cloud product, because it was my belief that enterprise clients would not trust the cloud with their data. As it turns out, I was wrong – now, pretty much all new software applications are being developed for the Cloud, and Software as a Service (SaaS) offers huge advantages.
It was back in 2009 that we really starting focusing on cloud solutions, and the fact we now have almost eight years’ experience in this area has really paid off. Just this week, we announced our appointment as a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) Direct Tier 1 partner, an invitation-only programme restricted to those companies with the proven level of infrastructure and expertise required by Microsoft to manage their entire cloud customer lifecycle.
With the current digital tools available to startups does it seem easier to get a business launched in 2016?
There are two technology developments that make it much easier to start a business in 2016.
Social media has completely changed how businesses market themselves. Facebook and LinkedIn are available to all, regardless of budget and provide a direct link with potential customers. The challenge now is in finding a way for your business to stand out.
And as I already mentioned, Cloud-based software has had a huge impact, particularly on start-up costs. These days, rather than paying for expensive servers and software licenses, you can use SaaS products and pay monthly, greatly reducing the initial barrier to entry.
As a mentor what is the most common advice you give to startups?
When you establish a company, the culture within that organization – no matter how big or small – will be set by the worst behaviour you, as leader, are willing to tolerate. If you know a team member is coasting or not contributing fully and you do nothing about it, then others will think it’s OK to behave that way too.
I often think that managers and leaders don’t realise how important it is to lead by example. If you want your team to be enthusiastic and hard-working, you have to demonstrate all of those qualities yourself, every day. By demonstrating this behaviour, it will become your team’s norm.
What are you working on now?
Aspira has gone from strength to strength in the last three years, having achieved accelerated growth which was recognised just last weekend, when we were included on the Deloitte Fast 50 List for the third year running.
Our goal now is to capitalise on the recent successes and continue to expand the business in the next 12 months. Personally, my main focus has been on growing the range of services that Aspira delivers to both enterprise clients and public bodies. It has been a really exciting journey this far and we still have a long way to go!
— Digital Week (@DigitalWeekIRL) November 9, 2016