Start up a Fighting Chance

As coach to ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor, John Kavanagh is someone who knows a great deal about the dedication, effort and commitment that goes into achieving success. After starting off teaching martial arts in a small shed in Dublin, John now runs the globally-renowned Straight Blast Gym which has eleven locations around the country.

We caught up with John at the recent AIB Start-up Academy Dublin Summit and asked him about the importance of self-belief and mentorship.

How important is it to have belief in yourself when starting off in business?

It’s a bit scary and a bit daunting to do something from scratch on your own. There will be days where you doubt yourself, so you definitely need to have that self-belief. I also think that you need to surround yourself with people who are similar to you and who can pick you up when you’re having a down day. You’ll be able to do it vice-versa with them. I’m pretty selective about the people I hang out with. I want to be around high-energy people who can boost me along when I’m not quite there.

As a coach, you act as a mentor to your fighters. How do you approach this role?

When a fighter is starting off, they’re able to lean on me a little bit because they’ve seen the experience I’ve had and the success I’ve had with different fighters. One of my main roles with them is to make them accountable. If they tell me they want to be a champion, I measure the hours they’ve been training. If they’re not training like a champion, they’re not going to be a champion!

Is there any advice you’d give to someone who was considering starting their own business?

Number one for me, in whatever you’re doing, is to make sure you really really enjoy it, because you’ve got to be ready for long, long hours. An average week for me is 60-70 hours and anybody I know who works for themselves would have a similar story. Unless you really enjoy something, you won’t stick with it!

Why Every Business Needs a Growth Strategy

Setting up a business is hard, but growing your business can be even harder. Have you got a successful business and aren’t sure how to plan for growth? Read on for some expert advice on devising a growth strategy.

Sasha Kerins is a tax partner with Grant Thornton in Kildare. With over 16 years of experience in tax advisory roles, she has also advised businesses in areas including e-commerce and construction. We spoke to Sasha to get her expert opinion on devising a growth strategy for your business – and some of the pitfalls you need to watch out for when expanding.

Every Business Needs a Growth Strategy

“Strategy in business is really important from the point of view of focus. To identify what your strategy is, you’ll need a business plan in place. The business plan identifies the milestones that you need to hit to achieve that growth.

One of the key questions in any plan or strategy is: where are you adding value? What is the proposition of your business that’s going to differentiate it from everyone else out there? Asking those questions is a key element of any strategic process.  That will identify where the growth is in the business, be it nationally, within Europe, or internationally.”

The Importance of a Constantly Evolving Business Plan

“The business plan should be a constantly evolving document. Remember, it’s both an operating tool that you can use internally within the business and a marketing aid externally – from a funding perspective when you go to talk to the bank, from a grant perspective when you go to talk to various different government bodies and from a third-party investor perspective.”

Factors to Consider When Growing Your Business

“When you have a strong existing sustainable business and you look at growth there are two important questions that you need to ask:”

  1. Where is the growth going to come from? If it’s a manufacturing business you may need to scale up production or outsource. You may need to take on new employees which has its own cost. With growth, is it going to add to your margin or are you going to have to sacrifice some of your existing margin to achieve it? There’s no point in growing the business for the sake of growing it if it’s not going to give added value and add profit to the bottom line.
  2. How is it going to be funded? Cash is key to all businesses. You need to consider whether you’re going to use existing cash within the business to fund the growth or use external providers. The real risk is that you could end up being in a position where you’ve used funds from the existing business or you can’t fund what you’ve planned to fund over the period.”

A trademark strategy for your business

In today’s modern and fast paced consumer society, the importance of brands cannot be underestimated. Never before has there been such a vast choice of products and services on offer to consumers across the world. When a company devises a new product, part of the creative and marketing process involves constructing a brand or trade mark for that product, writes David Flynn of FRKelly.

A trademark helps to separate similar products sold by competing companies and helps customers to remember a certain product.

Customers who are satisfied with a particular product link the trademark of that product with reliability and quality. This creates trust and means that in the future the customer will make repeat purchases of goods sold under that trademark. What this means for businesses is that trademarks are extremely important marketing tools and can add substantial value to a company and its products. Before adopting and using a new trademark, a company needs to have a clear strategy of how it intends to protect that trademark and prevent others from using it.


Searching Strategy

It is all well and good developing a new brand but a company needs to ensure that the trade mark is available and is not being used for a similar product by a competing company. It is crucial to conduct a search of the relevant trademark registers to ensure a third party has not already registered your trademark.

A comprehensive trade mark search requires specialist software as well as an understanding of trade mark law. A simple internet search is not sufficient. A trademark practitioner can review the results of a trademark search and give a good indication of whether a mark is available to use and register.

Business involves risk and while a trademark search is not infallible, it helps a company assess the risk posed by adopting a particular trademark. If a company launches a new product on the market without undertaking a search, there is a real chance somebody else has exclusive rights to use that trademark. This can have serious and severe commercial repercussions for the business such as a total re-brand, the granting of a court injunction to stop using the mark, damages and whole product lines having to be destroyed. A trademark search helps to reduce the risk of this happening.


Filing Strategy

Before launching, a business needs to be sure what territories it will be selling its products in. There are different registration systems available to secure trademark rights. For example, it is possible to register your mark on a country-by-country basis by filing national trademark applications, e.g. if you only want to protect your mark in Ireland, then you can register your mark by filing an Irish trademark application.

If you will be exporting to Europe, a very cost effective option of securing EU-wide trade mark rights is by registering your mark as a European Union Trade Mark. This gives you exclusive trademark rights in all 28 EU member states. There is also the option of the International Trade Mark System. This allows a company to protect its trademark in over 98 territories by simply filing one application and selecting the individual countries it wants its International Trade Mark to cover.

Launching a New Business or Product

Your business or product launch is the first impression people will remember. These five steps can help you make your launch a success. It’s not enough to create a great business or product. If you want to be successful, you need to take steps to plan and execute a well-timed, memorable launch that will bring your product to the attention of more people in more locations.

In today’s competitive marketplace, businesses need to begin their promotional efforts before they actually start selling their wares. Additionally, companies need to find ways to stand out from the noise while making the right first impression on early adopters. Here are 5 steps for launching a new product in a way that’s smart, strategic, and most of all effective:

1. Conduct Testing

Just because you’ve created an ingenious product that you believe fills an existing dearth in the marketplace doesn’t mean you’re ready to start selling. Good business owners take time to test their new items and perform necessary adjustments. Before listing a product for sale on your website, or stocking it in your retail store, send out complimentary versions for trusted clients to test and evaluate. The goal is to collect feedback from surveys and focus groups so you can make any needed improvements before releasing the product to the market. One of the reasons that testing is so crucial is that it ensures a product’s first impression with buyers will be a positive one. After all, if you release a flawed or buggy item, customers will remember that fact and be loath to try future versions. The internet means shoppers have virtually endless options, and they are unlikely to give a second chance to a disappointing company or product.


2. Contact Influencers

Blogs and social media sites are great for marketing new businesses and products online. However, if you only post about your brilliant invention on your own website, you’re unlikely to generate the sales results you desire. Instead, startups should target key influencers, or trusted brand advocates, in their chosen industries. Start by creating a list of popular bloggers, social media experts, and even high-profile customers, who have shopped with you before. You can then email or message these individuals and ask them to review a free sample of your product. If they like the item, the chances are good that they will blog about it or share details with their social followers. The goal is to generate buzz and excitement about a product before you launch and identify any outstanding issues that could affect your item’s ability to generate a profit.


3. Get Your Team Excited

It doesn’t matter how strong your product is if your marketing and customers service teams aren’t behind you. Before launching your new item, it’s important to educate your employees and get them excited about the item. Ideally, you will also involve product managers and sales staff throughout the item’s development, so they can weigh in on aspects. To prepare your team members for launch, sit down with them to discuss the product ahead of time and ensure they have the resources needed to support customers and answer their questions. For best results, create a number of small but attainable goals so employee morale stays high throughout the launch.

The AIB Start up Academy Bootcamp

Noel Davidson is the lead trainer with the Entrepreneurs Academy and the AIB Start-up Academy Bootcamp – our new nationwide initiative that aims to provide entrepreneurs with the tools to make their business a success. Taking place in 19 locations across the country, each Bootcamp is a comprehensive half-day workshop designed specifically for people for people who are in the first few years of their business – covering everything from market research to networking, sales and finances. We spoke to Noel to get some practical lessons for business owners direct from the Bootcamp programme.

1. Take Time Out

Taking time out from your business is a theme that Noel returns to again and again. In fact, he sees it as the most important lesson of each Bootcamp. “For many people when they start up a business, it just becomes a job that they work on day-to-day and that they’re essentially stuck in,” he explains. “Our theory is that you shouldn’t see it just as a job. Instead, you should be aiming to build a business – work on the business rather than get stuck working in the business.”


2. Leverage LinkedIn

Noel is a staunch advocate of the power of the wisdom of crowds, and points to LinkedIn as an essential tool for business research. “The power of recommendation is huge,” he says. “If a business contact is recommended to you, you can look them up on LinkedIn and see the contacts you have in common. Which means you can research them before you do business with them.”


3. The Power of Search

Another everyday tool that can have immediate benefits for business owners is Google. It’s something that everyone is familiar with but Noel believes isn’t used to its full potential. “We’re all used to using Google every day,” he says. “But when we type something into Google, we often ignore the bottom of the page that shows you related searches. So, if you type in your business area or type, you’re going to see other things that people have been searching around that topic. Not only can that tell you what people want from your product – it can tell you whether they want it at all.”

Through the Lens of a Dedicated Follower of Fashion

He’s only been in business for five years, but Evan Dohertyhas already gained a reputation as one of the most sought after photographers in Dublin. The 31-year-old from Bayside counts Dunnes Stores, Debenhams and Ryanair amongst his many commercial clients. What’s more, he regularly shoots fashion advertorials with the top models like Vogue Williams, Rozanna Purcell and Teodora Sutra.

“Most days I’m so busy that the phone is constantly ringing,” he says. “It’s hard work but I’m not complaining.” Although he has long had a love of photography and always showed an artistic flair, Evan studied Sound Engineering after school. He soon found it was not for him and left after a few months to take up a role as an assistant chef working on Irish Ferries. It was only when he was made redundant in 2011 that he decided to study photography.


A Change of Direction

“Taking pictures was always a hobby for me. It never occurred to me to try to make a living from it,” he says. “But when my friend’s mother suggested that I do a year-long course in photography at Marino College of Further Education, I decided to give it a go. After that, I did work experience with fashion photographer Barry McCall.”

Evan was then offered a place on a fine art photography course in Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. Although it was a four-year course, Evan found he was being offered work with top clients after just two years and decided to leave. He hasn’t looked back since.


Learning on the Job

“I threw myself into it head first,” he laughs. “And in many ways, I learnt on the job. It helped that it was around the time of the changeover to digital from analogue photography.”

However, he emphasises that it’s not just the ability to take a good photograph that makes a good photography business. “You have to have people skills too,” he says. “And be good at marketing yourself. Of course, there is all the admin to manage too. It may sound glamorous – and believe me, it is at times. I travel all the time, work with celebrities and shoot in exotic locations. But it is a lot of hard work and you’ve got to have a good work ethic.”


Getting the House in Order

That’s where AIB’s MyBusinessToolkit came into play. Evan discovered the service when he opened a business account with AIB last year and has found it an invaluable tool ever since. “My accountant used to laugh at my accounts,” he says. “Realistically, it’s hard to keep track of finances when you are working all day on the job and you’re tired in the evenings.”

“What’s more, in the first couple of years I had to spend money to update my equipment on a regular basis. I needed a good computer and hired a studio on George’s Street. I used to just spend without thinking about what money was coming into my account, and I used a personal account for business so I mixed the two.”

Manually light gas lamps on the streets

Before electric lamps lit up virtually every city across the globe, people were employed to manually light gas lamps on the streets. In the 19th century, this laborious trade was the dominant form of street lighting in Europe and were provisioned by small group of firms who sprung up to cope with the seemingly insatiable demand for such lamps.

However, it wasn’t the inevitable emergence of the electric lamp some half a century later that ultimately extinguished those businesses, but an unwillingness to embrace change. ‘Lampers’ understood the energy market and had the infrastructure in place in every major city.

Nevertheless, as electricity seized bigger and bigger shares of the market, these firms simply stood idly by and watched while their business faded away — undone by a lack of foresight.

Innovations which initially feel disruptive eventually become fundamental to basic business functions. While Lamplighters had time to see the shadows looming over their industry, nowadays change can come in an instant — just ask 9 out of 10 startups who fail.

Regulation Liberation

In December 1998, Eircom (eir for younger folks) was the only Irish telecoms provider, by the start of 2001 — there was 77. Following telecoms deregulation in the US & EU, the Irish Government followed suit, allowing for full competition in the telecommunications industry.

The global-change signalled the impending digital export and telecoms revolution. After years of simple “local” aspirations, Ireland was finally positioned to enter the global stage.

Two decades later, Irish business and communication has transformed. With the rise of smartphones (2.1 billion shipped by 2021) and the shift towards the ubiquitous cloud — the progress and has been relentless and the opportunities for growth, endless. Even long-time hardware giant, Cisco — who in 2016, successfully transitioned into a software model, restored 6% of their stock offering in three months.

Gas lamps lit up cities for the first time before being usurped by a more effective solution. The next stage in communications technology is already facilitating a more dynamic approach to business.

The Mobilised Business Model

Irrespective of the product, service being provided or period in time, business has always had two underlying actions; communicating and collaborating. One of the greatest assets of any firm is the combined knowledge and experience of its employees. However, it’s also a challenging resource to adequately harness.

In a highly-competitive marketplace, the most informed decision-makers thrive.

Ideas and insight need to be transmitted and put to good use effectively throughout the organisation. Efficient communication is the key to perfecting this process.

Excellence in Irish Beef Production

A passion for livestock inspired Thomas Halpin to follow his father into farming. And it’s a passion that has served the County Meath farmer well, as he’s transformed his farm by introducing efficiencies and increasing output. From improving grass management to introducing a closed herd system, Thomas shares his insights into driving efficiencies with the help of AIB Farm Finance and reflects on The Big Picture for beef farming in Ireland today.

Read on to see how Thomas makes the most of his farm.

Planning for the Future

“I took over the family farm in the mid ‘90s and was fortunate that my dad gave me the opportunity to do so. And it’s evolved since then,” Thomas explains. “Originally it was sheep and store to beef and as circumstances changed, we started developing a suckler herd here bringing all the progeny to beef.”

“We felt we needed to drive the farm on. We had a young family coming through. We had to maximise what we had,” he adds. “The idea behind it was to raise output – particularly through grass – and there was a lot of work to be done to get us into a situation to achieve that.”

As part of the transformation, Thomas took part in the Teagasc Better Farm Programme and brought in new processes. And with the farm continuing to develop, he is optimistic about the unique appeal Irish beef has to offer consumers.

“The big picture for Irish beef farming over the next few years is that I think there is a great story to be told,” he notes. “It’s a very challenging business, the beef business, there’s no doubt about it. Markets can vary and prices are a constant source of battle.”

“But I think if we produce beef as efficiently as we can and markets can provide a positive return for us, there is a future there. We produce a great product, it’s fully traceable and it’s grass based. I think there is a great selling point there. Hopefully those markets can be found to pay a premium price for a premium product.”

Expanding the Herd

Passionate about livestock since his initial introduction to farming, Thomas has focused on efficiently developing the herd over the past number of years – a process that has included the adoption of a closed herd system.

“When we started, we had approximately 60 suckler cows,” he explains. “We now have 100 on the farm. We’d hope to increase that a little bit if we can. It’s a closed herd here – by that I mean we breed our own replacements. We only use limited AI. We use stock bulls running with the herd. It’s probably slower in so far as you’re breeding from within. But we feel long-term, we have better control over the genetics.”

With three stock bulls, each offers unique traits to the herd and its development. “We use three different stock bulls,” Thomas explains. “We have a Charlie bull, predominantly for beef production. We use a Simmental bull with high maternal traits and his progeny is used for breeding. Then we use a Limousin bull for easy calving for first time heifers.”

“There is split calving here on the farm, we calve in February and March, we also calve in June and July. That increases the groups of stock on the farm but is easier to manage. We chose to have two separate calving dates from a labour point of view and from a health point of view, so we’ve not calving all at one time and we’re reducing the risk of an outbreak of disease.”

Introducing Efficient Grass Management

Along with a closed herd, Thomas has concentrated on ensuring the grass management system is as efficient as possible by introducing a paddock and roadway system to the farm.

“Grass is the most important thing to get right on the farm. It’s the cheapest most natural source of feed that we have, so we have to utilise it properly,” he says.

“We work on the basis that the cattle have 2-3 days grass ahead of them and no more. The idea is that you would grow it in three weeks and eat it in three days. 10 cm is the ideal height to let the cattle in and then the grass goes down to about 4 cm. We take the cattle out after 2-3 days and it encourages regrowth and grass will come back more quickly.”

Irish Talent to Flourish in the PorterShed

Ever wish you could hack the secret to the perfect work/life balance? Well, if you’re a startup looking for a place to call home in Galway, then PorterShed may be the ideal base for your business.

Located in the city’s Innovation District in the Docklands, the centre is an AIB-backed initiative to offer a co-working space and support to SMEs and startups locally.

Opened last year, the space is a hit with companies already. And its community is only set to grow. Charged with the role of Innovation Community Manager at PorterShed, Mary Rodgers works at the heart of the bustling entrepreneurial group.

“There was a real need for a space like this and it has proven itself that way,” she explains. “We’ve gone from 0-64 tenants in ten months. Of the 24 companies that work here, at least 10 of those were working from home or commuting to Dublin. Others were out at incubation and hadn’t been able to move on yet.”


A Communal Space

Along with providing working space to businesses, the co-working environment offers people the opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other’s experiences. A crucial asset for any startup, Mary acknowledges the importance of this communal aspect.

She explains: “It’s so good for collaboration. In fact, there are two companies that come to mind that would not still be in business if it wasn’t for the support network and community in PorterShed.”

With high-profile members including Altocloud and Adoreboard, the access to experienced entrepreneurs makes the culture in PorterShed an exciting one. And the space offers a host of other benefits too.

Mary reveals: “There’s a lot of support from the local community also. For instance, our local coffee shop gave us a coffee machine and we had barista training. Now everyone’s making flat whites and mochaccinos! We also have beer on tap from a local independent brewery, who supply it free of charge. And we’re backed by AIB, what can I tell you? It’s great!”

The Inspirational Story of Ocean Bloom

As a grandmother of four and a qualified aromatherapist, Ocean Bloom founder Cheryl Cleminson has always been interested in skincare. But it wasn’t until a member of her family was personally affected that she discovered the power of seaweed. “When my grandson Alfie was younger and suffering from baby eczema, we tried all the products on the market, even the natural ones, and he didn’t get ease from any of them,” she explains.

By chance, she got chatting to an elderly lady in the community, who mentioned in her day they would take the children down to the sea and bathe them. This was just the spark of inspiration that Cheryl needed. “I started thinking about it and I collected some seaweed and made a baby seaweed bath for him and his skin started healing,” she says.

She began experimenting by blending the seaweed with oils and created products for family and friends. They were a hit, and someone suggested she should make a business from it.  She subsequently enrolled in a business course with her Local Enterprise Office and began an in-depth study into growing seaweed and its health-giving properties.  It’s been a whirlwind adventure ever since.


Launching the Business

Cheryl confides that getting the business up off the ground was one of the bravest things she’s ever done.  She’s bootstrapped it from the beginning, handling everything from product development to filling the containers.  She notes: “To start a business, usually people save up or they have all these processes in place, I didn’t have anything in place. I would lie in bed and feel a bit panicky and think, ‘I’m too old for this’.”  But hearing how her products work made it incredibly rewarding. “I think people coming up to me and telling me that the products have made a difference to their skin is the biggest highlight,” she says. “If I can carry on making a difference to even a few people, that’s the best reward.”


The Importance of Good Advice

For anyone interested in starting their own business, Cheryl offers the following advice: “I think it’s important to have a bank who knows you and has a good insight into your business.  You can have a magnificent business plan but if you haven’t got a bank who believes in it, then it won’t work.  I believe going to your local branch, to people who know you, is so important.”

It was the staff at her local branch who first told Cheryl about MyBusinessToolkit, a package offering access to a suite of five leading business tools, from Sage Accounting and Payroll to the bOnline website builder.

Having access to MyBusinessToolkit through AIB and in particular Sage has helped Cheryl to keep everything organised. She explains, “Since using Sage in MyBusinessToolkit, I can actually see how much I have in my account and how much I’ve spent on products and that gives me an idea of where my account is at.” The software is also a huge timesaver. “At the moment my time is so taken up with the business and Sage just frees me up.” Knowing that she won’t have to move to new software when the business grows is also a huge plus. “I know that Sage will grow with my business,” she says.  “Some of the other packages can only cope with a small amount of money going through it, but with Sage there’s no limit so I can just carry it with me as I grow.” Being able to pick up the phone and speak to a dedicated customer support person from BCSG is also a huge plus.