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1st April 2010

Start me up




Some of Ireland's leading entrepreneurs firmly believe a recession offers the best opportunity to start a sustainable business, writes John Cradden.

If timing is everything, then this may not seem the perfect time to start a business but there is no shortage of successful entrepreneurs who would disagree.


The perfect time

Well-known Kerry entrepreneur Jerry Kennelly, who founded the Stockbyte photo imaging firm that he sold in 2006 for €110 million, says now is the “perfect time”. Basically, if you can hack it in this environment, you can survive just about anything, he said last year.


Learning to tough it out

One young, first-time entrepreneur in wholehearted agreement with this view is Ciara Crossan from Cork. Ciara, who started her company, the wedding venue booking service, in February 2008, says: “What I have learned in the last two years of being in business, you couldn't bottle. You couldn't learn it from any other company or in any college course.  Starting in a recession has kept us very diligent in terms of costs, and we have gotten this off the ground literally on a shoestring budget.”


Cash flow problems

Erratic cashflow is another reality. “It is hard to get paid, but then again that makes you focus on invoicing correctly, and doing regular, scheduled debt collection calls. So I feel it’s good grounding and learning for any entrepreneur.” “After all, they say if you don't have sales, you don't have a business, but if you aren't getting paid, you haven't made a sale,” adds Ciara. So far,, which lists wedding venues (mainly hotels) and suppliers around the country, has around 12,000 visitors to the site each month, says Ciara, who has a background in IT. She also writes a blog on weddings that gets about 2,000 readers a week. The company currently employs two people in the Rubicon business incubation centre in Cork, and was a participant in the 2008/2009 Genesis Enterprise Programme, funded by Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise boards.


Differentiate yourself

Ciara acknowledges that the hospitality industry is “probably the one that is hurting the most at the moment”. Part of the key to Ciara’s success to date is that is a little bit smarter than most other directory sites for wedding venues, of which there are quite a few already. “Our website is the only service that allows you to check date availability,” says Ciara “A big cause of stress at the beginning of the wedding process is setting the date and getting the venue nailed down. Without those two things done, nothing else can happen, really.” “From the hotels side, our website is the only one that generates qualified leads for dates they have available to sell, therefore more chance of conversion.” Ciara has big plans for the future, but the next year will be spent focusing on sales and raising capital, as well as a looking for a business partner in order to explore franchising options. In the meantime, she has been buoyed by strong support from the local business community. “There is a great feeling of like, ‘come on, we can do it!’ - almost an us against the recession mentality,” she says.



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