Research essential for getting success in the bag
Inside Track:Russell Walsh, GreenSax
What’s the unique thing about your compostable product business?
It’s becoming less and less unique but when we started out about 12 years ago the environment wasn’t as popular a subject as it is today so we were slightly ahead of our time.
Our products are inherently environmentally friendly and inherently safe. Most of what we do is patented as well so we feel that a lot of what we do is new.
For example, we developed a product for a cable tie for election posters.
We were offering a biodegradable alternative so when it went up to tie posters in place it wasn’t going to be there permanently.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Do the research. I probably learned that from Enterprise Ireland because they are always going on [about it]. The chances are if you don’t do it you will get it wrong and that’s expensive.
My brother quotes Ben Hogan, the golfer, who says: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
When we launched the green stake [a biodegradable horticultural product], there was huge opportunity in the US given the size of the golf market there but we didn’t do enough research and we signed an exclusive agreement with someone. It wasn’t the right company for us.
It cost us a lot of money to unwind that agreement and we lost a lot of time.
And your major success to date?
We have been lucky. Probably the major success in the early days would have followed on from the biggest mistake.
That was getting the John Deere group to distribute in the US.
They are huge in the whole landscaping and sports amenity industries. It changed our profile: suddenly when we were going into other customers and saying we are distributed by John Deere; it gave us a lot of credibility.
Who do you admire in business and why?
James Dyson. He is a true innovator. He never underestimated the need for research and again we are back to research.
He wasn’t just coming up with a new vacuum cleaner: it had to be different. It was over 5,000 prototypes he came up with and [he] was never put off by the challenge.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business with SMEs?
Given that we are a small business ourselves, I would have a lot of interaction with others. I definitely think it’s harder to get finance. I think banks are more analytical now and less open to risk.
Maybe it comes back to research again: if you are going to get finance then you need to be able to prove the business.