Living out the American dream
WILD GEESEColman Lydon, MD of Fonepool, New York
FOR DUBLIN-BORN Colman Lydon, a sojourn in New York is a case of “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. Since landing in Manhattan some eight years ago, he has successfully sold his own telecoms business and is now ready to start another chapter in his life, which may, or may not, lead him to pastures new.
Lydon, from Sutton in north Dublin, never set out to be an entrepreneur. “It came about more by proxy than design; it was not something that I’d always aspired to do,” he says. He was inspired while working at travel company USIT, where he hit on the idea to provide mobile phone services to students travelling to the US on a JI visa.
At the time, Irish phones were incompatible with US service providers, so Lydon had a captive audience and formed Fonepool to offer such a service. By 2004, as the company was starting to grow, he moved stateside to develop it further, broadening the target market for the product.
“Ireland is an important source of business for us, but an increasing number of customers are coming from Latin America and Eastern Europe,” he says.
For Lydon, New York was an inspiring place to launch a business. “You see the rewards of success all around you and it drives you forward. The early stages of a start-up are incredibly dynamic and exciting; New York fuels that in a fundamental way. Positivity is to the fore; you are open to anything.”
However, he concedes that it’s difficult launching a business away from the support network of home.
“In some ways, you take a lot for granted at that time. You have given yourself no alternative, and taken it upon yourself to follow this path so anything that gets in the way – you can’t consider it insurmountable. If you’re not up to the challenge, you will be exposed very quickly. If you’re thinking about failing, you’re in trouble.”
The company was self-funded in its early days, which meant that Lydon had to live on the revenue from the business. Luckily, Fonepool had its first customer within 15 days of Lydon arriving in the US, but his early days weren’t all about living the dream. “Living in Manhattan on $1,200 a month, including rent, is an art in and of itself.”
But he found welcome support from Irish expats. “It is during these lean periods that you really experience the willingness among the Irish community abroad to offer support. At home, we would have to compete with each other, leaving room for acrimony, but abroad our interests are aligned.”