Self-designed calling cards give sole traders the marketing bug
START-UP NATION/Cleverbug:Kealan Lennon is keenly ambitious for his online print business, but along with many others he is finding a lack of IT knowhow in Ireland is a hindrance, writes JOANNE HUNT
BUTCHER, BAKER, candlestick maker? Whatever you do for a crust, Irish start-up Cleverbug wants you to use its website to design your business cards, which it will then deliver to your door.
Cleverbug chief executive Kealan Lennon, a chartered accountant, had seen the potential for profit in paper long before founding the venture. Buying out a business that designed leaflets and cartons for the pharmaceutical industry at the age of 25, five years later he sold it to US packaging company MeadWestvaco for $17 million. The company asked him to join its board of directors in Europe.
“As much as I was confident, I was overawed in many respects by the invitation, and then I thought, I’ve loads of cash, I don’t need to work, if I cock it up, I cock it up, so basically I said ‘Yes’.”
Heading up mergers and acquisitions for MeadWestvaco in Europe, the inspiration for Cleverbug came. Purchasing a company that was using the web to design DVD sleeves for the entertainment sector, Lennon saw its turnover grow from $4 million to $32 million in 18 months.
“It always stuck with me that there was a nugget of an idea in there to do something with the whole area of design and print online that had never been exploited,” says Lennon.
Leaving MeadWestvaco in 2006, Lennon busied himself purchasing education publisher CJ Fallon and becoming chairman of consortium iRadio. Last year, Cleverbug took shape.
“At the back of my mind there was this big opportunity all the way through to basically change the way small businesses and sole traders get access to highly cost-effective alternatives to what traditional designers and supply chains are offering. That’s where Cleverbug came out of.”
Raising $2.5 million to fund development, with $1.8 million coming from the Irish venture capitalists Delta Partners and the rest from Lennon and angel investors, the company’s target market is everyone from hairdressers to hackney drivers.
“There are 50 million micro-businesses between North America and Europe alone that have need for our services,” says Lennon. “DJs, dentists, the guitar lesson guy, tennis coaches – it’s any self-employed sole trader type. It’s a market worth $25 billion.”
Unlike some printers who accept a minimum order for business cards that’s often far more than needed, with Cleverbug.co.ukyou can toy with thousands of pre-made templates tailored to your sector and then get your first 10 cards for free, delivered to you. If you like them, you can get another 100 for less than £20.