Ciaran Mulligan is co-founder and managing director of Blue Insurance. With offices in Blanchardstown in Dublin, the company prides itself as a niche insurance provider covering anything from motor or home insurance to bicycle or wedding insurance through its many brands.
What distinguishes your company from your competitors?
One would be innovative ideas. We’re always leading the way with innovative products. We were first in the market with offers such as car-hire excess and gadget insurance before mobile phone insurance was getting big.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?
Our biggest challenge to date has been the launch of our two-year car and home policy. It took two years to get that off the ground but it has been a big success. In some ways that two-year delay has been quite lucky, because rates started to climb, especially in motor, so people now see that two-year offering as a real life-saver.
What is your major success to date?
We've a couple of them. The two-year car-and-home product has been a big success, especially given the price increases that have gone on. Multitrip. com has also been a big success. At the time we first launched multitrip.com, an annual policy with us was €21.99, the cheapest policy. You can now get an annual policy for €15.95, which is very competitive. At the time we first launched, people were paying €99 to €150 for an annual policy.
What could the Government do to help SMEs?
I do think one of the things that most SMEs find is that, if you’re not exporting, the Government is not focusing on helping those companies expand or grow their business or launch that business for sales within Ireland. I think the Government should support local indigenous business more.
Do you think that the banks are open for business?
They say they are but no, I don’t think so. I think they are still caught in the dizziness of the crash, trying to recover and trying to make it look like they are supporting [business]. When I bought my business partner out, I went to my own bank and they said to me: ‘If we can’t lend to you, we can’t lend to any company.’ I then went through their whole process, this was in 2013. In the end, I didn’t go to my bank: I actually used funds from my own company and decided to pay off my business partner over three years because the banks wouldn’t give me what I wanted to do.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Not doing enough research when we entered the Australian market back in 2010. We pushed our multitrip brand over there but a lot of the policies the Australians still buy are single-trip policies. That's starting to change and we tweaked stuff around and we're actually being very successful now over there. Rather than marketing direct, we're using the aggregators in Australia to promote our products so we only pay when we get a policy sold.
Whom do you admire in business and why?
Among leaders, Michael O’Leary, Willie Walsh, Richard Branson and Barack Obama. I also admire my own staff greatly. I’m 44 and the majority of my staff are younger than me but they are so behind the company and it’s ingrained in them to care about customers and care about people. We’ve won an award every year since we’ve opened and we’ve been Deloitte’s best-managed company for the last four years.
What’s the best piece of advice that you have received?
Two bits, really. One of them is: ‘Don’t burn your bridges.’ And the other one would be: ‘Go with your gut feeling.’ Gut feeling is generally right, whether it’s about a staff member, a business partner, an underwriter, whatever. Always go with your gut feeling, because it’s very rarely wrong.
How do you see the short-term future of your business?
The business is expanding rapidly. We are also creating more innovative products and they’re coming out this year. Brexit obviously has a big impact. We had hedged a lot of sterling in 2015 at a high rate and that lapsed last July. We hadn’t hedged for 2016, so from a rate of €1.40 down to a rate of €1.09 or €1.10 was a big drop. So that will have a drop in some of our turnover even though we expanded by about 30 per cent last year.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
I would say we are valued over €40million at the end of last year. Am I willing to sell it? Not really, no, because we have high growth coming in the next couple of years. It’s always nice to have people knocking on your door and people have knocked on our door, but I think we will continue to keep growing the business over the next few years.