Light-bulb moment led to success for Cork firm Verde LED
Inside Track: Verde LED founder and CEO John Keohane
John Keohane: “Our primary focus is on growing the business and enjoying the journey for the moment.”
“There was going to be this change in the industry, a seismic shift, where it was moving from florescent base and metal halide traditional lighting sources to LED,” says John Keohane, founder and chief executive of VERDE LED.
In business, timing is everything and Keohane’s couldn’t have been better, from start-up to global supplier in the flick of a switch.
The Cork-based company is a leading manufacturer in commercial energy saving LED lighting solutions.
What distinguishes your business from your competitors?
We are the only true ‘cradle to grave’ LED turnkey solution provider in Ireland – and that’s in an industry where the wholesale channel was the main focus. When we started out, we decided to take a different view and put all the value towards the end customer and delivering the best customer service and solution for them rather than going down the wholesale channel.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in business?
The initial start-up period was probably the biggest challenge as it is for many companies. You’ve so many obstacles to overcome. You are essentially going from zero to trying to get customers to back your idea, or the people, or the business. You have the issue that nobody wants to be guinea pig. Now we have the luxury of fantastic case studies and references globally.
What’s the biggest mistake that you’ve made in business?
I’d say one of the biggest I made was relying on partnerships a little too heavily in the past. I had the view if we could create more partnerships, it would help accelerate the growth of the business but one thing we didn’t foresee was it took control out of our hands which was a difficult thing to be involved in. We’ve had some good experiences but some we invested too much time in and didn’t get the rewards out of it.
What is you major success to date?
Going from zero in the industry to building out a great team of people who’ve built the business to being a leader in the industry in Ireland. We have just signed an agreement to become SSE Airtricity sole lighting partner from 2018 on. This is a huge success for us, it’s massive recognition for the hard work the team have done and the service we provide to our clients.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
I’d be a big fan of Elon Musk. It takes incredible vision and bravery to do what’s he’s done. Usually when entrepreneurs are looking for ideas, they are looking for gaps in the market, low hanging fruit. He went after two incredibly difficult industries and has made big success (leaving aside the financials) with the products and their delivery against unbelievable challenges.
What’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?
When I was starting out, I remember my dad saying to me ‘make sure you focus on quality and service’. If your business is based solely around price, there’ll always be someone who comes along with a cheaper price. If it’s just about pricing, you’re not focusing on service or the quality of the products you’re offering.
What more could Government do to help SMEs?
I’m a big believer in not having to rely too heavily on Government and Government policies. I just think it can be very dangerous for businesses to base their model on incentives or subsidies because, as soon as they are gone or Government policy changes, it can potentially wipe the business out. We’ve had great support from the local enterprise office and we’ve moved across now to Enterprise Ireland. They are very useful organisations for start-ups to use.
Do you think that the banks are open for business?
I think the traditional banks have lost some flexibility and the personal relationship that they might have had in the past. Obviously the financial crisis had an impact on the industry and changed the flexibility that went before it for good and bad. Some niche players have come on the scene especially in the FX and alternative lending space.
How do you see the short term future of your business?
The next couple of years, we have some really exciting products and services we’re launching. We can’t say much more at the moment only that we are going to be helping our customers reduce their energy spend even further with the solutions we’re going to be delivering.
What is your business worth and would you sell it?
I wouldn’t have any plans in the short term to sell. Our primary focus is on growing the business and enjoying the journey for the moment. You could never say never but it wouldn’t be on our radar at the moment. If somebody comes along with a big enough cheque, give them my number .”