So you’ve made a million...now what?
Top1000: They successfully sold their business but it hasn’t stopped these three serial entrepreneurs from starting another
“It’s not about the money. It’s about being in business and having your own business, having an opportunity to create a business and to change the way things are. It’s an addiction in one sense, or attraction, and it’s what gets you up in the morning,” says Colm Lyon. (Photograph: Brendan Lyon/ImageBureau)
They hit the jackpot and sold their businesses, but rather than hitting the beach, these serial entrepreneurs quickly embarked on another journey to create something new. So what is their motivation?
Colm Lyon, Realex
You’ve sold your business for €115 million – pocketing a reputed €90 million yourself from the deal – and the world is your veritable oyster. So what do you do?
Most of us, perhaps, would see it as being akin to winning the Lotto. We would pack in the day job, take to the beach or embark on a luxurious round-theworldtrip. Getting straight back to our desk would most likely not be at the top of our agenda.
For Colm Lyon, however, who sold his company in 2015, his focus was moving on to the next venture.
“It was a bit of a joke when I came in about a week after we did the deal,” he recalls, “they were saying ‘we really didn’t expect you back in this week.”
But Lyon already had his eye on his next venture – the Fire payments app. Lyon started Realex, a payment processing company, when he was 38, scaling it up until it was processing some €28 billion in transactions a year. He sold it for €115 million in 2015 to US giant Global Payments – and came away with more than a membership of the multi-millionaires’ club.
As part of the deal he got to retain Fire, a mobile payments company he had started back in 2013.
“It needed substantial further investment in order to manage the product proposition, so it would have been too soon [for Global Payments] to acquire an asset like that,” he says.
Fire took on about 18 employees, and a couple of key executives, including Paul Davey, former chief financial officer with Realex.
“It was very gratifying that we were able to continue working together,” he recalls.
Lyon has also directed his business nous and money into other investments through investment vehicle Payvation, which he established in the aftermath of the Realex deal.
These include Irish start-ups Pundit Arena, a sports and media platform; Playtank, a social collaboration and innovation platform, and VT networks, which provides an affordable, energy efficient and simple Sigfox network for the internet of things devices.
“We only really do it [invest in other companies] when people come to us,” he says. But having already made a fortune, what’s the motivation now?
“It’s not about the money. It’s about being in business and having your own business, having an opportunity to create a business and to change the way things are. It’s an addiction in one sense, or attraction, and it’s what gets you up in the morning.”
For Lyon, it’s not necessarily about the end goal of building a business, scaling it, and then selling out.
“We didn’t set out to sell Realex, the opportunity came up,” he recalls. “The goal was never to grow something to sell it; the goal is to be your own boss and be in business yourself. It’s more about creating something people want. The biggest pleasure is when you make something and someone else wants it.”
But having endured the trials and tribulations of getting one business off the ground, shouldn’t he be taking it easy now?
“Stress is only what you make it; there are a lot of barriers but I would be consumed by how to make something and how to sell it. I don’t know if it’s stressful as such, although it is very tiring at times,” he says.
“You find the hunger is really about the desire to make a good product and succeed with that. It’s ultimately what drives me.”
Jules Coleman, Hassle.com
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At the tender age of just 29, Jules Coleman found herself successfully exiting a business. Hassle.com, a company she founded at the age of 25 with Tom Nimmo and Alex Depledge, was acquired by Berlin-based home-cleaning services player Helpling for an estimated € 32 million, paid in cash and shares. The €32 million was shared by the founders and other investors, but was still an ample reward for their efforts.
So was she tempted to live an easy life?
“I was never going to retire for life,” London-based Coleman recalls, who went straight back to work after the deal as she, and co-founder Depledge, were tied in for a further six months.
“Initially very little changed,” she remembers.
After that she took about six months off to take it easy – and buy a puppy. “We addressed our work/life balance; I played some tennis, a little bit of golf, and caught up with friends and family. It was only when we took the time off that we realised just how stressed and tired we’d been. We were constantly running on adrenalin. It’s like when you take a break at Christmas and get a cold; we realised just how frenetic the last few years had been.”
Frenetic or not, Coleman was not going to take it easy just yet. But a return to the corporate 9-5 was never going to be an option.
“Myself and my co-founders always joke that we got a lot of experience running the first business so we kind of made ourselves unemployable,” she laughs.
Initially, Coleman took up a role as entrepreneur-in-residence with venture capital group Index Ventures in London, helping to mentor other businesses.
But a future acting as an angel investor wasn’t on the cards. “I’m too risk averse – and too much of a control freak – to be an investor! I’d struggle to write a cheque and let it be,” she says. “I’m very, very grateful to those that did it for us, but I think it’s not in my psyche to do that.”
For Coleman, who after the success of Hassle.com still felt like she had “unfinished business” another venture, again with Depledge, was her goal. It was a fortuitous meeting with architects that led them to a new idea.
“We wanted something that made us feel as passionate about it as when we were running Hassle,” she says, adding that, as she was looking for a home herself, she could easily see the value in her proposition.
“To be successful in any kind of business you need to trust your gut; you don’t want to build your product so niche,” she says.
Set up last January and launched in December, Buildpath seeks to take technology to a space that some people find prohibitively expensive, allowing clients to get professional architectural drawings from as little as £199.
Already the website is going from strength to strength; since January, Buildpath has completed 60 projects, and grew by 150 per cent last month.
It’s a lesson in how to bootstrap a business, as it was established with a small investment – of just £10,000 – by the founders.
“I write all the code, architects create the drawings and Alex does all the marketing and external relations. You don’t have to have millions of pounds to get a business off the ground,” she asserts, “you can prove the concept long before that stage.”
Buildpath has already launched nationwide in the UK and Coleman doesn’t rule out bringing the product to Ireland in the future. “I’m not averse to that idea,” she says, but adds that for now, Buildpath’s growth will be focused on the UK.
So how has it been second time around?
“Naivety helped me through the first few years – if I’d known how hard it is, I might have been scared off,” Coleman recalls, but adds that just because she has had one success, “doesn’t mean this is a dead cert by any means. You have to realise that the odds are stacked against you – but it can be a fun experience along the way.”
Shane Deasy, Bitbuzz
It was a strange feeling when Shane Deasy sold his first business, Bitbuzz, in December 2014.
“We were working for two years on the sale of the business, but the next day, after the business was sold, I expected to be very joyful and happy – but I wasn’t. It was like a separation.”
It was an anticlimactic moment. The wifi provider, which Deasy had founded with Alex French, was acquired by broadband provider UPC in a deal worth in the region of €5-6 million, netting the founders a handsome amount of money.
“I did well out of the sale out of Bitbuzz, but I didn’t make a fortune,” he recalls. Soon after the deal, Deasy left the business, and felt at a bit of a loss.
“You put everything, your heart and soul into the business ... and then you don’t know what to do,” he recalls, “I don’t have any real skill set, I’m not an engineer. I can’t lean back and take up a job again somewhere else. I’m kind of unemployable in the sense that no-one is going to get me to work for them.”
But if the emotions were unexpected, Deasy had no doubts about the timing of the deal. “After eight years the fun had gone, it had become very much a day-to-day business – it was very exciting in the early days.”
So did he take a prolonged break in warmer climes?
“We didn’t really; I had a young family and the house we were living in was a small townhouse, so my main priority when we sold the business was to get a house. We moved in and spent a lot of time doing the house up.”
But the house didn’t take all his focus.
“I very quickly got involved in a few other start-ups,” he recalls. Frock Advisor, founded by Brendan Courtney and Sonya Lennon was one of the first ventures he got involved in, while he was also asked to join the board of the Social Innovation fund, which invests in social entrepreneurs.
Deasy also started an online athleisurewear store with his wife, trendyandbendy.com, with a retail outlet in David Lloyd Riverview. It will open another store at the Powerscourt Hotel in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow shortly.
But investing in other companies is not the only goal.
“What I’ve been trying to do over the last few years is educate myself in areas I’m not an expert in, and to broaden my skill set,” he says.
This has led Deasy to his latest venture, a tool he is developing which he hopes will disrupt the market for estate agents.
“I’m a lot more cautious this time around because I know the pitfalls. At the start you’re blinded to it, but you do have a lot more to lose second time round. But hopefully I’m older and a bit wiser.”
This time around, funding has become a lot easier to access.
“The start-up community is now more established than it was; there are a lot more accelerators and incubators happy to give money to start-ups,” he says.
With Bitbuzz, funding from family and friends helped get the business off the ground. “I was always very nervous of Christmas Day visits if things didn’t go well,” he laughs.
But it’s not all about the money. “Financial rewards are nice but they are not the main driver,” says Deasy, “it’s about creating something new and different.”
Again, the end goal is to sell the business.“For me, after a period of time the fun goes out of it when it becomes a normal day-to-day business. I enjoy the rollercoaster ride.”