‘You need to understand every number on your balance sheet’

EY Entrepreneur of the Year award finalist Kevin O’Loughlin of Nostra on the lessons business has taught him

Kevin O’Loughlin describes himself as a driven entrepreneur who has built and sustained Nostra over the past 10 years. He loves fast cars almost as much as he loves his family and is a self-proclaimed techie. He is also not short of self-belief, having dropped out of a course in computer science in DCU after just three months because after figuring out he knew more than his lecturers.

Nostra Technologies was founded in late 2006. It provides full IT support and maintenance to a broad spectrum of organisations across a variety of industries and sectors. The company combines the latest technologies with an emphasis on efficient customer service to provide clients with cost-effective IT solutions.

Nostra services clients in Ireland, UK, Central Europe, Asia and North America, and currently employs 55 people. The company is seeking to achieve revenues of €25 million by 2020.

What was your "back-to-the-wall" moment and how did you overcome it?
We started up at the end of 2006. We had several scary moments. We had a balance sheet of minus €1 million at one stage. We had no money for wages and I was minus a million myself, with no real way out. I brought my team together and we agreed we would make it, so we cut costs, did deals with suppliers and Revenue, and I am very proud to say we turned the corner very quickly. We began to make money, found investors and turned the ship around.


What moment/deal would you cite as the turning point for the company?
We signed Avolon Aerospace in 2010. They were just starting out, but we knew they were impressive. Winning it back then as a small customer gave us great confidence in ourselves. To this day, seven years later, our team love serving them.

What were the worst piece of advice you received when starting out?
I was advised to build my own email platform in 2007. It cost over €250,000. It was a great idea. However, Microsoft soon launched their platform, which was better, so we made a tough decision, based on ethics, to turn ours off. Our solution wasn't as good and was more expensive, and while our customers wanted it, this was only because they didn't understand the Microsoft platform. We shut ours off and moved our clients. A complete loss.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We have about 20 per cent of our turnover internationally. Increasingly, we are dealing with more Irish HQ's who have overseas offices. This is quickly becoming a niche market. We manage offices now in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Singapore, New York, Florida and New Jersey.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
Getting up every day for two years when my investors, banks and advisers were all telling me we wouldn't make it. I was even introduced to a liquidator by a close friend in 2009.

What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Not understanding accounts. I see lots of people in this situation and was one of them myself 10 years ago. You need to understand each and every number on your balance sheet. If you don't, you have a real problem in knowing how well the business is doing and what decisions to take.

How will your market look in three years?
I see less IT and more advisory as time moves forward. Regardless of the technology, our role is to understand where technology is going and how that affects our clients. We love finding new things that help our customers so we tour the world looking for innovative ways of doing business.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist