Wild Geese: Feargal Brady, co-founder, Blueface
Wealth of talent in Italy made it a good recruiting ground for telephony company
Fergal Brady took his MBA in Paris and later moved to Italy
With its familiar-sounding mix of economic crisis and high unemployment, Italy may not seem like the obvious first choice for overseas expansion. However, according to Blueface founder Feargal Brady, Italy and telephony have a special connection.
“There’s a tremendous history of telecoms in Italy,” he says. “In Ireland we think that Alexander Graham Bell was the first person to invent the telephone. In Italy Antonio Meucci is the one who really invented the telephone but he couldn’t afford to submit a patent.”
Brady co-founded Blueface with Alan Foy in 2004 after completing an MBA in Paris and deciding he would like to start a technology business. “I noticed that with increasing broadband, there was an opportunity to do telephony on top. There was no provider in Ireland at the time.”
The company started by providing telephony services to residential customers but in 2008, thanks to the increasing penetration of broadband, they re-focused their offering on the business market. In 2009 they decided to concentrate specifically on SMEs, placing particular emphasis on the cost-saving aspect of their services.
Blueface has since expanded into the mobile market and also offers services such as virtual numbering and conference facilities. Brady says that since 2008 growth has been in the region of 40-50 per cent per annum.
He moved to Italy in 2012 when Blueface acquired a small Italian company, Kebu. It took nearly six months to finalise the deal. “There is a huge bureaucratic overhead in Italy,” says Brady.
“The traditional view of Italy is that the country is administratively poor. In fact, they’re fantastic at organisation and admin. But since the economic boom they haven’t kept up with the pace of development, particularly when it comes to legislation and the law.”
He says the current economic situation means Italy is an ideal place to introduce a service that helps businesses cut costs. “Businesses here are struggling to survive and compete. When we can come in and save them 40 to 50 per cent, it makes it an attractive proposition. There’s a huge market for SMEs here; it’s a very industrious country.”
He has found that the traditional Italian approach to doing business takes a little getting used to. “The starting point is to assume that the other person wants to get one over on you,” he says. “Italy has been a trading nation for thousands of years and Italian people, as merchants and traders, have developed that mentality. Adapting to that has been a challenge.”
The Blueface Italia office is situated in the Roma Termini train station, a shared office space that acts as a hub for start-ups. It is this generation of businesses that Brady sees as their target market. “We’re going after the younger population. They work in a different way, they’re more open, they have travelled. It’s great to see the new Italy developing.”
Italy’s underemployed population has also proved itself to be a good recruiting ground for the company’s Dublin headquarters. “There is a tremendous wealth of talent,” says Brady. “The unemployment rate is hitting 40 per cent among young people. We’ve been bringing people back to Dublin.”
After a slow start, Blueface Italia is starting to see modest growth. Plans are afoot to extend the Italian offering into the mobile market and there is also talk of expansion into other European markets.
Brady, who is originally from Blackrock, commutes to Rome from Florence, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He said they considered living in Rome but found it to be “enormous and chaotic” and so went with Florence, where there was a better choice of housing.
It is not his first stint abroad. After completing a degree in mechanical engineering at Trinity College, Dublin, he worked as a sales consultant for CR2, which saw him travel all around Asia and the Middle East before moving to Singapore to set up the company’s Asian sales office.
Brady says the role allowed him to learn a huge amount about start-ups, which whetted his appetite for entrepreneurship. He then completed his MBA at HEC in Paris, where he focused on the entrepreneurial track, before returning to Dublin, meeting Foy and launching Blueface.
Despite the company’s plans to expand further in Europe, Brady says he is happy where he is. “I would like to stay here; it’s a nice country and Italians are lovely people. Getting to live here as a resident is very different from visiting on holiday. And the food is fantastic.”