‘People are excited about the work’
Wild Geese: Sharon Hartigan, Fuerte, London
Sharon Hartigan: “I’ve nothing against Ireland and would move back if the right opportunity presented itself, but I’m happy here right now. London has been great to me.”
When Sharon Hartigan first moved to London on a two-year graduate placement with Merrill Lynch in 1998, she didn’t expect to end up calling the place home for so long. But having lived there now for 17 years, the Wexford woman can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Since moving across the water, Hartigan has made a career for herself in the mobile development space, working for well-known organisations such as Walt Disney, the BBC and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
Three years ago, she gave up the corporate world to join a start-up firm based in Shoreditch, a once run-down area that has become increasingly gentrified and turned into something of a home for hipsters.
“It’s a lot of fun around Shoreditch. There’s a great energy and it is worlds apart from Aldgate where I was based previously with RBS and which is very much part of ‘the City’. Part of what I love about London is that you can walk a few streets and find yourself in another world completely,” she said.
Hartigan currently works as client operations director of Fuerte, a specialist mobile app development company that in has created more than 150 apps across multiple platforms. From starting out as a pure app development firm, the start-up has grown to encompass augmented reality-designed solutions and products for wearable devices such as Samsung Gear VR headset and watches.
Clients of the rapidly expanding company, which has now opened offices in Prague and New York, include Carphone Warehouse, Ikea, Unilever, Red Bull, Deloitte and Audi.
Hartigan says that over the past few years, the company’s relationship with clients has moved from a brief or project-led approach to more of a strategic partnership.
“Our main verticals are retail, healthcare, tourism and automotive and most of our business comes through word-of-mouth recommendations,” she said.
“The role I’m in encompasses a little bit of everything; it’s a real jack-of-all-trades position. We’re a small company with just 15 people based across three cities and my role is essentially to run the company. We have four investor-owners and they needed someone to be their general manager and found me. I look after everything from hiring to project management so there’s plenty to keep me occupied,” she said.
Prior to joining Fuerte, Hartigan’s career allowed her to work on leading digital brands and products. First off though was her graduate placement with Merrill Lynch.
“I was ready to bite their arm off when I was given the chance to join them after I finished college and it turned out to be brilliant because I learned an awful lot. I wasn’t a huge fan of banking though because it’s a bit soulless. When I got the opportunity to move into digital properly with a role in Virgin Media, I did.”
Working as a product development manager with Virgin, Hartigan got to work on a number of groundbreaking projects focusing on connected TVs. After three years, she moved to Disney where she started its interactive TV games division, which involved acquiring a smaller games company and revising the business to grow and expand to other regions including Europe, Australia and Canada.
From there, she moved to the BBC, where she worked as head of mobile apps, helped with the roll out of its iPlayer and made some headway to launching on connected devices such as Freesat and Freeview.
Having taken some time out to have a daughter in 2009, Hartigan decided to stay in London when the BBC moved its operations to Salford so she returned to the banking sector to develop mobile propositions focusing on payment solutions and near-field communication for RBS for more than two years before joining Fuerte.
“It wasn’t the kind of role I’d typically go for, but a headhunter found me on LinkedIn and said that the people behind Fuerte were looking for someone who had done lots of product development but also had plenty of business experience. The role sounded intriguing and it was good timing so I decided to go for it,” said Hartigan.
While she admits that it has been something of a challenge moving from the corporate world to a start-up, she’s enjoyed the experience.
“With a start-up, you can get a lot done more quickly and people are excited about the work they are doing. There aren’t really any real disadvantages outside of the fact that it is very full on and there is a lot of travel involved. There’s also an element of uncertainty as it’s harder to win the work and it’s more difficult to hide in a smaller company, but that’s also what makes it exciting.
“The company was a little immature when I first joined, which can be the case with start-ups. Given this, I’ve been spending a lot of time working around building our corporate identity so that we can be seen as a proper business.”
With the investors behind Fuerte now planning on selling the business, Hartigan will shortly be on the move again. But she has no plans to leave London for now at least.
“I’ve nothing against Ireland and would move back if the right opportunity presented itself, but I’m happy here right now. London has been great to me.”