Wild Geese: Andrew O’Driscoll, general manager, Salesforce business unit, Perficient, San Francisco

Versatile Clare native revels in new role, having sold his tech firm for $8m

Andrew O’Driscoll: “There are some things I miss about being an entrepreneur . . . but you can’t always have it your way”

Andrew O’Driscoll: “There are some things I miss about being an entrepreneur . . . but you can’t always have it your way”

 

Plenty of would-be Irish entrepreneurs flock to Silicon Valley these days in search of funding. One man who found success in the Bay Area many moons ago is Andrew O’Driscoll, who left Ireland in May 1991 to seek his fortune Stateside.

Having qualified with a BBA in economics from the University of Limerick, O’Driscoll, who comes from Co Clare, decided that rather than bothering with accountancy, he wanted to work in technology.

That choice eventually led him on a journey that saw him becoming chief executive of his own tech firm Clear Task, which was sold for close to $8 million two years ago.

“A year after college I emigrated. This is not one of those tearful emigration stories you sometimes hear about. I really wanted to come to the States to work in the tech sector, so my leaving had little to do with not being able to get a job in Ireland and a lot to do with looking for the best place to work.

“The way I looked at it was that if you want to learn how to make wine, you’d likely head to somewhere like Italy or France. Well, I wanted to know about technology and so figured the Bay Area was the place to go to do that,” he says.

Despite having trained in a different field, O’Driscoll managed to move into the IT sector relatively easy once he was settled in the US.

“I did accounting and economics for my degree, so how do you find yourself working for a tech company with a qualification like that? You find the angle. I started out working for a start-up called InterPractice Systems as an accountant so I got in doing what I knew I could do.

“When that company was acquired by a bigger firm, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), I managed to get them to agree to put me through their technology training programme. That was the start of my transition from being a numbers guy to becoming a tech one instead,” he says.

Transition

“Learning how to do software development at my age was a little like trying to learn to play golf later in life. Just as you’re unlikely to become a scratch golfer it you start out late, the same goes for development.

“I was decent, I could get stuff done, but over the years I got more interested in building a whole product rather than just a widget, so that let me to transition into becoming a product manager. This really suited me because I like to make things better and the role allowed me to take a broader view of an entire product or suite, rather than one of two discrete parts,” he says.

After five or so years working in product management roles for companies such as DemandTec, and a further 12 months as a consultant with Salesforce, in 2006 he set up Clear Task, an $8 million annual services revenue consulting firm, focused entirely on the Salesforce.com product suite.

“I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. It was always in my head to go out on my own at some point. My father owned a knitwear factory in west Clare when I was young that at one point employed 50 people, and that made me think that I could run my own business too.

“I’m not a workaholic, but I am passionate about it. Between that and wanting to be an entrepreneur, I had to try it,” he says.

Clear Task was acquired in a $7.9 million deal in May 2013 by Perficient, a Nasdaq-quoted technology services and consulting firm. Following the deal, O’Driscoll joined that company as general manager of its Salesforce business unit.

“With Clear Task, we were running a good business and were having fun and making money, but the reality is that, at the time we sold it, Salesforce was growing at about 30 per cent a year. Big system integrators were looking to get into the game and so we figured it was the right time to sell. The terms were great and I liked the company that was acquiring us so it worked out well,” O’Driscoll added.

“There are some things I miss about being an entrepreneur, such as getting to call the shots, but you can’t always have it your way. There are pros and cons to working for someone else and overall, I like it a lot and certainly find it a lot less stressful.

Big table

Despite having lived away from Ireland for so long and having acquired an US passport, O’Driscoll, who is married with two children and now lives in Marin County in the Bay Area, still considers himself an Irishman and jokes about how it helped him when he first moved to San Francisco.

“I didn’t use being Irish in a mercenary way and you didn’t have to because people really like us and appreciate what we’ve done in America. But it certainly didn’t harm me in the early days when people heard my accent.

“Now that I’ve been away for so long though that’s pretty much gone, so now I have no choice but to make it on my own credentials,” he jokes.

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