Sean Murray and Alan Hickey have been friends since primary school. As adults, Murray worked in technology and Hickey as a financial broker. Both shared an interest in entrepreneurship.
“I had been doing my own digital projects and always planned on setting up my own business,” said Murray.
Hickey inadvertently provided the inspiration one day when he forgot his wife’s birthday.
A no-doubt frantic conversation ensued about the possibility of ordering something online from a local retailer and having it delivered that day. When it turned out that that wasn’t possible, it occurred to them they had just gifted themselves a potential business opportunity.
Coming up with a business idea is just the start however. They needed to see if theirs had legs. Their first port of call was their Local Enterprise Office, LEO Fingal.
Talk to your Local Enterprise Office as early as possible
It was a good move, says Murray. “The guy we met was great. He had a good knowledge of the market and asked us the kind of questions that made us revise and improve our business plan before we got started,” he says.
Their original idea was to provide crowd-sourced deliveries, offering local retailers an opportunity to compete online with international counterparts.
It developed into something even bigger. Today their business, Webringg, has a team of 47 staff split between Ireland, the UK and Australia. It has more than 1,000 independent drivers worldwide on its platform.
More than a delivery service however, it has grown into a delivery software company with a number of revenue streams including not just crowd-sourced deliveries but dispatch technology solutions for retailers around the world, and data-driven dispatch consultancy. It also partners with international restaurant delivery operator Just Eat.
“We’ve gone from being solely a crowd-sourced delivery company to providing the software that powers lots of different delivery companies around the world,” he says.
Getting the business plan right from the start was crucial. “Your business plan is your bible. LEO Fingal helped us to improve ours. It put us through an Investor Ready programme, which asks the kind of questions an investor would ask. We wouldn’t have got the investment we secured without that.”
Their Local Enterprise Office provided the Feasibility Study Grant which enabled the pair to scope out the initial opportunity, and Business Priming Grants to take on their first five staff.
“We also got mentoring and guidance all along the way. LEO put us in touch with suppliers and contacts and our staff was able to avail of low-cost training courses like social media for business,” he says. “LEO also pointed us in the direction of competitions such as Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur, at which we won the Best Start-Up Business Category, as well as the National Enterprise Awards, which helped build brand awareness for us massively.”
Start with your Local Enterprise Office. Explore all the supports they can off you and take as much advice as you can get from them
Starting a business is always going to be a risk. Getting good advice early on, and timely supports along the way, is one way of de-risking it. "Talk to your Local Enterprise Office as early as possible," says Oisin Geoghegan, chair of the network of 31 Local Enterprise Offices and head of enterprise with Local Enterprise Office Fingal.
“Local Enterprise Offices are ‘Making It Happen’ for thousands of start-ups and small business owners all over Ireland. Our door is always open to people with business ideas, no matter how early-staged they are. We’re conscious of the fact that a lot of people come up with ideas but don’t know how to develop them, and are looking for advice and guidance to determine if it is commercially viable or not. We have the business advisors here, and the programmes, to help them determine that.”
Outside of entrepreneurship, few people realise just how much work goes into the pre-planning stage.
“But if you look at businesses that have been successful, which are thriving and growing, in the majority of cases that person has done their homework, undertaken the market research, planned it out and tested the market as much as they possibly can. They have identified their competitive advantage and their unique selling point first.”
Don’t start out thinking about funding supports, he advises. “It’s good to step back and see if it’s viable first, and perhaps to look at what has gone before in that space. There is an amount of work that must go in first.”
Many turn to family and friends for an appraisal of a nascent business idea. Be careful, he cautions. “Talking to friends or family at that stage is of course very important but remember that they will always want to encourage you. The best advice may come from those with no other agenda but to help your business. What’s really needed is often a cold, objective look at what you are doing.”
Your local LEO can help identify and plug gaps in the entrepreneur’s skill set too. Very often they are expert at the product or service they plan to provide, but not so well versed on all the back-office tasks required to manage and grow a successful business.
“You need to know about the financials too, about profit margins and the cost of sales,” says Geoghegan. “It’s all about reducing risk. With every business start up there is an element of risk involved. These are ways you can reduce the risk.”
That certainly chimes with Seán Murray’s experience with Webringg, which has since graduated from LEO Fingal and gone on to become an Enterprise Ireland client company with much coveted High Performance Start Up status, providing further support it as it scales internationally.
Starting out with their Local Enterprise Office helped Murray and Hickey take what was an idea hit upon by chance into a solid and growing business.
To anyone else out there that wants to grow a start-up, Murray’s advice is clear: “Start with your Local Enterprise Office. Explore all the supports they can off you and take as much advice as you can get from them before becoming operational. It’s a fantastic support.”