A major part of success in business is being opportunistic: recognising a window of opportunity and being bold enough to go after it with both hands. I’ve embarked on several opportunistic endeavours in my business life. This is the story of how they came about.
Be open to opportunities
The first one came while I was working as a roofer at my uncle’s company, GFM Systems, which was the second largest in Ireland at the time and employed 70 people. I was 21, and looking around me during those Celtic Tiger years, I saw people build up immense amounts of wealth from property.
I sought out advice from someone I was fortunate enough to know who owned over 100 properties. I asked how I could do it too. I devised a simple buy-to-let strategy and within a few years I owned seven houses, worth a total of €1.4 million.
This never would have happened had I not been opportunistic and made it my business to find out how I could build up a portfolio. Nothing in business ever just happens. You need to make things happen; you need dogged determination and self-belief.
Use your contacts to get introductions
Around this time, I came across another opportunity – heard about through a friend. CityWest Hotel was looking for a valeting service, and using my network I managed to get a meeting with the owners. Within six months, this new venture was turning over €100K with two employees.
Having several properties to maintain, I found that I was doing a lot of maintenance work on the houses and it made sense to start offering this service to other landlords and property owners, so I started RSM Facility Services. Unfortunately, in 2008 the biggest crash since 1930 arrived and business dried up overnight.
Don’t be afraid to try something new
Not one to stay down, I looked for the next wave of opportunity. My lightbulb moment came one evening in 2011, when I was watching RTÉ’s The Business. It featured a company that had increased its turnover from €1 Million to €3 Million using Google AdWords. I instantly realised that this was the future and focused all my attention on digital marketing – spending up to 16 hours a day learning all I could about PPC & SEO and completing a course at the Digital Marketing Institute.
I started FirstPage.ie, running PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns, and a chance meeting led to another opportunity to work for a company called Centric Health, who run the Vhi SwiftCare clinics and have the largest GP network in Ireland.
I spent two years with that company, perfecting my skills and starting a MSc in Digital Marketing in Michael Smurfit UCD.
Learn from the masters
After two years, I left Centric Health and returned to FirstPage.ie. I used my connections again to secure a meeting with Michael O’ Leary, legendary CEO of Ryanair. Sensing an opportunity to work with and learn from one of Ireland’s greatest business men, I put myself forward for a full time role.
I landed the role of Head of Digital Marketing for Ryanair, reporting directly to Michael. I was essentially creating a brand new department, and it was an immensely challenging but rewarding time. We implemented dramatic improvements at the airline which resulted in passenger and share price reaching an all-time high. I really appreciated being able to work directly with Michael and learn from him. He has amazing energy and has created a great work culture at Ryanair, which keeps an agile, startup mentality despite its size.
I left Ryanair last year and now run my own agency called DMAD – Digital Marketing Agency Dublin.
What I’ve learned
My advice to budding entrepreneurs is: if you have an idea, just go for it. Even if it doesn’t work out, what you learned in the process will be invaluable going forward in your business life. My experiences in business have taught me that successful business men are no different from anyone else; it’s simply that they spotted an opportunity and took it.
Before you start your entrepreneurial journey, have enough capital to last you twelve months – enough to pay all your bills and business costs even if you don’t get one paying customer. Use the internet to market your business. Go niche, go big or go home!