John Brophy started Carrig Solutions in 2009, with 30 years in the IT Industry behind him. We asked him to take a turn in January’s Hot Seat to share some of his experiences with us. Thank you so much John!
What led you to starting your business?
I am what might be called a “necessity entrepreneur”. I had thought of starting my own business for ages but always seemed to find a good reason to do it “next year.” However, after never experiencing unemployment in 32 years of working for major corporations, I was unexpectedly called in to the office early one morning, thanked for all my work and shown the door. After the shock wore off, I decided that all my excuses had been used up and it was time to do things the way I thought they should be done and that meant following the dream. The “necessity” was essentially that I was too young to retire and too poor to quit, so I had to earn a living.
How did you raise the start-up funds you needed?
I was fortunate that I had a redundancy payment from my last employer, and that was enough to tide me over the first 4-6 months. I decided to invest the entire sum in the business and it was the best financial decision I ever made. In addition, by involving my Bank from day one, and by keeping my promises to them, I found it relatively easy to obtain credit facilities after we had built up a track record. Banks will not support a badly-thought out scheme and they will always look for figures – not words. We need to understand that Banks cannot make money unless they lend, but they do not have as much to lend as in previous times so they are more selective than ever in who they lend to.
What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business?
Watch your Cash-flow. I never understood how a profitable business could go broke. I do now.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read, business or non-business?
The best Business book I read has to be Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry (Author Stephen Denny). It demonstrates that size isn’t everything and is a great confidence booster for the small guy. This book is essential reading in terms of a strategy for any small business. Of course I would be remiss in not mentioning “You are the Limiting Factor” by Blaise Brosnan. Essential to have by your desk and dip into anytime you’re wondering what to do next. Just open it at random and I guarantee you’ll spot something you should be doing or doing better. Oh, and if you decide to buy either, please buy them at your local bookshop. Amazon won’t put any business your way – your bookshop might!
Who is the entrepreneur you admire the most?
I have taken advice from lots of people (and you should always look for advice – even if you don’t use it) and in general the entrepreneurs I admire most are the unsung heroes rather than the high publicity merchants. My late Father ran his own business for years, and while I had no desire to follow in his footsteps at the time, I find myself thinking back to things he said and did 20, 30, 40 years ago and realising that either he was way ahead of his time, or the old values still apply. Service, putting the Customer at the root of everything you do, being reliable and punctual and delivering a Quality product or Service consistently – all the great entrepreneurs do the simple things but do them very well.
What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date?
Perhaps surprisingly the biggest challenges to date have been getting the right staff and finding the right premises. We are an IT support company and the availability of skilled staff, with the right attitude, has been a consistent challenge. The poor broadband infrastructure in Wicklow has also restricted us in terms of suitable premises.
What has been the proudest moment in your business so far?
In truth, the day the sign went up over the door brought a tear to my eye. Even though I had been in business for nearly six months at that stage, somehow seeing the sign up made it very real. I have to say that building a team, respecting everyone’s talents and seeing that team gel is a source of ongoing pride. We are only as good as the people on our team and seeing the team punch above its weight by working together is extremely satisfying.
What was the best piece of business advice you ever got?
Surround yourself with people who are better than you are.
Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there?
Set aside a period of time, preferably the same time every week, to handle all the small jobs and when you are doing them, handle each piece of paper (or email) once.
What magazine do you never miss each month?
I read Bloomberg Business Weekly and Scientific American monthly. It’s important to keep an international perspective and see what’s coming down the tracks in any business but especially in the IT industry.
What is your favourite film?
The Magnificent Seven. I have the poster for the film framed in my office and the tag line is “They fought like 700”. Not a bad motto for any small business. I also enjoy Apollo 13 and love the line - “failure is not an option”
What is your favourite ad?
Some of the Volkswagen Internet ads are extremely funny. Not quite politically correct but very funny and they get the message across. Just key in Volkswagen Polo and terrorist into Youtube and you’ll get the gist of them.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business?
You will always find a reason not to do it, but once you have the bug it will never go away. So go for it – the worst that can happen is that it fails, but you will learn so much from running your own business that it will stand to you if you end up applying for jobs. BUT – be ready to work longer, harder and more intensely that you have ever worked before. Running your own business can be all consuming. Finally, find yourself a Mentor – someone who will act as a sounding board for you, preferably someone with experience of running a small business. People are incredibly generous with their time and support and they will want you to succeed.
What do you like to do when you’re not running your business?
It is essential that you find some space in your week when you don’t think about business. I hit a golf ball, run around a tennis court or cycle my bike to de-stress. Our dog, Millie, seems to feel that she is much more important than any business so she gets a walk every now and again as well.
Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance?
No. The day I do is the day I make a fortune telling everyone what it is. The fact is though, that I have had more fun and more enjoyment running my own business than I ever had working for someone else.
What’s your website?
http://carrigsolutions.ie/ We’re currently based in Broomhall Business Park.
Do you have a Facebook page?
We do have a Facebook page, but the reality is that our target market is other business, and not directly to consumers, so Facebook and Twitter are not very important to us. Linkedin is a much more valuable resource for us.
Are you on Twitter?
We are on Twitter, but we use it to follow trends rather than as active users.
How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business?
From day one, we have held Quarterly Reviews with Wicklow CEB and they have been very supportive. The Management Development Program was excellent, as much for the fact that once a week you get to meet with people from a variety of businesses who are facing the same issues you are, as for what you learn.
If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently?
It’s very easy to say I would have done it sooner, but in truth we are all made up of our life experiences and the skills we pick up along the way. I am a great believer in the Shakespeare quote: “There is a time in the affairs of men, which when taken at the flood leads on to greater things”. I guess the tide and time were right for me. I’ve made loads of mistakes, and will probably make plenty more, but so long as I don’t make the same mistake twice I reckon I wouldn’t do anything differently.
Carrig Solutions is a provider of high quality IT Infrastructure Support services to major corporations in Ireland and the UK. They provide all the skills and processes you would expect from a major supplier but they tailor these solutions to your business, no matter how big or small it is. Carrig Infrastructure are the business-friendly IT company.