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Featured Business:Element Software
Name: Dorothy Creaven, CEO, Element Software
While mobile app development is a service that a lot of companies are still getting to grips with, one mobile app development company in Galway is already a step ahead of the curve and has moved into the product side of the industry.
Element Software, which started business as a mobile app development company in 2011, has already made the pivot to offer a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) real-time mobile analytics product called Element Wave, the first of a suite of products it will roll out.
The product, which is designed for big brand B2C companies that have mobile apps to monitor consumer behaviour in-app, is different in that it monitors mobile customer behaviours in real time, helping brands to target their mobile audience, explains CEO Dorothy Creaven.
Citing Steve Jobs as an inspiration, Dorothy is a fan of inventing things people don’t realise they need yet. She founded the company together with former NUI Galway classmate James Harkin, CTO at Element Software.
They got into business after identifying a gap in the market – especially in Europe – in the mobile space. The move from a service-based to product-based company was in part related to scalability. Element Wave clients currently include the Irish Greyhound Board, and Sage for its Sage CRM app. It offers plenty of opportunity to its users. Dorothy gives the example of how a large coffee chain could use it: The digital marketing manager can target people working in the general locality, see if they use their mobile app often and, if they do, reward them with something free with their coffee to try and bring them into the shop on a quiet day.
It currently helps brands to double customer loyalty and in-app revenues.
Interview with Dorothy Creaven
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
James and I are both really into the whole mobile space. James’s background was also in telecommunications and software development. We’re both complete gadget freaks, especially when it comes to mobile technology. We could see there was huge potential in it for growing a business. So we started off creating mobile apps; we made native mobile apps, which run on iPhone, Android and Windows phones before moving full-time into the development of Element Wave.
How did you initially fund your business?
We funded it ourselves in the very beginning. All we needed to start with was a couple of laptops and a couple of phones. We really started it from nothing. We funded it by getting app development contracts. Once we had a bit of momentum, we were able to move into offices and start expanding that way. Initially it was a low-cost way to start a business. We’ve always been of the impression that you need to keep costs down and not get yourself into debt when you’re a start-up, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Later on, we got some funding from the Galway Enterprise Board, which has been very supportive of our company.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
We started off as mobile app developers. That’s a service-based business and we always wanted to get into something that was more product-based. We wanted to create something that would sell online, that would make money overnight, something that was easier to scale than the services side of a business. We came up with our newest product, which is called Element Wave. Element Wave is Software-as-a-Service [Saas] so it’s sold online. It helps B2C companies monitor how their customers are using their apps in real-time. It’s an extra feature that app developers would integrate into their own apps for brands who want to have a mobile app on the market. It collects information about mobile customers’ preferences, interests and especially their usage patterns. It allows brands to analyse the data and send in-app messages, which increases the mobile user retention by 400% and return on investment by 250%. Basically, we’re helping brands generate more revenue from their mobile apps.
What have been the highlights to date?
We’ve won a few awards. The most recent one was this year’s national SFA awards in the Emerging Business category. We’ve been finalists in two categories for the Startup Awards in 2013 – Women in Business and Best Export Product. Another highlight is we’ve grown the team from two people to seven, so it’s been a huge achievement to have people in-house here that are really dedicated to bringing Element Wave to market and making it a really world-class product.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Working for myself was always something I just knew I had to do; it wasn’t even a choice. I enjoy having my own facility on time and what I spend my days doing. I guess it’s having the flexibility to get involved in different areas and elements of industry too. You end up working a lot more hours and you put in much more of your emotions and mental strength being an entrepreneur and working for yourself. It definitely has its rewards and I like the flexibility of finding the best way to move your company forward. Be in control of your own destiny, that’s it in a nutshell.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
The short answer is I don’t! But it’s something I’m working on at the moment. Getting a product to market and especially working in a start-up is totally all-encompassing. You’re talking about working from 7am to 2-3am in the morning. We’re hopefully coming out of that phase soon; I’m working on achieving more of a work-life balance. I find exercise is key for me; I like to go running in the morning as it is brilliant for helping you make smart decisions. You think more clearly, make decisions more quickly; you’re just sharper all around.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I think Steve Jobs is an inspiration – especially in the industry I’m working in. I think one of the things he helped to do is create products that people didn’t realise they wanted yet. He’s a complete inspiration.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
A cashflow management tool is really important. Cashflow is everything when you’re a start-up, and keeping yourself on track is key. We use PulseApp.com. They’re a start-up too. Plus, I couldn’t live without my MacBook Air.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
We are really keen on keeping on top of what’s happening in the mobile market. We develop our products in line with what our customers want, but we also develop aspects that customers don’t know they want yet and will really need in the future. I take inspiration from Steve Jobs – he created products before people even knew they wanted them, so we try and keep our finger on the pulse and see what’s happening in trends. Going to conferences and trade-shows are great too.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
I think cashflow is a major challenge for all startups. There’s never enough of it. It’s always a difficult thing to manage, especially in the first years because you’re investing in people, in hires, in productivity, also in the product you’re developing – so it’s always a challenge.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
I think people’s budgets are so tight today; budgets are about a quarter of where they would have been a few years ago. People are making decisions a lot slower too, with much more caution, which can be a good thing, but can also stand in the way of progressing quickly. I think it’s slowly changing though. Ireland has so much potential as an innovation centre, an innovation country. We’re absolutely miles ahead, in so many respects, in regard to technology and innovation.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so it’s difficult to pinpoint. Organisational skills maybe. And the ability to make quick decisions. But it’s hard to say really.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
Building a company up from absolutely nothing and creating a product that people want to buy. You work on a product for a year or two and when people see the benefit it will bring to their business and are willing to pay you for it, it’s just great. It’s such a good feeling. Bringing people together and having a team working with you and hiring people to become part of your business is a really great reward as well.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
We wanted to change from a service-based industry to a product-based one because we really felt that service-based would be difficult to scale. We felt with a product based industry we could become a global provider of a product that was easier to scale. That was really our main catalyst for growth. I think having to pivot your business model in a recession, or when you need to, you have to be willing to be flexible and I think that was a big catalyst for growth as well.
How did you scale/grow your business?
We started with a service-based model – creating bespoke mobile apps, serving clients mainly in Ireland and in the UK. It was difficult to scale this as only a small number of clients can be taken on simultaneously. The more customers you have, the more developers you need. We pivoted into a product-based business model with Element Wave, which we sell online to the global market. The product is self-service and doesn’t require customised development on a per-client basis, which makes the business easier to scale.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
We always want to keep ahead of market trends so we are always looking at what technology is coming down the line. We are also thinking ahead for products that haven’t happened yet, but that’s the way the market is moving. It’s really important to keep looking for the next best thing because, ultimately, technology catches up on itself and moves ahead very quickly.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
When you’ve been working on something for a long time and when you hit a major achievement, it really helps you to keep going. It’s also the little achievements along the way that keep you on the right path. It’s also the excitement of running your own business and creating something that will give people jobs and contribute to making the world an easier place to be in.
What’s your vision for the future?
We’ve really big plans for Element Software. We want to expand the team here in Galway and hire an additional 25 people in the next couple of years. We want to keep our headquarters here in Ireland but intend to set up a US office next year . We want to grow from being a small software company in the West of Ireland into a large-scale, cutting-edge, global technology provider. We’ll probably create a suite of products still staying in the mobile sector.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
I was on the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme in 2012 and we were provided with a mentor as part of that. That was invaluable. We also have an enviable board of advisors that we meet with regularly, which has a very positive effect and impact on the company.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
If you don’t try, you never know. You have to go for it or else you’ll always wonder what might have been.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
I think the most important thing is to stay positive and to persevere. Staying positive is really important, if you let the fear in, you won’t get anywhere. Perseverance absolutely pays off.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
My favourite one at the moment is by Henry Ford. “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Sometimes customers don’t know what they want till they get it.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
There are probably a few things that I would do differently, but I’ve learned so much along the way that I don’t have any regrets. The lessons I’ve learned along the way have been invaluable and have really stayed with me.
Phone: +353 91 450077
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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