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Featured Business: Integrity Solutions
Name: Eoin Goulding, Managing Director, Integrity Solutions, an IT security consultancy
Employees: 62 (46 in Dublin)
Since: May 2005
Eoin Goulding admires the way entrepreneurs are treated when a business fails in the US compared to in Ireland – they’re encouraged to keep going and their achievements are recognised. A serial entrepreneur in his mid-30s, Eoin knows all about keeping going after your first business fails. His company, Integrity Solutions, is his second business venture.
He set up a PC and server retail business in Rathmines in Dublin on leaving school in 1996, and ran it for almost five years until the effects of the dotcom crash kicked in. Eoin went on to do some consultancy before moving into a sales role at US IT security company Align Communications. He knew he had to specialise, and he saw this as a good move as, when this company exited Ireland, he knew he could try his hand at IT security.
From a basement in Percy Place, Eoin formed Integrity Solutions together with technical director Sean Rooney and sales director Anthony Walsh.
They had one client to begin with, and from there they continued to grow.
Nine years later, Integrity Solutions has its sights on international expansion. Winner of the AIB Enterprise of the Year Award at the Business & Finance Awards 2013, the company has been in the Deloitte Fast 50 for the past four years.
While he has garnered most of his education on the entrepreneurial path, Eoin did fit in a course in the Irish Management Institute in the early years of Integrity Solutions, where he made good friends and built strong mentoring relationships.
For someone who started out on his own straight out of school, it’s no surprise that Eoin is very team focused and has a training budget that’s higher than his marketing budget. One of the more unusual things he’s done for his staff is get them all Integrity-branded bikes. It’s paying off; in a competitive recruitment market, the company reports low staff turnover and will (slowly) fill 15 roles in 2014.
Interview with Eoin Goulding
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
It goes back to my schooldays. I was never very good academically but I was always making money in school. One year I made Santa hats, another year I made a bike alarm. I didn’t go to college; my parents encouraged me to do what I wanted to do so I set up my first company selling PCs and servers straight from secondary school. But it was very hard to make money at it, especially with the dotcom crash, so it closed down with a bit of debt (€30-40k) and I decided I had to do something new. I saw a US IT security company advertising for sales staff. I didn’t know anything about it, went for interview, got the job and within a month I knew they could make some changes. The company decided to pull out of Ireland and I set up a new business, Integrity Solutions. I convinced Sean Rooney, the technical director, and sales director Anthony Walsh to come on board, and we built the business from there. I was always going to run my own business so this made sense for me.
How did you initially fund your business?
I got a large customer in Ireland to pay me up front and that funded the business for the first two months. With no borrowings, I was able to get the business going.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Yes, definitely. We only specialise in security, but it’s a huge minefield alone. Given the nature of our industry, things never stay still for long and, as such, our services portfolio and product portfolio have grown hugely. We’re doing a lot of managed security services and have gone into other countries so we’re a totally different company than we were nine years ago.
What have been the highlights to date?
Having new staff come on board and getting to know them is always one of the best parts. Taking on, and working with, new clients is also rewarding.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
The people – seeing people develop personally and professionally is very refreshing.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
It can be difficult, especially when you’re dealing with companies in different time zones, but no one can be online 24/7. It’s all about flexibility. I very much rely on remote access, especially when I go away on holidays, but my family is very supportive and I’m careful that I don’t spend too much time online when not absolutely necessary.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
Not really. I did read Alan Sugar’s autobiography; he’s very much an entrepreneur whereas Steve Jobs is more of an innovator. They’re two brilliant people whom I admire but I would see them as polar opposites in terms of business figures.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
Reporting is key. I can do up very detailed reports on our performance as a company, our customer satisfaction, profitability or any other metrics that we need. This is hugely important for making strategic business decisions, and the ability to do it has definitely made running the business easier.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
Yes. I work very closely with customers and that’s how we build our business – we listen to what their issues are and we fix them. In turn, what we fix for one customer we can then fix for the rest. We also look at what’s going on abroad as things tend to happen in the UK/the States first before reaching Ireland.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Keeping up with our growth. We’ve grown 30% year on year and have gone from being a €1 million company to close to €15 million this year. Our aim is to double the size of the company in the next three to five years. Another problem is trying to find the right staff. It’s a very niche market and very difficult to find technical people with all of the specific skills we need.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
Dealing with negativity is tough. I think businesses can become disheartened or believe they can’t make it. People need to become more positive and have more self-belief, which is tough at the moment.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
Recruitment would be my strength, and choosing the right people in key areas. Having the right people around you is definitely the key to success I think.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
A lot of our staff stay with us for a very long time and it’s great to see them getting married, building houses and starting families.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
The industry we’re in has exploded; it’s driven by ever-changing technologies. A lot of companies are diversifying and going online so keeping up with security advancements is difficult for them. Technologies move so fast and so do customers, so we need to stay that one step ahead of them to keep them secure. All of these technical advancements have meant that Integrity also has to grow and develop.
New legislation and regulations have also meant that there’s more of a focus on security; that is of course beneficial for our business.
How did you scale/grow your business?
I invest a huge proportion of money back into the company. One of the lessons I learnt from my old business is you need a good bank balance to reinvest. We make sure that we have a healthy balance sheet so we are in a good position to reinvest constantly.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
A shortage of skillset. Getting the right people is sometimes tough and that’s one of the reasons we’re opening in the US. We compete with large corporations like Google and Facebook for technical expertise so it has been tough to win the skills we need over them.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
Various ways. I listen to the customer and what they need, I listen to the people I work with, trusting that they have good ideas, and I also speak to other business owners. Ideas tend to come from abroad sometimes – America is ahead of the UK, and the UK is ahead of Ireland.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I love seeing the company grow. I love beating competitors; that very much motivates me. I also love meeting new customers and seeing their growth.
What’s your vision for the future?
I’m definitely going to double the size of the company in the next three to five years and enter another market somewhere in the very near future.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
I’ve many different mentors that I use in different areas and a number of people I rely on for advice. I also do a lot of mentoring myself – there are three companies I am helping out at the moment and I think it really helps us all to see the wood from the trees.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
I’ve received lots. One would be to surround yourself with good people and also, hire slow, fire fast. I totally believe it. Reinvest back into the business and back into the people. Listen to your own people in the company and let them run with things.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
I’d certainly advise them to just give it a go. A lot of people are nervous about it. You’ve a right to be nervous but you learn more about running your own business than you would doing a business degree. It’s a great experience for you and it will always look good on your CV, even if it doesn’t work out. Pick yourself up and keep going. A lot of entrepreneurs out there have had businesses fail. Don’t be feeling guilty if it doesn’t work out. The other piece of advice I would give is to surround yourself with good people.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I do move very fast – maybe try and not move as fast!
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