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Featured Business: OnePageCRM
Name: Michael FitzGerald, CEO, OnePageCRM
An important part of business that’s easy to overlook is its inventiveness. Michael FitzGerald, founder of OnePageCRM – a cloud-based customer relationship management tool – doesn’t let that happen. He regards himself as an inventor. Luckily, he’s an inventor with a good business sense – and a strong chief operating officer by his side – his wife Gosia Jasiewicz.
With an unusual mix of electronics, software and mechanical skills, Michael’s route to OnePageCRM was an electronics qualification in his home county of Waterford before working in University of Limerick (UL) with famous athletes as a sports science technologist. He himself was an inter-county footballer for 10 years. In UL he got into interface design while working on a database for the National Coaching and Training Centre.
Michael went back to college to study product design and mechanical engineering and worked as a product designer. He was headhunted as an inventor for Slendertone and from there started a software company with a Slendertone colleague. It was after that venture finished that Michael set up his own software business, specialising in e-commerce systems.
Describing himself as a natural product person, Michael wasn’t long in client services before wanting to create web products.
An online accounting solution that never shipped paved the way to the current business.
Being an inventor, Michael had another idea – for a sales app. Sales gurus were saying “For results, focus on sales actions”, but existing CRM systems were being built for management and the metrics they look for, not salespeople. He’s also a GTD (Getting Things Done) person and decided to apply the “next action” concept to his idea.
When starting the business he was influenced by blogger Seth Godin’s premise of “built-in shipping as a feature”. One day in December 2010 he bought the team ice cream and said they were starting a new product that day and that they would be shipping on 22nd March. He ensured it was turned on with bugs and everything, and pushed it out on Twitter.
Michael references a lot of tech industry buzzwords – lean startup, minimum viable product, pivot, sophisticated early adopters – and explains that his team were doing these without even using the phraseology.
His family had a farm machinery business and, as the youngest of seven, he recalls his mother used to say: “Give that job to Michael, he’ll find an easy way out.”
In December 2011, a year after the team started on OnePageCRM and a week after his second child was born, Michael recognised the only way to get serious about OnePageCRM was to close the client services business.
He dropped a few hundred thousand euro worth of client services work when OnePage was only bringing in a few hundred dollars per month. A week later he had an interview for Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund. In 2013 the company secured €575,000 funding from Enterprise Ireland and other investors.
One attribute Michael has is that he’s not afraid to take risks. In the year 2000 he built a raft and travelled down Yukon river in Alaska.
Interview with Michael FitzGerald
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I was in business anyway with the e-commerce company, but I wanted to make money “while I sleep”. Some people have a fear of setting up a business; I had a fear of not doing it.
How did you initially fund your business?
We bootstrapped at the start. My wife was running the client services business, which freed me up to focus on OnePage. I put in money at the start to pay for the developers and we had money coming from the web business. Then we got some help from the Galway Enterprise Board (two employment grants), and a feasibility study and €5k innovation voucher from Enterprise Ireland.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Probably one of my issues, personally, is that I’m an inventor. Inventors like to discover, crack and break things and then move on to something else, so I have had to force myself not to start anything else until I get this thing going. We did come up with a business idea that could possibly have been much bigger, and I had to say to myself “We need to ship one and get it out properly” or else I’ll always be hopping from one to the other.
What have been the highlights to date?
One of the highlights was reading an email from a woman in the States saying how much she loved OnePageCRM and that it had changed her life in that it had brought what she was dreaming about at her kitchen table to a real business – and she put it down to our software helping grow the company.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
This is new to me, because being an inventor – we don’t need people around us. Our main feeling is “Leave me alone in the garage and I’ll crack this on my own.” My favourite part is walking into the office and seeing these amazing people – and feeling the work being done around me and to feel it all stemmed from a scrap of paper.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Because of the two of us in the business, our work-life is mixed everywhere. We’ve three small boys and I remember at one stage, the eldest boy – who’s five now – stood up on the table with his hands up in the air and shouted “OnePage” – he wasn’t long talking.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
In Ireland, Pat Phelan from Cork who started Trustev and Ray Nolan in Dublin who sold Hostelworld. Internationally, I’m inspired by what Tony Hsieh did with Zappos and the way he marketed his service through Customer Wow. I’m not a typical Apple fan-boy, but because I’m big into user experience, Apple has always attracted me in the way they do things. So Steve Jobs would have been one as well.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
OnePageCRM of course. We use OnePage to sell OnePage.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
Amidst lots of communication to our customers, they also get a personal email from me saying: “While I lead the company, the product experience is my main interest and if anything can be improved I want to hear from you. And while this is an automated email, if you reply I will personally respond.” That keeps me extra busy, talking to customers. Our market is extremely competitive so if we don’t have good product we are dead in the water.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The marketplace is so busy and my competitors have huge funding – other start-ups in the space getting €30m-€40m. We’ve only a fraction of that, but making good use of it.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
If people aren’t thinking positive, that’s a challenge. A turning point would be if we could get confidence back.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
None really. I’ve had to teach myself, as I’m a natural inventor. But I’m not bad at connecting with people; I’m quite a social person.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
That it’s changing customers’ businesses and their lives.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
We have great inside sales/support people and when people sign up, we ring them. They’re bowled over that a low-cost web service has called them to see if they’re okay. That’s been good for us. One of our main sales strategies is to have a remarkable product and a remarkable service. That is probably the main catalyst for growth.
How did you scale/grow your business?
Social media helps as well. We have some marketing costs – remarketing ads etc. – i.e. if you visit our site we’ll follow you around on other websites with banner ads. I also entered awards at the start to get publicity.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
We didn’t have any support staff at the start – that stunted growth.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I’m full of ideas. II believe you can give people what they need and not what they want. And, in doing that, you have to have your own vision of how this will work. If it’s 100% customer-led, you will end up with a bloated piece of software.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
Coming from being an inventor, I’m scared that I’ll just go from one thing to the next and I won’t be (in my own definition) successful. If you have one success under your belt, new ventures should come easier. That’s what motivates me to stay running this business – until it’s what I’ve classed as successful.
What’s your vision for the future?
The main vision is to grow the business; growing the number of users and type of users, and building complementary products.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
I’ve had official Enterprise Ireland ones and I’ve a lot of unofficial ones around me that don’t even know they are my mentors. I’m not shy about asking people questions. One of my earliest mentors was a guy in Sligo, Jonathan Hill, who runs Infacta and who sold a product to WordPress, PollDaddy.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Two comments related to focus: “Mind your own business” from a friend and “You only need the one” from a US VC guy.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
When you form your vision, start walking in that direction. You have to believe that with every step you take, the road will be built. A pivot in your business is just a bend you put in the road, and keep walking.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn: “If you’re not half embarrassed by your product by the time it goes out you’ve left it too late.”
What, if anything, would you do differently?
Maybe get funding earlier. I didn’t have the confidence to go to investors at the start and wanted to prove it on my own first.
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