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Featured Business: TenderScout
Name: Tony Corrigan, CEO of TenderScout
Employees: 2 full-time and 6 contractors
Every year €263billion is spent globally on putting together 25 billion tenders.
In most cases, there can be only one winner. So if six companies spend €1m each on preparing a tender, that’s €5m lost to business.
This unproductive money is something that one Irish company is trying to tackle through technology rather than traditional tender consulting, with disruptive SaaS (software as a service) called TenderScout.
It collates competitive intelligence to help companies – that take a strategic view of tendering – to understand quickly whether they should go for a certain tender. At the click of a button, TenderScout helps predict the outcome of a tender based on track records, social media and information from a corporate CRM.
The vision for founder Tony Corrigan, whose background is in both software development and tender writing, is that the technology minimises the cost of competing for business, while increasing the likelihood of success. Some 60% of tenders received by public procurement are guaranteed to lose; the proposal does not address the tender requirements because suppliers did not apply competitive intelligence to the process.
With TenderScout, Tony explains, companies can make better informed decisions on where to tender. This improves supplier outcomes, so they tender less. Clients write 25% fewer tenders because they disqualify those that have no chance of winning. The added analysis enables companies to win more of the competitions they enter. For TenderScout, the difference is typically a 10% increase in revenue from public procurement. The company’s top 20 clients have an average success rate of 71%, something of which Tony is particularly proud of. In 2014 clients have been successful in competitions worth over €80 million.
Tony’s interest in the tender process was piqued while running the IT consultancy he set up in 2003. He found himself doing a lot of tenders and proposals for clients, and this prompted him to explore what technology was out there to better qualify opportunities and help write a winning tender. Finding nothing that satisfied, he decided to take action, and TenderScout was born.
One difficulty he faced was trying to turn a consultancy business into a technology business, though this was helped along by Tony’s software background. Another difficulty was finding the right people to work on this “crazy idea”, and in March 2014 he was joined by business partner Padraig Coakley.
Tony likens his predictive analytics programme, which helps companies win tenders, to an artificial intelligence programme on how to play the guitar that he wrote as a student. “It’s the same concept of learning from past behaviours to predict future outcomes,” he explains.
Interview with Tony Corrigan
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I remember sitting in a public sector organisation evaluating tenders. It really amazed me that it didn’t matter what reputation or size the [applicant] company was. Sixty percent of proposals were substandard and it didn’t matter if it was a large or small company. The inspiration was to take companies that could do a really good job but were not great proposal writers and see if we could give them some sort of leg up when it came to public procurement.
How did you initially fund your business?
When I set out on this road, I took a lot of advice from existing consultancy companies, government buyers and some of the government support agencies. I was uniformly told that it wasn’t a runner. I essentially had to self-fund. I was doing tendering work so, over the past three or four years, I have made personal sacrifices so that I could invest in technology. I believed I could do it, it would make a difference and it would come to fruition. It did take longer than I thought and cost more than I thought but I was able to launch it in October 2013.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Up to June 2014, clients tended to be infrequent tenders. We would evaluate opportunities for them and, where they had a real chance of success, we would help write the proposal. Increasingly we are focusing on larger companies, companies that take a longer and more strategic view of procurement. We’ve started building a competitive intelligence capability. We now liken ourselves to a company that uses competitive intelligence to help you write winning proposals. It’s the competitive intelligence that’s the key thing.
What have been the highlights to date?
The launch was one highlight. We won an Eircom Spider Business Choice award, which was a public vote. That was a great validation of what we’re trying to do. We participated in the New Frontiers programme (DIT Hothouse) in 2012/2013, which was transformative. Around that time I started getting involved in the business start-up community in Dublin, which has been hugely supportive. Up to that point, it was a lonely existence. We were recently shortlisted for the ESB Spark of Genius at the Web Summit. We’ve just been nominated for a national procurement award for best use of technology.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
It’s the ability to effect change. It’s the ability to be transformative in what I’m doing. I think I’m really lucky in that I love the work I do. I’m incredibly passionate about it because I can see the change it makes in the businesses I work with.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I probably work 15 hours a day. When I do take time off, I like to do something memorable. I travel to the UK quite a bit to go to the theatre or concerts. My work is quite intense and, when I’m taking time out, the types of things I do are intense too. I also run marathons. When you’re training for a marathon, you get lots of time to strategise about the business.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
One person I admire quite a lot is Eric Mosley. He’s an advisor to the business. I’ve known Eric since the early 90s. His company, Globoforce, is now the leader in employee recognition and rewards. Eric runs marathons too! It does make you think anything is possible.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
TenderScout itself. If somebody rings up to see if a particular opportunity is for them, all the reports are there at the click of a button. We can see who the competitors are likely to be, the track record of the buying organisation, what it tends to look for in a supplier. Previously you could spend two or three days doing that.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
Our initial customers were just looking to win a piece of business at a single point in time. We’re seeing that, as they come out of the recession, companies are more positive and enthusiastic about the future. So rather than just trying to win a contract to stay in business, they are now looking to consider more longer term strategies, building up their capabilities to become more successful.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Cashflow is one, and the bank has been helpful in keeping me on an even keel. A lot of companies have needed to be educated as to the public procurement opportunity, whether they’re suitable for it and, if not, how they can build themselves up along that path. I didn’t expect so much educating would need to be done. When you’re doing that, you’re not earning money.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
A lot of European companies have been looking at the Irish procurement market as something that’s easy pickings for them. That’s because the Irish supplier has not stepped up to the mark and professionalised as in other countries. Last year over 18% of Irish contracts were awarded to non-Irish companies. The biggest challenge is for Irish companies to start professionalising their approach to competitive procurement and, if they do that, they can compete anywhere in the world.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
Being able to arbitrate between incomplete pieces of data to make a decision. I think I’ve a good balance between going with instincts and interpreting the available data to make decisions. One thing I am quite passionate about is that the business is always pushing forward; we can’t sit still. We need to see ourselves as the international thought leaders in our industry.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
I think it is that the ultimate decision-making authority resides with me. That can be quite satisfying in a way. You put plans in place, and things happen.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
The first catalyst was being part of the New Frontiers programme. Getting the Competitive Start Fund with Enterprise Ireland and becoming an Enterprise Ireland client put us in a position where we can scale and grow the business, and we’re in a supportive environment in which to do so.
How did you scale/grow your business?
We’re doing a series of proof of concepts with large organisations whereby we work with them over a 12-month period to demonstrate the strategic impact of TenderScout for them.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
One was not being an Enterprise Ireland client and having the right backing to help scale the business. Without that, it’s difficult to find the right connections, get timely advice and be motivated to push forward.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
A lot of the ideas come from our clients and our experiences working with them. We have about 100 clients we’re working with on a continual basis across all sorts of industries. We see an awful lot of tenders. We see the way that the market is evolving. We see places we can make an impact. The real ideas we’re getting at the moment are from the worlds of social media, big data, data analytics and predictive analysis.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
The idea of starting this business was to be transformative. Once you transform even one customer, it gives you the motivation to do it again. Ultimately I won’t be finished until TenderScout is a brand name synonymous with procurement best practice all around the world.
What’s your vision for the future?
To be the standard companies use when they’re seeking to compete for government contracts.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
Eric has been a great mentor, but the person I rely on most is my wife, Maeveanne. She makes sure that I analyse my options critically rather thank relying exclusively on instinct.
One thing that has always annoyed me is people telling you that you can’t do it or it can’t be done. When you’re starting out, people do tend to look at you like you’ve two heads. It doesn’t help that it’s very difficult to explain new business concepts without a frame of reference. It’s that opinion that has been a real driver, not to prove them wrong but to prove myself right.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Find like-minded individuals to be your support network and to be your team. Don’t try to do it on your own. It can become quite demoralising and it is difficult to succeed. If you start with like-minded people, while you might not succeed in the business you start out in, you will succeed in some business.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
In hindsight, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. If I were starting again I would develop the company as an investable proposition from the start rather than looking at it after getting customer validation. I think if I had tried to be investable from the start I’d be further down the road.
Phone: +353 1 480 0560
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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