An Entrepreneurs Journey

Oliver Lennon, CEO SpeechStorm

“I’ve worked in the IT industry for a few years now. For most of that time I was part of larger organisations – often with significant areas of responsibility, but I always felt like “a small cog in a big wheel”.

Oliver-Lennon_transparentTruth be told, I always hankered after something else. So back in 2009 I thought I’d do something about this, rather than let more years simply roll by! For a couple of years previous I had been running an area of the business which developed bespoke solutions for contact centres – this was becoming less fashionable and no longer core to the company I was then working for. Eureka! I thought ‘here is my opportunity’– I’ve got knowledge of this market; I can see the need for a fresh approach; and I think we can develop some IP and exploit a global opportunity. In conjunction with a couple of likeminded people (Damian Kelly & Brendan McCarthy) we subsequently became the founding members who created SpeechStorm Limited. A few months later we executed a management buy-out backed by Crescent Capital.

So now its 2014 and I am four years into the journey, what do I think? First question: Did I make the right choice? Emphatically yes, and I wish I had done something similar years earlier. Has it been hard going and stressful? Absolutely! Does it continue to be tough and stressful? We have different issues from the early days, but nonetheless plenty of issues – we are now out of the start-up phase and into the growth acceleration phase. However, despite the stress, late nights and financial strains, the times of elation have far outweighed these. Getting major clients like BSkyB and eircom on board just 18 months in was huge – obviously from a revenue perspective, but more importantly for validation purposes. Here are larger enterprise organisations whom are prepared to underpin their customer contact strategy on software that SpeechStorm has built – that’s a huge buzz. Then exporting beyond these islands and getting big reputable customers in Holland, Belgium and the USA – validation we truly are playing in a global software market!

So what did I learn? From the outset everything takes longer that you expect, even getting a new website launched – we are a software company, this stuff should be easy! There are so many things to be done, all competing for a little bit of mind share. Raising the money at the outset takes significant focus and will impact your ability to drive those early deals. Also, spending money is easy; winning new business is bloody hard. You will lose staff. Some people are not cut out for the fast moving start up approach (despite what they tell you). Don’t let loosing staff envelop you. Attracting new staff is equally difficult. When you get great ones, make sure you do as much as you can to develop and hold on to them! As you grow it is difficult to stop the ‘big company’ mentality from creeping in – you need process for sure, but always try to keep it relevant and streamlined.
If I were asked for three things which are vital to survival and probably hardest to achieve, I would say:

  1. Sales
  2. Sales
  3. Sales”