Paul Connell, co-founder and CEO of Pure Telecom
They say necessity is the mother of invention.
For Paul Connell, chief executive of Pure Telecom, that necessity came after the dot-com bubble burst and he found himself unemployed and “sat there in my boxer shorts and my t-shirt, thinking of the next masterful move”.
In 2002, Connell and his business partner Alan McDonald came up with a plan “of basically becoming a telecoms reseller, we would sell to businesses”.
Today the company, which employs almost 90 people, offers customers broadband, phone and television services.
Based in the Citywest Business Park, it has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a “dingy office on Sallymount Avenue, kind of drawing lots as to who cleans the toilets every Monday morning,” Connell says.
Starting out, Connell, a qualified chartered accountant, set the company a target of making money in the first year, no easy task for a startup.
“I suppose it took us about a year to start making money. But we were quite good at getting customers and quite good at keeping them,” the father-of-five says.
Initially, Pure Telcom was focused on business customers.
Fast-forward 19 years and these days about 90pc of Pure Telecoms customers are residential, accounting for around 80pc of the revenue, according to Connell.
One the main differences between residential and business customers is the volume.
“You're talking of thousands of customers, as opposed to one or two customers. So what we learned very quickly is if you go to a residential customer, give them exactly what he or she wants and if you do it successfully, then you're able to walk away without there being any problems,” according to Connell.
As well as offering various telecoms packages to residential and business customers, the company project manages the development of telecoms infrastructure in greenfield sites, something Connell says is “harder than you might think”.
I'd like to think that I'm a utilities broker – that I could supply basically any utility.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a mixed bag for the business.
On one hand, providing internet services to customers has never been more important – the company already had solutions in place for corporate customers looking to move employees to a work-from-home environment.
However, the pandemic has meant that a potential move into the provision of other services – including insurance and electricity – has been put on hold for now.
“Do we do we look at adding in things like electricity? Or things like insurance? Yes, that's very much on the [cards],” Connell says.
“I'd like to think that I'm a utilities broker – that I could supply basically any utility.’
Had this interview taken place coming into last year, Connell says he could probably have given a launch date for services such as electricity and insurance “very quickly”.
“The Covid thing has just kicked all that back down the track. But certainly, we had put in a lot of time and effort into [looking at] other services, including insurance and electricity,” he says.
These additional services provided by Pure Telecom will now come on-stream in the next two to three years.
While Pure Telecom does over a television package to its customers, it’s not a product he plans on growing.
“Our main product is the broadband network. You look at Sky, now far be it for me to comment on their business plan. But certainly in the last few years… my kids don't use televisions, they use their iPads, they're on Netflix, they're on Amazon.
“And if I said to them, ‘Look, I'll give you a choice: Sky or the internet? They’d go ‘see ya, Sky’.
"So the TV product that we offer is as a solution to our customers, people who want the basic channels, and they don't want to pay for it really, they just want a cost-effective solution,” he says.
The pandemic, he says, has made providing customer service more difficult.
“Unfortunately, I think Covid has got into people's, you know, everyone in Ireland is a little bit grumpier, including myself, and you're more likely to have a moan to somebody about something. And so we find the people can be a little bit, we have to work harder to make them happy.”
Savvy customers can spend hours researching the best broadband deals in the market, something Connell is well aware of.
While he is adamant the last thing Pure Telecom will do is increase its prices, “it probably has to come in the future at some stage”.
“If you build a house in Roscommon and somebody says to you, it's going to be five grand for your electricity to install, you’d go ‘yes’ and it’s going to be 50 grand for your water, and you say ‘yes’, and it’s gonna be €500 for your broadband and you go ‘oh mother of Jesus, how could that be so expensive?’,” Connell says.
“I've never increased a broadband package. Ever. I've never increased the telecoms rate ever. Unfortunately, if you want the capacity, the speeds are constantly rising, and the usage more importantly, particularly this year, this year has seen a savage increase in usage. And like everything else, somebody has to pay.
"You can’t continue consistently as accepting the increase from [say] Netflix. And then your [broadband] provider says, ‘I'm going to put it up 2pc’, and you nearly have a heart attack. But in saying that, there is a downward [price] curve. And I must say it's a very, very competitive market.”
The way forward for me is to expand on the services that I provide.
Looking forward, Connell is very ambitious for the business, saying he would love to “grow it and grow it and grow it”.
“It’s a very, very competitive market. We're doing quite well. We had an award recently for the best broadband in Ireland from Bonkers. In ComReg’s report we have grown to 2pc of the Irish market, which isn't a great thing, but it's nice for me,” he says.
“So it's our growth is good at the moment, very good. What we're doing is very successful. Is it is it enough for me to become a market leader overnight? No, unfortunately, it's a slow process. If I could buy one of my competitors, I certainly would.
"I think the way forward for me is to expand on the services that I provide to my customer base, as opposed to pure telecoms, forgive the pun,” he says.
Nor is Connell completely opposed to the idea of possibly selling the business in the future.
“I love the business. I love the bit of craic that we have, I love the fun that we have every day. If you know, to be quite honest, if someone offered me €500m, they could take my whole arm off.”
And if someone were to offering him a little bit less for the company?
“Everything is always for sale, but it’s not just about the money. It's about how we could integrate into a larger organisation. As I say, we enjoy what we do, myself and my business partner Alan. And we're very proud of what we've done.
"It’s given me a nice lifestyle…it’s given 80- or 90-odd people good livelihoods and good jobs… Are we talking about it to anyone? No we are not, not at the moment, who knows what tomorrow brings?”
For now, the golf and horse-racing enthusiast, who also volunteers with the DSPCA and describes his house as being like “a mini zoo” has plenty to keep him busy.