Problem solver: Mix of business and leisure can help boost productivity
Interview: Declan Ganley
Founder and ceo, Rivada Networks
Q: As a successful businessman, were you able to make time for hobbies and other interests?
A: It can always be a challenge to get the balance right, especially in the earlier years, although as a rule I was always conscious of trying to get some time for myself.
I used to enjoy horse riding and would try to get out a number of times per week. Conveniently, we called the horse 'Business' and when anyone rang looking for me my PA was honestly able to say, 'I am afraid he is out on Business!'.
I found playing golf was a great way to relax and was something that I could build into my weekly schedule. The fact that my wife and many of my children became keen golfers helped to make it a family occasion sometimes also.
I would always encourage anyone in business to set aside some personal time. While it might seem like a contradiction to be encouraging a busy person to leave work early, the benefits of time with family or on a hobby are enormous. Refreshing the mind can sometimes leave you twice as productive the next day.
Q: I am starting a new business but to be honest I'm not certain about how I can be sure that my idea is worth pursuing. Any tips would be much appreciated.
A: It is great that you are asking this question now, rather than jump head first into the project.
Far too many people realise they have a product or an idea which doesn't work, much too late in their journey. Decide on what your objective is for your project. Is it simply a 'hobby' project that will allow you to earn some extra money, or do you hope that this will be a serious business that will effectively pay a wage for you and possibly even fund your kids through college etc.
Once you are clear on this it then allows you to test your idea based on your objective. Start by talking with any of the State agencies like the Local Enterprise Office, Enterprise Ireland or Bord Bia about any research they have already conducted into this area. There is always lots of really good research out there which will tell you about other competitors, possibly the value of the sector you are entering and, very often, these pieces of research will flag challenges.
Get out and talk to as many people as possible. If this is a product which would be sold through retailers,talk to store managers and get their opinion. They are close to the consumer and would be a good source of information. If you can, find another person with a similar project in a different country. Don't hesitate to pick up the phone to them and ask them about their experiences. Usually if people don't think you are a competitor, and you're from another country, they will be happy to share their experiences with you.
Finally, make sure you involve the consumer at some point during your research. This could be a simple as you going out and standing at the door of a retail outlet and probing consumer responses to your product or idea.
It is always better if you have a mock-up sample of the product as it makes it easier for you to articulate what you are talking about. Of course, if your budget allows, or your Local Enterprise office will give you feasibility grant assistance, you might be able to fund some more formal research where a research company would help you to ascertain the consumer reaction to your product through focus groups etc.
You will be amazed at the amount of research that already exists and anything that doesn't exist should be supplemented by yourself.
Certainly, it would be a disaster if you were to start the business without conducting lots of research of your own.
The insights from conducting good research could help to set your business on course to be hugely successful in the future.
Q: I took my granddaughter shopping at my local supermarket and really struggled with her as she wanted to buy chocolate bars which were located right in front of the checkouts. Do I recall that Superquinn never had sweets at checkouts?
A: Yes you are correct. I can remember the decision process well. My motivation for suggesting this was exactly comments like yours from parents and grandparents who did not want to be feeding their children sweets on a constant basis, and found it extraordinarily frustrating when they got to the checkout area to be 'trapped in a space' with lots of confectionery in front of them.
Some of my management team felt that the cost of lost sales on an annual basis would be too significant for us to move them. We debated the issue and decided to trial removing them. The result was instant, with immediate praise from parents who saw this as a really positive step which removed the frustration from their weekly shop.
As time progressed we got more and more recognition from customers. We had regular examples of those who had simply had enough of the rows at the checkouts with their children leaving our competitors.
We were satisfied that any initial commercial loss, was more than recovered in enhanced reputation and satisfied customers. I believe in this day and age for any supermarket retailer to be positioning confectionery at checkouts is wrong, particularly when you bear in mind the added obesity challenges we now face.