Monday 19 March 2018

Experience pays off as Cogs & Marvel become main event

Jane Gallagher (left) and Roisin Callaghan of Cogs & Marvel with Sean Gallagher. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Jane Gallagher (left) and Roisin Callaghan of Cogs & Marvel with Sean Gallagher. Picture: Fergal Phillips

It's official. Cogs & Marvel is now Ireland's leading event-management company, having won the prestigious accolade at the recent Event Industry Awards. With 51 staff and an annual turnover of more than €17m, it has certainly been an exhilarating journey for founders Jane Gallagher and Roisin Callaghan, who set up the company in 2006.

"From the very beginning we focused on building a strong reputation among FDI and multinational companies. Today our customers are mostly the big US tech companies based in Dublin - such as Google, Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Dropbox and Linkedin," says Jane. It's a strategy that has clearly worked for the dynamic duo, who last year alone organised an astonishing 120 events in 22 countries around the world involving more than 20,000 attendees.

"Our USP and what makes us different from other companies, is that we act as a one-stop-shop solution where we look after all the key elements of our events in-house," adds Roisin. "This includes everything from arranging flights, airport connections and accommodation for attendees to providing name badges, audio visual and catering services. We also design and build the sets and backdrops for each event as well as looking after the public relations and sponsorship aspects."

Because of the number of flights and travel bookings the pair were handling, they even set up their own dedicated in-house travel agency.

While their events range in size from several hundreds to many thousands, last week saw them organise one of the largest events in the country and bring together 5,000 Google staff from around the world for the company's annual sales conference in Dublin. A massive undertaking, this involved arranging flights for more than 3,000 attendees, booking 26 hotels and three stadia including the 3 Arena, Convention Centre and the RDS. They even booked out nine separate pubs for the Tuesday night alone. In the middle of all of this, the company were separately organising an event for a different US tech company for 500 people in Krakow in Poland.

While organising such events would faze most people, Jane and Roisin, actually thrive on the challenge that comes with meeting the high expectations of their clients. But then both have considerable experience in the events industry.

Jane grew up in Greystones in Co Wicklow. Having studied hotel management in Cathal Brugha Street, she spent the next two years working in London before returning to Dublin where she joined the staff of Jury's Hotel in Ballsbridge. Roisin is from Dalkey. She studied business and French in college and worked in France for three years before returning home where she worked in a number of companies, including American Airlines and an independent TV production company.

She later joined an event-management company and it was while organising an event for a client in Jury's hotel that she first met and worked with Jane. So impressed were they by her expertise and passion, that Roisin's bosses offered her a job in the same company.

"We spent the next four years working with some of the new tech giants that had come to Dublin. We got to see the type of events these companies were running in other countries which were different from anything that was being done in Ireland at the time," says Roisin. "For example, in America companies preferred to use bespoke-type venues rather than hotel conference suites. They were also big into technology and to creating experiences as much as events," she adds.

Jane and Roisin realised too there were few young people involved in the events industry in Ireland at the time and that there was an opening for something new and more creative and so they set up their own event management company.

"We started with little more than two laptops. And probably like everyone else who starts a business, we had the usual fears - were we doing the right thing? Were we mad leaving good jobs? Where was the work going to come from?" says Jane. "However, we loved the buzz of working for ourselves." Their first substantial opportunity came shortly afterwards, when they were invited to pitch for the job of organising an event for 600 staff for Google.

"We worked 14-hour days, seven days a week to pull it off. Often eating just vitamins for breakfast," says Jane. However, their hard work paid off and the event was such a success that they have been organising events for Google ever since.

"As the business grew we had to learn to delegate. We were working non-stop and verging on burnout," she says. "About four years ago, our business mentor, Kilian Whelan, sat us down and advised us that we needed to scale up and build a team around us - what he called the engine room. He said it would also free us up to think more strategically. It turned out to be our lightbulb moment and the most significant thing anyone has ever said to us. From that point on, we started to think of ourselves as a large company rather than a small business.

"Since then, we have increased our turnover 100pc annually and grown our team from 12 to 51. We have also made our mentor our chairman and hired a CEO, Dave Smyth, to help grow the business and we are continuing to build out our senior management team. Last year we opened an office in San Francisco to be closer to our US customers," says Roisin.

They say they are blessed with the talented team who work with them both here and in the US. Although Jane now lives in Co Clare with her partner Geoff and their five-year-old son, she spends three days a week working in Dublin. Roisin and her husband Damien also have a five-year-old son. While they live in Dublin, she now spends three out of every four weeks in San Francisco. "In the beginning our lives revolved around work and still do to a large extent. But with children you have to learn to adapt and prioritise," says Roisin. "There's definitely times when you feel guilty."

Dealing with different time zones and constantly being on-call means they often miss important family events or simply time to play with their children. "That can be really hard. But we simply couldn't do what we do were it not for the wonderful support from Geoff and Damien," says Jane. With business booming, the pair are showing no signs of slowing down. They are planning a second office in the US, this time on the east coast and possibly another in Asia. They are also concentrating on establishing their own events such as the Social Media Summit which they ran in March of this year and have others in the pipeline.

As they get ready to take part in the final of this year's Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, I wonder just how these two impressive entrepreneurs can possibly manage to do all they have to do. But they are the country's leading event-management company, after all.

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