Saved by the Dragon: Pride Watches' O'Reilly on track for €1m sales
Jason O’Reilly, the founder of Pride Watches, was so overwhelmed by his debt pile of €50,000 back in 2012 that he was a mere week away from taking his own life.
A call from the makers of Dragon’s Den prompted him to reconsider.
“My mortgage wasn’t being paid, we had no heat and no food, and nobody would help me,” he said.
The Virginia, Co Cavan-based entrepreneur had set up a business with wife Anjanette, making GAA-themed silicone watches in county colours. O’Reilly had left school at 14 and was a bricklayer until 2007, when construction industry collapsed. He was trying to make ends meet by washing windows. When he was invited to appear on the RTE show to pitch his business, he instinctively knew then that his fortunes were about to change.
“I went home, kissed the wife, and said ‘trust me -- this is it’,” O’Reilly said.
He borrowed money for diesel to drive to Dublin. In front of the Dragons, O’Reilly struggled to hold back the tears as he recalled how a previous investor had let him down. Sean O'Sullivan and Niall O'Farrell were so impressed with his business they lent him €45,000.
O’Reilly’s lightbulb moment for Pride Watches came in 2010. He flew home from a match in Italy wearing a silicone sports watch. When he wore it to a Dublin game, his sister remarked on how trendy it was.
Pride Watches signed contracts with SuperValu, Centra and Argos and now makes the official watches for Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea. O’Reilly has just clinched a deal with toymaker Hasbro to distribute football watches for Subbuteo, the table football game.
The watches have also been the biggest-selling item on Ryanair flights so far this year, O’Reilly said.
“I dressed up as a courier, got through security at Ryanair’s headquarters and handed over a package containing the watches to the girls at reception for Michael O’Leary,” he said. “We got a letter to say we were not successful, so I sent the package to his house. I got a letter from Michael, saying his kids loved the watches. He’s now my biggest fan.”
O’Reilly has sold more than 300,000 watches since that emotional appearance on Dragons’ Den and expects revenue to hit €1m by the end of this year.
He is eager to share the lessons he learned over those turbulent years with any entrepreneur who needs his help.
“My worst mistake was bringing in 20,000 watches I couldn’t sell, so my advice is to trial your market first,” the 43-year-old said.
“I would also say that doing something different to get noticed pays off. Even if it means standing naked on O’Connell Street.”
O'Reilly is among the speakers at the latest #IrishBizParty conference for small businesses.
It will be held at White's Hotel in Wexford on June 25.