Siblings' firm passes the test
Brother and sister Eoghain and Ailish Ryan set up a thriving exams business despite fighting like cats and dogs sometimes
'I could shoot him sometimes for his relationship with his iPhone," chuckles Ailish Ryan, 32, discussing her relationship with her older brother and business partner, Eoghain, 35. "He's never off it and it drives me mad."
That's the thing about siblings – never afraid to say it out straight when it comes to their brothers and sisters. And so it is with Eoghain and Ailish, who have set up the online exam resource mocks.ie, an innovative educational device designed to help exam students with revision notes, advice, trial tests and a correction service.
Eoghain and Ailish come second and fourth, respectively, of Tom and Breege Ryan's four children, and have a brother Padraig and sister Aoife. They spent their early years in Kilkenny, and moved to Galway when in their teens. With an age gap of three-and-a-half years between them, they say they fought like "cats and dogs" as children.
"Being the youngest, Ailish used to tell Mam and Dad of our indiscretions, which used to annoy our brother Padraig and me," says Eoghain. "She loves to talk, so we had a song for her that went, 'You talk too much, you talk too much, you never shut up, you talk too much'. She was like one of those dolls where you pull the string and it talks, except she was continuously pulling her own string."
Eoghain and Ailish didn't really socialise together as teenagers, and say that while they did well enough in their own Leaving Certs, they could probably have applied themselves more.
"My results were good but I could have done better," says Ailish. "I always knew I would get the points for the course I wanted, but I would like to have had a few more points to spare. I was too immature to focus my attentions and understand how to study properly and master exams."
"I was unsure of what I wanted to do but knew that I would get the points for electronic engineering, so I focused on my extra-curricular activities," Eoghain chimes in. "I did fairly well, but I was more preoccupied playing hurling and football. And chasing girls, which I suppose you could call ornithology."
As some of their friends hung around together or started going out with each other in college, the siblings ended up in the same social circle. They both studied different types of engineering, with Ailish going for electronic and computer engineering, and Eoghain doing electronic engineering. Both subsequently did a masters in fire safety engineering, and it was in this area that they both made their careers.
Eoghain worked in a small engineering consultancy, and progressed to a local authority in Cork County Council and Westmeath County Council as assistant chief fire officer. He set up his own fire safety and accessibility consultancy, Eoghain Ryan & Associates, in 2006.
Ailish worked on large-scale engineering projects in Dublin, then moved back to Galway and joined Eoghain's firm. In the downturn in the construction industry, they realised that education is paramount, and decided to set up the company mocks.ie in 2010, an educational online resource for students, parents and teachers at secondary level.
"A statistic was released a few years ago that 5,000 people failed that year's pass maths, and Ailish remarked that it was a crazy figure," says Eoghain. "As engineers, we felt that there should be some way to practise for exams, and get a result with feedback straight away. We decided to pursue this idea, and from it came mocks.ie, which provides exam papers, revision notes, oral and aural exams, a correction service and online career guidance."
The business is going from strength to strength, and is run in tandem with the orginal fire-safety company.
Working with your family can be challenging, so how does that go for the siblings, given that they set up during the recession?
"It can be testing, but it is exciting and we strive for the same goal," says Ailish. "Eoghain is a very nice, kind and caring person; he will go to every effort to help people. Sometimes it is not recognised by others, but I am sure God will be good to him. He is ambitious but easily distracted, and we do fight; when we do, there is no holding back. But five minutes later it's forgotten and it's, 'Will you have a cup of tea?'
"The market has been tough the last few years and this would challenge any business relationship, but we are through the worst and things are beginning to flourish."
"Ailish does get on my wick and I on hers, but, in general, it's a healthy relationship," says Eoghain. "She is more meticulous and organised than I am, so she runs the business while I look after the presentations, meetings and frontline business. She is very driven, and is always looking to perfect and better things. She can be pedantic and argumentative at times, but we agree on most things.
"Ailish can't stand listening to negative comments by the radio media, and, when she hears any, she goes off on a rant that might last the day. I think she likes to hear positive comments and not be surrounded by negativity."
Outside of work, Eoghain and Ailish have a large circle of mutual friends. They and the rest of the family enjoy sports, whether playing or watching, and like to go out for meals and they go to the cinema. Both currently single, they are enjoying the dating scene.
"Eoghain is looking for Mrs Right, or should I say Ryan," laughs Ailish. "As for me, I have a few admirers, so I guess the Poor Clare nuns are safe yet.