READY BUSINESS PODCAST: ‘They’re not failures – I prefer to call them learning experiences’ Michael Dawson on his path to success with One4All
Michael Dawson describes himself as always being an entrepreneur, even as a kid.
'I see a problem and then think to myself I can find a solution,' he says, which was one way he then got involved in politics including stints as national organiser for Fianna Fail and also as a Senator for a short while.
‘However, I was probably the most undiplomatic, diplomat there was!’ he laughs at the memories.
His real business career took off though when soccer fever took hold of the country in 1990 with Jack Charlton and the Irish team embarking on their momentous Italia 90 journey.
'Why not establish a little bit of Italy back home'? thought Dawson and so he streamed the games in the RDS along with an Italian village and 50,000 people in attendance.
His next idea was drive-in movies in the Phoenix Park. Unfortunately it rained entirely for the first three weeks.
'Every night it was depressing because you knew you were losing money each time you opened up,' he remembers. 'You think to yourself, it can’t rain for another three weeks could it? It did and I lost my shirt on it.'
‘But, they’re not failures,' he adds. 'I prefer to call them learning experiences’
America was then on the horizon with his idea for musical lottery cards.
'We got a contract in New York but we were probably underfunded trying to take on the States. I also had a young family at the time and the plan was to get set up in six months, but that became one and then two years of going back and forth with about fifty transatlantic flights a year. I gave it longer than I should have and it can be difficult to know when to call it.'
The time to call it a day came one lonely Thanksgiving Day.
'I was sitting in the apartment on my own and I thought to myself, what on earth am I doing here? My family is back in Ireland and I'm sat here alone?'
'That same day I said to myself, I’m out of here. I packed my bags and was on the first flight home. It was a sense of relief even though we were several months behind on our mortgage and I had no money left. But, I gathered myself together, turned our house into a B&B and cashed in any insurance policies I had to pay the bills. That’s when the concept of One4All came about.'
'I had to get a voucher for Jurys in Ballsbridge as a present for Christmas but the only I could get it was to physically travel over from Malahide to Ballsbridge and I couldn’t believe that there was no network of shops selling vouchers and that's when the idea was born.'
'The more retailers I spoke to about it, the more supportive they were. I then approached An Post and they loved the idea and agreed to become the strategic partner. We launched in 2002 with 500 stores and we now have 57,000 across three countries with 75 staff and over €250million in revenues.'
One4All became Michael Dawson's great success story but he doesn't regret any of his previous experiences either, seeing them as helping to shape where he eventually ended up.
And as for tips and advice for entrepreneurs looking to make it themselves?
'Don’t get down or depressed at your failures,' he says. 'Nobody will pay you attention so you might as well get back up and running. Networks are also important and make you realise you’re not the only one who failed and you’re not the only one carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.'
You can check out the full Ready Business Podcast series here.