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Fancy starting your own business? Here's some helpful advice...

People tend to forget that most entrepreneurs have failed, more than once, before they find success. And I’m no different.

Dean Gammell

MY FIRST BUSINESS was making wooden bird-boxes to sell to neighbours on our road. I was 11 and still in primary school and business was good.

Six businesses and 17 years later, today I employ 32 people in Westmeath, through online businesses, such as TheGroupSystem.com, Henit.ie and Stagit.ie

But people tend to forget that most entrepreneurs have failed, more than once, before they find success. And I’m no different – I’ve had just as many business failures as business successes.

Bouncing back

I was 19 and a student at GMIT, studying Construction Management. I got my first taste for designing and building websites, so I set up a business to sell plans for residential garages online. How many sales did I make? Not a single one.

My mistake was that I couldn’t find where my market was online and I quickly lost interest. But, I bounced back.

That failed business taught me about testing a concept early on, but it also showed me the possibilities about doing business online. So, instead of going to the college library to study Construction Management, I found myself going there to study website design and online marketing instead.

After graduating, I got a full-time job as a project manager in the construction department of a telecommunications company, but I kept working on various websites at evenings and over the weekends.

It was a permanent job, so I wasn’t ready to go out on my own just yet.

Testing the waters

Instead, I tested the waters by setting up a website to advertise stag parties and related services in Ireland.

I didn’t have any suppliers lined up at that stage, but as soon as the sales queries started to come in, I contacted hotels and activity centres to put packages together.

When that business started to take off, I set up my first limited company at the age of 22 and then I knew I had a real business on my hands.

We quickly added Henit.ie, offering packages to hen parties travelling to Ireland (and those hen parties wanting to stay in Ireland). We went from taking 49 bookings in our first year, to more than 1,600 bookings last year.

Accept that you will meet failure at some point

But just because you fail at a business once, doesn’t mean that you’re never going to have a business failure again. When Stagit.ie and Henit.ie were taking off, I invested heavily in another online business (unforgettablegifts.ie), spending around €15,000 to get it up and running.

We were making some sales from it, but it was absorbing all my cash. In the online gift business, you have to invest a lot of money to have the products literally sitting on your shelves and this was putting a big strain on our cash-flow.

At that stage, I had to consider my options – should I take the business further or should I admit defeat and pull the plug? Looking at all my cash tied up and the mounting loans, I decided to cut my losses and pull the plug.

The online gift market was just too competitive and I didn’t do enough research to begin with.

But I learned from that mistake and I tried again.

Listen carefully and find inspiration 

The other online businesses were still doing really well, but a problem that our clients were encountering gave me my next business idea.

Basically, a lot of stag and hen party organisers had to run around to collect the cash from the other guests, which was taking up a lot of their time. That’s when we saw the opportunity to develop a piece of software to automate the booking and money collection process.

We called it TheGroupSystem.com and we rolled it out to party organisers, hotels and activity centres, to take the hassle out of managing group bookings.

We’re now launching it into the UK market and we’re going to rebrand it to gogroupbooking.com over the summer.

What I’ve learned so far…

Last year, I entered into Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition (www.ibye.ie) through my Local Enterprise Office in Westmeath and I was very honoured to have won the ‘Best Established Business’ category at the national finals in Google.
That has definitely been a highlight for me.

I like to think that I’ll be setting up more businesses in the years to come, and this is what I’ve learned so far:

  • Most of us have a fear of failure but if a business isn’t going to plan, accept that early on and don’t be afraid to close it down if there’s little chance of turning things around.
  • Learn from the mistakes and try again.
  • Try to learn from more experienced people than yourself. With age comes experience – value that experience. Seek out mentors that are older than you, who have ‘been there, done that’.
  • Be hungry for knowledge. Read books, magazines or journals that are linked to your industry. Read biographies or listen to audiobooks that will inspire and motivate. (One of the best books I’ve read is ‘Business Nightmares’ by Rachel Elnaugh, which proves that even the most successful people in business are still fallible.)
  • If this is your own business – give it 100% of your focus and attention and work as hard as you can, especially during the first few years.

You’ll have to make sacrifices, but being your own boss definitely has its rewards.

Dean Gammell is the founder of TheGroupSystem.com and winner of ‘Best Established Business’ at Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur Competition 2014 (#IBYE). Entries are now open for the 2015 IBYE competition and the closing date is July 31st 2015 through www.ibye.ie. You can follow Dean on Twitter through @dean_gammell

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Dean Gammell

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