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'Literally every day during the recession I'd come in and check how much cash we had'

After he saw the tech revolution was going to kill the print industry, this accountant moved to a career in IT.

Image: Shane O'Neill Photography

I COME FROM a family printing business background that my father set up in the west of Ireland during the 1960s. That business is still around today.

It was a general commercial house which started out as a letterpress business, but its use was dying around the time when I joined, so it has had to reinvent itself over the years to stay relevant.

My time in the family business taught me an awful lot about change and how technology was going to alter the way everything was being done. I think it was what drew me towards working in tech, but in a position that allowed me to jump into whatever part of the sector I found interesting.

I looked at the printing industry and saw that if I stayed I would have gone down avenues that were about to be swallowed up by technology – it was all about to die.

So I thought to myself that what I needed to do was skill myself in something that had a wider scope. That’s what really drew me towards training in finance.

Paschal Naylor, Founder & CEO at Arkphire Paschal Naylor Source: Arkphire


Following a spell in the printing business, I went off and started my career in accounting. I worked mainly around Dublin and joined the multinational General Foods, which had a manufacturing plant in Ireland.

However, around the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a push towards promoting IT firms and the IDA was doing a lot of work bringing in those types of companies.

I really wanted to get into the IT and tech sector, so I joined a multinational called Mostek, which was one of the early companies in the IT test and assembly space in Ireland.

I spent a number of years there and then went to a company called Memorex, which had a manufacturing plant that made CDs.

I didn’t know at the time, but it was the forerunner of Arkphire – our own IT consulting and services company that we launched in 2010.

So I’ve been attracted to working in IT and tech for a long time, but what also drew me in was the chance to work in startups. I find them very exciting and it’s a different world to traditional business.

Mostek was a startup and it introduced me to a whole different sense of work ethic. In some ways, it was like the wild west in that we were building as we grew. Working for Memorex also gave me the desire and excitement for startups.

We were a small part of a multinational and we reported to the head office, but it was all very entrepreneurial and run like a startup.

Over the years I had moved up the ranks to run the Irish operation. I think because I came from a family business background, I treated the business as if I was running my own.

Obviously you don’t own the shareholding, but it was a methodology of management that was in my DNA and how I liked to approach things. That was a big driver for taking over the company on our own when the opportunity arose.

Going on our own

In 2008, as we all remember, Ireland was going through a really heavy recession with lots of companies having a big storm to weather – no different from ourselves.

At that stage a German-Austrian firm owned the company, but they couldn’t wait to leave Ireland. We could feel that Ireland wasn’t that well-loved in Europe.

They asked the management team to find a buyer and they scouted around, but it wasn’t a great time in Ireland because everyone was battening down the hatches.

So myself and another west-of-Ireland man, our head of technology Howard Roberts, spoke to the owners and put a package together and worked on a management buyout, which eventually took place in 2009.

SON724_0093 Paschal Naylor and Adam Grennan of Cisco Source: Arkphire

That’s how Arkphire came about. We started with a sort of blank canvass at a very poor economic time, but we had one or two opportunities we felt we could build on.

Compared to starting up a new entity, it was obviously a bit easier because we started with around €10 million in revenue, but there was no profit. So in the first quarter we tidied up of the balance sheet.

Even back then we had the plan in our heads to hit €50 million in revenue. That was stage one of the five-year plan and even back in the depths of a recession we felt we could do it.

Hitting our €50m goal

How we got to €50 million wasn’t the original plan, but that has always been the ambition because we felt to be recognisable in the business we needed to be of that size.

Over those years we invested in acquisitions and improving the business by doubling our staff, so we have lagged on the profitability piece – although last year our operating profit hit €1 million. This year, our revenue will be in excess of €70 million.

Not everything we’ve done to grow the company to over €50 million has worked. The lesson we’ve learned is that when you’re going into new business areas, it takes nearly twice as long to hit your targets and always costs more than you expect – that’s my experience.

When we went to the UK, it took us an extra two years to reach our pendulum point, but now it’s running very nicely for us.

If I could wind the clock back and do something differently, we would have done more work in the US earlier.

It’s a market where we still expect to see huge benefits, so I would have liked to have tapped into that market sooner because working over there also brings us learnings for the Irish marketplace.

What’s going on in San Francisco now – tech-development wise – will be going on here in two years’ time, so having a presence over there allows you to bring new methods from across the Atlantic over sooner.

Pictured from left: Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD with Paschal Naylor (MD Arkphire) Paschal Naylor with Mary Mitchell O’Connor Source: Susan Jefferies Photography

Reaching €100m

For us, as a company, the big moments aren’t just about the revenue and profit milestones.

One of the best highs we’ve had as a business was when we won the Deloitte Best Managed Company award and we were also on the Fast 50 list last year. I guess the low point was back in 2008 and 2011 when lots of companies in Ireland had a very tough time.

Literally every day I would come in and look at the cash position – that’s not a time any of us would like to go back to.

I’m not saying it’s easier now, but I think everyone in business back then would tell you there wasn’t much going on and you had to be very careful about what you invested in. There was no room for error.

Those years caused a lot of stress for us, but the upside of it is that it makes you value customers.

You can’t say for a second that it’s all hunky dory now when the UK has decided to leave the EU and in the US you have a storm brewing around the visa programmes.

However, it could turn out to be an opportunity if tech manufacturing jobs come here and maybe if Ireland becomes a hub for big financial firms. I know that it will affect us, but I can’t say how yet.

Paschal Naylor is the co-founder and managing director of Arkphire. This article was written in conversation with Killian Woods as part of a series on unlikely entrepreneurs.

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Written by Paschal Naylor and posted on


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