While Eoin Goulding didn't go to college, his real world experiences and his ability to learn has led him to success, writes Sean Gallagher.
The huge growth in the use of computers and the internet in recent years has brought with it many distinct benefits and advantages. However, such technological advances bring with them increased risks and dangers as to the security of all this information.
Breaches in security systems - deliberate or accidental - can have major repercussions for both financial loss and reputational damage. These breaches can include everything from malware spread and information theft to web services attacks and web defacement. Such growing risks have given rise to the need for businesses everywhere to invest in enhanced and robust computer security measures commonly referred to in the industry as cybersecurity.
This week I met up with Eoin Goulding, the co-founder and CEO of Integrity360. Now in its 10th year, the company is Ireland's largest IT security specialist business and employs 125 staff between its four offices in Dublin, Glasgow, Birmingham and London. This year the company will turnover more than €25m and is a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
I met Eoin at the company's modern offices in Sandyford, Co Dublin, and he showed me around. "We offer a full 360-degree security service - everything from managed security, testing, incident handling, integration and governance, risk and compliance services," says Eoin.
"Security threats are constantly evolving and growing in complexity," he explains. "In addition, there are more and stricter regulatory compliance obligations that need to be followed - all of which require very specialised yet diverse expertise."
The company is involved in everything from stopping hackers attacking a client's website to preventing the theft of customers' information or credit card details.
"It's fundamentally about protecting both our clients' information and data as well as that of their own customers," he explains.
His staff now also engages in what is called 'ethical hacking'. This is where clients pay his firm to test the robustness of their IT systems by trying to hack them. Once weaknesses have been found, the company then puts in place the hardware, software and procedural responses required.
He is not permitted to disclose the identity of his customers, but they are predominantly large blue-chips in sectors as diverse as telecoms, e-commerce, finance, retail, and government services. About 25pc of their business now comes from outside Ireland, mostly from clients in the UK and the US.
It has certainly been an interesting and exciting journey for the young entrepreneur who grew up in Rathmines, Dublin. At school, he found it hard to focus and spent his time playing rugby and engaging in more entrepreneurial activities. Because his parents taught computers for the local VEC, there were always computers around his home - which he used to make fake IDs for fellow students.
Later his entrepreneurial escapades expanded even further when he began developing innovative alarm systems for bicycles which also became a big seller among his peers. Having completed his leaving cert, he decided it was then time for him to leave full-time education and try his hand in the real world of business.
"Instead of going to college, I got a job distributing IT hardware and software supplies," explains Eoin. "And while I really admired the person I was working for, I increasingly wanted to be in charge of my own destiny," he adds.
The following year, having spotted a small shop unit to rent locally, he left to set up his own business selling PCs and servers.
"At the time, I remember ringing my father, all excited, and asking him for advice. And although my parents were both big into education, in fairness to him, he was hugely supportive and told me to go for it if that was what I wanted to do," he explains.
However, in order to fund his new venture and the start-up stock he required, he calculated that he would need about €5,000. So he rustled up a short business plan and headed to meet the bank manager of his local AIB branch. Instead of turning him down, the bank manager enquired if he had ever patented his previous invention - the bicycle alarm?
"It turned out that I had sold one to his son who happened to have been in the same year as me in secondary school," explains Eoin. "So I got the €5,000 loan I needed and I was away on a hack," he adds with a big laugh.
For the next four years and nine months, Eoin worked hard to make a success of the business. Try as he did, he just couldn't make it work.
"There was just no margin in selling PCs at the time. Then came the dotcom crash and no one was spending money. So when the lease on the building was up, I closed the business," says Eoin. "But I look back now and realise just how much I learned from that whole experience - in particular how absolutely vital it is to have sales and cash coming in. Without these, you simply don't have a viable and sustainable business. I see this period as my college degree or personal MBA," he adds with a smile.
Needing gainful employment, he applied for a job in telesales with Dell. After about two years, he'd learned what he could and decided it was time to move on.
"That's when I came across a role with a US IT company looking for someone to sell security products and services into the Irish market. Even though I knew little about this space, I managed to bluff my way through the interview and landed the job," explains Eoin. "I stayed until they decided to leave Ireland in 2005 at which point I had learned a huge amount about the security sector and decided it was time for my second business venture. And so Integrity360 was born.
"I managed to convince two others to join me at the time - Sean Rooney, a brilliant technology guy, and Anthony Walsh, a top salesman. Both became shareholders in the business".
Between the three of them, they had little or no money - so they rented a small office in the basement of a house in Percy Place, meeting clients in a local restaurant and holding board meetings in a local pub. When they landed their first enterprise customer, they did not have the money to purchase the equipment required to complete the work - and ended up having to convince the customer to pay them upfront.
"In the end, the job was worth over €200,000 to us - and that's how we funded the business. Without that first customer, we wouldn't be where we are today. And we're extremely lucky to be still working with that client 10 years later."
To differentiate from existing competitors, Eoin and his colleagues invested in hiring and training the very best staff and focused on delivery customer service levels beyond the industry norms. Word of mouth from satisfied customers brought more and more work - and gradually the company outgrew all their competitors in both size and turnover.
Everything was going well - until the downturn kicked in. Eoin then decided it was time for the business to try its hand abroad and opened an office in the UK with one employee.
"It was a huge risk. The first two years didn't go well but we persevered and worked tirelessly to get every new introduction and every customer meeting," admits Eoin. "Things gradually began to work out and today we have a very successful UK operation. To add to that, the market has recovered in Ireland and we are now growing at a rate of 30pc-40pc year on year," he adds.
With the company's staff drawn from some 22 different countries, there's definitely an interesting cultural and linguistic dynamic to the operation.
"I'm fortunate to have built a team that has the same drive and curiosity as I do. They're passionate about what they do; their attitude is to rise to challenges, to question, to try new things and if it doesn't work then, learn and try again. This has allowed us build a culture of creativity and innovation which has been central to our success to date," says Eoin.
With increased economic activity and increasing emphasis on security across all sectors, he is now more optimistic than ever. He plans to double the size of the business to 250 staff with €50m in revenues by 2020. Part of this strategy will include increasing their international presence - and with more and more US firms becoming clients, he believes that a US office could soon be on the horizon.
Eoin Goulding has come a long way from his days of making fake student IDs and bicycle alarms. No one really knows what makes a successful entrepreneur, whether it is something that is in our DNA or nurtured through our life experiences. But Eoin is clear about one thing.
"Had my first business not failed, I certainly wouldn't be where I am today. Sometimes we have far more to learn from our failures than our successes," he concludes.
Eoin's advice for other businesses
1. Surround yourself with the best people
“All business owners learn that they cannot do it all on their own — particularly when scaling up the business. In order to grow, you need to surround yourself with the very best people you can find and then learn to delegate important aspects of the business to them.”
2. Don’t be afraid to give it a go
“All business owners make mistakes and suffer failures. It is a natural part of the process of business. The secret to winning is to be able to get back up on your feet again as quickly as possible. In truth, we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.”
3. Focus on your personal strengths
“Don’t try and do too much. You can never be good at every aspect of running a business. Behind every successful business leader is a great team with a diversity of skills and talents. Success comes from learning to harness these while you focus on what you are good at.”
Article Courtesy of the Independent