Cork-born tech company Aspira has scaled nationwide and has expanded to Europe and Asia in what could be the definitive scaling story.

Founded in Cork in 2007 by two former Motorola software development colleagues Pat Lucey and Colum Horgan, Aspira is a company that makes the digital transformation goals of organisations across a range of industries possible.

Focusing initially on project management and software development products the company changed focus in 2013 to be a services business in a move that accelerated the growth of the company resulting in a new headquarters in Cork as well as offices in Dublin’s docklands.

“We go to our customers to see what their problems are, what their needs are, and we help them deliver. We like to think of ourselves as problem-solvers”

Recognised by the Financial Times as one of ‘Europe’s Fastest 1,000 Growing Companies’ Aspira began to win business in the Middle East and by 2019 it opened its first mainland Europe office in the Netherlands that has since been followed by new offices in Malaysia.

“We always had ambitions to export,” says Áine O’Keefe, Aspira’s financial controller. “Today we’re an international services business and we ultimately provide our customers with the people and the technology to delivery their projects. So whether it’s providing project managers, software developers, project management training, or IT support, we do end-to-end whatever they need to deliver their projects.

The most important decision is to start

Like most export success stories, the lynchpin was the decision to go international in the first place and Aspira dipped its toe into the European market by establishing an office in the Netherlands. “We really saw a snowball effect from there. Because of the drive to e-commerce, a customer in the Netherlands introduced us to their client base in Malaysia and based on the success of that we opened offices there too.

“The key is planning for every scenario and evaluate everything that can happen, rather than just opening an office overseas and hoping for the best”

The key to scaling internationally, O’Keefe says, is to plan. “We looked at the targets that we had and re realised that expanding internationally very likely would have an impact on our cashflow as we wait to be set up as approved vendors. The first thing we did was talk to our bank, which happened to be Bank of Ireland, and we set up invoice discounting. We really found that to be fantastic for growing because it grows with you. If you expand rapidly, it expands with you. That was a very useful thing that we did early on.

“The key is planning for every scenario and evaluate everything that can happen, rather than just opening an office overseas and hoping for the best.”

Another important learning is that it takes time to understand the business cultures of different countries. “You can’t take anything for granted. The way that business is done in the Netherlands, which might seem very close culturally to Ireland, is completely different. You really cannot go in blind.”

O’Keefe said that working with Enterprise Ireland before entering either the Dutch, UAE or Malaysian markets was pivotal. “They helped us to meet potential vendors. We needed tax advisers, we needed solicitors and other professionals and we really couldn’t have done it without Enterprise Ireland, they were excellent.”

Employing more than 100 people, Aspira is looking to the next level of growth. “We’re seeing a massive demand for e-commerce expertise and technology services as well as remote working. Everything today is in the cloud and we’re able to help our customers grow with us.

“This year we are targeting around 18pc growth and our plans are to keep growing.”

A key facet of the growth of Aspira is the company culture. “Everyone’s opinion is listened to, from the CEO to the newest hire, and taken on board and that has been a part of the rapid growth we have seen in the past 10 years alone. It’s one team, one dream.”

O’Keefe said that further international expansion is on the cards but that the growth will have to be carefully managed in order to offer the quality of service that is Aspira’s hallmark. “There are lots of competitors but very few that can offer all of the services that we offer. It really comes down to the support and the relationships we can bring to the table.

“Our culture is about ensuring everybody who joins gets immersed in everything that we do and that means our skills are very transferrable across our operations around the world and everybody has worked with one another.”

This agile approach to growth and a flat, can-do culture has mean that Aspira has been able grow organically. “It has all been organic and made possible through support from Enterprise Ireland and our bank.”

Listening to customers and sharing in their success is also the critical component of Aspira’s growth journey. “We were originally set up as a product company and a software development company. But in the past few years we’ve transitioned to being a services company.

“We go to our customers to see what their problems are, what their needs are, and we help them deliver,” O’Keefe concluded. “We like to think of ourselves as problem-solvers.”

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 19 March 2021

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