Dave Gildea is the CEO of CloudRanger in Donegal, who recently sold his start-up to Silicon Valley for an undisclosed fee. He sat down with Stephen Larkin to discuss his incredibly rags to riches journey.
Tell me about your background
I come from a technical background having worked with big financial institutions since coming out of college. But in 2012, I moved to a start-up called 3D Issue and with that I started to get a taste for the start-up industry. I spotted a gap in cloud computing and decided to go after it. With Amazon Web Services, who are the biggest cloud computing provider in the world, there were gaps in their offering that really needed to be filled for businesses to be successful.
So in 2014, after a brief conversation with my wife, I started doing consulting work in the US to bootstrap the business and I built a product over a number of years, and with that, CloudRanger was born. We got a lot of help and support from Enterprise Ireland and local New Frontiers. And so from year one, we went from New Frontiers to CSF and then to High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) with some investors in the US, who were consulting customers from previous. We knew them well, and they helped us grow quickly to acquisition in June of 2018. We were acquired by a company in California called Druva who specialise in disaster recovery globally.
“The model we operated on was invest quickly, grow fast and get to acquisition”
Discuss the acquisition process
The decision wasn’t a difficult one because it was probably something I always had in mind. The model we operated on was invest quickly, grow fast and get to acquisition. The company that acquired us is a great company. I met the founders several times and everything from how we operate and how we build software and our approach is very, very similar, so was it was a really natural fit. So in that perspective, they were probably one of the very few companies in the world that could have acquired us, because it was such a good fit. By the time we got to the acquisition, we had made the decision that it was the right thing to do, so we just wanted to get it done and then move on to the next stage which was joining the company and looking to grow.
Going from corporate to start-up
I suppose for me, the first thing really was having the support of my wife, she was incredible and her attitude was that we’d make it work. I had always planned on leaving my job to do my own thing, so having her support was key to that. She worked to pay the mortgage and and a whole bunch of other things so I could focus on the business. If it didn’t work, I felt that with the skills that I had, I’d be able to get a job again fairly quick.
You risked everything though?
Yeah, at one point we were down to the bare bones. The acquisition was a very difficult process because we had so much on the line. We literally had nothing left so that couple of months was incredibly stressful. If you’re familiar with process you’ll know this and things can change so fast.
The position we were in was very tough. At one point we didn’t know if we’d keep the house, we had sold everything we had, the kids were sleeping on the floor with no TVs, tables, chairs, or spoons in the house, it was all gone. That was an incredibly tough period which lasted for about three months. I didn’t think it would last that long at the time and I thought it might be quicker, but there’s so much to do in the legal side of the process.
Did you worry that it might not go through?
Yeah, I became incredibly superstitious during that period. I said I wasn’t going to shave until it goes through and three months later, there I am with a massive beard that was driving me nuts but I wasn’t going to shave it off.
“At one point we didn’t know if we’d keep the house, we had sold everything we had, the kids were sleeping on the floor with no TVs, tables, chairs, or spoons in the house”
What was the biggest challenge that you were faced with when running the company?
I was incredibly lucky with the team I had and the support we had locally. You know what they say; it takes it takes a village to raise a child and it’s the same with a start-up. You need everybody pulling in the same direction. We were also very lucky with the connections we had in the US. They provided a huge amount of support and consultant work. Hiring people at the start is probably the most difficult thing because you need to have the right people around you.
What does the future hold?
I feel I am incredibly lucky to be working with a company in Silicon Valley and meeting some some of the top people in Silicon Valley. The company here is continuing to grow and we’re currently up to 20 staff here in Letterkenny. I think the long term goal is to get to 40 or 50 people here in the next 18 months.
“It was a huge honor and it’s something I can proudly say for the rest of my life”
You’re very humble in the way you tell your story, but is there anyone who inspired you on this journey?
My father used to tell a great story when he was younger. He lived on an island in Sligo called Lough Arrow, so he basically grew up on an island in the middle of a lake. So it was a small island the middle of a lake, a beautiful house and as it happened it was owned by some lord from England and he used to milk the cows, but they were fishermen by trade. As a kid, he used to catch eels and they would sell them to a distributor in London that they never saw. So he’d bring these eels on a horse carriage to a train station in Boyle, and three weeks later he would get a cheque back from someone in England for all the eels delivered. To me, that was international trading before it was really a thing and I thought that was fantastic and so inspiring.
You were the Letterkenny Business Person of the Year in 2018, but if you go back to that three month period where you were risking everything and had very little at home, would you ever believe that you would reach that level?
No way. I try not to think too far ahead because, again being superstitous, it could go wrong. I genuinely didn’t expect that at all. I was absolutely shocked and it was something I never expected. It was a huge honor and it’s something I can proudly say for the rest of my life. But it was very much a team effort. We have an amazing team, with amazing people backing us and then the amazing support I have at home from my family.
Take your business to the next level with some investment
By Stephen Larkin
Published: 2 January, 2019