‘If you believe, if it wakes you in the dead of night, you have a fighting chance’

Dave McDonald is the founder and CEO of Nova Broadband. He has disrupted the broadband industry, he flies planes, and he has very straight views on the role of government.

What’s in a name? 

Nova is Latin for new, so I thought, “that’s us, the new network”. At the time, people had eircom or BT to pick from, so we were the upstart. We now trade as Nova Telecom on the business side and Nova Broadband for residential.

In business since fourth class 

Nova has been in business since 2004. That is a long, long time in the internet industry – before smartphones or YouTube existed – my kids look at me with horror when I tell them that. Although strictly speaking, I’m in business since the fourth class in primary school. My first business developed and sold a battery powered alarm to alert kids if their parents were entering their bedroom. So I’ve always wanted to be self-employed, and I don’t ever see myself interviewing for a job anywhere. I love the independence I have now, even though it was hard-earned.

The best moment 

Any entrepreneur will tell you that business is a journey. You fight and fight, and then one day, you look around and think, “Wow, look what I’ve built!”. That moment came for me when I walked into our large colourful new offices and saw the buzz, the activity, the employment, the amazing people all bringing their value to my vision. It was (quietly) one of my proudest moments.

Book-smart or street-smart?

On the one hand, I learned to code when I was nine on my ZX Spectrum computer. (If that doesn’t make me a nerd, I don’t know what does). I took unfathomable risks in the early years with family finances to get the business off the ground and kept things going by keeping all the balls in the air with the belief that I would make it. So both book- and street-smart for sure.

“If you really believe in what you are doing – if it wakes you with butterflies in the dead of night – then you have a fighting chance of making it work.”

Any business people you admire? 

I respect certain people in the internet industry. Jerry Sweeney in Cork Internet eXchange (CIX) would be one person who has an iron vision and is very skilled at bringing the pieces together to make it happen. Colm Piercy of Viatal is another person in the industry that I admire for his achievements. I have said it before – my father is someone who I admire. I worked in his fuel business first then his cleaning business all through my teenage years, which gave me a fantastic work ethic, and an appreciation for the relatively comfortable life I have now. I watched him grow his business hugely over the years, and that was a major inspiration to me.

How to make it 

If you really believe in what you are doing – if it wakes you with butterflies in the dead of night – then you have a fighting chance of making it work. Be prepared for some lows as well as highs and trust your gut. Watch the numbers and don’t be a lone ranger – involve others who can contribute positively. That’s about the size of it.

What do you read? 

I do read online forums and blogs every single day to do with broadband in Ireland (Boards.ie for example) and abroad, vendor support forums, internet industry forums and blogs. I have a habit of reading those late at night, which is not good for sleep. I like to consume positive content (Gary Vaynerchuk at the moment) and get my news from a few trusted, diverse sources to get all perspectives.

“I would re-write the rules so that the state viciously protects its citizens’ rights to housing, employment, health, education and quality of life.”

nova broadband

If you weren’t doing this? 

I always wanted to be an airline pilot and would still love that (or even to fly a crop-duster – anything to fly). I did a good bit of flying training at Cork Airport, flying over the south-west training zone in beautiful West Cork. I did stall-training over Inchydoney beach, and that was a great thrill. Maybe someday I’ll tow banners somewhere or something. I think I’d be very happy doing that. 

If you were able to go back and advise your younger self – what piece of advice would you give him? 

Don’t be shy. You have value and have things to say. Shyness is a waste of time and a waste of experiences and connections. Morrissey was right on that one.

If you were ‘ruler for a day’?

The business climate is fine, don’t mind it, it’ll mind itself. Socially, where do I start? I firmly believe that the sole purpose – ‘Prime Directive’ – of government should be the protection of its citizens. That’s it, that’s all there is. Anything else is secondary. I would mandate that every action the state takes needs to follow this central tenet. I would re-write the rules so that the state viciously protects its citizens’ rights to housing, employment, health, education and quality of life. That might sound very broad, but it is not. It’s a principal. So no more evictions by vulture funds. No more paediatric waiting lists. You get the idea. Protect citizens before anything else. Only good can follow that.

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