Beyonder’s John Collins is one of Ireland’s original tech entrepreneurs and investors, and recently oversaw acquisitions of two companies in his portfolio.
Just as the Covid-19 lockdown began in March, there was at least one businessperson in Ireland who had something to smile about. Beyonder founder John Collins, a tech entrepreneur long before the word was fashionable in Ireland, had the satisfaction of seeing two companies he supported – Opening.io and Singlepoint – be successfully acquired.
In early March Irish software consulting giant Version 1 acquired Singlepoint, a business started in 2010 by Rob Curley. Soon after, the news emerged that another company backed by Collins, HR AI firm Opening.io led by Andreea Wade and Adrian Mihai , was to be acquired by iCIMS Talent Logic, a global cloud-based recruiting provider.
“We speak of ourselves as a really brave, courageous, risk-taking nation, but we’re not. The people who start these initiatives are”
Speaking on The ThinkBusiness Podcast, Collins recalled how he became an entrepreneur long before anyone really appreciated the term. “Entrepreneur! The only other French term in Dublin at the time was Le Coq Hardi,” Collins said, referring to the famous Dublin eatery that was also the centre of political and business intrigue in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I suppose my first entrepreneurial decision was when I left the civil service, which is an unbelievably apprehensive step to take for any normal male in the early 1980s.”
A true original
There is a restless intelligence about Collins that makes his decision to leave the civil service during an economic crisis, navigate the tech world to become a successful entrepreneur and today under Beyonder where he mentors founders, strengthens their board and help them successfully exit, all make sense.
He’s captivated by entrepreneurs, wants to help, and he can deftly identify the gaps and hurdles they need to negotiate.
“It’s what I love. It stimulates me”
Collins worked his way up through the tech industry and founded his own company Original Solutions which he sold to Perot Systems in 2008.
“I had worked my way through a series of multinational subsidiaries at executive level. I had quite an eclectic customer base and travelled the world on behalf of these companies.
“But a fundamental flaw in my character is that I always kind of felt there was nothing overwhelmingly significant about those multinationals relative to the natural cop-on and leadership that you get from Irish people, that sense of distinctiveness about Irish leadership being something that really helps to distort norms and just disrupt.
“It’s more to do with where there are norms, there are always exceptions. And I think that’s where start-ups live.”
If anything, having twice in his career experienced the transition from indigenous company to multinational, Collins believes Ireland should work harder to forge better matchmaking between multinationals and young, rising start-ups.
After successfully selling Original Solutions, Collins’ restless spirit was attracted to helping companies scale and where necessary, sell successfully too. “I was just trying to bring the benefit of my experience and relationships,” he explained.
In the case of Singlepoint and Opening.io, Collins was drawn to the passion and promise of both companies as well as the technology. “It’s the founders, the people, that’s the principle piece.”
Another aspect he said was willingness to listen to advice and act decisively. “If there’s any great philosophy for me in business it’s ‘decision, action, communication’ and not necessarily in that order. But those three pieces are the foundation of every business and so they’re the foundation of every good idea.”
Looking at the Irish start-up scene, Collins believes the Irish Government needs to play a more fundamental role in supporting start-ups. “I believe we need to put more shoulders behind the wheel. I don’t believe the State has in any way invigorated the start-up ecosystem.”
Elaborating, Collins said the State needs to take more responsibility supporting start-ups more vigorously and more explicitly in cash terms than they do today.
“It’s only at the end of deals and transactions when you start to see who the real shareholders are and it’s not necessarily a pretty picture.”
The problem he points out is there’s too much marketing and very little real funding applied to the world of start-ups.
“We speak of ourselves as a really brave, courageous, risk-taking nation, but we’re not. The people who start these initiatives are.”
His solution – strip down the bureaucracy and the delays in drawing down funding. “If companies have shown they have the commitment, they’ve had the self-sacrifice, to try and enable those kind of entrepreneurial visions, the State shouldn’t be belligerent about backing it.”
Collins pointed out that even in the current Covid-19 crisis, there was no specific support allocated to help start-ups – unlike in France where €4bn was allocated to help start-ups.
He cited the book ‘Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle’ by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. “It doesn’t take a lot of legislation to enable that type of ethos. Get the ethos right. Get the culture right.
“I think we need to appreciate here in Ireland that we have an opportunity and we’re also currently the laggard. Wouldn’t it be great if we jumped to the front?”
Collins speaks proudly of his son Andy who runs his own business in Dublin, the independent menswear store Indigo & Cloth.
He also says he is currently advising 12 start-ups, including electric car rental start-up UFO Drive as well as others in the areas of Diaspora dating, publishing, recruitment and social enterprise.
“It’s what I love. It stimulates me. It has to be something other than box sets.”
Written by John Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published: 12 June, 2020