Podcast Ep 86: Lucky Beard’s Adam Oberem chose Dublin as HQ for a global consulting business.
A lot of the time our attentions are so focused on Irish companies scaling to overseas markets to continue their growth journey that we often miss the small but growing international businesses that chose to make Ireland the catalyst for their growth journey.
Lucky Beard is a South Africa-founded business that earlier this year revealed plans to invest €1.1m in its Irish operations and make 10 new hires as it gears up to accelerate the digitalisation of Irish and European businesses.
“We were exploring other digital hubs such as Amsterdam and Berlin. But Enterprise Ireland were really fantastic in terms of the process we went through with them and from a business point of view it all made sense”
Founded in South Africa in 2015, Lucky Beard currently employs 65 people across strategy, brand, product and experience design, with 18 already deployed in its European headquarters in Dublin.
Digital transformation gains pace
“We’ve built businesses ourselves and when it comes to helping clients be bold and transform their businesses, it comes from a place of experience and having learnt the hard knocks the hard way”
As the pandemic continues to accelerate digital adoption across many industries, the company believes there is a huge opportunity for many Irish SMEs to evolve in order to realise their full potential in an increasingly digital economy.
According to a McKinsey & Company study, digital offerings in response to Covid-19 have leapfrogged seven years of progress in a matter of months with the main driving force being the shift of consumers to online channels.
Lucky Beard’s Irish clients include Institute of Banking (IOB), Aryza, McCauley’s Pharmacy and Irish Life, to name a few.
So why did Lucky Beard choose Ireland? “It’s been a very interesting journey for us,” says Oberem. “We had one or two clients in Europe and the UK. We knew that we needed to expand the business and move offshore from South Africa. Around that time, we got introduced to Enterprise Ireland. We were exploring other digital hubs such as Amsterdam and Berlin. But Enterprise Ireland were really fantastic in terms of the process we went through with them and from a business point of view it all made sense in terms of access to talent, access to Europe and it being an English-speaking country.
“And so, myself and my co-founder James Nelson shipped over to Ireland in 2017 and it’s been a fun journey ever since.”
Future proof business
James Nelson, chief creative and co-founder; Elaine Devereux, managing director and Adam Oberem, CEO and co-founder of Lucky Beard. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
“It’s all about relationships. When you find the business and the personalities that you connect with, that’s when the true magic happens”
Oberem and Nelson previously ran and sold a successful consultancy business in their native South Africa that they set up in their 202s and which they grew to a 500-person organisation before selling to WPP in 2009.
“We learned a hell of a lot during those years … the good, the bad, the ugly, and the do’s and don’ts.”
The aim was to set up a business that was future-proof and that would remain contextual and exciting for clients. “We started out by establishing the key pillars of the business in terms of advisory around business and commercial strategy and transformation and articulate that in a way that would position businesses for the next five to 10 years.”
Key to this is helping businesses to truly understand who their customers are before designing products, brands and experiences.
Another aspect is the breadth and depth of knowledge across industries. “So we work within financial services, healthcare, travel, telecoms, fashion and we’ve built up a breadth of knowledge and we deeply understand the verticals that we work within.
“It’s really about how do we create businesses, products and brands either in terms of transforming ones that exist or that currently don’t exist.”
Compared to Big 5 consultancy giants, Oberem says that Lucky Beard’s size means it can be agile and operate at faster pace.
“We also bring an entrepreneurial approach. We’ve built businesses ourselves and when it comes to helping clients be bold and transform their businesses, it comes from a place of experience and having learnt the hard knocks the hard way.”
Establishing in Dublin has helped Lucky Beard to grow organically. “Ireland and the opportunity came along at the perfect time and the people we’ve met along the way have really shaped and informed the experience and brought the success and growth of the business to date.
“We are a business of true co-creation and the experience here has been fantastic.”
In many ways Lucky Beard is a truly international business with teams from Dublin to London and Johannesburg collaborating with clients.
“It’s all about relationships. When you find the business and the personalities that you connect with, that’s when the true magic happens.”
Oberem says that rather than having a dampening effect on its plans, the pandemic actually intensified Lucky Beard’s mission.
“With digital adoption having accelerated at the pace it has, it has been good for us as a business. Digital products or digitally-assisted products have accelerated seven-fold in the past 12 months. What that means from a strategy and execution point if view is that in terms of making products accessible, building or designing those services, that’s where we come in.”
The real challenge for Lucky Beard as we emerge from the pandemic will be managing growth across multiple geographies.
“It’s about how do you grow at the right pace. The opportunities are there both locally in Ireland and across Europe, which is a big focus for us. It’s about really making sure we grow with the right people and the right clients. We don’t even like to use the word clients, we prefer partners.
“Partners and people can have a really big impact on the trajectory of a business, so hiring the right talent and working with the right partners will be key. We have big ambitions for the next couple of years – especially to grow across Europe – and we’ll be building that from Dublin in a very managed and responsible way.”
A final question: where does the name Lucky Beard come from? Oberem laughs: “We are at that stage of our lives where we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The three founding partners all had decent facial hair at the time. We had a bit of a pioneering spirit in ourselves. So we said Lucky Beard. That’s where it comes from.”