Brian Moran, co-founder of workspace provider NoCo shares his life and business lessons.
NoCo, which recently unveiled an expansion partnership with The National Association of Community Enterprise Centres’ (NACEC) and Enterprise Ireland, is now Ireland’s largest workspace network provider with remote working hubs in over 350 locations nationwide. The service enables companies to connect their team to a network of ‘close to home’ workspaces across Ireland via one membership, one monthly invoice and one point of contact.
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to do my own thing and run my own business. My father has had his own business from very early in his working life so I’m not sure whether it’s in my blood or if I always aspired to do the same as him. I was never what you would describe as an academic, I’m more of a practical learner, I need to get stuck into something and make the mistakes to really understand what I’m doing so after school I knew I had a lot to learn before I ever started something myself.
“We started it because we saw a growing demand in the jobs market for flexibility in both location and time and on the candidate side and on the other, we saw a growth in competition for talent among employers”
I spent much of my twenties working in sales in various companies and industries which I only now know how valuable it was but the niggle was always there to do my own thing. I ended up working in an online jobs marketplace called Jobbio, which is where I met my business partner Frankie. Timing is everything, we were both in the same headspace, and because of the industry we were in, we both spotted the opportunity on the horizon – and here I am.
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
We started NoCo pre-pandemic back in 2019. We started it because we saw a growing demand in the jobs market for flexibility in both location and time and on the candidate side and on the other, we saw a growth in competition for talent among employers. I was a commuter at the time spending stupid amounts of time commuting into Dublin every day, I say stupid because I’m living only 30 kilometres from the city centre and some days I could have got to the other side of the country in the amount of time it took me to get to and from work.
“Self-awareness, in my experience, is something that a lot of business owners seem to lack, and is often replaced with ego”
We felt the solution was just to figure out how we can make it easier for an employer to offer their staff a network of locations, which was the genesis of NoCo. We’ve built an online platform where employers can provide a remote / hybrid / flexible workspace infrastructure for their employees across the country. The objective is to simplify the whole workflow for an employer and consolidate the workspace discovery, subscription, employee onboarding, legal and billing process into one online platform, one provider, one service agreement and one monthly invoice.
How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?
At the start we had no funding, we started off working on the business part time and keeping part time jobs to keep ourselves going. The goal was to get the business to a point where we were bringing investment in to kick things up a gear.
“My parents, family and the people I work with have been the best source of knowledge and learning so far. I don’t expect that to change”
We’re pretty lean and careful about what we invest our money in. If it’s something that’s not going to drive growth in the business, it’s not worth the investment. We carry that philosophy through to today. We are very ambitious and have already begun our expansion into the UK, and as we’ve always done, we’re eyeing up that point where we will kick things up a gear again, into the UK and beyond. Watch this space!
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
Rather than knowing what my key skills and qualities are, I know what they are not. In my mind it’s a lot more valuable to both myself and my business to understand where I’m lacking. Our business is very much a business driven by good people, so understanding our own gaps and filling them with the right people in and around the business is important. Self-awareness, in my experience, is something that a lot of business owners seem to lack, and is often replaced with ego. As I said before, I like to learn by making mistakes, they don’t necessarily need to be my mistakes.
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
If I’m honest I don’t really believe in mentors, I can’t see the sense in putting my faith in one person I don’t know or I’m not close to and trying to replicate their good traits, advice or achievements without recognising their faults particularly from someone not connected to you.
“Success doesn’t just happen because of one thing you did right, it compounds over time from the 99 things you did right before that”
The learnings that stick with me, and that have served me the best have come from the people I surround myself with. My parents, family and the people I work with have been the best source of knowledge and learning so far. I don’t expect that to change.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
I was told by someone close to me that “A man who makes no mistakes, makes nothing”. Those works haven’t left me since, and likely never will.
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
I’m still early doors in my business career but so far, I’ve learned that success doesn’t just happen because of one thing you did right, it compounds over time from the 99 things you did right before that. I try to trust my gut, and not overthink anything. You’ve already thought things through, that’s why your gut is telling you to do the right thing. So just get it done.
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
Cashflow … if you are running a business you’ll know, if you are about to start one, you’ll find out!
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
We were in an odd position where the pandemic accelerated the conversation about what we were trying to achieve and really pushed the topic of remote and hybrid work to the top of the agenda for a lot of employers.
“It’s been impressive to watch a lot of Irish firms transform themselves during the pandemic, in some cases overnight”
As I mentioned before we were lucky enough to be quite a lean business at the time. The challenge for us was how do we position ourselves and keep up with the conversation that was happening in the industry as things were changing on a weekly basis. We had a few mini pivots in the business through the pandemic but ultimately just had to keep the head down and trust our gut that we were doing the right thing. We’re still here.
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
While we work with physical space, bringing that physical space together online on our platform was an important part of our journey so far. It transformed our offering into something tangible for customers who were very early along their journey with us. It’s been impressive to watch a lot of Irish firms transform themselves during the pandemic, in some cases overnight. It’s important to recognise that as a testament to the quality and resilience of Irish people and businesses and not the technology.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Absolutely nothing, everything we did got us to where we are and everything we do will get us to where we are going. Every success and failure is part of the journey.
“You only have so much time, energy and headspace so focus on getting the small, sometimes boring, everyday tasks done right and over time they will make the biggest impact”
Who inspires you in business today?
Anyone starting a new business in this new area of remote and hybrid working. There are a lot of pioneers in the space who are trying to navigate through and figure out this new industry and new ways of working while running the day to day of a new business. I know the pain.
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
Go for it – take ownership of what you are joining the company to do – it’s yours so run with it and make it your own. It’s not easy to bring good people into a business these days, the competition for talent is really tough so if you do, create an environment where they can take ownership and let them thrive in what you brought them in to do.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
I generally don’t read “business books” but a few I’ve found very valuable have been the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy (a little bit “self helpy” at the start but try to ignore that), Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. The combination of the three were particularly valuable for me when getting started, and still are. The message I took from them is that you only have so much time, energy and headspace so focus on getting the small, sometimes boring, everyday tasks done right and over time they will make the biggest impact.
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
My entire life, personally and professionally, is run by my calendar and email. Outside of that I try to keep things as low tech as possible. Productivity comes from you, not the tech you use so keep it simple and just get it done.
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
I don’t use any social media platforms outside of LinkedIn. It’s a very useful tool to curate the right news and information you need, and connect with the people that you want without a lot of the noise that goes with other platforms.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
From a business perspective technology is very clearly a need to have rather than a nice to have. But it has to be the right match for your business. It’s very easy to get caught up in every shiny new piece of technology but understanding your business first and where technology fits in your business second, I believe is very important. Not the other way around. We approach technology in our business from an effort vs return perspective
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
Just get started, the details will work themselves out.