My business life: Pat Phelan

Pat Phelan, co-founder and CEO of Sisu Clinic, shares his life and business lessons.

Enigmatic Cork entrepreneur Phelan’s SISU chain of cosmetic clinics have begun their march across Ireland and the UK as well as into the United States with outlets in New York and Florida.

Phelan, an established successful entrepreneur who sold his business Trustev in 2015 for $44m, is also focused on a new health tech venture called Limbo which he has set up with fitness expert Tony Martin and ex-Trustev colleagues Rurik Bradbury and Clinton Sweetman. Limbo recently raised $6m and has attracted users such as basketball star Shaquille O’Neill.

“Globally there is a huge shift into the importance of health and wellness, and the cosmetic medicine vertical is a part of that”

Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are? 

It’s been an interesting journey! I’ve been down many different routes in my career path, including training as both a butcher and a chef, before beginning my journey with entrepreneurship which has led me to working in multiple industries including Telecoms, Fraud Detection and now Health & Wellness with Sisu Clinic.  

Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP? 

Globally there is a huge shift into the importance of health and wellness, and the cosmetic medicine vertical is a part of that. We see multi-billion dollar spends in our industry across the world, but there are no major players or brands in existence.

Sisu Clinic is already the largest chain of aesthetic clinics on the planet, with 21 clinics globally by the end of 2022, which confirms our stance. Our USP is that we are doctor-led. We don’t have customers or clients, we have patients. The patient, and their treatment, always comes first. We offer world class treatments, with a world class experience for patients, and we grow the business from there. 

“We expect to expand exponentially in the next three years, with particular emphasis on growth in the US”

How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?

At the start of our journey we funded the business through incredibly generous family and friends. We then raised funds from venture capital – led by Greygroft, Bullpen Capital and Montage Capital. We expect to expand exponentially in the next three years, with particular emphasis on growth in the US. 

What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?

I think one of my core skills is my ability to spot trends exceptionally early. This comes in useful when strategising the long term vision we have for Sisu Clinic, and other start-ups I’m involved in. Apart from that I have a ‘can-do’ attitude with a hands-on approach in all areas of the business, but particularly around fundraising – sharing the vision with others and continuing the rapid growth. 

“The difference between success and failure is the ability to keep going”

What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?

Having experienced setbacks earlier in life, these days I find positivity in most things, which is a huge help. I have to give a special shout out to Liam Casey, who has been a huge influencer on my career, an early investor in all of my business ventures, and always there with some solid advice. 

What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?

It’s a silly one, but has always held me in good stead. Years ago my father told me to sit at the end of the room for interviews and watch the candidates walking speed as they enter and exit the room. Their walking speed will be the speed they work at! It seems silly, but it’s quite interesting! 

What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?

The difference between success and failure is the ability to keep going. It’s not in my nature as an entrepreneur to give up and I see so many people walk away when times get tough. It’s always darkest before dawn. 

What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business? 

For me, the most challenging aspect of growing a business is letting go. I can sometimes forget that my role within the business changes as it continues to expand. As the business grows, you need to focus on leadership and scalability rather than getting stuck in the weeds of the day to day.  

“Digital transformation hasn’t just been a factor. It’s been everything”

How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?

Like every business, the pandemic was tough on us but I was incredibly proud of the team at Sisu. All of our practicing doctors, led by my two co-founders Dr Brian Cotter and Dr James Cotter, returned to healthcare to work in the hospital system. It was one of the most selfless acts I’ve ever witnessed.

While I couldn’t do the same, I spent my time building Sisu’s commercial offering to keep the lights on. We also built out a robust video consultation business to offer remote consultations so patients were ready for treatment as soon as the country started to open up again. I think it confirmed to me that we had an extremely strong business and we can weather any storm. 

How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?

Digital transformation hasn’t just been a factor. It’s been everything. The opportunity that the internet brings to all of us is just mind blowing and I think it’s still undersold. I still think there’s a huge digital gap in Irish firms, but it’s starting to change rapidly now. 

“At Sisu we understand that our people are at their best when they’re given the space and opportunity to grow

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have called Sisu Clinic “The Botox Brothers” – Brian and James Cotter will like that one in particular! 

Who inspires you in business today?  

The list is endless, but mostly the incredible teams of people I get to go to work everyday. They’re pretty inspiring! 

What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?

Move fast, break things and don’t be afraid to speak up and out! At Sisu we understand that our people are at their best when they’re given the space and opportunity to grow, and we invest heavily in learning and development through training programmes, mentoring, seminars and digital learning – across all areas of the business. 

What business books do you read or would recommend?

I just finished reading “New Kings of New York” about the growth of the super developer in New York property and loved it! Besides that I would recommend “The 10X Rule” and “High Performance Habits”, two great reads.  

What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?

I use a combination of Whoop and Limbo to manage myself along with a pair of iPhones. 

What social media platforms do you prefer and why?

I love Twitter @patphelan, and have been there almost two decades now.  I love it simply because it’s my newspaper. 

What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly? 

The future of payments is going to be really interesting, particularly around how people will pay and also speed of transfer. I think AI will change how businesses work dramatically over the next 10 years. 

Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?

It will all be okay. It might not be easy, but it will be okay. 

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.