Ray Ryan, managing director of the Noledge Group, shares his life and business lessons.
Noledge Group has developed technology that enables businesses to streamline their operations and enjoy clarity when it comes to looking at both sales performance and management accounts.
The result of a merger between Ryan’s previous business Envisage and OSSM, the new company has created 10 new jobs in Dublin and Belfast in the past year and has invested €120,000 to launch the new brand. It forecasts a doubling in revenues in the next two-to-three years.
“The process of envisioning an idea and bringing it to life has forever excited me”
Following the merger, Noledge will continue to market Sage and NetSuite solutions under both the Envisage and OSSM brands and offer its combined customer base of 375 businesses across Ireland and the UK with a range of cloud-based ERP and financial software solutions best-suited to their individual needs.
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
I have always had a keen interest in technology and running my own business. The process of envisioning an idea and bringing it to life has forever excited me. By using smarter tools, I realised I could make it easier for people to run their businesses and with that in mind, I started to think about setting up an enterprise of my own.
Circa the late 90’s, I was in a sales management role in an organisation that was selling large computer systems to mid-tier businesses and this role gave me an opportunity to meet the managing director of Sage in the UK. We had a long conversation about how the world would dramatically transform in the next ten years and how this would impact the Irish market.
“I live by a business mantra: ‘Focus on the outcome, and the income will look after itself’”
I returned home, full of ideas about the opportunities that were going to emerge and decided there and then to set up my own business marketing Sage solutions. I initially did everything myself, such as the training, selling, implementing, and administration, before gradually growing the business. There was huge momentum for change during this period, and we were well placed to service the needs of SME’s at that time.
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
We make businesses more profitable by enabling them to run faster and better. I live by a business mantra: ‘Focus on the outcome, and the income will look after itself.’
For us, the outcome is what matters, because we know if we get it right, the revenue will follow. Our team is happy to work late and go that extra mile to deliver solutions for our customers. While the number of days allocated to a project implementation is important from an operational and financial perspective, what’s more important to us is to deliver a solution that really makes it easier for our customers to do business.
How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?
Like most start-ups at that time, we had no external funding, yet step-by-step, we grew the business. It was all about recurring support revenue. This revenue stream allowed us to build a team of people to support our customers and enable the business to grow.
It is very difficult to grow without recurring revenue in our industry, and every business I have started has grown out of its own cashflow. The Noledge Group recently invested more than €100K in our new brand. We now employ forty-two people and have achieved over €4 million in turnover last year. Over the next three years, our ambition is to be employing sixty people and to double our turnover.
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
Someone recently told me that, “this is the only family business I’ve worked with that isn’t run by a family but acts like a family.” I think they said this because we care, and this translates into our employees caring about what that they are doing and the customers they are doing it for.
“Don’t ever be afraid to surround yourself with people that are far more skilled than yourself”
In addition, empathy is crucial. Everyone has something that is important to them, and you need to be empathetic to really understand what makes them tick.
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
My father-in-law, Richard O’Neill, was a huge inspiration to me. I remember him telling me, “There are two things you need in business – cashflow and enthusiasm. If you do not have either, you’ll never have a business.” When you are dealing with a tricky situation, you need to find enthusiasm to ensure you can find the way out. During the tough times, I would tell myself that I can manage cashflow but if I lose enthusiasm, there is no hope.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
A friend of mine told me, “Don’t ever be afraid to surround yourself with people that are far more skilled than yourself.” I have lived by this ever since and it has been essential to our growth.
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
Everyone struggles at times. There are two things you can do when you find yourself in a hole: look down or look up. You will hit every kind of obstacle when running a business but remember there is always a way of overcoming every challenge that comes along. You just need to keep looking up.
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
Doing it; not talking about it or dreaming about it. So many people have ideas and never act on them.
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
I learned that how you choose to overcome an obstacle is how you will succeed. Not being able to go to our office was a massive obstacle. I would never have thought that our company would survive without everybody working together in the office, yet during this period, we have managed to grow the business with all our staff working remotely.
“I believe that Web3 and blockchain technology will soon come into their own at the vanguard of the next generation of digital transformation”
This new way of working has proven to be a bonus to the business. The flexibility has helped us all to better balance work and life and have more energy and focus when we work. Everyone benefits.
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey, and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
Digital transformation has enabled The Noledge Group to achieve more automated and digital processes which has undoubtedly helped our business to run faster and better. Luckily, before Covid-19 hit, we had become a fully cloud-based business.
Cloud technology advancements have completely changed the way business is being conducted now and will continue to play a vital role into the future. The way I look at this is, if you’re not planning to be on board this fast-moving train, you may end up on the tracks. Conducting business in the most efficient way will foster growth in a company.
I believe that Web3 and blockchain technology will soon come into their own at the vanguard of the next generation of digital transformation.
“My best advice would be to nurture through empathy and by listening to your staff”
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
It is imperative to believe in yourself. When you are young and starting out, you don’t always have full confidence in the decisions you are making. It’s only as you begin to see the business take off, that decision-making confidence comes to the fore. If I were to do it all again, I would have more self-belief and would probably have made bigger investment decisions earlier.
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
My best advice would be to nurture through empathy and by listening to your staff. One of the upsides from Covid-19 is that it has enabled Noledge to give employees back their lives. Many of our staff face additional challenges each day, such as working around children and domestic schedules. I understand these challenges and I encourage our team to build work patterns to suit their lifestyles. At the end of the day, I have full confidence that they will always deliver.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
The best business book I have ever read is ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’. It focuses on the importance of bringing innovation to customers. A successful company can do everything right and can still fail unless they know when to abandon traditional business practices.
“Read, read, read. It is the best way to educate yourself.”
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
NetSuite, as it gives me the visibility and control so that I can make sound decisions, about the business. Having clear insights into areas such as finance, human resources projects and sales means I have a concise overview of every aspect of the business’ performance, as and when needed.
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
I have taken myself off many but am still on Twitter and LinkedIn as these platforms are most relevant from a business perspective. Noledge uses all social channels but focuses on Twitter and LinkedIn as these are the best mediums to connect with people and to stay in touch with key business trends.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
Technology to date has managed to connect almost 75% of the global population. While we are closer to becoming a global community, there is still work to be done as two billion people do not have access to a bank account or the ability to trade. In the coming years, I believe that those currently isolated from technology will have access to online banking and global markets using Web3 through crypto and blockchain technology.
The future of technology will enhance the global community by bringing technological benefits to all.
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
Read, read, read. It is the best way to educate yourself. Also take the time to think more about what you are doing as it is the essence of getting it right the first time.