Triona Mac Giolla Rí: ‘Innovate with courage’

In a new series, we talk to female entrepreneurs who are growing flourishing businesses in rural Ireland. Today, we talk to Triona Mac Giolla Rí, co- founder of Aró Digital Strategy.

In recent weeks we reported on how women in rural Ireland with new businesses or at least with well-developed ideas are being invited to join ACORNS 6. The ACORNS programme is designed to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland through a peer learning approach. Thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the voluntary contribution of time by Lead Entrepreneurs, there is no charge for those selected to participate.

The call is now open for applicants for ACORNS 6 and fifty female entrepreneurs from across the country will be selected to participate. Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

“Express your ideas, even if not complete. Get involved in good debate. Don’t bother with office politics”

Today, we speak to one of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs on the programme Triona Mac Giolla Rí who set up Aró Digital Strategy with Alan Rowe in Galway Gaeltacht in 1996.

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

Dark-haired woman in countryside.

Triona Mac Giolla Rí, co-founder of Aró Digital Strategy

We set up in 1996 – we were very excited about the internet which was very new back then.

We also saw it as a great opportunity for us to live in the West of Ireland. We had both lived abroad and we were keen to bring up our children there.

Some 25 years later, from the Connemara Gaeltacht we have worked with clients as far reaching as Zanzibar, Sydney, Hong Kong, Argentina, Columbia, Samoa, New York, along with Europe, UK and Ireland.

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

Aró Digital Strategy is a creative web design, software and digital marketing agency and 75pc of our customer base are independent luxury 4- and 5-star Hotels. Some 60pc of our business is outside Ireland

We are passionate about websites that look amazing! But that is not all.

Our clients achieve high visitor sessions and better value per visitor than most hotels.

We support hotels to bring most of their business directly through their own website, thereby having a direct relationship with their customers and reducing commission fees.

We are always feeding what we learn back into our product and we put great emphasis on continuously improving, learning, innovating, and moving forward.

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

Alan and I started the business in 1996 and primarily the business was funded organically. Family and friends supported us, and we had a BES (Business Expansion Scheme) investment in the very early years.

Throughout our years in business Údarás na Gaeltachta has supported the development of our software product suite and funded the development of lean practices. 

Currently we are working with a consultant Suzanne Lynch who is making great strides in the setup of our R&D Unit. We are building our network of external collaborations working with the Insight Team at NUIG.

The quiet time, while many of our clients were closed, gave us an opportunity to move forward quicker with our R&D plans. We are very optimistic about the future. Our clients can expect to see some very exciting new and innovative products and services in the near future to further grow and sustain their businesses.

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

Fidelma McGuirk (Payslip) who is a Lead Entrepreneur on the Going For Growth programme and Geraldine Kelly in the Continuing The Momentum programme. I also received great peer learning from ladies like Oonagh O’Hagan, Marissa Carter, Siobhan Byrne Learat and many other strong businesswomen each of whom I have learned a lot from. Paula Fitzsimons, who is the National Director of ACORNS and her team as well as the other Acorns Leads are a great source of support.

I continue to be inspired by the focused, driven businesswomen in the round tables that I facilitate through the ACORNS programme.

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

There are a few things we did not know starting out. You don’t know what you don’t know such as we didn’t know the value of a good mentor to help you to think about strategy before implementing.

Also, having to do everything yourself from the design and development of websites through to admin, finance, HR etc. However, once you have done something, it becomes much easier. Talking to someone on the same journey helps a lot.

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

I would get more experience before starting and hire more senior people earlier. I would also have spent more time away from the day-to-day looking at strategy and direction. Join the right organisations, for example IRDG (Industry Research & Development Group) has given us great support and guidance recently, which saves a lot of time.

Who inspires you in business?  

Many, many people inspire me. Those who run a profitable business for the love of it. People who share knowledge, collaborate, promote, and help people grow, encourage work life balance, and have fun along the way.

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

I ask our team to put their focus on improving a little every day: skills, products, processes, relationships etc. Always have respect – for customers, suppliers, teammates, everyone they deal with. Have integrity – do the right thing in an honest, fair and responsible way. Engage in open honest communication, conversations around failure are welcomed – don’t sweep it under the carpet – learn and grow from it. Innovate – with courage: Express your ideas, even if not complete. Get involved in good debate. Don’t bother with office politics.

What business books do you read or would recommend?


When it comes to working with women entrepreneurs through ACORNS, what is the top advice you give entrepreneurs?

Clearly understand, express, summarise and visualise your business model and USP. It will help you focus on prioritising the most effective actions. Choose Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that fit with your strategy and continually test, measure and finetune your KPIs. Build your network, ask questions, share knowledge, avoid overwork, look after yourself, learn how you work best and where you bring most value, allow yourself time to think. Above all enjoy!

Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

Pictured in top image: Triona Mac Giolla Rí (centre) with lead entrepreneur Mary B Walsh (middle) and former ACORNS participant Maeve Sheridan

Written by John Kennedy (

Published: 7 September, 2020