It's been a while since the last EirePreneurZ interview so I'm very grateful to Barbara Molloy, founder of Pickapro.ie, for taking time out from a busy schedule to share with us what entrepreneurship means to her -
Hi Barbara, can you tell me what your company does?
pickapro is a website of home and garden contractors in the Dublin area. Homeowners use pickapro to find professional portfolios by home and garden contractors including photos of their work, customer recommendations and a complete company overview. We also include a photograph of every professional to put a personal face to the company name.
Our philosophy is to show homeowners what type of work a company does – as opposed to just telling them. pickapro features architects, builders, interior designers, surveyors, landscapers, plumbers,electricians, tilers, painters, plasterers, carpenters, carpet cleaners and storage specialists.
Where did you get the idea?
I got the idea when I was in the process of renovating my own home, I found that although it was easy to get the phone number of tradespeople from the Golden Pages or friends of family, it wasn't so easy to progress from there. The only way to find out more about each company was to actually go ahead and arrange a meeting, which can be very time consuming, especially if you need several trades like builders, plumbers, electricians etc.
I felt that the best solution would be a website that would provide a lot of the information that homeowners care about - photos of their work, customer recommendations and a complete company profile, including information about the project process, insurance and other frequently asked questions.
When did you setup the business and what was the genesis?
I’m a software engineer by profession and started developing pickapro.ie in my spare time in 2004 i.e. developing the website and recruiting my first reference customers. In May 2005 I took the plunge and started working full time on the business.
Originally, pickapro was going to be totally photo based. Later, we added interviews with previous customers. That turned out be really important because homeowners want to hear the scoop direct from the horses mouth as it were!
Isn't there a lot of competition in 'handyman' websites? How do you differentiate?
What differentiates pickapro is the type and quality of information we provide about our members. Many of the websites you’re referring too provide little more than a name, a contact number and some basic details. Our approach is to provide the homeowner with an opportunity first to see the work of the company and also to hear what their previous customers have to say. We carry out all the interviews ourselves - they're not anonymous. In all, this gives homeowners a lot more reassurance.
What's your academic and employment background?
I studied Electronic Engineering in NUIG. From there, I moved into software, starting with telecomms, then moving into automation software for the pharmaceutical industry.
Is there a history of business in the family?
No. I imagine it would be very useful!
How many hours per week do you work now?
About 40. I used to work a lot longer but have gradually realised that it's counter productive for me. My best ideas often come to me when I'm not sitting at the computer.
Are those hours very flexible or do you stick to a routine?
I’m a person of routine! I've worked in a 9-5 job for so long that it's hard to break the pattern.
Do you find that discipline is a problem when you're your own boss?
Not at all. It really is different when you’re doing it for yourself. You just want to reach your goals.
Does it interfere with family / social life?
No, in fact that’s where having a routine helps. It stops the business taking over your whole life.
Is it worth all the sacrifice and headaches?
Absolutely. It was scary to start - giving up secure employment and trying something completely new.
But it's fantastic when we get good feedback from homeowners about pickapro.
And there’s also a lot of satisfaction in what we do. Our members are small to medium size enterprises and even though they don’t have a lot of time or resources to market their business, they do great work. It’s really rewarding to help them present their portfolio professionally and win new business as a result.
Do you ever think it would be easier just to get a 9 to 5 job?
For the first few months, it’s all new and the freedom is fantastic. But somewhere during the second year, when you realise that this will be a longer, harder slog than you expected, a 9-5 job sounds very appealing. But if you can get over that 'hump', it gets easier. I have to admit that I do still have occasional fantasies about standing around the tea room giving out about "management".
Do you always take weekends off or does it depend?
I'll often work for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It's a good time for tackling something new that needs time and concentration.
Do you find it stressful and if so how do you deal with the stress?
It can be. There's a temptation to try and strike out in all directions at once. Now, I pick one or two priorities at a time and really focus on those. It’s not only more effective but I find that it helps me to keep the stress down.
You work from home - what are the advantages and disadvantages?
I save money on office rent and I’m not stuck in traffic. But it's a lot harder to switch off at the end of the day. It's too tempting to go back and check on emails and voicemails.
Do you have employees or plans to take employees on? How many?
About a year ago, my husband Paul joined me in the business to look after sales. We also outsource some of the work. That works really well and frees us up to concentrate on building the business.
Could you run the business independently of location?
About half the work can be done anywhere as it involves computer work i.e assembling portfolios, designing logos etc. The other half involves meeting customers at their job site and finding out about their business.
How important is Information Technology? And your website?
The website is obviously important because it's the public face of pickapro.ie But a lot of the work is totally non technical. We meet every customer, learn about their business and try to make sure that we're representing it in the best possible way.
What are your favourite items of technology / gadgets?
I like "Google Alerts". You enter the topics that you are interested in- and it sends you an email whenever a new page goes live about that topic.
Did you find it daunting to begin with? What issues caused most headaches?
For me, it was generating the initial sales. Obviously, I couldn’t guarantee that it would work so I had to try and find companies willing to take a chance and give it a go. Fortunately, it generated plenty of business for our initial guinea pigs and it’s grown from there.
What part of entrepreneurship do you love and What part do you hate?
I love the creative side, thinking of new initiatives that we can take to improve pickapro. I suppose doing the accounts is my least favourite part - but I don't think I'm alone there.
Do you find yourself dreaming up other business ideas or are you too busy with this?
I'm totally focussed on pickapro.ie I've learnt a huge amount and I've still a lot to learn. I won't even think about branching out until pickapro is a household name!
Is this a business for life or do you have an exit strategy?
It's definitely a business for life.
How do you find the 'red tape' side of business - legal issues,accounts, etc?
It's getting easier. I find it's best to tackle the accounts in two sessions every month. That way, it doesn't turn into one long, marathon session.
I was also lucky in that I worked as a contractor for a few years before making the jump into entrepreneurship. That meant I was already used to doing accounts, VAT etc.
Do you 'outsource' much to partners / contractors?
We outsource a certain amount of the work. We also hire experts where we need them.
Please re-order the reasons for being an entrepreneur listed below to reflect the most important at the top of the list and least important at the bottom -
1) determining your own future / destiny
2) being your own boss / independence
3) money / wealth
4) flexibility in working hours / lifestyle
5) work satisfaction
Tips & Tricks: Please tell us about any other lessons and tricks you've learned from your time as entrepreneur, not covered by the questions above.
Early on, I discovered a whole subculture of networking groups which are geared towards helping entrepreneurs. This include groups like the Trading Post in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin Enterprise Women's Groups, BNI etc. They're a great way to generate new business, meet other entrepreneurs and find experts like accountants and graphic designers.
Most businesses will fail because of cash flow problems so be very cautious (mean!) with your startup capital. If something doesn’t work don’t keep throwing money at it – go back to the drawing board straight away.
Anecdotes: any funny stories about your dealings with customers,suppliers, etc?
Paul, my partner is American. Someone called up recently and he answered the phone, with "pickapro - how can I help you?". The person very nicely asked to be put through to the Irish office!
What do you plan to do next?
Big things! We’ve proven that the pickapro formula works. Our next step is to continue building our Dublin base while expanding into other counties.
For further information on pickapro.ie, contact Barbara on 01 4966176 or at [email protected]