Belfast Telegraph

'Setting up your own firm is exciting, frustrating, scary - all the emotions'

Entrepreneur Ciaran Lynch of GIG Grafter talks to Lisa Smyth about how beginning a new venture is a rollercoaster ride, and why he sold off Nifty Nosh to Just Eat plc

Ciaran Lynch
Ciaran Lynch
Marking Opportunity Knocks, a recent event for entrepreneurs at St George’s Market in Belfast, were (L to R) Lord Mayor Brian Kingston, Ciaran, interior designer Kris Turnbull, and Lynsey Cunningham, entrepreneurial development manager at Ulster Bank
Helen McConnell helps Ciaran and brother Barry launch Nifty Nosh in 2008

He is behind one of Northern Ireland's biggest internet success stories. And Ciaran Lynch - co-founder of online takeaway food ordering service Nifty Nosh - has once again teamed up with brother Barry to develop another website to help businesses grow and flourish.

The 45-year-old is the director and co-founder of GIG Grafter, a web and mobile application that assists businesses to fill unexpected staffing gaps with casual and part-time workers.

The app is being trialled with companies across Northern Ireland and Ciaran hopes it will be on the market next year.

The idea for GIG Grafter came as a result of his own experience when building up Nifty Nosh.

He explained: "We've only been working on this for about six months. I suppose the idea was inspired by our experiences in managing a team of casual staff through the Nifty Nosh project.

"We wanted to take that challenge of finding staff and find out whether we could identify a possible way of making that challenge a little bit easier.

"First of all, we needed to identify whether it was a challenge experienced by other businesses and then we needed to establish a way to best address that. The initial stage required articulating our idea to businesses and establishing how they engage with their casual staff. To do this, we needed to identify businesses likely to use a substantial number of part-time, casual and seasonal staff, and then we started to engage with them."

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Ciaran said they originally worked with between 10 and 15 businesses in a number of different sectors.

They then approached the businesses and worked with representatives from HR, managers and owners to identify major issues they face when filling vacancies.

"They need to mobilise people, perhaps because of illness or due to seasonal demands, often at relatively short notice," he said.

"The app initially developed was able to create a portfolio of staff and the business has the ability to match them with skills they require for the position.

"When you take the likes of domiciliary care, you need someone who meets certain criteria, so for example they need to have certain qualifications and security checks.

"We developed basic functions on the app and then by identifying additional issues that needed to be considered we were able to tailor it for specific sectors.

"The app allows the businesses to put out an alert that they need to fill a position and the staff can then respond on a first come, first served basis."

Another issue identified during the research was the high throughput of staff.

"We needed to make sure the app addressed this in an effective manner," he said.

The businessman said working with end users when developing such technology was crucial.

"It's the single most important thing you can do in software development," he added.

"The worst thing you can do is develop something and think that it works and then find out after you have spent a great deal of time and money that it doesn't meet the needs of the market.

"Getting the user involved quickly and early allows them to identify any problems.

"They can tell you either your idea is no good at all, or they can tell you they see a use in it but give you ideas to improve it."

As the co-founder of Nifty Nosh, Ciaran has experience of building a hugely successful company.

The website and app allowed customers to order takeaway food from restaurants using their mobile phones and computers.

It was set up in 2008 and became such a phenomenon that Ciaran and Barry sold it to Just Eat last year for an undisclosed sum.

Ciaran couldn't give details about the deal or figures about the company when it was sold.

However, by May last year the business had 13 staff and six directors.

Over the previous four years it grew on average 33% year-on-year and was generating £2.2m in orders annually. It had 60,000 users in Northern Ireland.

Certainly, Nifty Nosh was successful enough to make it attractive to globally successful Just Eat.

Ciaran's background isn't in software development - that was his brother's area of expertise.

Instead, he has brought with him a lifetime of experience working in sales, marketing and economic development.

The idea for Nifty Nosh came about when he was studying for a Master's in computing.

"I was trying to become more knowledgeable about the area," he said.

At the time online ordering for companies such as Domino's and Papa John's was becoming increasingly popular, and Barry and Ciaran identified a gap in the market in Northern Ireland.

It was a relatively unknown concept here, so the brothers faced an uphill battle finding businesses willing to get on board.

"We felt that the idea came at the right time as trends were starting to change," added Ciaran.

"It was the sort of service that people traditionally used the telephone, but moving from phone to computer allowed businesses to update information such as menus and pricing much faster.

"One of the biggest challenges was pushing the idea to retailers and consumers who didn't see a requirement for the service.

"The biggest challenge, however, was raising funding for the business, as it all happened at the same time as the credit crunch.

"It is difficult to get people to invest in a business when everyone else is in the trenches. It really was a horrendous period." However, Ciaran said they were confident of success.

"We never had negative growth, every month's sales were up on the previous month and that continued and continued," he said.

Selling Nifty Nosh was not part of their overall business plan.

"When we started out we just wanted to know that we could make it work," he said.

"Essentially, as the business developed we were a local business competing with a listed company, so from that perspective the outcome was positive for us."

One piece of advice he would give to any entrepreneur would be to make sure and budget wisely.

"Setting up your own business is scary, exciting, challenging, frustrating, all of those things, the full gamut of emotions," he said.

"Succeeding in business is all about planning, every penny we spend is planned. In some instances you don't have a second chance, and if something doesn't work you're in trouble.

"It's about being frugal with money, but not being too frugal. You have to be able to budget to achieve what you want.

"I also want to stress that Northern Ireland is a great place to start up a business. Yes, it's small, but that provides opportunities you don't get elsewhere. It's a great place to test ideas and get the support you need to succeed."

Belfast Telegraph