Post by Damien Cahill and Shane Brett. Author ‘The Future of Hedge Funds’. Founder ‘Global Perspectives’, Founder Tech Start-Up GECKO, Editorial Board ‘All About Alpha’.

Ask most people who is the most successful tech entrepreneur living on our island and many would be surprised to find out it is Brian Conlon, founder and CEO of Newry based First Derivatives – the 1,500 strong London Stock Exchange listed technology and consulting group with a Market Cap of over €500 Million. Though First Derivatives has grown at an incredible 20% year-on-year for the last decade, the company has largely remained under the radar. 

Brian started First Derivatives from a bedroom in Newry with a £5,000 loan from the Credit Union. Much like ourselves at GECKO, Brian had previously worked in the City of London and decided the quality of local talent in Ireland was every bit as good, so moved home to set up his software company. Speaking at IntertradeIreland’s Venture Capital Conference in Belfast this week, Brian had plenty of good advice for Tech Start-ups seeking to expand globally:-

  • Bootstrapping – First Derivatives self financed their growth for the first 6 years and tried to ensure they had 6 months of cashflow in place as a cushion to fund growth. This at a time when one their first big banking pitches in London was right after the Canary Wharf bombing.
  • Venture Capital Availability – VC funding was not readily available in the mid-90’s (when FD started) but the company would have went for VC investment if it had of been available.
  • Finding a VC – Brain recommended matching a VC with your aspirations – raising enough to allow you to focus on making the business profitable and ensure you are not regularly running around looking for more cash.
  • Private Vs. Public – While the public route is not for everyone it was the primary means off available expansion available in 2002. The company listed with 30/40 staff and meant they could offer share options to their employees.
  • Public Company Experience – Listing on the LSE has been a positive experience overall but “was a change in outlook. It was hard to balance that someone was shining a torch on you, and your business, and that a board of directors were analysing what you were doing.”
  • Market Credibility – Being listed on London Stock Exchange means credibility – it eliminated the first half of the pitch when meeting potential international clients.
  • Acquisition & Expansion – The key is to bring your investors with you – access to the capital markets has allows FD to easily and quickly tap capital markets to fund their 10 or 11 acquisitions to date (including buying a US company for $125 million and raising the money in a week).
    Having a Mentor – Brian emphasised the importance of having a set of mentors to help guide you through the “dark nights” and has utilised both previous managers and key contacts from his professional network.
  • Biggest Mistake – Like many start-ups FD originally depended heavily on one large customer. When that company got into difficulty it took some time to recover and continue expanding.
  • Economic Environment – Brian recommending going for it – for a good company with a great product the state of the external economy shouldn’t be an inhibitor to growth.

So what next for First Derivatives?
The company has successfully proven its value to the financial sector and is now moving into other industries including utilities, like gas, electricity and growth areas like nanotechnology.

Brian was speaking at the IntertradeIreland’s Venture Capital Conference in Belfast as part of an interview with Mark Simpson from the BBC.

Article published on Irish Tech News

GECKO is the first real-time programme management solution that provides organisations a live view across a portfolio of many projects.

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