ENTREPRENEUR AND ANGEL investor Ian Lucey has earned a reputation as one Ireland’s biggest startup champions.
Under the guise of his eponymous fund, Lucey has backed a number of fledgling firms, including a recent €100,000 investment in men’s fashion company Try The Trend.
In November of last year, he launched a new project: the Harbour Innovation Campus, a multimillion-euro ‘innovation hub’ in the old Dún Laoghaire ferry terminal. He started the development with Phillip Gannon of investment firm Blond Capital.
For the latest instalment of our question-and-answer series, we spoke to Lucey about his biggest risk, why failure is liberating and why he’d like to be more organised.
Here’s what he had to say:
On average, what time do you start work and what time do you clock off?
I have a bit of a strange timetable. I do a small little bit of work at 6.45am. Then it’s kids time. I will only really start working at 9.10am. Then I take a break from 6pm to 8pm and then I’m back to work till about 11 o’clock at night.
I do a couple of hours over weekends but that would be all. It’s really a five-day work week. The kids are six, eight and 11 so I’ve got to make time for them.
What’s the worst job/task you’ve ever had to do?
I remember when I was younger and worked for shoe company Dr Marten. I had a really interesting job as a young teenager.
Later on I went back and did the same work and it was just so boring. Because it’s boring, you end up doing the job badly.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Probably starting my own company. I was a very well-paid executive in a number of different companies. Going out on my own was probably the biggest financial risk, although it probably wasn’t something I appreciated at the time.
It affects every part of your life – your health, your family life. People don’t realise that. It’s so much easier to turn on and off from work when you’re working for somebody else.
What has been your biggest mistake to date and what did you learn from it?
The biggest hassle I’ve had in my company is underestimating how long everything takes. Because of that, you underestimate how much money you need.
I see that as a mistake I’ve made many times myself and it’s also a mistake I see companies making again and again.
Everything is slower than you think. The optimism and the focus of startups isn’t matched by the rest of the world most of the time.
My second biggest mistake is that I’ve always found myself to be poor at hiring people. I really see the potential in people.
I think a lot of the time, instead of being a very critical interviewer, I’ve gone with people who I see the potential of and maybe afterwards they don’t fulfil that.
What bad work habit have you had to kick?
I’m addicted to my phone. I literally have to wean myself off that. I relapse regularly.
If there was a habit to take up, no piece of technology beats a good to-do list written down on a piece of paper.
I find there are weeks that go by when I don’t do that and my personal productivity definitely drops. The weeks where you take a bit of time and plan out what you’re doing are just so much more successful.
If there was one person in the world you could hire, who would it be and why?
My answer should probably be my wife – but she says she’d never work for me.
I admire people with great money and data skills. If there was anybody you’d hire, wouldn’t you love to hire Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary? He’s absolutely amazing at all of that stuff.
Irish people do not appreciate Ryanair. If it was a different country, we’d rave about it. And yet, it’s one of the best run companies.
What’s your favourite possession?
I’m really not that kind person. I’m quite happy with my golf clubs. That’s definitely one of the few things I’d be grumpy about if somebody took it from me.
But I’m not into cars, I’m not into watches, I’m not into any of that kind of stuff. I’m just not that possession-orientated.
I don’t think there’s anything I own in life that I really need that much or that can’t be replaced.
What’s the one skill you wish you had?
I’d love to be more organised. I think a lot of people wonder how I can get involved in so many companies and do different things. It’s because I enjoy that. When you’re your own employer as well, you can do these things.
But the ability to tune in and focus on something is a skill that affects everything in my life. I would love to be able to focus and single-task and just do one thing at a time.
This year and next, I’ll be taking myself out of the executive capacity of our companies because I think you need people focused on the particular role that they’re working on. I don’t get a chance to do that all the time.
What business sector do you think is the most over-hyped?
Bitcoin. Anything to do with cryptocurrencies. The vast majority of them are a Ponzi schemes and a scam.
Do you think it’s okay to have a lunchtime drink when you’re meeting a client?
Myself and Paul Hayes from Beachhut PR are big fans of the three-martini lunch.
I remember working in Cyprus many years ago and every day at lunch they were giving me pint after pint. Out of politeness I was accepting then, until about day four when I realised they were only giving them to me because I’m Irish.
So I think it’s okay but in moderation. I’ve no issue with it at all.
What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever received?
Focus on the selling is the best advice. People have to understand when they’re looking at their business, it’s sales or nothing. If you’re not selling, you’re going nowhere in the long run.
The worst advice I ever got, and thankfully I ignored it, was to buy Irish property. Unfortunately in Ireland, pretty much everybody heeded that advice from their parents.
Who is your business hero?
From a business perspective the people I really like are Michael O’Leary in Ireland and you couldn’t go beyond Elon Musk internationally.
The guy is just thinking and gambling at a different level. There’s nobody else globally touching him at the moment.
I find a lot of the interesting people are from non-business backgrounds. Tiger Woods’ comeback at the moment is phenomenal.
As a guy who has messed up a lot in life, you look at him now and he’s back playing golf and he has a big smile on his face. I think he’s kind of realised that he’s getting a second chance to do what he absolutely loves doing.
I find that fascinating. We’re all human. We all fuck up. You take a look at that guy who has been globally humiliated. He has just admitted his mistakes, gone away, dealt with his family, worked at it, and look at him now.
It’s an interesting thing in life. We’re all so worried about failing that some of the most liberated people are those who have failed and get to do something without the burden of worrying about failure again.