'There is no gym for your face': Tech founder Pat Phelan's million-euro bet on cosmetic clinics

The entrepreneur who sold Trustev for $44m is setting up a chain under the Sisu brand.

By Killian Woods Reporter, Fora

CONSIDERING HE MADE a name for himself selling an anti-fraud startup for a small fortune, Pat Phelan’s next venture might take a few of his fellow tech founders by surprise.

Since selling Trustev to TransUnion for $44 million in 2015, Phelan has had his hand in several projects. He stayed on as an advisor at the firm he founded and also launchedthen closed down – a New York-based investment outfit called Nohovation.

But now, Phelan has settled on a new idea and he thinks “it will be the biggest business I build”.

The Cork businessman has raised a heap of cash from the likes of PCH boss Liam Casey and Voxpro founders Dan and Linda Kiely to launch a new chain of aesthetic clinics, with the first new outlet for the brand being launched in his home town.

“I’ve lived in America for the last four years and seen the growth in wellness and people wanting to be the best they can,” he told Fora.

“You can train as much as you like but there is no gym for your face. So you can look very well, but you can still look tired.”

Phelan has acquired an existing business, the Visage clinic, and changed the branding to Sisu.

“My two best friends are two brothers, doctors James and Brian Cotter, and they had these Visage clinics which I thought had a bit of a weak brand. I had a different vision for it.”

The Cotter brothers are due to stay at the firm, with Phelan taking on the role of chief executive.

The business already has clinics in Killarney and Dublin, and this week Phelan signed a lease for another premises on Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork.

“It’s a very large four-storey building and we’re going to move into the ground floor. These clinics tend to be upstairs, we think the time has come to bring it to the ground floor.”

Source: Pat/Twitter

The business will go up against some already well-established brands in the Irish market, such as Therapie, but Phelan said Sisu has a unique selling point.

“Where we’re completely unique is this is doctor-driven. There will never be a nurse doing this, never an ‘aesthetician’ doing this. If someone is doing something to my face, I want a doctor to do it. Our brand will be about that and nothing else.

“You don’t have to be a doctor to administer this stuff, but if it goes wrong it’s only a doctor who can help. So getting a discount to go get lip fillers in a tattoo parlour is absolute insanity.”

The treatments will cost between €150 and €1,000 – although “at this stage €150 is a decent haircut”, Phelan added.

“All the people who come into us are patients, not customers or clients. Our model is unique in that every patient gets a 30-minute consultation. There is no ‘pop-up on the couch and we’ll do your Botox’.

“Every person gets another 30-minute review. If they’re not happy or we aren’t, we will redo their Botox of whatever treatment to make sure they’ve a perfect experience.”

Source: Pat/Twitter

Big backers

The business, which will strictly offer injection-based therapies, has raised €1 million from some big hitters in Irish business, with all the money committed and paperwork signed, according to Phelan.

Aside from Casey and the Kielys, other named investors include Barry O’Brien of Silicon Valley Bank, Jonnie Kenny of Blackhawk and Julianne McElligott. Family, friends and some players in the property market also backed the firm.

“Jonnie Kenny actually is one of the under-the-radar guys. Most people in Dublin, if I say ‘Jonnie Kenny’ they don’t know,” Phelan said.

“But he is on the board of Blackhawk Inc, one of the biggest pre-paid card companies in the world. He lives in the Netherlands and is a very major player.

“I think this funding will take us into the UK. We might need more or the business might self-finance, we’re not sure yet.”

Phelan has also invested his own money into the project. As part of the Kielys’ commitment, Linda Kiely will join the board of the firm. The overall plan is to launch 100 Sisu clinics across the UK and Europe over the next three years, according to Phelan.

“In this day and age, there are no startups raising a million off the bat. So it’s a big opportunity and next steps will be a second clinic in Dublin, a flagship clinic at ground floor.

“We feel that after Dublin we will go to four UK cities and after that up to northern Europe and across down to southern Europe. We have a lot of inbound activity from the US asking us to take it there as well.”

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