WHILE RORY O’CONNOR was studying business in college in Waterford, like many locals, he went looking for a summer job at Waterford Crystal.
It was the early 1990s and the country was in the dregs of the previous decade’s recession – so it wasn’t a tough choice to leave college when they offered him a full-time role.
“It was 1991 so getting a job was unusual. All my friends were heading to the UK and the US,” he says, over the end of a cup of coffee in Kevin Street’s Maldron Hotel.
He started in sales and marketing, later carving out a niche during the turn-of-the-century internet boom.
“Sometime during that period we were thinking whether we should be online or not and we set up Waterford.com,” he says.
That early foray into online shopping would come in handy later. Though O’Connor spent 13 years in Waterford Crystal, working for someone else was never likely to be enough for him.
He left the company in 2004 to work in consultancy, before founding Scurri, a cloud-based logistics company for the e-commerce industry in 2010.
“There was always something there about starting my own business. I always had it in the back of my mind,” he says.
“When the opportunity came, I said to my wife, ‘This is eating at me, I just really want to do this,’ and she said ‘you’re having a midlife crisis, give it a go for a year or something.’”
Almost a decade later, that midlife crisis seems to be paying off.
Having had an early exposure to the potential of online retail, O’Connor spotted something big and with Scurri he is making hay. As online retail booms, his company is perfectly placed as its system helps select the most effective delivery option, creates accurate labels, tracks packages and also provides analytics for merchants.
Scurri raised just under €1.4 million in February as part of a larger round, bringing its total fundraising to €7 million to date, and is working with some major clients such as eBay, Gymshark and Ocado.
Scurri’s first digs was in a “tiny office in a fort in Duncannon”, says O’Connor. Now, they have a decidedly more modern set up in Wexford and an office in the UK – with more offices on the way.
The delivery market has also changed massively in that time. For one, big players like Amazon are dominating the sector and spending a fortune on improving logistics – meaning smaller companies need to up their game if they want to survive.
“Delivery becomes extremely important because it’s time that the digital turns into the physical and is actually when you get the parcel in your hand,” he says.
“The consumer doesn’t differentiate between getting it from Amazon or getting it from a very small store. They expect the same experience.”
As O’Connor sees it, this is where Scurri comes in – to “provide that kind of Amazon experience without having to put that type of investment into the deliveries”.
The company does a lot of business in Britain and according to O’Connor the retail market there is pretty small in terms of social circle, if not in volume, so building relationships is paramount.
For the best part of two years, he lived in the UK to get to know his customers and was “reasonably well established” within about six months.
“There’s not nothing beats actually getting into a market and immersing yourself in it,” he says.
“You can read about it but it’s not the same. People buy from people – nothing beats personal relationships.”
Especially when you’re a new company and you don’t have the heft of a big brand name behind you, all you have is personal relationships. “Nobody is going to look you up, see that you don’t have any customers and call you.”
A native of Duncannon in Wexford, O’Connor grew up in a small coastal community with one brother.
“I loved outdoors and being out and about. I think as somebody who’s lived by the sea, there’s something about the sea that I love,” he says.
He spent about 18 years as a lifeboat volunteer to give back to the community.
Joining Waterford Crystal would broaden his horizons, although he admits that early trips to New York proved to be a bit of a culture shock.
“It was interesting sitting somewhere on Madison Avenue looking at the lobster and thinking that this stuff actually costs money, the neighbours were dropping them in for free [at home] at that time,” he says, laughing. “I came from a fishing village where fish was seen almost as a penance.”
An early experience of the crossover between retail and online proved useful as a chance opportunity to work on a sales and distribution software project in Waterford Crystal landed him in the tech world.
“My boss asked me to work on a project implementing SAP because I had a good deep knowledge of the sales and marketing side of the business and I was quite technical,” he says.
“It’s funny sometimes how a decision like that can change your entire world when you look back at it. That was a pivotal moment,” he says. “I then had that grá for technology.”
The early exposure to Waterford Crystal’s international outlook has served O’Connor well with his own business.
Scurri is planning to get into the German market by the first quarter of 2020 on the back of a deal it just signed with one of its customers – but O’Connor is keeping the name under his hat for now.
By 2021 he plans to be fully up and running in Germany and in the medium term he’s looking into the Benelux region too. Long term, his vision is ambitious.
“There is no global solution out there. There are regional solutions. We want to make a push to be a global solution,” he says.
Europe is the most complicated market and the UK is the most complicated market in Europe, “so if we can crack the UK market we believe that’s a really good opportunity to go global”, he says.
There’s still a huge amount of opportunity in the UK for the company, says O’Connor, so he’s also planning to maximise that.
As the product deals with global shipping it handles customs every day – “so we can just switch the UK over in the morning if there’s a Brexit to deal with,” he says.
“What that means is we’re Brexit ready for our UK customers. We see that as an absolute opportunity.”
The company has about 35 employees at the moment and in the next 18 months it plans to double its staff numbers.
Sustainability will also be a big part of the company’s strategy in the coming years.
According to O’Connor, some of the company’s larger customers have started asking what the company is doing about sustainability and what its carbon footprint is.
“We’re looking at that as a key performance indicator,” he says.
In the next couple of years, the company plans to build a sustainability index to allow customers to choose more sustainable product options.
“I think it’s really important as individuals that we all take responsibility but people don’t like the choice forced on them. If you’re given the choice, I think it’s gonna help them make the personal decisions as well.”