The Ready Business Podcast with Brian Purcell
The Ready Business podcast is a show for start-ups and SMEs looking for inspiration, insights and some great advice. This week’s guest is Philip Martin, founder, and CEO of Cora Systems, the largest software company in the North-West of Ireland.
Philip started Cora in 1999 with Pat Henry, now the company’s CTO, joining six months later with Martin joking “myself and Pat are like a married couple at this stage”. Martin goes on to describe how a colleague recently referred to Cora Systems as a “20-year start-up” agreeing that it still has that feel.
When questioned by the host, Brian Purcell, on what pushed him to go out on his own and leave the security of a full-time job, Martin suggested it was partly down to a desire to move back to his native Carrick-on-Shannon, where at that time, there were no suitable roles available.
Neither Philip or Pat had a distinctly visible background in software, with their previous roles in the telecoms industry, however, Martin explains that the interest in software came from doing test development for telecoms companies. Martin started the company as a consultancy however after realizing the need for repeatable revenue they started developing the product that formed the basis of what ProjectVision is today. Martin jokes about how he lost a coin toss to decide who would focus on getting sales for the company – and hasn’t looked back since.
No business is immune to setbacks and Philip shares two instances of just that. The dot-com bubble came about shortly after the business was set up and a low-cost base at the time allowed them to get through it relatively easily, however, they hit further choppy waters during the recession that hit in 2008-2209.
Cora Systems is now a global company with a product which Martin states is “probably one of the top three in the world” used in 78 countries worldwide. Cora now have an office in Bedford and Washington D.C while retaining its headquarters in Carrick-on-Shannon, in the West of Ireland.
When questioned by Purcell on what the role of the software is, Martin explains: “We provide enterprise software to allow organizations make their transformation programs more successful”. He goes on to explain the fact that organizations need to transform to survive and 70% of transformation programs fail, quoting Blackberry and Kodak, companies who failed to transform and faced the ultimate consequences. ProjectVision from Cora Systems “manages projects, resources, people, money, finances, timing, everything around a transformation program to make transformation programs more successful,” explains Martin, stating it has saved companies upwards of €40-50 million a year.
When asked about going into business in the West of Ireland, Martin declared that infrastructure is no longer an issue with Cora being provided with 100MB/s broadband from enet. He explains that you can get to Dublin airport in 2 hours, Belfast airport in 2.5 hours and Knock airport is just down the road, with direct flights to Luton which is very convenient to Cora’s UK office. Martin, however, does agree that the “Government spatial strategy is probably a little outdated at this stage” and there is not enough of a focus on start-ups in the region.
Martin commends the IDA and the work that they are doing trying to bring Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the North-west of Ireland with Cora having helped with visits to show how a company can operate in the region.
Martin speaks of the relationship that Cora have with their customers as being more a consultative partnership rather than a typical supplier relationship and he believes this is what allowed the company to grow their business with pharmaceutical giant Allergan from their Westport plant initially to a global rollout after 2/3 years.
In the last couple of years, Cora have placed a focus on enterprise deals, companies that Martin believes “wouldn’t have talked to us 6/8 years ago now know who we are and we can do a good job”.
When asked by Purcell what advice he would give to businesses looking for some guidance, Martin responds “it starts at home” meaning that you must have a clear strategy – “a three- or four-prong strategy that everyone understands is really important”, referencing Ryanair’s simple strategy of cheap, full flights with a quick turnaround – something we now expect when we fly with them. He also suggests that a good mentor can be extremely useful but warns against choosing without getting clear information on what they can achieve.
The future for Cora Systems? Martin suggests the future is bright at Cora.