The Business Owner: Ciaron Dunne, Genie Ventures

The CEO advises other business leaders to focus on the greater goals and hire the right staff to manage the rest...

The Business Owner: Ciaron Dunne, Genie Ventures

Name: Ciaron Dunne
 Genie Ventures
Founders: Ciaron Dunne, Paul Goodwin and Philip Wilkinson
Location: Cambridge
Proposition: Performance marketing technology
Size: 30 people

How is your business different from what’s already out there?

We’re so different to other marketing technology providers because we back ourselves by operating a performance model. Our homespun platform was originally built to manage our own six-figure monthly SEM spend on our owned-and-operated network of lead generation sites.

We have since developed a technology and campaign management offering, and we already have some great brands on board including Amara, Calvin Klein, Naked Wines and Dwell.

How did you finance your business?

The business was originally started with £100. We have financed the business through profitability and investment in growth. We’ve never wanted (or needed) to be dictated to by investors or banks, so we’ve worked unbelievably hard to achieve growth and success off our own backs.

We’ve had to carefully balance high-risk (and, potentially, high reward) projects and R&D against the need to keep the profits coming in to fund the business.

What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?

Revenue and margin. I think you have to pick the thing you want to happen and focus your energy on that. Get other people to focus on other areas that are important (e.g. cost control) but aren’t going to hit your main objectives.

What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?

Managing my time. As the CEO/owner, I need to be concentrating my energy on the vision, on allocating resources to hit that vision, and on executing high-impact projects. But I also have an important role to play in supporting and mentoring other key team members.

I think a huge amount about time management and I have very particular techniques for getting things done. At the end of each day, it’s nearly always how well I have allocated my time that makes or breaks my day.

What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?

Our customers are retailers or service providers that sell online and have seven-figure revenues. Our approach is quite traditional, in that out biggest source is (and hopefully always will be) referrals. We support that pretty strongly by a strong brand presence in places that our customers are – conferences, exhibitions, industry parties, blogs, and so on. We like chances to show off our knowledge, and we’re very happy to give away expertise in exchange for getting engagement from our target market.

Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?

Not necessarily, but I certainly think it’s important for small businesses to consider all routes to growth (and profits). We now do a significant part of our business in the USA and EU. Being a British company is a really great asset because we appear to have such a strong ‘brand’ as a country. If you can show success in the UK, then businesses in other countries – rightly or wrongly – will tend to take you seriously.

My tip, even if you don’t plan to export, would be to attend a few conferences and events overseas. It definitely opens your eyes and makes you understand that other parts of the world are often far more innovative than we are. The drive shown by businesses from around the world can be inspirational and uplifting.

What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?

This week it’s Wunderlist. It’s simple and elegant and keeps all of my lists in sync across devices for work and home. However I’d like it to be an app which saves me having to carry around receipts and fill out spreadsheets every month!

Describe your company’s culture in three words:

Competitive, fair and free.

What would you like the government to do for small business?

I would like the government to incentivise small businesses to take on more employees. A certain element of your wage bill should have enhanced tax relief to encourage us to take people on (or keep people on) and therefore get more people into work.

There could be increases enhancements for taking on hard-to-employ groups such as older workers or the long-term unemployed. Give us an incentive!

Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?

I’m going to be outrageously cheesy here. My Dad, my Mum and brother Justin have all run their own businesses and have all inspired me in completely different ways.

Also my mentors (even if they don’t know it): David Sharp at International Workplace and Andrew Hood at Amara. This is starting to sound like an Oscar speech, but I guess the point is I have lots of great points of reference and I ‘steal’ different things from all of them.

Where do you want the business to be in three years?

I want our business to be bringing in £10m+ revenues, with a beautifully diversified client base and product range.  That’s a bit dry, though. What’s more important is that many of the current team would still be here and I would have watched them grow and achieve astonishing success. In three years’ time, I want Genie to still be the best place in the world to work. I still want to be looking forward to coming to work, and boring everyone I meet with tales of work and my amazing colleagues.

What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?

I think you just have to try and steer your business towards products and services with decent margins. That gives you a lot of leeway. And then work hard to maintain those margins. Don’t get distracted by expensive laptops and swanky offices – these are just costs, not investments. It always comes down to volume and margins.

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