Ciaran Bollard is the CEO of Kooomo – the cloud-based eCommerce platform that is truly redefining digital commerce. He talked to Business Matters about working with customers to help take the complexity out of digital commerce and help brands extend their revenues and reach to a global audience
What do you currently do at your company?
I’m the CEO at Kooomo and I oversee all areas of the company, but I mostly work closely with new and existing clients. It’s crucial that I understand the current and future needs from a customer perspective, so that we are able to accurately adapt our offering and technology for today’s fast changing markets. Particularly, due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, we have made some significant product updates and changes based on our customer’s feedback and requests. I find being involved in the client-facing side of the business is extremely important for our success.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I joined Kooomo four years ago and at that point, I had been working in digital for many years, across different areas. I knew I wanted to get into eCommerce to complete that experience, so I met with Giovanni, who is the co-founder of Kooomo. At that stage, Kooomo was in its infancy as a platform that formed part of a managed service agency group called ZeroGrey.
I realised there was an incredible opportunity for a new kind of eCommerce platform, as there were very few players in the field which was surprising considering the size of the market. As digital commerce is where my passion lies, I focused all my efforts on Kooomo gaining autonomy as a separate cloud software business. For me this added another layer to my experience and hopefully I am bringing something new and valuable to the eCommerce table.
Who do you admire?
A lot of big players spring to mind, such as Elon Musk, but really, it’s the people in business that I meet every day who I admire the most. These are individuals who are genuinely putting everything, including their lives, their mortgage and their family life, on the line. I have a huge admiration for all entrepreneurs and start-up businesses who are taking these risks.
Starting any type of commercial venture is not easy, it’s a very lonely existence which I know myself from starting up previous businesses. Excluding entrepreneurs, I really admire those people who fight for what they believe and have that powerful will to succeed, even if it means risking everything. An example of this would be Nelson Mandela, whose beliefs ended up putting him in prison. He’s someone that risked everything in his life for his burning passion and desire. Whether it’s a successful businessperson or a historical figure like Nelson Mandela, you can’t help but have respect for anyone that follows their heart and goes above and beyond to achieve their dreams.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
There are times when entrepreneurs like myself have a tendency to drive things forward hard and fast with a “go, go, go!” mentality and I think that we’re wired a bit differently to others in that we expect that same mentality of everyone else – at least I do sometimes! I forget that not everyone has the same business focused mindset as myself.
I think it’s important to regularly check yourself and try not to rush into things too quickly, as some big decisions call for quiet reflection and taking the time to process them correctly. You also need to bounce ideas off your colleagues and it is very important to actively engage with the right people, including your extended professional network and relevant advisory boards.
Sometimes it can feel like “the buck stops with me” but you should realise that there are lots of people around you who you can reach out to for help, support and advice. That’s something I continually check myself and consider.
What defines your way of doing business?
My motto has always been “people buy from people” and I sometimes think people forget that a robust, person-to-person relationship, built on trust is one of the most important aspects of modern business development. This is essential for positioning yourself to both existing customers and potential prospects as it will determine their view of you as a person and also as a business representative.
I’m very much a people orientated business person and I’m very passionate about human interaction, which I try to ensure is reflected across the culture of our organisation. Whether it’s staff, customers or people you meet in your life, you should always treat everyone with respect. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re the CEO or the cleaner, it’s about compassion, esteem and decency.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
When you’re putting together your initial business plan, I believe sometimes there’s a tendency to broaden it in an attempt to appeal to the masses. I don’t think that really works very well and my view is that you’re much better off focusing on your niche and not trying to be everything for everyone. It’s best to concentrate on improving the features that set your product or service apart from the competition, as ultimately, customers will come looking for specific expertise on a product or sector, not ambiguous solutions or services without a clear USP or target market.
If you’re just starting out, you should also aim to get your first reference customer. Use your existing professional network or even your friends to find other people who you can get on your advisory board. This will give you a bit of credibility and can potentially get you that first customer who will help to build and improve your product.
It’s also a good idea to look for feedback and test the concept, so get out there and network with fellow entrepreneurs, as they are typically very helpful. I know I would personally be very supportive of any other first-time entrepreneur because I realise how difficult it can be when you are first starting out. The most important advice I can offer to anyone hoping to build a successful business is to focus all your time and resources on finding your niche and building up your credibility in that area.