Declan Ryan Talks Tech, Tax And Dublin: “We’re Lucky to Be Here”

Declan Ryan Liffey Bridge Dublin

The second part of our exclusive interview with entrepreneur Declan Ryan.

Declan Ryan is the founder and Managing Partner of Irelandia Aviation, one of the founders of Ryanair, the founder of the One Foundation, and the Chair of the Advisory Group at the DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs.

In Part Two of this exclusive interview with the Dublin Commissioner for Startups Niamh Bushnell, he talks Dublin tech and startup trends, addresses the elephant in the room for tech multinationals in Ireland (taxation) and offers advice to would-be entrepreneurs. Read Part One HERE.

When you look at Dublin today as a place for entrepreneurs, particularly for startups, what do you see out there?
I think we’re lucky to be here (the Irelandia Aviation offices) on Barrow Street, because at seven o’clock in the morning it’s like Grand Central Station – you have all these people getting their cups of coffee and heading into Google or Twitter or any number of other companies… Dublin is a phenomenal centre for ideas, and development, and I don’t think the rest of the world knows about it as much as they should.

And why is that?
There’s a very successful business guy I know from Northern Ireland, and every time I meet him I ask, ‘How’s business?’ and he says, “Well, we’re staying out of Stubbs Gazette…” This is one of the top two or three guys. I don’t think we handle wealth well. Even when we’re not the underdog we pretend that we are. It’s in our DNA. That makes for good entrepreneurs. Look at Colm Lyon, (who just sold Realex Payments for €115M), now he’s going to do it all over again. That’s what good Irish business is all about. The nationality thing doesn’t really matter – I don’t give a rat’s where you’re from, I just like the thought that you’re doing it in my hometown, in Dublin.

And what would you say to somebody from America, or Asia, who was thinking of setting up their business here?
I’d say that it’s easy. I think language is a big thing. Culture is a big thing. If you’re bringing your partner over with you from Mumbai, or from Kansas, he or she is going to be at home here.

Do we offer enough by way of infrastructure?
The airports and connections are pretty good! A pal of mine in the tech printing industry told me a couple of weeks ago, ‘I sent one of my guys to Germany for a sales trip, and at €30 one way, Jesus, it doesn’t matter if I don’t win the contract, at least I put my head in the door…’ We have in excess of six million people visiting here every year, a lot of them tourists – our accessibility is good, and that’s important. There aren’t a lot of countries that get double their population in visitors.

Everybody still talks about the multinationals being here for tax reasons…
I think with the tax discussion worldwide, there’s a form of jealousy, and the Irish have been a bit clever on it. I think it’s up to the OECD countries to come up with a common tax policy.

What are the trends that you’re seeing in the tech and startup ecosystem that you’re excited about?
I’m not sure I’m close enough to it see the trends, but obviously we’re doing well in FinTech, BioTech and big pharma. There are a lot of interesting startups coming out of my own industry, aviation, too. We’re like Seattle, where a bucket load of startups and SMEs are being driven out of Boeing. There are so many FDI companies in Ireland, you’re getting spinoffs out of Google, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and on and on.

I look at my own kids, who are in their late teens, their twenties, and they’re seeing Dublin as a place where they can have a long-term future in the startup sector. And they’re all running around, having ideas, trying to be little Steve Jobs (laughs)…

Would they have stuck around here twenty years ago?
Unfortunately not. I left college in 1984, and out of a class of forty-two people in economics, only two stayed in Ireland, which is scary. And now there are loads of opportunities here, our unemployment levels are coming down… I think the universities are getting behind it, and not just DCU (Dublin City University), all of them are trying to get behind startups – and it’s risky for them, for many reasons. Their role is to educate people and make them socially rounded. Startups are a derivative of that.

So where does the Ryan Academy fit into all this?
Going back to my earlier point, we don’t give a rat’s what kind of entrepreneur you are – and I mean in terms of size. When we were setting up The Ryan Academy, my pop (Ryanair founder Tony Ryan) asked me one night what I would regard as a success – I said, ‘A Romanian person who had been working in Hewlett-Packard, who came up with a great idea on the floor, and went to the Academy to see if the idea worked…’ And I got challenged by Tony again, he said, ‘Well obviously, you don’t care whether they’re successful or not…’ And I said, ‘No, actually I don’t…’ – because I think what’s important is having a go, rather than making sure that everyone becomes a Colm Lyon, or a Steve Jobs or whatever.

So, what I’m trying to do with the Academy is to let them have that journey, and find out if their idea is great, or if they’re capable of doing it. The people I like most in the world are the honest ones who go, ‘Jesus, I had an honest go in the Academy, and I ‘aint an entrepreneur…’ Or, ‘I am an entrepreneur…’ As long as they don’t give up.

What advice would you give to someone starting up here? Apart from ‘start here’…
I’d spend my first two weeks going around talking to the people in the tech sector, the Niamh Bushnells, the Eoghan Stacks, the Owen Keegans in Dublin City Council, Enterprise Ireland – the people who are genuinely putting Dublin on the map. Then I’d stop talking and go off and work out if Dublin’s the best place for my project. I think they’ll find out the answer is yes.

And for entrepreneurs in general? What would your advice be?
Raise a good bit of money, if you can, at the beginning and assume it’s going to take a year more than you think – that’s where the extra cash will come into play. And just don’t give up. If you feel you’re in a slow car crash, then jump and enjoy the failure and move on. And try to get revenue as early as possible. The days are over – people won’t invest in businesses that don’t have revenue any more. They want proof of concept, or you’ve nothing.

MORE: Declan Ryan: “If We Focus On The Things That We’re Good At, Then We Can Lead.”

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