Aspire Technology enables mobile network operators to deliver advanced services within the finite available network capacity.
A proud Kerryman, educated in UCC and living in Wicklow, Bill Walsh is the founder of Aspire Technology. in 2010. After a successful career in Ericsson where he held many leadership roles in Ireland, UK and Sweden, Bill decided to use his extensive experience and follow his dream to establish his own company. In 2010, he created the telecommunications company Aspire Technology and, four years on, the company employs more than 70 people. Aspire Technology enables mobile network operators to deliver advanced services within the finite available network capacity. The company specialises in software development and support of telecommunications systems, particularly in 3G and 4G radio access technology.
The company’s international headquarters are in Sandyford, Dublin, where more than 60 people are employed. A branch office in Belgrade employs a further 10 people. Aspire works with some of the world’s largest telecommunications equipment vendors such as Ericsson, The Now-Factory/IBM, as well as global mobile network operators such as Vodafone and Three. In excess of 80 per cent of sales are export led.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
Not so much a vision, but a necessity! It was through redundancy in 2009 that I decided to take the plunge. I did my first deal with my former employer & hired a marvellous team of people with a passion to build something together. We initially ”subbied back to the old gaffer” and started to build the company from there.
How did you secure your first investment?
To date, the company has been self-funded and organically grown through careful management of cash-flow. But initially we needed a bank to support us and that wasn’t easy in 2009. I didn’t make a good impression with the first two banks I spoke to. I was in last-chance saloon, and, deciding that I needed to make an impression, I introduced myself to the bank manager as ‘Bill Walsh, Entrepreneur of the Year 2013’. I’m one year late to the party! Enterprise Ireland have subsequently invested in us, and remain a tremendous supporter of our company.
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
In as much as a first deal can be a game-changer, it was the one. We developed a strategy for the company early on, and we use this as a blue-print for our decision making process.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
Growing our customer base and scaling the operations, whilst retaining our existing customers. Finding the balance between delivering to existing demands and innovating for the future will also challenge us.
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
Turning adversity into advantage during the financial crisis and building a company from zero to 70 staff in 2 countries with €6M turnover without significant external investment, and selling into the world’s leading telecommunications vendors and operators.
What were the best & the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
The best advice was by my business coach to “understand the business problem that our company is solving”. Management of cash-flow was also driven into me. I luckily don’t recall any really bad advice!
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
- In order to understand the business problem that you’re solving, talk to and listen to, as many customers and potential customers as possible.
- Always do what’s right for your customers.
- Forget all the reasons it won’t work and believe the one reason that it will work.
- Hire a great team.
- Tell the story, make it true, make it compelling and make it relevant.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
Although I’d consider myself a risk taker, I’d never have considered myself as an entrepreneur. I do, however, recall doing a ‘start your own business’ course during the first winter of my first job 30 years ago. I must be a slow-learner.
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
I have great freedom as CEO and majority shareholder but my own team in Aspire continues to inspire me daily. As the company scales, however, it becomes increasingly important to take external advice and soundings. I’ve been blessed with great advisors, a brilliant business mentor, and a marvellous advisory board. You know who you are! Thank you.
How do you generate new ideas to stay ahead of the curve?
I consider Aspire as being marvellously innovative. One of our main customers said of us last year that ‘Aspire brings innovation to a new level”. We started to use systematic company-wide processes to listen to our customers and to understand their needs.
One initiative we’ve used is called Voice of The Customer, where we engage with the market and move our thinking outside the walls of the office. Our engineering teams are quick to follow through with solutions.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
I look for ideals that I strive to hold myself as an employee – integrity, loyalty, hard work, dedication, trust and competence. We hire talented and ambitious individuals who enjoy a challenge and have a passion to excel. Ability to work in teams is a must – we have induction, training and mentoring programmes for all new staff. We like to have fun whilst delivering great results to our clients.
Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?
Strangely enough, we built Aspire during the depths of the economic downturn. The telecommunications industry is at a really exciting stage and its technology has made the world smaller. As a niche player, it’s tough to win new clients – but winning this business is what motivates and excites us. Given this, we’ve recently strengthened our Sales and Marketing team.
What do you believe it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
A successful entrepreneur is a great team builder, a great listener and a great seller!
He/she will tell the world their story, make it true, make it compelling and make it relevant.
He/she will be fiercely determined and will find ways around obstacles.
If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”?
Investing in only one sector is too risky. I’d look for opportunities in robotics, the Internet of Things, and energy efficiency. I believe that the next generation will all be driving electrically powered cars. One could look for opportunities in auto-driven cars, where some or all of these technologies could come together.
What do you believe is your company’s competitive advantage?
Our in-depth technology competence, gleaned from several decades of doing R&D for a global vendor of telecommunications systems. This gives us a unique insight into how the performance of these telecommunications systems can be optimised.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today?
I’ve been lucky so far and I love what I’m doing, so I don’t consider myself to have made sacrifices. Of course, finding the balance between business and personal life represents a challenge to us all!
How do you recharge your batteries?
Until recently, it would have been through following my three kids playing football, rugby and athletics. I struggle with a little golf, but love playing. We’ll soon have an empty nest. Joan and I have recently bought bikes so we’re looking forward to burning up the roads of West Wicklow.