The next in our series of Upstarts case studies is Eoin O’Hagan founder and creator of www.clarevirtually.ie, which promotes Co. Clare’s tourism products in a different, innovative and entertaining way. Utilising High Definition Digital Video www.clarevirtually.ie offers visitors a unique perspective through virtual tours.
Living in Scariff, Co. Clare on the western shores of Lough Derg with his wife and three children Eoin previously worked as a Lighting Engineer for TV and Film but it was his love of the outdoors that inspired him to start up his business
What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?
I have worked in the film industry both in Ireland and abroad for the last 18 years as a lighting electrician. For the last 10 I have been working as a lighting gaffer on TV commercials and documentaries. This has given me the skill set and experience required to start the website and make it work.
When did you start the business and what inspired you to do this?
I launched www.clarevirtually.ie on 28th August 2011. The website went live that morning and I first showed the world my new idea at “The Open Fair” in Ennis. This was an event for both new and small established businesses. The fair was opened by Bobby Kerr (of Insomnia and Dragons’ Den) and he was impressed by my idea and the possibilities for it.
The inspiration for clarevirtually.ie came from my love of the outdoors and flyfishing, especially on Lough Derg. I also volunteer my time on the organising committee of The Scariff Harbour Festival, as well as East Clare Tourism and The Clare Tourism Forum and, it was while at a forum meeting in Ennis that the idea came to me:I could use my skills to promote the tourism products in a different way.
What were your startup costs ? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
The initial startup costs were for the website design and domain name purchase which I funded from my own resources. I was confident that the website would work and become a viable business so the week before the launch I also purchased the domain names of the other 25 counties in the Republic for example mayovirtually.ie or sligovirtually.ie as well as irelandvirtually.ie. Earlier this year I also purchased the domain names for the six counties in the north eg; derryvirtually.ie as well as virtually.ie. My website designer is Rasmus Noeske Jr. from cybergate.ie and I can honestly say that he gives a service second to none. His father Rasmus Sr. of Mountshannon Design and Print has done all the stationary printing for me as well as the website domain purchase and registry. www.clarevirtually.ie is a template for the rest of the country and I have worked hard with both Rasmus Sr. and Jr. to make sure that we can expand into the other counties easily. This hasn’t been as expensive as I imagined, therefore my startup costs have been under €5000.
What was your biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacle was and has been broadband speeds. I knew the idea for www.clarevirtually.ie would work because more and more people in Ireland and abroad have high speed broadband. Unfortunately here in East Clare we are struggling with slow speed and congestion on the broadband network. This doesn’t really affect people watching the virtual tours as 3MB is fast enough as a download speed, but when there is only a tiny fraction of bandwidth for upload it can get very frustrating watching a 60 second video take an hour to upload. I want to stay in East Clare and eventually employ high skilled IT and Social Media people to work on the website and help it grow. Maybe we can get a High speed Fibre link from Ennis to Scariff and bring the town into the 21st century.
Who supported you?
My biggest supporter has been my wife Ruth. She believes in me and www.clarevirtually.ie and is very patient with me as the home office moved onto the kitchen table because the wifi wouldn’t work in the office. Ruth and I have many discussions about my editing style and she has helped me look at the videos in a different way. I have also recently brought on board Martina Minogue from Scariff as a project manager and mentor. Martina has helped me with my business plan which will be utilised as I move out into other counties and eventually become a nationwide business. I have also been advised by many of my colleagues in the TV Commercials business and they have helped me to create a filming style that is formulaic and more cost and time effective. My clients have all been very supportive because they see the results of my work in their bank accounts. There has been an increase in tourism throughout Co. Clare and I would like to think that clarevirtually.ie is playing a part in attracting these visitors.
How long did it take you to get your business off the ground?
It took me approximately 6 weeks from the time I decided to go ahead before the launch of www.clarevirtually.ie I did a lot of research during this period and this helped me decide on the format and design of both the virtual tours and the website itself. I had filmed some B&Bs and a Self Catering Cottage and these are the tours I launched with. Whilst this was small to begin with, I believe in baby steps and the website is growing from strength to strength. It is important to take the time to design a site that you can use easily as people on the internet click away from your site if it is awkward or complicated to navigate. The hook for the website is “Look then Book” and this was the most important part of the design. In 3 clicks you can move from the map of the site to booking the tourism product through the link to the providers own website.
What do you love about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
The fact that I came up with this idea for a new and innovative way to promote the tourism products is of great satisfaction to me. I can make it a success and have every intention of doing so too. Being my own boss means that I make the decisions about the direction that the website will take and can act fast if something isn’t working or doesn’t look right. Quick decisions sometimes need to be made and being in charge I get to make these every day. Utilising social media to promote www.clarevirtually.ie has enabled me to go out and tap people on the shoulder, virtually, and get their attention. Using free social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,LinkedIn and Pinterest, I am able to attract visitors to the website from all over the world. Doing all of the work myself can get tiring and any entrepreneurs reading this will know that you put in long hours seven days a week to grow a business. So the only drawback is this. I know that it is working though as I see from the statistics that the visitor numbers to the website are climbing steadily.
Where do you work from and do you have employees?
At the moment I am working from our home office in Scariff. The intention is that we might find office space locally as the business grows and there is no shortage in Scariff, as like every town in Ireland, it has been affected by the recession. However this is very dependant on the Broadband Infrastructure, but I do want to keep the business in Scariff and grow it from here. I would love to be able to employ IT graduates from East Clare if possible. It would be great to see people commuting to Scariff and East Clare to work instead of in the other direction.
I employ Rasmus Jr. on a freelance basis which will eventually become a full time IT position.
I employ Martina on a freelance basis to work as my project manager and advise me on business matters.
A college student has just started doing work experience and he will build a database for me. This is part of his final year degree so it will be beneficial for both of us. He is also a computer coder so his skills will become very relevant later.
As clarevirtually grows and expands into other counties it will inevitably lead to a requirement for extra videographers and editors as well as sales and admin staff. In 3 years I hope to expand internationally and become a brand. A brand known and trusted worldwide as a source of tourist information.
Do you have entrepreneurial role models?
A great friend from Scariff, Padraig Giblin is also an entrepreneur and we spend time fishing for trout together on Lough Derg. Whilst on the boat we talk about different ideas and brainstorm a lot. He has been very supportive of my ideas for the website and I support him in his. Padraig is MD of Sportsworld Netting, with nets in Croke park and nearly every GAA club in the country.
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?
Working for 18 years in the Irish film industry taught me the skills required to make the 60 second virtual tours. I have worked with camera people, producers and directors. Many Oscar winners and some amazing beginners too. The one thing required to make any kind of film, is an eye for a good frame. I believe that I have the experience and the eye that enables me to make interesting and different videos for the website and my clients. The scenery in Clare and in fact anywhere in Ireland makes my job easier. We have a very beautiful country with a varied and rich landscape; these are the key elements in all the virtual tours. Business wise, I continue to take advise from Martina (my project manager), my bank manager and my entrepreneurial colleagues and friends.
If you had to do it all again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
www.clarevirtually.ie is only up and running just over a year and a half so I am still learning and tweaking. It is a continual process and one which I take very seriously. I believe in my product and as the website grows so do my clients. So I wouldn’t do anything differently.
What is your best selling Item or service?
I have only one item I am selling at the moment and that is the 60 second virtual tours of Tourism products. Of course I have ideas for the future and these will develop over the next couple of years as the website grows.
Are you a LookWester (previously living outside the Western region) and if so why did you decide to move home or relocate to the West?
Yes I am a LookWester. Ruth and I lived in Dublin and Meath and decided in 2006 to move to Scariff, which is Ruth’s home town. I had fallen in love with the rivers and lakes in the area as I learnt to fish I helped boost the profits of all the local fishing supply stores. There are spinners and lures snagged on most trees on the riverbanks of East Clare. As I explored the area for fishing spots I fell more and more in love with the countryside locally. As a family, in Co. Clare we have a great life with great friends. www.clarevirtually.ie is the result of my grá for the countryside and lakes and spectacular scenery of the West of Ireland.
What advice would you give to anybody Looking West?
Think seriously about moving West as you will enjoy a different and better quality of life.
Have a look at www.clarevirtually.ie and you will see the spectacular scenery we have !
Don’t forget to “Look then Book”……