Archive for Business

Christmas FM is back

And we’re back for another year. Temple Street is Our charity Partner this year. Here’s a glimpse into the madness here in the studio. And don’t you just love the suit!

Irish Government Vs Tesla Electric Cars

The 2018 Budget was one of the worst to date for me, Having purchased a second hand Tesla Model S from the UK a month before the budget when Government did a complete 180 degree on their promises to support Electric vehicles and stuck their fingers up to the less than 100 Entrepreneurs and early adopters that took up the government on their electric car promises – a small number of people to decide to kick in the teeth.

My company, Zatori, had put a Green 20/20 plan in place – in line with both my personal beliefs on climate change and being aware of the Carbon Tax targets set by the EU which Ireland was woefully off meeting and is going to cost the Irish people a huge amount of money – something people don’t seem to be talking about nearly enough. The plan had been to fully solar panel the roof of our 10,000 square foot office roof and run the electric car off grid. Following the governments U-Turn this financial plan has been scrapped to pay for their U-turn.

The Dail and government seems to be completely missing the point about why going back on their word is completely unreasonable and unjust. The assumption is that all cars were bought brand new and that all families can handle a drop in income of €24,000 – €33,000 per year. Maybe if your on a government salary and their special perks, but I don’t know many families that have that sort of disposable annual cash put aside incase our leaders put their hands in our citizens pockets.

To be honest, I was quite happy with my (polluting) diesel two seater commercial which was really only ever used to go to and from offices. It had very low BIK (5%) and cost little to run. I have a kid now, so there was a discussion on buying a second car for very very very occasional use. If you need to run to the hospital as we did recently, taxi’s just weren’t optimum.

We had been using gocars which are great, but the bigger the baby got, putting in the car seat every time got me thinking a car with more space and a car seat would be useful. Saying that we used the go cars about once a month, and buying a car for 12 trips a year seemed excessive. So It was suggested to me to look at an Electric Car that could do the job of two cars and had the added benefit of being able to pick up clients at the Airport which i couldn’t do in the van.

Electric vehicles are still very much in Early adopter stage. The charging network is woefully inadequate. In Ireland Electric Vehicles are only 0.47% of cars sold, in the UK the figure is 2% (400% more) and in Norway it is 48% of all cars sold (10,000% more)!

I ran the numbers and it seems like a great incentive in place. I could purchase a car that was depreciated 50%+ of its original value in the UK, bring it into Ireland with €5,500 VRT.

So why a Tesla?

Surely their are cheaper options – or so the political say. Their argument sounds good on the surface, if you can afford a brand new, top of the range car – with the €30,000 Ludicrous model upgrade then “you should be able to afford the tax”. In reality very few Tesla’s in Ireland have ludicrous mode option, it is as the name suggests, unnecessary and ludicrous. But many Tesla’s were brought in from the UK second hand and bought by entrepreneurs through their company. Its probably a group of less than 100 vast majority being Entrepreneurs / job creators according to the Tesla Owners Club on Facebook.

Regardless decisions were made give the promises in place, decisions that certainly would not have been made if those incentives were not present.

Range anxiety is the main barrier to electric cars. For me I’ve a 250 km per day distance between the office I work in most days and our Head quarters in Laois. So the only option was a Tesla with a big battery pack. Not the biggest but the 90KW version and certainly I didnt need the ludacris mode.

There is nothing worse for EV sales than potential business users foreseeing the following event as happened to me recently. Going on a 500k business trip to Galway from Dublin and back in a day, finding out that the Charge points were both used and having to wait for an hour for them to free up and another 2.5 hours for the car to charge enough to get back. Lets just say the baby sitter wasn’t happy. Compared to the UK our charging infrastructure is poor and now that Tesla’s have been made less achievable for the users of the roads who produce the most mileage and hence pollution, investment by Tesla in Superchargers is highly likely to drop off a cliff in line with their sales.

So in August I made a list and checked the numbers twice, listened to TD’s talk about how they plan to continue to support Electric Vehicles and took the plunge – sold the one polluting commercial van and replaced it with a lovely Electric Vehicle. For 4 weeks i felt great about it, I was doing my bit for the environment. Couldnt wait to start charging solely off Solar when we implemented the next phase of our go green plan.

Then the budget came out and singled out one group – the only EV currently in the market for over 50k was Tesla’s. The only EV suitable for executives or anyone who travels long distances is a Tesla. But Entrepreneurs count for few election votes.

I emailed the Local TD in the region where my company is based and explained the situation and that i thought it was completely unjust. This is essentially the role, as I see it, of a local TD, to represent issues that effect their area, and as the Midlands is outside the comfortable reach of all other brands of EV’s for someone requiring daily return trips, I thought it was extremely relevant to his role. I was surprised to get a call back two days later on a Sunday. I was more surprised with its context. The TD mentioned that relationships are “a two way street” and that Its convenient that I mailed him when I needed his “help” but i was unresponsive to his previous requests. I’ve met this TD briefly in the Past when speaking for free at a local council organised business event and once, nearly a decade prior, I requested his support for a work visa for a key member of our management team. He has my mobile number and direct email address. He has never contacted me directly; but he said he contacted my office and I didn’t facilitate his request. I asked him what the request was an he said it wasn’t relevant. I apologised profusely if he felt I had ignored him, said that that wasn’t the case and for disturbing him at all. I said I had clearly misunderstood that it was the correct course of action and the role of a TD to be made aware. He said well he won’t be helping me with any of “my” issues but would forward on my email as a gesture but I needed to remember its a “two way street”. I’ve investigated thoroughly his accusation of contacting my office. Any calls or emails for contact are directly emailed to me so we have full traceability. The only contact we’ve had from his office in the last decade was a photocopy newsletter requesting Money / campaign contributions – I sincerely hope this isn’t what he was referring to. If rural politics is a pay to play situation, then that to me is completely unacceptable and I won’t be dropping my ethics. Again I really do hope that he just inaccurately remembers reaching out for another purpose, or has mistaken me for another business owner.

Fortunately other Tesla owners reported better results contacting other TD’s. But they to date have shown little intention of honoring their original promise under which mean made purchasing decisions.

I emailed the garage where I bought the car and asked them would they buy the car back at a significant discount. The dealer said it was the 4th call he’d got that week from Irish companies and that unfortunately they didn’t have the capacity to buy back cars at that point in time so close to the end of year and that he didn’t want to insult me with a low ball offer. The market for Tesla’s in Ireland seems to have fallen through the floor.

So what is the current situation.

My options as i Understand them are:

1. Keep the car as planned in the company name and pay 300% the amount that was budgeted for, over 3 years. Then sell and buy a model 3 which would be more suitable anyway.
2. Move the car into my personal name pay more than double the amount budgeted for the use of transport, upfront to the tax man. Thats about €71,000! I’ll need to pay extra in income tax in the next month – for no income just to change the ownership name of the car.
3. Sell the car and take a 50% write down on the car, then buy another diesel commercial. And be similarly out of pocket to the above.
4. Move the business out of Laois so i don’t need to spend up to 20 hours some weeks in a car.

It seems Tesla owners are snookered, our pockets have been picked. Next time the government ask early adopters to trust their word though – was the short term win, for a proportionally small amount (relative to total tax income, obviously huge amount to the less than 100 people it effected) worth the future mistrust of the top contributors our society. Especially when any gains will be more than lost by fines for lack of carbon credits.

But wait there is more.


Having moved my personal no claims bonus into the company, its not possible to move the insurance back into my personal name. My full no claims bonus would have given 52 – 65% discount on insurance. Now the same car, same driver and same risk has more than doubled in price.

One thing is for sure. This was an over night, unexpected, roll back on government promises. It was targeted at a very very small number (less than 100 people) Entrepreneurs and Job creators. There was no consultation or forum given to pitch owners side which has been grossly misunderstood and exaggerated to assume everyone chose to spend double the amount of money to pay for the car that I did and that therefore they are entitled to fabricate up a tax, contrary to the promises they made. And that very very little notice of same was provided to allow a soft landing or disposing assets.

When people ask why Entrepreneurs and successful people become tax exiles on liquidity events to be tax efficient, the government would be well to remember how the government have constantly rallied against entrepreneur and job creators.

What’s the correct solution?

I strongly believe the correct course of action would be to grandfather the BIK promises to people who bought vehicles in 2018 as a direct result of the government promises for a period of three years. This is both logical and fair but seems unlikely to happen.

Loosing faith

Personally I’ve lost all faith in the current government because of their small thinking. As a result if i ever do achieve a major liquidity event in my entrepreneurial career, I’d no longer feel an obligation to do as an Irish tax resident. Maybe this is why our other Irish success stories tend to do be non-dom.

###### Update ######

About two weeks after this post, other Tesla owners who had contacted their local Green Party TD had had more success and managed to get this on the government agenda and fortunately for people who had made purchases based on the systems in place at the time, these promises were grandfathered down.

Should Ireland Increase Minimum Wage

There’s been talk of late, especially from the Junior Minister of increasing the Irish minimum wage from €8.24 to €11.50. It’s been interesting to listen to both sides of the argument, in expensive locations like Dublin city center, with high rents and cost of living many suggest that €11.50 is a “living wage”. While IBEC has pointed out that increasing the minimum wage makes Ireland highly noncompetitive to our EU and Brexit counterparts. In other words, people will import products rather than buy Irish because while they want to buy from Irish companies they aren’t willing to pay the premium. Think of the rise of the foreign supermarkets (Lidl, Aldi, Tesco) and other big chains in clothing and electrical.

What I’ve been contemplating though is the short term thinking of the policy makers. With a relatively short shelf live of our politicians and lets be frank, a lack of prolonged sectorial experience are these people qualified to evaluate the outcome of the decisions? Sometimes I think of the Borris and Brexit situation, where a politician says they want something because it looks one way to take that stance, but deep down know that the reality would cripple the economy. However, by proposing a loose concept (extra money for those who need it), they look good and the common sense politician looks bad as they try to explain complex reaction theory to those likely not to be able to understand.

While in Japan recently I ate in a fantastic restaurant, where there was minimum staff. Orders were placed on ipads at the table. Food was prepared by a mix of robots and humans, then delivered by conveyor belt. It was novel, enjoyable and the meal was high quality but remarkably cheap. Not only was the lack of waiters or waitresses not a problem… in this scenario it was a benefit. Two deserts? Who was there to judge me. Turnover up, cost of service down, cheaper dinning experience and the restaurant next door was empty yet there was a 40 minute queue to get into this place when I was leaving.

Its a supply and demand issue. Assuming people will always choose the low cost item for the same or better utility (in this case a product) then if cost of delivering goes up, in the short term consumers will be less likely to embrace the new prices immediately. So for a period people will be open to new methods of making their money stretch further and in this period the old model businesses that created minimum wage jobs will begin to become redundant, jobs between the old rate and the new minimum wage will be proportionally redundant.

There will be an even bigger divide between the have and the have nots, because if the leap to get on the bottom of the ladder is so high many may never even start a career.

Taxi, Truck and Courier Drivers – Driverless car automation
Cashiers – Auto checkout, think of the current supermarket model
Builders – 3D printing of whole houses, office blocks and hotels
Accounting and Admin functions – replaced with rules automation and machine learning.
Warehousing – automated picking and packing
Restaurants – Robot preparation.

Its not as far away as people think.

The issue then becomes that the only entry level jobs available are those that runs the machines and develop the systems. High level, high paid and the skill set is of those with huge qualifications. Not ones that would previous received a minimum wage.

While progress is good and I love technology, I have a deep fear that the politicians and leaders of the western world have their heads in the sand when it comes to these issues. We need a plan for when these jobs become obsolete, social welfare at scale doesn’t work and until such a time that we have upskilled our workforce to add a minimum value of 11.50 we simply cannot accelerate the replacement of the lower wage jobs by automation.

Christmas FM Raises €107,000 for Age Action

Christmas FM

Christmas FM has has exceeded our fundraising target, raising over €107,000 directly for our charity partner Age Action Ireland which promotes positive aging and better services and policies for older people.

The funds raised will go directly towards facilitating 30,000 home repair and maintenance jobs and visits for vulnerable older people across Ireland as part of the charity’s ‘Care & Repair’ programme.

Thank you all for donating and making a difference! The station was sponsored by Centra and broadcast from the Ballsbridge Hotel Dublin 4.

Junior Entrepreneur Program

Can entrepreneurship be taught? I think so.

The Junior Entrepreneur Program (JEP) is a 10 week entrepreneurial education program for primary school pupils. The program is about introducing the concept of entrepreneurs to kids before the school systems have set them on a path to before teachers, lawyers or factory workers – by that i mean following the path our schools current consider success. More than half the children in our school will end up in jobs that currently dont exist. So our plan is to teach them to think for themselves and learn to create value for other, which then results in profit – real cash rewards, money they earned!

The program uses things they are learning in school while giving them purpose literacy, writing, presentation, drawing, technology, researching, numeracy, financial, consumer awareness, storytelling, listening, creative thinking, problem solving, team building and collaboration.

We’ve had 6,500+ students through the program and at the moment we are doing a last minute drive to recruit schools to participate. If you are a teacher, school board member or parent, please join us in trying to get your school to sign up. We understand that schools have zero funds – which is why JEP as assembled a team of Top Irish Entrepreneurs who not only pay all the expenses needed to make the program happen but also offer a local project manager for the course. It requires no extra teach hours, the course plan.

I’m Proud to be one of many backers of this project and with being based in Laois I’m the co-ordinator for the Laois area. Laois is an area that really will benefit from this project as with so many public sector jobs, private sector jobs and entrepreneurial activity really is required to get. If any one has any questions or needs support getting their school signed up, please reach out to me and I’ll do whatever i can to help get this project rolling in your school. We really want as manay children as possible to not only benefit from the project but to become empowered in their thinking. Best way to reach out is on twitter.

For more info visit our website. Please join me and my fellow entrepreneurs, bringing this vital education to the next generation.

How to Fast Track Tech Start Ups

Spent a bit of time watching the below interview on Tim Ferris’s Blog this morning and the message here really rings true for me, so much so that I thought it was a must share.

When I meet people who want to start businesses – I see the same thing – they want to spend heavy, commit lot long term agreements and make the product or service; All before they find out if they have customers who actually want their products.

There is pure gold here. (If you are short time Tim suggested skipping 20 mins as the last part is the most valuable.) Enjoy!

The Chobani Story

Hamdi Ulukaya is the CEO of Chobani Inc and one of the best entrepreneurial stories of the decade. He started Chobani in 2005 and Chobani Greek Yogurt two years later. He’s a World Entrepreneur of the year winner (2012) and when you meet him literally oozes entrepreneurial spirit. Sales this year in Chobani are expected to exceed the $1bn mark (yes 1 billion dollars in Yogurt!) and on an accelerated growth path in that doesnt seem to be slowing down as the company becomes a gigantic institution. Yet when I had the privilege of meeting Hamdi he had his feet squarely on the ground and unquestionably the one person I’ve met that afterwards I could help but wanting to emulate. Hamdi Ulukaya owns 100% of the company, which is unheard of for a company so successful. Convincing banks to finance such a aspirational business goal must have been a constant challenge.

Hamdi Ulukaya and Ronan O'Brien
Billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya and I

10% of Chobani’s profits are donated to the company’s charitable foundation, Shepherd’s Gift Foundation. Hamdi Joked that it’s a great idea when your starting but when the figures get to the hundred of millions and advisers suggest giving away hundreds of millions – well your commitment can be tested. Fortunately Hamdi is committed to being remarkable and making a difference, so his tithing is set to continue.

The Super Hero In You

One of the things that I get asked during interviews is who inspires me and who are my hero’s. It’s a question a always struggle to answer, there’s honest answer – but I might aswell make up random names as very few people have heard of them.

Well Peter Diamandis is one of my hero’s. If you want to be truly inspired, study his work.

3D Printing – It’s history and future

If there is one thing that I am most excited about in the technology world it’s the leaps in progress in 3D printing. Not since the mobile phone has their been an items that can change our existence and standards of life so quickly. For those that don’t know what 3D printing is, think how a letter is printed with a single layer of ink, now replace that ink with a 1mm layer of plastic or better still chocolate, as it dries another layer is placed on top of it and the cycle continues until a real life 3D object is formed.

Now this technology has been around since the 1980’s, but like the evolution of all things took time to get to the point we are at today – where basic models are available in businesses and homes. That’s right was as little as a few hundred euro a company like Makerbot will sell you a fully working model and websites like Thingiverse will allow you to download the plans to create literally anything your mind can imagine.

At the moment the main drivers of the technology are the three human basic requirements:

1. Health
2. Food
3. Tools

From a heath perspective, 3D printing in the next 10 years will be able to print organs and within the next 3 to print replacement skin – something the huge military budgets just love the idea of as well as the unbelievable potential to extend lives and avoid the awful transplant waiting lists that exist worldwide.

It might sound a bit star-trek but if you think about the composition of food, it’s something a 3D printer could emulate. An end to starvation and on a commercial side dieting – delicious foods without the parts that cause obesity epidemic the western world is facing.

As a species we’ve separated ourselves by our creation and use of tools to better our standards of life. In a talk I gave to an EU committee and policy makers in Brussels, I was discussing the legislative nature required to react to this advent of 3D printing – a concept the majority of the room were unfamiliar with. As you can imagine telling a group of people they had to create rules and laws about the handling of a concept that was as limitless as this wasn’t ever going to be received easily.

The truth remains though that 3D printing is the advent of making complexity almost free, in a decade we will have machines that will build houses and hotels, including all their fittings, in a tiny fraction of the time and cost that it would have taken before. By the line of code the machine will change from adding concrete to make the wall to putting in a copper pipeline alternative for plumbing and a nice wood resin finish to cover it all up. That’s right while we continue to educate children to be white and blue collar workers we are simultaneously replacing some of these jobs with a machine that never sleeps and if it breaks down – can print it’s own replacement parts.

Video with thanks to the folks at 16×9

With all breakthroughs in technology comes dangers though, the creepy serial killer-esq looking “Cody” (10 mins into the video) is using this technology to develop the blueprints to allow anyone to create a weapon at the click of the button. This isn’t a what if or some day scenario, this technology and blue prints are available now (just not widely available yet).

On a more positive note I have a friend who has set up a new business printing medical parts which will have a profound impact on heath care and patient recovery time after operations. It’s truly fascinating and ground breaking stuff, I’m delighted that Ireland will have such an impact on the world this way and always look forward to hearing about their latest break throughs – some day I’ll share these with you but at the moment I’m not certain what is public knowledge or not.

So what now? Well we need to be proactive. All children would be taught about this technology in school and start learning the basic skills needed to adapt to this new reality. CAD and designing skills will be far more beneficial to them than woodwork classes or academic business models from twenty years ago. With any shift in technology there is massive potential for business opportunity – but will you be proactive or reactive?

The Business RTE Radio 1

David Walsh (founder and CEO of Netwatch) and I joined George Lee on RTE Radio 1’s.

The Business RTE Radio 1

On the program we discuss the cross boarder trade within the EU and David Walsh tells a fascinating story of how they took the first steps to crack the US market and how Ireland should be tapping one of our most valuable natural resources – The gift of the gab, by starting a center excellence in sales training.

Also on the program we discuss how 27 different Vat regimes cause small businesses extra burden to tax collect for 27 different goverments and adhere to 27 different sets of rules – for example a Wheelchair in the Republic of Ireland has an exemption that no Vat is charged, but if we drive up the road to Northern Ireland there is no such exemption so Vat must be appraised on each unit sold relative to it’s delivery address. With such administrative burdens, cross boarder trade can seem unappealing.