Talented young web developer and business entrepreneur Robert Dillon is taking Dublin and Ireland by storm. Along with his business partner Graham Gallagher, they have successfully set up their own web and graphic design service, Swift Web, just two months ago.
Earlier this year the team conducted a case study on web agencies in Ireland and found that the majority of them were charging colossal prices for their services, some companies charging up to €300 per hour. They saw a gap in the market for affordable web services and felt that they could offer the same service but at a cheaper rate. Simply put, the main problem they’re solving is making graphic and web design more affordable for businesses without jeopardizing quality.
I caught up with Swift Web’s chief web developer Robert who has been designing websites since he was 13. Now at 20 years of age he seems wiser beyond his years.
What kind of changes did the company/product go through in early stages?
We originally put a major focus on all-in-one packages. So we had one package for a website, logo design, graphic design, SEO etc. for a single price. We quickly realized that not many businesses require all of these features at once so we’ve moved away from that to a much more flexible, custom approach where we’ve started to pre-price individual services. It seems to be working out better financially and it gives us more creative power to offer more to our customers.
Do you have investors? Are you looking for further investment?
At the moment we have one investor and the initial investment seems to be serving us well. We’re an online company so costs are low on our behalf. All of our initial setup costs have been paid and we’re doing well in regards to business, so right now we’re doing good. But who knows what the future might hold.
What kind of growth has your company experienced?
Most of the growth has been steady and at the level we expected. One of the major things we noticed was that even though our business targets other small and medium enterprises, we managed to land a multi-national company and we’ll be doing graphic design for their promotions for the foreseeable future.
How many customers do you have now?
We currently have ten web development projects of varying scale that we’re working on at the moment with five currently completed.
Tell us about your industry: What was it like to break into? What kind of disruption have you created? Who are your competitors?
It’s always been easy to break into but now more than ever. I learned 90% of the skills I use every day between the ages of 13 – 18 before I ever went to college, all over the Internet. Now I run the entire company from a laptop. At the moment, we’re the lowest cost web designers in Ireland in our level of quality so I guess that’s disruptive.
When did you know it was time to grow the team, and how did you go about hiring?
We took on a freelance graphic designer, Joe Lynch, quickly after our launch because we didn’t feel like our graphic design services were up to scratch. So now we have a service that we’re proud of and can offer more to our clients.
How many employees do you have now?
We have two full time employees and a freelance graphic designer who we’re hoping to bring on in a full time capacity within the next couple of months all going to plan.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced so far? The greatest victory?
Getting our name out there. I’m no marketer so a lot of the first couple of weeks included bugging businesses about their web and graphic design needs. Luckily that worked and now we’re getting business in more traditional methods and also through word of mouth from happy clients. The greatest victory was definitely when I got the first phone call asking for our services as opposed to us reaching out first.
What's been the most important lesson?
Don’t give up. It can be disheartening starting a business especially when you’re young because you get a lot of people saying it won’t work. I used that as a generator for determination and it helped more than hindered me. Also, coffee. Drink lots and lots of coffee.
What are your plans for 2014?
Offer more services. When I go home at night I’m constantly thinking of the next big thing for our company going forward. I’m looking at a potential service we’ll hopefully be able to offer that nobody else in Ireland does at the moment. We’re looking at growing our team by the end of December to offer something completely different. We don’t want to stop at design.
What are your immediate next steps and long-term goals?
Our immediate step is to land more big name clients. We went from having to bug other small business to having them come to us. We’re now putting a focus on bigger companies. We now have the ability to take on much bigger projects and we’re excited about that prospect.
What international markets do you foresee the company expanding into? Will maintaining your identity as an Irish company be important to you, or are you seeking to brand yourself differently?
Honestly, expanding outside of Ireland hasn’t even crossed our mind yet as we're still establishing ourselves here. There was a joke in the office recently about opening a Swift Web branch in London. That could happen down the line though, we won't rule it out. But we’ll always be an Irish company and don’t want to lose that brand of ourselves.
How can we help you?
We’ve learned to not underestimate word of mouth; it’s such a powerful tool. I tell anybody who’ll listen that if they know anybody who needs a website, or a logo, to tell them about us. So I’ll tell you the same. Word of mouth is so powerful.
What advice do you have for other people/companies starting out in your industry?
Keep costs as low as possible. If you’re in our industry, the minimum you’ll need to spend to get started is very little in an extreme case. I believe in spending money to make money so buy essentials. Just remember, you’re in an industry that requires literally no start up capital. Word of mouth goes far so make sure you have good service because business will follow. But the main thing is, never let costs dictate the level of quality you offer.