KEHLAN KIRWAN: Q&A: Dave Smyth from Cogs and Marvel

Dave Smyth, CEO at Cogs & Marvel. Picture: Shane O'Neill

In this week’s column, Kehlan Kirwan talks with Dave Smyth from Cogs and Marvel, an Irish events company. Formerly Green Light Events, the business has rebranded and opened up a new office in San Francisco

What do you do at Cogs and Marvel?

We used to be called Green Light and just last week we re-branded to Cogs and Marvel. The company was set up about 10 years ago by Jane Gallagher and Roisin Callahan. Essentially in its early days, it was an events company, very corporate stuff like conferences and on a very large scale as well. Our first big job was for Google around 2006/07 when we ran their European Sales Conference in Seville. I think that gave Jane and Roisin the confidence to grow the business and hire more people. In the last 10 years the company has essentially grown up alongside the technology industry in Ireland. We now work with most of the global technology companies that call Ireland home. We went from purely conferences and events to much more creative brand experiences for staff, for customers, and for consumers.

Why San Fransisco, when it could have been easier to open in London or Berlin?

Well, we have ambitious growth plans and I suppose the first step was probably the easiest one to make. We work a lot with American technology companies who have global headquarters in Silicon Valley. We work with Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and we’ve done some work with Uber as well. A lot of those companies are based in California and Google had said to us that we were doing some amazing things and if only we had an office in California, they’d work with us over there. Roisin, one of our founders, is an American passport holder. So she relocated there and the whole move began to come together. We have real opportunities in coming years. Ireland is going to be the only English-speaking country within the EU and for the American market, the language barrier is a big one so we’re hoping to capitalise on that as well.

San Fransisco is a big financial investment, how did you prepare for it?

I think you have to create a very robust business plan, looking at all the costs. San Francisco is not a cheap place to set up shop. Office properties are expensive and wages are ridiculous. We’ve had to really adjust our parameters for salaries with recruitment over there. We’ve had two people from the office in Dublin who relocated over there and three people that we hired over there as well. So it is expensive, but you have to put yourself through a robust process in terms of checking the viability of it and analysing projections. We were lucky in that we had an intention from Google before we had the office set up, so that was important for us. We didn’t feel like we were starting from ground zero, that we could pay our bills quite early on. Equally, we reached out very early in the process to the IDA and Enterprise Ireland who have offices in San Francisco too. They were a great support when it came to making introductions and getting us into that network early. We’ve already met other Irish success stories — like Voxpro — out there. There is a really strong network and a great culture of helping each other out. So it looks promising for us.

Was it a culture shock?

When setting up an office in another country you are always going to come up against little idiosyncrasies and cultural differences. What we’re learning is the way they do business over there is very detailed and very specific. You always get exactly what you asked for, but you have to know what to ask for. Doing business on this side of the Atlantic seems to be a little different in that, and maybe this is the nature of the Irish, people will remind you that you need to do x,y, and z. Whereas in the States they expect you to know what you’re doing, they expect you to know what to ask for. If you ask for it, you get it quick sharp.

But if you haven’t asked for it, you won’t get it. So that’s certainly been a learning curve for us.

I think, generally, California — and more specifically in Silicon Valley — there is this history of being the birthplace of start-ups and there seems to be a lot more understanding of companies coming over to set up roots there. Some of them are going for IPOs while others go by the wayside. So, they don’t really bat an eyelid when another company comes in to set up there.

Why the brand change from Green Light Events to Cogs and Marvel?

As I mentioned earlier we had grown up alongside the technology industry. The nature of what we were doing had changed dramatically. We felt we were changing the face of the events industry in terms of being able to bring a logistical excellence and this creative flare together. At Cogs and Marvel, we call that the how and the wow. That really is where the name came from, cogs being the logistical side and marvel being the wow. We started a re-brand process last summer.

When we started it we didn’t think we would end up with a new name, but we worked with a great brand identity company based in Limerick with an office in Dublin called The Pudding. They were exceptionally strong strategically and really got where we were in our business evolution.

The team really challenged and forced us to think about the crossroads that we were at. They challenged us to think about our old name and whether or not Green Lights was going to get us to our destination slower or quicker. Ultimately, we felt that we had to grow up a little bit and that a change of name would capture that, so that was the reason for the re-brand.

What are your future plans?

Well in 2016 we turned over approximately €18m and our ambition will be to double that over the coming years. This year is all about San Francisco and consolidating and growing the Dublin business. We can’t see why it can’t be equally as big as the Dublin office. Depending on how quickly or slowly that happens, we would also be interested in opening offices in other parts of the world.

We work with a lot of multinationals that operate on a regional basis, so we may look at Asia/Pacific or something like that or even a European-based office over the coming years.


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