The Monday Interview: Broadening his business horizons

Cork broadband entrepreneur Dave McDonald started his Nova Broadband business in 2004. Mr McDonald says he been on a learning curve ever since but that the hard yards travelled have been worth it

He may now be an innovative entrepreneur but Dave McDonald freely acknowledges it was a steep learning curve since he began Nova Broadband armed with just a van and unbridled enthusiasm in 2004, 

Nova Broadband has since supplied thousands of homes in hard-to-reach areas of regional Ireland, and also providing coverage to businesses.

Demand has grown to the point where Mr McDonald and his team have launched a second company, Nova Telecom just to cater for business broadband.

A native of the Little Island area in Co Cork, the UCC computer science graduate said the road to where Nova Broadband and Telecom are now was a tough one.

He entered a market in which Eircom and BT reigned supreme.

“Back in 2004, I was working as a contract software developer, but I wanted to start something as a career. I had an idea of starting up an internet service provider — one of my friends actually told me I was crazy, but I decided to go for it and started Nova.

“At the time, there was only Eircom and BT doing retail or selling broadband. But availability was very bad. There were only two exchanges in Cork City that were doing it. At the time, you weren’t even able to get broadband in the likes of Ballincollig — that’s how bad it was.”

Obsessive research was the first requirement, as was patience, Mr McDonald said.

“I had been reading about people in the US enhancing wifi signals over long distances, using powerful amplifiers and things like that.

“Immediately I was hooked and I thought we could do the same here.

“I started reading obsessively and joining forums and groups, and thought it was time to shake things up.

“It was a duopoly and there was no focus on bringing broadband to low-density areas.

“The first mast I set up was one I rented from RTÉ up in Collins Barracks, broadcasting over Cork City.

“I then went with my van down to the southside of the city and set up a connection in the middle of a car park. I launched the business, took out a bank loan and off I went with my van and my kit.”

However, ingenuity in his own field was not enough to make a sustainable business.

Mr McDonald said running a business was something else altogether. “I struggled very hard to get my first 10 customers because like a number of these type of businesses, I was a tech-orientated guy. I wasn’t really a businessman and I didn’t really think about those kind of things. It got off to a slow start and I was swimming against the tide because it was a big ask trying to compete with the big boys.

“But I got a niche for myself — I went for businesses only in the first few years, I didn’t do residential.

“At the time, there was a lot of internet cafes in the city. One of those was formed by the guys who own now.

“They were my second customers in Area 51 on North Main St, it was a gaming kind of place. We did the connectivity for guys playing all night.

“If you can’t keep gamers happy, you can’t keep anyone happy,” he said.

Residential broadband in hard-to-reach areas followed and now Nova Broadband supplies thousands of homes across the regions.

Mr McDonald said the new Nova Telecom company was a way to refocus on business broadband.

The new business telecoms company which offers internet, voice and data products counts brands including Ballycotton Seafood and Zenith Technologies as clients.

Mr McDonald is adamant that aspiring entrepreneurs absorb as much advice and life lessons as possible along their business journey.

“A year or two after beginning in 2004, things weren’t going well financially.

“It was hard to grow and we plateaued. In 2007 and 2008, things really started to take off for us.

“Actually, when the economy was kind of going the other way, we were kind of finding our stride.

“The recession forced us to examine the business and make sure it was running lean.

“We brought in a management consultant and he went through lots of different aspects of the business, which straightened it out.

“My shortcomings in running a business ended at that stage, I really put my mind towards that side of it rather than the technology.

“It was one of the most valuable lessons I learned.

“Any kind of practitioner starting a business based on their craft can tend to neglect other aspects of the business.

“Don’t be a lone ranger is the first thing I would say to people. I wanted to do absolutely everything myself. I had to learn to let go and accept good advice.

“I learned a lot from our management consultant, from talking to my peers, talking to people with other businesses.

“There is also local enterprise offices. Involve other people and never be afraid of help.”


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