You get the sense when speaking with Donal Byrne that if he could split himself in two he would enthusiastically attend The Xchange mentoring and networking event at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Rosses Point, Sligo, on October 5th and 6th for a third year in a row.
The founder and CEO of Big Red Barn, the Mayo-based company which designs and manufactures modular structures, is a keen advocate of networking in general and Xchange in particular.
“If I wasn’t as busy as I am I’d definitely go for the third year because you can never learn enough. It’s a different story every year and there’s different entrepreneurs there but you would never get access to a room filled with millionaires anywhere else,” he says.
Donal built his business after the experience of being in charge of all the temporary structures used at the Olympic Park before and during the London 2012 games.
“We had a lot of issues with the structures, weather especially, moving, ripping, tearing. So, my plan when I came back to Ireland was to design a bigger, stronger structure that could withstand the Irish and English climate and that was basically bombproof,” he explains.
And so the Big Red Barn was born. Donal’s alternative to the usual canvas structure of marquees has proved a success in Ireland, the UK and beyond and the barn has been followed by a range of other structures, including modular homes which were recently launched at the Ploughing Championships.
“We’ve grown on average between 300 and 500 percent every year for the last four years and it’s been a great success story but we’re working very hard at it.”
Despite the success, Donal has found that being an entrepreneur has serious challenges. “Sometimes it’s a very lonely place, being an entrepreneur, and you think I’m the only one that has these problems – cash flow problems or staffing problems, trying to grow a company, get money from the bank. I sat with several entrepreneurs at The Xchange and they made you feel at ease and told you how they dealt with similar issues,” he says.
So, apart from networking and hard work, are there other secrets to his success? “There are key learnings,” he says. “The first key learning is surround yourself with positive people. You cut out all the negativity. Anybody who is telling you ‘you cannot do’ it shouldn’t be in your group.”