As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Eoin Cooney.
Eoin Cooney worked in consumer goods/tech for 17 years. He worked with global brands across project/product management and product/business development in addition to retail, licensing, and franchising. In 2009 he worked with Apple on developing a range of consumer electronics accessories before building this into a global category and selling the license to Belkin. Eoin Cooney’s first product SLAINT was launched in 2015 with strong consumer and media response. Cooney drew from this experience in the inception of the ARROE brand.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was travelling a lot for work and always had issues keeping my devices charged. I thought to myself “someone needs to create a streamlined solution for charging everything from one socket anywhere in the world”. So in 2015, I started a smart luggage brand called SLAINT, bags with an integrated charging system for devices. But I was sourcing off the shelf hardware from China. After successfully bringing the SLAINT products to market I realised that the perfect hardware required to make the product great didn’t exist so in 2016 I started ARROE to create the perfect charging solution.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Not sure how funny it is but when I started, I didn’t know anything about shares, so I gave away a massive chunk of equity without creating a vesting schedule. In the end, it all worked out ok but that could have been a disaster. I learned from that! Don’t give away equity without a vesting schedule.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The person who helped me the most along the way is my mother. She has been my number one supporter since day one and supported me through the toughest times. I remember her driving to my apartment to bring me sandwiches in the early days because I was working so much I kept forgetting to eat lunch. I couldn’t have done this without her.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
My purpose was to give everyone the ability to use their devices as intended without battery limitations. We have these amazing devices that allow us to do things you couldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago, but they are only as good as their batteries. When the battery dies the device is useless. I wanted to solve that.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I would say I am a wartime CEO so I am at my best when things are at their worst. I remember a point when we completely ran out of money and it didn’t look like we would make it. The rest of the team had to take on part-time jobs to pay their rent (I told them to do this) but I continued to work on the business full time all day every day trying to get the funding we needed to keep going. In the end, we got it and we survived!
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Yes, there were times when I thought about what it would be like to give up but I don’t think I ever seriously considered it. In the early days, I felt a huge responsibility to my co-founders, employees, friends, family, investors and customers who all believed in me and what we were doing. I think for me it was that sense of responsibility that kept me going through the darkest days. But I love what I do. I love working with my team who are also some of my closest friends. I love that we are solving problems for thousands of people all over the world. That motivates me.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
To keep the team motivated, optimistic and focused. To see problems before they happen. To make sure there is enough money to keep moving forward.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I always look for the silver lining in everything. I think it is a side effect of dealing with such frequent disappointment. I have learned to see the positive in everything. I think initially it was a coping mechanism but now I see it as a sort of superpower. If you minimise the amount of time you spend dwelling on disappointment it doesn’t affect you so much. When something bad happens I just think “what can I learn from this” and then I immediately start working on a solution. I also believe that good and bad things come in waves. So when something bad happens as long as I just keep moving forward I know it’s just a matter of time until something good happens. Once you learn to ride the waves it all becomes a lot easier. You just have to keep paddling!
What are the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The bad news is always easier to swallow when delivered with good news. So ideally you want to find something positive to share along with the negative. If you look for the silver lining you can usually always find a way to present something negative as something to learn from. And learning is what it is all about!
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Plan for the best and expect the worst. I have found this to be the best approach. Reach for the stars but don’t be caught off guard by anything. The downside of this is that you can never fully enjoy the good times because you have to mute your enthusiasm and always think about what could go wrong but I guess that is the price you pay to be the leader.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I would refer to my previous comment about riding the waves. Whatever happens, whether it is good or bad just keep going. Minimize the amount of time you spend dwelling on disappointment and immediately start working on the solution. Always look for the silver lining in everything and learn from everything.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Spending too much time focusing on investment and not enough time working on the business. If your business is good enough the investment will come to you or at the very least, it will make it much easier to get investment. A lot of businesses see raising capital as a destination but, that is just the beginning. Focus on your business as much as possible. Try to find ways to keep moving forward without investment. If you are finding it extremely hard to raise investment your business isn’t good enough yet. I have made this mistake myself.
- Do not expect anything to be easy. A start-up it is going to be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will push you beyond your limits and will take over your life. You need to be 100% committed to making it work. Anything less and you won’t make it.
- Don’t do it for the money. If making a ton of money is your motivation don’t even bother because the reality is you would be much better off doing something else. You will make far less than you would in a good job and most startups fail so you will likely end up in debt. If you are lucky, you might walk away break even. I do this because I can’t imagine doing anything else. I feel like I was born to do this.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
This is incredibly difficult. Especially for a hardware startup. Cash flow is going to be one of your biggest challenges. I would say familiarize yourself with all of the financial tools available to you from the start. There is investment but also loans, credit cards, trade financing, debt-equity, grants, R&D credits (in some countries). You will need to use all of these to survive. Try to spend as little money as possible, always work as if you are bootstrapping even when you have money because it will run out. Also, prioritize sales above everything else.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Always look for the silver lining in disappointment, figure out what you can learn from it and start working on the solution right away. Share all of this with your team to maintain morale. Every time we have been turned down by an investor there was always a positive. Maybe they would have been the wrong investor for us or maybe it pushed us to find a better way to move forward without giving away a lot of equity.
- Ride the waves. Bad things will always happen but if you keep pushing forward good things will happen too. Just keep rowing.
- Focus on cash flow and sales. Try to generate sales as quickly as possible so you can stop being reliant on investment.
- Focus on your business and not investment. The better you make your business the more appealing it will be to investors. If you are having a really hard time raising funds, then your business isn’t good enough.
- Plan for the best and expect the worst. Reach for the stars but don’t be caught off guard when things inevitably don’t go your way.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Your problems are not external they are internal. You can fix any problem by changing how you think about it.
I started meditating daily last year and it completely changed my life and how I think about everything. It made me realize that even though your problems may seem external and beyond your control you can stop them from being a problem by just changing the way you think about them. If you decide it’s not a problem anymore then it is no longer a problem.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/eoincooney/
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