Businessman and Entrepreneur, Mark Kearns Discusses his Professional Life From the Age of Ten
"Constantly seek feedback from your potential customers". This is advice given by Mark Kearns, currently the CEO and founder of Nootrol, as he spoke with IrishDev.com about his entrepreneurial and business experiences starting at the young age of ten.
It's not every lawyer who can say they were asking their parents to take them to the local courthouse to watch the proceedings when their age hit double figures, and it's not every teacher who can say they were asking their own 5th class teacher what they really thought of the Irish curriculum. These may be extreme examples, but at age ten Mark Kearns was showing an active interest in technology. Somewhere in line with five siblings and with parents in retail, Kearns interest could be described as an anomaly, especially in the early 1980's.
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Born in Dublin, Kearns recalls his earliest memory regarding technology. He had heard about a computer show running in the RDS and had managed to coax his father into taking him along. It was here Kearns found his Golden Fleece, a second hand Atari 800 computer. His father was no different to any other parent in thinking that this latest desire was just a phase; yesterday this ten year old might have been fascinated by dinosaurs, or the week before might have insisted in having the latest pair of trainers, now he wants an expensive computer! Fortunately Kearns father obliged.
Kearns admits that this was his real start into the world of technology. He would spend hours and hours typing in programmes line by line, saving them as he went along on old cassette tapes. He began to understand the basics of programming. It was a great way to learn from a structured approach as all the logic was already written for him, but it also gave him the grounding that he needed. He began writing programmes himself shortly after learning these basics. This was a pinnacle moment for Kearns; it was at this point that he knew that this was what he wanted to do, which is not something every ten year old can confidently say.
Kearns completed a one year programming course at Senior College Blackrock (now Senior College Dún Laoghaire). This was a fantastic year for him as the course involved the kind of basic programming he was already very competent in. He immediately signed up for a six month, hardcore C Programming course with FÁS, after which he got his first real job testing software two evenings a week. This was all achieved before his 19th birthday. He quickly found more work in a small software company, building insurance systems and time sheet systems. He spent 14 months here learning basics and developing the talents.
At age 20, Kearns and a friend set their sights on building a company. In June of 1990, the pair formed Core Technology in London. It took them over one year to hire their first member of staff but they soon had a 45 employees. He would start work at about 6:30am and work until 6pm. He was constantly recruiting. In 1994 the company took on a small amount of investment, and in 1996-1997 they took on more investment again.
Coming from a programming background, it was at this point that Kearns started to become unhappy because Core Technology was moving towards networking and infrastructure. He wanted more experience working with bigger budgets for larger companies and didn't want to get into management, so he decided to sell the majority of his stake in the company.
He took up employment with Two Way T.V., where he became Head of Development. This was a start-up company with about 50 staff, but which employed around 250 people by the time Kearns left. It was an extremely technical company. They sold their product in Two Way T.V. to every broadcaster in the U.K., including Sky, NTL, Flextexh, and to companies in Israel and Australia. In the centre of all this they were nominated for a BAFTA over the Big Brother interactive application which allowed people to vote via their remote controls. They were riding the wave around this time and were just about to enter the market in America when the dotcom bubble burst.
In 2001, Kearns and his wife decided to buy a house back in Ireland and by Christmas 2003, Kearns had moved back to Dublin permanently. He began working for Oracle in East Point and had reached a point in his career where there wasn't much he couldn't lend his hand to. Oracle wasn't technically challenging for Kearns. Where he had built Core Technology from nothing, Two Way T.V. had taught him the really hardcore technical side of his business and Oracle rounded up his professional catalogue from a management perspective. Following Oracle, Kearms took up the role of Engineering Director at Babelgum before becoming CEO of Nootrol.
When asked what the most important attribute for an entrepreneur is, Kearns expresses how, "You must be able to take stock regularly of everything that you are doing. You need to be able to ask yourself if you are going in the right direction, and constantly be able to re-evaluate. You need to seek feedback, and apply critical thinking to yourself and what you're focused on. He continues that, "There's a great entrepreneurial community in Ireland, especially in Dublin and there's a circle of seasoned executives and business people who are always willing to give an hour to sit down to give you advice and feedback, and tell you what they think. Take advice on board and fold it in to what you are doing."
Kearns expresses the importance of really knowing your customer. This is done by seeking feedback from them to get their perspective. "The whole point is to get that expert opinion and validate as much as possible with the market, other players and businesses both in Ireland and abroad. You need to go out with the desire of wanting to fix someone's problem. If they tell you that your product won't fix their problem, then the obvious question is to ask, 'well, how can I fix it?' "
He explains the necessity of being aware that who you imagine to be your customer may not actually be your customer. "Go out and talk to the market and do your market homework; it's the most important thing for an entrepreneur to do, and there's no point in doing it if you don't take it on board."
Today, Kearns is creating a SaaS for companies evaluating their carbon footprint. He recalls the first draft of the product due to be launched next month; after 8-10 months of working on the product he began seeking feedback from potential customers and found that while he was right in many respects, he was off the mark in others. What he's delivering now is different from the original vision he thought the market required. "That's why seeking feedback is so important. It would be worse if I were to head out to the potential customers now and have that happen. I could have wasted three years of time, effort and money instead of a few months."
When asked if there was anything he would change, he replies that he's very happy with the way his professional life has come about. When Mark Kearns professional life is explored chronologically, he immersed himself in a constant learning process, worked for what his own interests and visions were and always heeded advice. This is all advice that he shares with the future entrepreneurs of Ireland.
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