Nothing defines Christmas for me like rambling around a forest, finding a Christmas tree, chopping it down and lugging it home. And thanks to Martin Lynskey (a Galway based entrepreneur) who runs Galway Christmas Trees, I didn't have to commit a criminal offence to have this experience.
Last Wednesday, Jacqueline and I hopped in the car with two pairs of wellies and we set off for Meadow Lane Farm in Athenry, Co. Galway. And after about 40 minutes wandering around a forest we eventually found our beloved Christmas Tree. I pulled out my phone, punched in a few numbers and dialled for the chainsaw man.
Martin told us he was about 10 minutes away. So to avoid wasting time I decided to practice my pitch for Galway's Best Young Entrepreneur there and then. So there I was, standing in the middle of Christmas Tree forest pitching to Jacqueline, a panel of Christmas Tree judges and the occasional red robin.
When I got back to the office, I shared my story with some of the Ex Ordo crew and with his typical sense of humour Eamonn (our lead designer) asked me:
If an entrepreneur pitches in a forest and no one is around to hear him, did he really pitch at all?
The following day as I walked to the PorterShed to receive the announcement of Galway's Best Young Entrepreneur, I started thinking about Eamonn's comment again.
In the early years of Ex Ordo, I entered awards like IBYE for two reasons. The first was that I needed some sort of external validation (for me and my parents) that I wasn't mad. Some would consider working 80 hour weeks for little more than you'd get on the dole, the definition of lunacy. I needed some form of independent verification to prove that I wasn't clinically insane.
The second was to confirm the "I'm Special Theory" that is hardwired to the millennial that's buried deep inside me. It takes a strange blend of ego to decide to take on the world and then put yourself out there so that the world can independently judge your successes and failures. The only way you can do it is if you innately believe that you're special and then of course an award acts as a token of external evidence.
As the years have gone by I've either become older, wiser or more cynical. I can't decide. Either way, I don't enter these awards for my ego anymore. I learnt a long time ago that true validation comes from customers and not the opinion of a panel of judges on a given day.
Customer loyalty beats an award any day.
So if I didn't enter IBYE for my ego, why did I apply? I applied because I wanted to give my team the opportunity to celebrate all that they have achieved because the team achieved it, not me.
I'm lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful team of people. A team that are young (Dermot, ahem!), energetic and passionate about our customers. But most importantly, the team did something really important a few months ago:
The team fired me.
I'm no longer allowed to write code. I'm no longer allowed to respond to customers. I'm no longer allowed to sell our product. And it feels wonderful.
The team run day-to-day operations without me. They've taken the basic framework that I developed years ago and they've shaped it and changed it for the better. And to my simultaneous delight and dismay, our customers are happier.
I've become dispensable.
I've always believed that a great entrepreneur is someone who can build a great team, put the parts in motion and then step away. I admire people like Mark Quick (Nephin Whiskey, 9th Impact Games, Employability Galway & Sourcedogg) that can do this. People that can work behind the scenes to create something special. You see their work, but you rarely see them.
Its always about the team, its never about ego.
And so as I arrived at the PorterShed last Thursday night, I realised that Eamonn was right. In my early years it was all about me. I was pitching to myself and in a forest full of trees.
Today is different. Today I'm just the wrapping paper around the engine. Today I pitch to a team of people that eat, sleep and breathe for our customers.
I'm no longer a lunatic in a forest full of trees.
And about 30 minutes later, I heard the announcement that we had won Galway's Best Young Established Business and the overall title of Galway's Best Young Entrepreneur.
Its easy to collect awards when you've got a great team behind you.
Massive thanks to all the judges who gave up their time so generously and indeed to everyone in the Galway LEO Office (Breda, Ricky and Susan) for organising the Galway leg of the competition. Onwards to the regional finals!