One of my favorite parts of the creative process is scratching the surface to find layers of meaning. In the case of writing about the women in this series, I’ve enjoyed learning about what’s behind their entrepreneurial dreams; the story behind the hard work; the accelerators, the incubators – all the programs there to support them take their first steps as a business owner; the highs and the lows; the pivots and rebrands and the spark of inspiration that ignited the big idea on which hinge their dream.
As it is in these layers of meaning where I tend to find the most interesting details of an entrepreneur’s story.
Take Danielle Mallen, COO/CMO and co-founder of Acteavo, whose past is very like my present – which makes me believe that I can do what she has done. And that is escape the corporate world. Before Danielle’s entrepreneurial journey began she worked for a bank for ten years in a sales and marketing role.
We chatted about what it’s like working for other people when you have a dream to work for yourself, describing how she felt before she quit her secure job, Danielle said ”it felt wrong to be working for someone else’. Of course for Danielle this was all the more intensely felt given that she comes from ‘an own business family’.
I asked Danielle what it means to her to own a business now and she answered: ‘you’re working towards your own goals and no one else’s’.
Many people within a corporate environment yearn to break away from the rigid confines of a 9-5; but take no action because they simply don’t know how to, or if they should, leave a secure job for the whirl that is startup life.
How did Danielle make it happen?
Well, Danielle did one of the best things you can do to gain perspective on your life. She took a year out from work and went traveling. During this time she experienced how disconnected the tours and activities market was and how hard it was to find and book activities; this inspired an idea for a business. But, the Ireland she returned home to was financially on its knees and humiliated by the IMF bailout, so it was not exactly the most hospitable or opportune environment in which to set up a business. Danielle spoke about the need for ‘measured risk taking’ when setting up a business, especially in this kind of environment; for her and co-founder (and partner) Olan O’Sullivan this meant that she would work part-time on the business ‘until it wasn’t sustainable’ and he went full-time.
The idea’s first iteration was TripClocker; to develop it they were brought onboard DIT Hothouse’s New Frontiers program. That was back in 2013; fast forward to 2015, TripClocker is now Acteavo and the original co-founding team, plus its newest members, is now with the StartLocal incubator program.
Acteavo evolved to respond to the needs of the sector ‘while developing Tripclocker and dealing with tour businesses, we saw the lack of booking technology in the sector. Existing software did not fit the needs of the these types of businesses’, Danielle said.
I believe the lesson in Danielle’s story, and the reason it is inspiring, is this: If you can set up a business during one of the most unstable economic periods in Irish history then you can set one up anytime. Provided the risk is carefully measured, the idea is tested to see how well it solves a problem and that you’re passionate about the area. As Danielle said on returning from her travels she knew she wanted to change her job: ‘and work in an area I was passionate about, and for me this was travel’.