As was the case with many electronic engineering university graduates in the early nineties, Thomas Marry went abroad to look for work. He chose Siemens in Germany and was engaged in the area of industrial automation. He returned seven years later to work for Siemens in Ireland. He subsequently took on the role of Managing Director of a new IDA backed German company, InFoScore , which was setting up operations in Kilkenny.
In 2004, Thomas had the idea of providing a pay as you go internet access for people on the move. He asked Declan Lennon who was working with him, and who was a fellow UCD classmate, to join in turning the idea into a viable business. Declan had the technical skills required to develop the product and manage the operations of the system.
In 2005, the InFoScore Group in Germany were taken over. This was the perfect opportunity to negotiate a good redundancy package for Thomas and Declan, and to pursue their entrepreneurial plans. Together they took the plunge, set up SurfBox, a coin and credit card operated
internet access solution for hotels, pubs and cafes.
Having the concept was one thing, coming up with a defined technical solution was another! The challenge was to design a prototype that could be implemented at a low cost while being stable enough to ensure a high level of availability with low maintenance requirements. After months of research and development they came up with a working prototype, which was the core of their SurfBox solution.
When fully operational, there were over 800 SurfBox terminals in airport and hotel locations throughout Ireland and the UK.
Market and technology do not standstill, however. As the smart phone became more generally pervasive, people had less need of stand along internet connections. Accordingly, Thomas and Declan were faced with a stark choice. Pivot the business or watch its rapid decline.
His experience of working in Germany after graduation meant that Thomas was well used to adapting to change – changes in language, culture and environment. He drew on this experience as he reviewed the strategic positioning of SurfBox.
In developing SurfBox Thomas and Declan had experience of identifying an opportunity and building a business around it. Now that that opportunity was less promising, they used the same skills to identify a new opportunity. They recognised that as people relied more on
their phones and iPads, fewer tended to have PCs and printers at home. Those that had found the consumables associated with printing made printing at home extremely expensive. This insight has led to the development of Print, Copy and Go.
Print, Copy and Go is a self-service ‘Pay as you go’ print copy kiosk for public locations. The print Kiosks are supplied and maintained by the company on a revenue share model. Not only is the usual black and white colour printing available, but 3D printing is also being offered. This latter is proving very popular with students. The Kiosks are now being rolled out across the County Councils and public libraries in Ireland and through a partnership in the UK.
Thomas is realistic and recognises that the entrepreneurial route is not always an easy one: “It’s not always plane sailing, there are also challenges and difficulties a long the way — recruiting staff, increased competition, providing unfailing service and support, long hours and a lot of travel. But the satisfaction of knowing you are building a business for the future makes it all worthwhile.”
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