John Hamrock, Managing Director says that Ancestor Network Limited with its head office in Dublin and its branch in Northern Ireland is a leading provider of Irish genealogy research, advisory and publishing services. We are also a private equity investor in an American genealogy marketplace.
You can visit Ancestor Network here
How did you get the idea/ concept for your business Ancestor Network?
It was a hobby that turned into a business. One my fellow directors, Aiden Feerick, who was also a co-founder and I studied genealogy together at UCD’s Adult Education Centre. We did family history on our own respective families and then we started helping others trace their ancestors and we then decided to set up the company in May 2009. Two years prior, in 2007, I wrote a book called, Tracing your Roscommon Ancestors published by Flyleaf Press. In 2015 Ancestor Network acquired Flyleaf Press.
Give a brief account of your education background.
I currently study Spanish at Instituto Cervantes in Dublin and having lived in France and Belgium I also speak French. I hold a Diploma in Genealogy from UCD. I hold an MBA in International Business from Ulster University, a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Suffolk University and a Certificate in Investment Planning from Boston University.
Did you always know/ever think you would become an entrepreneur when you were younger?
Yes, when I studied undergraduate at Suffolk University in Boston I would dream of running my own business.
Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family?
Not with my parents; my father was a government worker and my mother’s full-time job was raising me and my six siblings. My brother ran his own engineering company for a few years. Previous generations were small farmers in Connaught so I guess you could say they were entrepreneurs.
Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
I had a passion for my own Irish family history and with my business education, particularly my MBA and financial services background, I did do a lot of homework on the genealogy industry both before launching the business and still am very curious about it to this very day.
What was your previous work experience (if any)? Do you think this gave you an advantage when setting up your business?
Yes. As I hinted just above, I have been working since I was sixteen years old (first in the retail sector for over six years). I have worked and continue to work in the financial services industry (mutual or investment funds) for the past 40 years. I worked in operations, treasury, marketing, compliance so have experience in many facets of business which I have brought to running a genealogy research, advisory and publishing business. I am an independent director of investment funds now which gives me time to also run Ancestor Network.
How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc).
My fellow co-founders and I bootstrapped the business, i.e., our own equity investment. We have reinvested all profits back into the company. When we made the private equity investment in the US company, we did that also out of our own pocket. We did also receive some funding from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Local Enterprise Office when we took on new employees, for overseas trade shows and for digital marketing vouchers. We are very grateful to DLR-LEO for this.
Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?
I have mixed feelings on this; but looking back I was probably too conservative and should have sought outside investors, yes. We have added shareholders to the company, but it is all our own directors and employees so key people on our team has skin in the game. If we brought in angel or private equity investment into our company in order to have a war chest to fund growth or acquisitions, we could have grown more quickly even though it would have diluted our stakes in the business. Looking back though, having that extra leverage of outside investments would have allowed us to scale our business more quickly.
What difficulties, if any, did you encounter when securing funding?
We are currently looking at outside funding to fuel revenue growth and we will probably do this by a traditional bank loan. Interest rates are low so it is a good time to borrow and we will not be giving up equity.
Did you encounter any financial difficulties in the first year of operation?
If yes, what did you do to surpass them? No, as mentioned previously we bootstrapped the company at the launch and even had a small profit early on.
What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?
The key thing is to build a good team around you; initially founding the business with Aiden Feerick and Deirdre Breen. Over time we have added Dr James Ryan who founded Flyleaf Press; Hilary McDonagh who manages our research team; and Michael Rooney who heads our Northern Ireland office. The second thing is to treat it as a marathon, not a sprint. Approach each day as if it is your first day in business. Keep a sense of humour and perspective.
To what do you attribute your company’s success/growth to?
Teamwork and Diversity. Other genealogy researchers in Ireland are essentially sole traders. We have built a board of directors which is gender balanced and have built a team of researchers who bring in their own individual specialised skills. We expanded from research to publishing when we acquired Flyleaf Press. We also moved into the advisory side of genealogy where we supply genealogists to the National Library of Ireland in guiding visitors on how to conduct their own genealogy research. We have also invested in technology like our GDPR safeguards, our website, blog, our app, social media campaigns, adaptation from traditional book publishing to eBooks, and in employee training.
What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?
It is critical to success; no man or woman or company is an island. Networking expands one’s horizons and reach. It is in the name of our business; Ancestor Network.
Do you think entrepreneurship has changed in recent years?
Yes. The pace of change accelerates exponentially and entrepreneurs have to be ahead of that change; whether it is in technology and social media; regulatory and compliance demands; satisfying the customer; and keeping colleagues and employees engaged and performing to the best of their abilities.
Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again? Yes. I am sixty-one years old now, but business keeps you engaged.
If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
Several pieces of advice I would offer are:- The earlier you start, the better. Do not be afraid to fail or to ask questions and to leverage your professional network of contacts. Keep learning. Do not give up. Keep optimistic. Stay focused.