Having survived a terrorist attack in Nice which claimed 86 lives, a young Innishannon man felt compelled to make a difference with his life. James Gale tells Emma Connolly about his event app business and his plans to expand for 2020
A WEST Cork entrepreneur whose business idea was born after looking death in the eye is ready to take his enterprise to the next level in 2020.
James Gale is the co-founder of Swiftfox Apps, which creates bespoke event apps designed to improve the information flow for both organisers and attendees.
The 23-year-old Bandon Grammar School graduate felt compelled to start the business, and rethink his entire life, after being caught up in a terrorist attack in Nice which took the lives of three of his friends.
Originally from Innishannon and now living in Kinsale, he had no idea what he wanted to do after school and ‘taking a leap of faith’, enrolled at a university just outside Vienna to study business.
‘While there, in July 2016 I won tickets to the European Innovation Academy in Nice. It was a three week long start-up incubator programme designed to bring over 600 students and mentors together from all over the world.
‘July 14th was a special day because each new company had just launched the first version of their product. The plan was to finish up the day, head back to the dorms before descending on the beach to the catch the Bastille Day fireworks.
‘After watching the last roman candle explode into a sea of red and blue our small party of six steered up from the beach and joined the crowded promenade. The atmosphere was filled with the bustle of families starting to disperse after the spectacular display. We had just reached Venice beach when I heard my friends shouting my name. I glanced right to see them jumping from the promenade onto the roof of a little beach bar which by day would be bustling with activity.
‘I spun around to see a white truck driving straight down the promenade towards me. In that moment I froze, my mind trying to process what was going on. My brain kicked into flight mode and I ran left, just as the truck flew between my friends and I. Everything seemed to unfold at lightning speed after that. In the chaos and commotion that ensued, there was no way to communicate with or account for the other students around the city. This confusion lasted for three days until I got the devastating news that three of my friends had been named amongst the 86 victims.’
When he returned back to Cork in 2018 he said he was a very different Jamie to the one that had left.
‘I was very aware of how short our stay on planet earth actually is. I found myself starting to question the very status quo that I had taken for granted all my life. I started to question what could have made such an experience that little bit easier.’ He always believed that starting a business was the best way to drive change in society.
‘But it wasn’t until I started at university that I fell in love with software. I was mesmerised by how flexible it was. You could create a product overnight and get real world feedback the next day. It’s an extremely level playing field, as such a teenager in their bedroom can make as much an impact on the world as an established business. It all comes down to the execution!
‘Following my experiences in Nice my co-founder Jonatan Mosner and I decided to put our hypothesis to the test by changing the communication flow at conferences, music festivals and events where crowds are large and communication channels are outdated. What we do is build and maintain a library of different features that can be packaged into a single event app for each customer.’
Since launching the very first version of the app in 2017 for the annual Kinsale Sevens event, they’ve worked with Dublin Tech Summit, Indiependence Music Festival, Zeminar, Cork Podcast Festival, Kinsale Shark Awards and Beyond Limits in Croke Park.
‘Our team has now reached four full time employees. In February we are launching our second-generation event app. One of our core business philosophies is to always re-invent your product and company because if you don’t someone else will. We went back to the drawing board and completely re imagined how event apps feel and look and we are really excited to share what we have come up with our customers.’
Over the coming year there are also plans to recruit two developers and a sales representative to help global expansion.
Despite all this success, including winning Young Business Person of the Year at last year’s West Cork Business and Tourism Awards in association with The Southern Star and Cork County Council, James says there are times he thinks about getting ‘a normal job.’
‘Starting your own business is not easy and it becomes a lot more of a challenge when you have to make payroll. It’s not easy balancing the burden of responsibility for your team while putting the interests of the company first. However, the opportunity to introduce products into the world that push an industry forward makes all that worthwhile.’
He added: ‘If I am fortunate enough to live and reach the average life expectancy in the western world, I only have around 60 summers left. That’s a fact that I’m very aware of. You only get a limited window on this planet to really make a dent. Knowing that we are building something that really helps people is a feeling worth any sacrifice.’
JAMES' BUSINESS TIPS
Always follow up
Whatever your goal may be, regardless of the arena, I can guarantee you that someone, somewhere holds the key.
When I send an email and the person doesn’t get back to me, I don’t automatically assume they don’t want to talk to me. I’ll keep sending emails and trying different modes of communication until I get a definite response.
In every instance of communication, you need to get really honest with yourself.
You can have anything you want in life as long as you’re willing to be honest with yourself, make a plan and then execute that plan.
Test your product
Don’t get bogged down by developing a product that you haven’t verified that people need. This is as true for software as it is for traditional brick and mortar businesses.
The trick is to find out how to test your product without investing a huge amount of resources building the wrong thing.