Meet The Mumpreneur: Aideen O'Grady of STARCAMP
Aideen O'Grady is the brain behind STARCAMP, Ireland's leading summer camps provider in performance, fun and games for kids across Ireland. You may also recognise her and the business from Dragons' Den during which the dragons were all fighting for a piece of the company. We asked Aideen to tell us all about how she came up with the idea and how she balances everything.
"Trustworthy, uplifting and magical are the words I'd use to describe the business.
I think that I may have subconsciously had the idea of a performance-based summer camp as a child. Throughout my primary school years I attended numerous camps, however the only camps that were on offer were all sports-orientated. I loved sports but I loved to sing and dance more. It was hugely important to me that STARCAMP would be open to boys and girls of all levels and abilities. The variety of subjects that I felt would give the most comprehensive and magical week grew to include singing, dancing, drama, games, teamwork, arts and crafts and public-speaking. I wanted to ensure that each child was praised at every opportunity and I wanted them to feel good about themselves no matter what. Our core ethos is: 'The building of self-esteem and confidence in children through performance.'
Initially I told nobody. I spent all my free time researching as much about summer camps as I possibly could. I researched the entire Irish market along with the American market and some other countries too. The seed was set. I had a plan. The next step was to leave my job and tell my husband-to-be. I did so – in that order! It went down like a lead balloon. We had literally just had a mortgage sanctioned that week and he, being a non-risk-taking accountant, was a little displeased. (He now works full-time with STARCAMP.)
I got the best and least expensive help in the world, family. I called on my amazing mother to help out in every way possible and Dad when I needed a hand or a driver. I had Paul (my then hubby-to-be) as my numbers man and friends occasionally chipped in too. We now have five full-time staff in our offices and almost 100 part-timers. To be honest, I've always liked to paddle my own canoe. From a very tender age, I had the advantage of seeing both parents work extremely hard, doing different jobs and running various businesses. Being a woman, my mother completely inspired me and if I felt I needed mentoring in any way, I always turned to her.
Dragons' Den was fantastic although when I stepped into “The Den”, nerves struck. I smiled at the dragons in front of me, my smile was not reciprocated. I had a table of props and merchandise. When I went over to take the cloth off it, I knocked some items to the floor. But once my two-minute pitch was over, I began to relax and enjoy the banter with the dragons. I asked for €30,000 in return for 10% of STARCAMP. I got three different offers but in the end I opted to go for Peter Casey, whom we were able to buy out within six months due to our success.
I don’t believe in having regrets. I am not one for looking back. I prefer to think about the future and all the exciting and potential opportunities that lie ahead. There are loads of things I wish I’d known at the beginning but in business there’s only one real way to learn and that’s by doing.
I’m constantly in pursuit of this so called perfect balance, but I have a sneaking suspicion it doesn’t exist. My three sons are 10 months, three and four. Things change every day and just as my babies are growing up and changing, so is my business. It is transitional, as is the economy and you have to adapt and just roll with the punches. How do I handle it all? That’s easy, I married Mr Perfect. I am so lucky that Paul and I share everything – the running of the business, the running of our home and the raising of our three little men.
Being a mother simply changes everything. Now, if I were in a life-changing meeting that I had waited 10 years for, with the biggest opportunity to go global that would make me a trillionaire and then a call came through that I had to go to my baby, I’m out of there without a thought. My point is that no matter how much I love STARCAMP (and I do), it doesn’t stand a chance against my boys.
If you are serious about starting your own business and you have the idea, then take the first step. The first step is simple. Decide that you are going to do it. Once the decision is made, start with baby steps and do whatever you have to do in order to make it work for you. Create your own space and make childcare arrangements to ensure that you can take the time you need just to get things started. One step will then lead to the next.
We have recently begun work on our 2017 launch in the UK. STARCAMP now runs in every main city and town in Ireland. Last year we launched in Northern Ireland and this year we have acquired an office there due to the phenomenal growth. Once we have launched and grown our business throughout England, Scotland and Wales, our plans then include targeting greater Europe."