People & Leadership

The journey of an entrepreneur: Mark Breen on building Cuckoo Events

The journey of an entrepreneur: Mark Breen on building Cuckoo Events

Mark Breen is MD of event management company Cuckoo Events and has joined our team of Sage Business Experts. For this article, I asked Mark to answer some questions and share his story so far. It is well worth the read and is a really interesting story about entrepreneurship in Ireland.

When opportunity knocks…

Cuckoo Events is an events business I started in September of 2012. Before making the leap, I was working with a marketing agency in Dublin as CEO of the youth branding element of it.

I had only been in that role around four months when I was asked to go work at the 2012 London Olympics. I turned it down at the time as I figured it’d be cheeky to ask for that much time off from a job I hadn’t been in very long.

Then as the summer approached, I met with a guy called Martin Cullen who now works with me here at Cuckoo.

Martin and I had worked together on various projects over the years and always thought of ourselves as ‘like-minded’ people and spoke of doing something together at some point. Martin had decided to leave what he was doing and he had some other things he was going to be working on. I handed in my notice and went and worked at the Olympics.

Once I came back from the Olympics, it was straight into Cuckoo Events madness as it was Freshers’ Week season in the colleges and universities and they represented our immediate market. I was still trying to find an office space at this stage. After a while Martin was able to join me and now it’s full steam ahead.

Getting stuck in

I’m managing director, which sounds great. I’d imagine our experience is similar to that of most businesses starting out. I do everything from sorting contracts for new acts exclusive to us as well as ordering the stationery for the office. We each do bits of everything as we feel our way through the startup phase and get things sorted.

Well, that’s not quite the case. For example, Martin would have a fantastic knowledge of the production end of events, whereas I would struggle sometimes to know which end of a cable should go into which piece of kit. I look after the accounting and invoicing as Martin wouldn’t have a great interest in that end of things.

Other than those two big things, we share everything else, pretty much.

Martin does a lot of the sales as he is well known and respected in the industry and a lot of people call him looking for stuff, as they have done for years. With that said, we’ve made a lot of new contacts and sales already through our email newsletters and word of mouth, which is great for us too.

Why I love what I do

I’ve been lucky enough to run and work on some super events over the years. For me though, my favourite has to be the Olympics. I may never get that kind of opportunity again.

I was involved in the safety management at the Eton Dorney site at London 2013. The site is more than 340 acres comprising a man-made rowing course and was where the rowing and canoe sprint was taking place for the Olympics and the Paralympics.

The weather was fantastic and we spent two weeks looking after an average of 26,000 people every day coming to enjoy the racing. It was organisation on a massive scale.

We had to coordinate the army, the police, the contractors, the volunteers, liaise with LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) and more.

Knowing my customers

With the student/college/university market being one of our main ones and with my background at the Dublin Institute of Technology running events, I’ve noticed huge changes there in recent years.

It’s a much more strategic game now, trying to run events for students. They have less money (don’t we all), they’re much pickier about where they go and what they do and they have way more options on what to do, especially in Dublin.

I think the market for medium-size events has expanded in recent times. Events for 2,000 to 15,000 people are happening very regularly in Ireland, be they large corporate events, St Patrick’s Day parades, smaller festivals, charity events and more.

Charity events are becoming more common at this size, with charities now being run as businesses in many instances and the people running them seeming to understand the old adage that you have to spend money to make money.

We were involved in the recent St Patrick’s Day Parade in Swords, providing all the safety management team and there were around 20,000 spectators plus participants on top of that.

Most people not in events probably don’t see what’s involved in making things like that happen.

Spreading the word

I’m a huge fan of Twitter and blogging – I’ve been on Twitter for a while now.

I find Twitter is great for engaging with the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) community in Ireland. I’ve made friends with people on Twitter who are running their own businesses and we all help each other out with advice when we can. We have got a few sales through Twitter too, which is great when Martin is telling me I’m on there too much.

The number of ‘tweet-ups’ and ‘meet-ups’ etc, where people are getting together to share time and stories and, quite often, forge new business alliances, is fantastic.

I would recommend that all SMEs start to engage with the community and would recommend Twitter as a great way of doing so. It’s not the holy grail of success, or anything, but it’s a super tool and it’s free.

I think the blogging, for me, is a way of, again, engaging in the communities I operate in as well as the SME community in general.

I’m loathe to use the word ‘expert’ but I guess it’s also a tool for me to position myself as some sort of expert in the fields I operate in. I’ve seen benefits to Cuckoo from my blog and can’t see me stopping it any time soon.

Obviously there are periods when we’re so busy, I don’t give it the attention it deserves and am slower putting out new content than I’d like, but that’s how it goes.