Tell us a bit about yourself and your startup, WeddingDates.

WeddingDates CEO, Ciara Crossan pictured in their offices, Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh

I’m Ciara Crossan, Founder & CEO of WeddingDates and passionate about technology and the hospitality industry. My degree from UCC in Business Information Systems gave me a great grounding in the overlap of tech and business and as business ownership is in my family I always thought I would like to start my own one day.

The idea for WeddingDates came about 9 years ago when I noticed many of my colleagues planning their wedding in work on the high speed internet (back then nobody had fiber in their homes!).

You could book a hotel bedroom online but you couldn’t find out any information about availability in a hotel for a wedding – the gap was identified and armed with a laptop and a copy of the yellow pages, WeddingDates was born!

WeddingDates is an online software platform for hotels, wedding venues and suppliers to drive targeted wedding leads to their business and then manage their pipeline of enquiries right through to the ultimate booking. We also run consumer facing websites; WeddingDates.ie here in Ireland and WeddingDates.co.uk in the UK for couples planning their wedding to find venues and suppliers that are available on their date and get ideas and inspiration from our popular wedding blogs.

I was 25 when I started the company so am a big advocate for young entrepreneurship as well as Women in Business. Now there are more and more women starting companies and in leadership positions but back when I started most of my meetings were with men in suits. Then, three years ago I became a mum to twin boys so now I balance home-life with the business and am a strong believer in flexible working for parents.

What is your vision for your startup?

weddingdates-2015-logo-squareMy vision has always be to become the Daft.ie of weddings. I would like to see WeddingDates.ie be the first place couples go to when they start to plan their wedding and for wedding businesses WeddingDates will be a source of expert information and industry insight.

What have been your biggest hurdles as an entrepreneur and how have you managed to overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges for me is juggling all the aspects to the business. I am naturally strong at sales and marketing and tend to gravitate towards those activities but there are so many other facets to the business that I have to oversee. I have had to learn to be comfortable in so many other areas; accounts, HR,  legal etc. but it is all a balancing act.

What are your views on entrepreneurship in Cork?

CMK11052016 REPRO FREE NO FEE WeddingDates CEO, Ciara Crossan pictured in their offices, Cork City. Picture Clare Keogh Extended Caption Irish Wedding Business Expands After Breaking UK Market Cork-based website WeddingDates.ie has set its sights on a UK takeover after hiring two key sales strategists and expanding to exciting new offices. Set up in 2008, the online tool helps drive enquiries to wedding venues for unsold dates via an availability calendar on their website and marketing on WeddingDates.ie WeddingDates CEO, Ciara Crossan, narrowly missed the backing of top Irish investors during a stint on Dragon’s Den in 2010. However, it was predicted only a matter of time before the fearless young entrepreneur became a success. Breaking the UK with an impressive 30 per cent growth year-on-year since 2012 has quelled any doubts from the critics. With over 600 venues signed up for the service across both countries, 112,000 wedding enquiries generated and almost €40 million in revenue through booked weddings, the business continues to grow from strength to strength. Ciara said “It seems like an eternity since we started this journey, and so much has happened along the way. It’s been thrilling and I’m really proud of what we have achieved. But, there’s a lot more to accomplish.” After spending eight years under business innovation hub, The Rubicon Centre in Cork, the move to a vibrant new office space and two additional hires sparks the company’s most ambitious plan yet – saturation of both the Irish and UK marketplace. Growing the dynamic team to include a UK Sales Manager and Irish Account Manager, while focussing on their renowned reputation for excellent customer service, is instrumental to this next phase. A 90 per cent contract renewal rate and an army of loyal customers forms a solid pitch for potential clients. “It was a challenge in the start as it was as much of a risk for us expanding to the UK as it was for the hoteliers

Picture: Clare Keogh

Cork has been a great base for me to start my business. Back in 2008/2009 there was a great group called Cork Open Coffee full of other tech/entrepreneur types and I made some great connections in the early days that we a big help with advice and direction. I was involved in organizing a tech “unconference” called BarCamp Cork off the back of that too. In recent years much of the start up focus has been shifted to Dublin and the community up there is now bustling but we have some great entrepreneurial role models in Cork with the likes of Pat Phelan of Trustev and Peter Coppinger of Teamwork.

Now BuiltInCork, the group run by DC Cahalane, is probably the best start up/tech networking scene for us in Cork. The Rubicon Center is one of the top incubation centers in the country and I was lucky enough right out of the gates to get a place on their year long Genesis program (now New Frontiers) back in 2008. This was a massive help to me in the early days from the start up training, mentoring, peer support as well as a physical office space to go to every day. WeddingDates remained based in the Rubicon Center for 8 years and only this year moved out to our own premises in a business park near the airport.

Plugging into the Enterprise Boards, Enterprise Ireland and the incubation centers is a must for anyone starting up their own business.

There are of course financial supports available but in addition to that lots of courses and networking events which are key to an entrepreneurs self-growth.

What motivates you – in other words – why do you do what you do?

I absolutely love doing what I do! I get such a kick out of making new sales, satisfying our customers and seeing my team succeed and push themselves to always improve. The autonomy of running my own business is a big attraction for me but of course that comes with its own stresses! But overall, I would say I am very proud to have built up something that has been running nearly 9 years and employing a team of 8 people.