Oroson is empowering the future of work

10 Dec 2018

Daniel McGlade, Oroson founder and CEO. Image: Oroson

Our Start-up of the Week is Northern Ireland’s Oroson, which is transforming how companies, teams and individuals work.

“Oroson is a software product that brings your content, tools and communication together online, in one central hub,” explained Oroson founder and CEO Daniel McGlade.

“This simplifies your work and makes everything very visual, resulting in increased productivity and better team collaboration.”

‘Oroson helps people and teams. It makes work easier, more productive and less stressful’

Siliconrepublic.com recently reported how the start-up received a £1.2m investment from Co-Fund NI and private investors.

The company, which was established in 2013 to transform how companies, teams and individuals work, aims to use the investment to develop its software, which enables businesses to increase productivity by streamlining workflows.

The market

“Oroson is for anyone who works online and wants to be more productive,” McGlade explained. “It helps everyone from individuals to SMEs and large corporates.

“We are focused on demonstrating the use cases of Oroson across many sectors primarily, but not exclusively, in professional services. We have seen lots of organic growth in this sector but we have customers across the marketing, design, media, publishing, IT, hospitality, utilities, sporting and local council sectors, demonstrating how good a fit Oroson is in many markets.”

The founders

“I founded Oroson in my final year of law at Dundee University,” said McGlade. “I knew I didn’t want to study law but I had no idea at the time what I wanted to do. Then, halfway through my final year, I became so frustrated at how difficult it was to work with others online as a couple of our final-year projects were based around group work. My frustration led to a lot of research, a business idea and eventually some initial funding.

“The business has moved on drastically since then, with a couple of twists in the road along the way. Our co-founder Richard Davidson joined the company a couple of years later when I decided it was time to bring on a technical lead. Richard was a former principal architect at Aepona Ltd, a software product company acquired by Intel in 2013. He has been a massive part of our success to date, and from there we have been able to secure funding, build a team and an outstanding product.”

The technology

People working on a tablet screen.

Image: Oroson

Oroson is an online platform that enables users to add their content to one central hub using a workspace and board layout. Content that can be added includes files, images, videos and links. Oroson also integrates with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox, creating smart links to your content. You can also create native content within Oroson by adding notes, stickies and lists.

“Oroson has been designed to display the content very visually,” McGlade explained. “This helps you to engage with your content and create and develop your ideas.”

He said that the chat and comments features are designed to drive team collaboration. “From project level to more detailed task level, teams can share content and focus communication around this. This makes collaboration easier and more effective across teams and locations.

“The Oroson team is so passionate about our solution. It has transformed the way many teams work, including our own. Oroson is too good not to be shared.

“Yes, we are ambitious and want to grow Oroson into other markets but, genuinely, it’s more than that. Oroson helps people and teams. It makes work easier, more productive and less stressful. We want as many people as possible to access Oroson’s benefits.”

McGlade said that the next 18 months will be focused upon growth within the UK and the Republic of Ireland. “Longer-term, we want to take the product to market in America. We already have users there, so we know there is a requirement for a product like ours in America.”

Organic growth

McGlade continued: “We have a fantastic team who are so dedicated to pushing forward. The business is really progressing, both from a product development perspective as well as business development and growth. Our customer numbers are steadily growing and we are getting a lot of organic growth from customer referrals, too, which is a great endorsement for Oroson.

“What helps this organic growth is the fact that users can invite anyone to their Oroson boards, which means many customers use it to invite their own customers to Oroson to share and collaborate on content. In terms of deployment, Oroson has a very simple, automated onboarding process. However, we are always looking at new ways to improve the customer journey and maximise engagement with new and existing users.

“As a start-up, we need investment to support our growth. Our aim is to secure another £1.2m by early 2019, which is a primary focus of ours.”

Think users first

McGlade said that building a product takes time and resources. “But, most importantly, it takes empathy. You have to really understand the pain points of the end user.

“My team are sick of hearing me say it, but no one buys products, they buy solutions to problems – so what are their problems? Sounds simple, but it’s not. If you were to ask 10 businesses in the same sector their top 10 problems, you would likely get 10 different responses from each business.

“It can be hard to cut through the noise and get the real problem that is consistent across businesses so you can help solve it. It is the same when it comes to refining the product – everyone will want something slightly different. Cutting through that noise is difficult. It takes time, patience and an in-depth understanding of your end users.”

Fail small, learn fast

McGlade said that the right psychology and a healthy appetite to learn, but also learn from mistakes, are crucial to the start-up journey.

“Nobody is perfect, so don’t be afraid to fail – and, ideally, fail small and learn fast. Small failures are a key part of the product and the start-up life cycle. If something isn’t working, then don’t be afraid to experiment. The sooner you learn what doesn’t work, the sooner you will learn what does. It has taken us time to get this mentality right within our company, and it still takes time with new staff members as most people want to avoid failure at all costs. But not being open to failing on the small things will lead to much larger failures further down the line.”

He said Oroson went through a major pivot about 18 months ago. “And it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. We moved from an edtech business to a SaaS business. We had raised investment, built a product and a model around edtech – however, the sector as a whole was struggling. For a while, we turned a blind eye to the signs of the struggling market. The transition was difficult. I had to convince investors and staff of the change, and we lost staff along the way who didn’t believe in the change.

“Even after I saw the barriers within education and the opportunities for the product to move into a new market, I hesitated. I delayed the move because of internal disagreement. We were afraid of failing after spending so much time and resources within the edtech market. We eventually made the jump a few months later, and thankfully it all worked out, but it has been an experience I will never forget.”

Ultimately, success depends on having good people around you. “I have seen some amazing, innovative start-ups from around Europe and Ireland. In my experience, the biggest barrier to their success is resources, or lack thereof. This is particularly the case in high-growth companies, which are capital-intensive.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years