Tech start-up of the week: Global Business Register

27 Oct 2013

Robert Leslie and Ben Cronin, co-founders, Global Business Register, pictured at ArcLabs in Waterford, where the company is based

Our tech start-up of the week is Global Business Register (GBR), a Waterford, Ireland-based venture that has pioneered a hybrid-cloud platform to make it easier for businesses to seek out information about companies they want to do business with in real-time. Co-founders Robert Leslie and Ben Cronin set up GBR in 2007.

The company has based its head office at the ArcLabs innovation campus in Waterford City – Leslie is from Waterford. GBR has been at ArcLabs for four years now, and he says that the atmospphere is so positive at the centre.

In all GBR employs 10 people. This includes employees that are based at its satellite offices in London, UK, and Kuala Lumpur, where GBR is targeting the Asian market.

“Almost all of our customers are outside Ireland,” Cronin explains.

And GBR is fast making a name for itself, both in European and global tech circles. Along with the Irish start-up DataHug, GBR was last week named by the European Business Awards (EBA) in an online listing of early-stage start-ups around Europe, dubbed ‘They Could Be Giants’. The EBA has created the list to showcase early stage companies that it believes could have the scope to be ones to watch in the future.

And, after being named Red Herring’s European start-up in its European 100 earlier this year, this past week GBR was named as one of six Irish start-ups that will go forward to the Red Herring global finals in the US in 2014.

The co-founders

While Cronin’s background is in business and property development, Leslie’s is in technology.

Cronin was a professional rugby player, having played for Munster and Ireland during his career. Leslie, meanwhile, spent 20 years in Japan having helped Dell start their Japanese business.

He says that he began to get “bored” around the time Dell started making revenues in the region of US$300m in Japan, so he decided to become an entrepreneur.

“I started my own business in Tokyo with a few other ex-pats as a provider of computer services to foreign multinationals. That business was acquired in 2000 by a Singaporean company.”

In 2003, Leslie made the decision to come back to Ireland in 2003. He did some mentoring with Enterprise Ireland before starting GBR with Cronin.

So, a little bit more about GBR:

Leslie says that GBR has localised its technology so that is now available in 20 languages. The platform is available in 160 different countries spanning the globe, and GBR now has around 10,000 users. This user base would include everything from global banks to one-person operations, Leslie explains.

“We are all about helping businesses easily find out information on the people and companies they do business with so they can avoid falling victim to fraud and other financial crimes,” he explains.

Essentially, GBR is about trying to make global commerce more transparent as it moves onto the internet by “facilitating a method to enhance trust”.

“We think this is going to be very important as traditional, face-to-face commerce declines and we move away from physically knowing the person or company with whom we are dealing,” Cronin adds.

Banks, law firms, accounting firms and investigator firms would account for a lot of GBR’s user base, with banks being the biggest users of the company’s technology.

That’s because banks are obliged under the Anti-Money Laundering Act to carry out background checks on companies before they do transactions with them, be it online or in physical terms.

Monetisation time

So, how is GBR monetising from its technology?

“Currently we source data and documents from business registers around the world. We add a margin to them and sell them on,” explains Leslie. “We will be adding a subscription model in the near future to facilitate high-volume users of our services.”

He says that business is growing.

“We are definitely gaining increased traction in the enterprise space.”

Having said that, Leslie says the last few years have been tough going, as many businesses can attest.

“But we are still here and hopefully we can say the worst is behind us. We are currently actively seeking new investment and hope to have some good news to report in the not-too-distant future.

However, he adds that, as a seasoned entrepreneur once said to him, “the deal ain’t done until the money is in the bank!” so GBR isn’t counting its chickens just yet.

The plan

So, is GBR planning on taking on new hires?

Cronin says that GBR definitely will be hiring new people as the business expands and the services it provides continue to evolve.

“We are a very tech-heavy business with a lot of data processing and networking happening in the background. To be able to deliver our services so we need skilled people to keep all that happening,” adds Leslie. Think programmers with both front-end and back-end skills.

The ultimate goal?

The aim, according to the duo, is to build a truly global company that provides the Know Your Client (KYC) type vetting services companies need.

“We will be using official data, delivered in real-time, that we source from every country in the in the world.”

And their advice for other tech self-starters in Ireland right now? “Set your sights on your goal. Don’t be afraid to take some risks along the way and don’t give up when the going gets tough … and it will get tough.

“If you are persistent enough somehow you will find a way to get through and successfully come out the other side.”

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic