Ask the CEO: John Prendergast, Aonach

In the second instalment of our “Ask the CEO” series, KerrySciTech sits down with John Prendergast, the Director of Aonach ecommerce agency, to find out why a committed Corkonian would cross the border to set up his eCommerce business in Kerry.

Tell us a little about yourself and your company.

Aonach is an eCommerce development agency based in Kenmare. Founded 15 years ago, we are a small specialist team. Sometimes it feels like the United Nations here at Aonach, as we have Irish, UK, Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian, and Russian passport holders on our team! Then one thing we have in common? None of us were born in Kerry; we choose to work here!

What’s different about you?

Well, we’re not trying to float on the NASDAQ or conquer the universe! Our vision is to build a sustainable technology business and a happy workplace. We enable businesses to leverage the opportunity that the online sales channel presents to help them create commercial resilience.

I’m a Corkonian—I escaped from Cork city in 2004 and I have never looked back! I now live in Glengarriff and work over the mountain in Kenmare.

Locating in Kerry, particularly in a small town like Kenmare, what have been the pros and cons?

Kenmare is an amazing town. (I think I can say that pretty objectively as a Corkman!) It punches above its weight in so many ways. Nestled at the top of Kenmare Bay it is ideally located in terms of natural beauty and access to mountains, woods, rivers and sea.

But much more that that, it is very vibrant town with a great community spirit. (Try the week-long Halloween kids’ festival extravaganza, for example). So, quality of life is fantastic here. When you compare it to larger cities, it is amazingly easy to access everything: Traffic is not a thing here (with the exception of the fair day on the 15th of August when you have to battle
through ponies, horses, sheep and geese!) For those with kids, childcare and education are great (and available).

From a commercial perspective, we have Gigabit fibre broadband here, and Kenmare Innovation centre provides a fantastic campus for technology businesses.

The negatives are few and far between: Naturally, this is small-town living, so don’t expect public transport (you will definitely need to provide your own) or McDonalds (thankfully!). It’s a more relaxed, friendlier way of life down here, but that is not for everyone.

How do you think we can address the perception of high-tech careers in regional Ireland?

I think there are two aspects to this:

First of all, I think we need to market the virtue of careers in indigenous tech companies. They are embedded in the community and therefore, the employment they create is more sustained. The founders are typically committed to the community and the location, as well as having a different take on life.

At Aonach, for example, we all down tools at 18:00 without fail and we don’t work weekends. Eh? At the end of the day, isn’t that just compliance with employment law? Yup, it is. But in many companies you are quietly expected to work late, stay on top of emails from other time zones, etc. We value quality of life: I’m not interested in working 80 hours a week anymore, and I don’t expect anyone else to either. That’s why we are here in Kenmare (an active choice because, strangely, none of us are from this town).

Secondly—and this is something of a contradiction—I think we need some greater government and government-agency focus on promoting rural Ireland as a great location for technology companies and technology careers and moving tech jobs out of metropolitan areas. By this, I mean moving FDI tech jobs to rural Ireland and creating a program to attract skilled workers back into small rural economies.

Policy decisions are leaving rural Ireland behind. The focus on urban living permeates all aspects of government policy.

​“Let’s all use public transport,” they say.

“Fantastic,” I say, ” I would love to—if I only needed to come to work on Wednesdays from 11am to 4pm, which is when I can get the only available bus.”

We need policy decisions that empower rural locations to become self-sustaining powerhouses of employment.

What would you say to people considering a career move to Kerry?

I think it is horses for courses, really. I absolutely love it here. My kids are safe and happy. It’s a lovely place to live at a calmer pace. There is great access to outdoor adventures—I am a five-minute walk from a nature reserve with a 700-acre oak forest. Before I moved I remember being anxious about some very odd things like  “What if I want to grab a pint of milk at midnight?”

Yes, where I live now, the local post office closes at 18:00 in the winter. Guess what? That wasn’t the big deal I imagined.

At the same time, I acknowledge that it is a slower pace of life. There is no point in imagining that living here in November or February (in the rain) is the same as visiting Banna Strand on a sunny bank holiday weekend. So be realistic and pop down and work remotely for a couple of weeks (or months) in the winter if that’s an option for you, to get a better sense of what actually living here is like.

Remember, there are a lot of different options in Kerry: You can live in a town like Tralee, with an Institute of Technology, shopping centres and a more urban experience, or you can live out in the wilds like me. Choose a location that gives you what you need. I find any change uncomfortable and moving down here was a big decision but I would really advocate it.

I never regret moving out of the city—and I have no interest in moving back!