Liam O’Leary: The next generation

This story is over

Travelling the globe and meeting world renowned skateboarding champion Tony Hawk are things that Liam O’Leary will always remember, but having just officially taken over the family business and with big plans ahead of him, it is Laser Red that will be his proudest achievement.

Over the last three years, 29-year-old Liam has unofficially been in the driving seat of the Grimsby-based digital design agency Laser Red, which his father Peter O’Leary started in 1995. Now Peter has officially passed the reigns to his son so that he can enjoy a happy retirement, knowing the company is in good, family hands.

Since Laser Red rebranded in 2011, the company has seen a steady and well deserved growth. Despite training as a web designer from the age of 14, Liam realised that his real talent was within sales, marketing and creating this growth.

“I kind of fell into it when my father started doing websites as a side job in 1995 and got a few clients that led to him quitting his main job and becoming a sole trader. He built it up, got a few more clients and took on a member of staff.

“Then when I was at school I wanted to get some money, so I ended up doing some data input for my dad and some of the clients. I got into learning how to design websites and build them and then eventually started to work on them as a web apprentice. It was just a different job every time, different client, different business. I just love the uniqueness of it.”

In the last three years, Laser Red has outgrown two offices, more than doubled staff and is continuing to look at further recruitment to manage its ever expanding client base of over 300. The company’s turnover is also continuing to rise with a 63% increase making last year’s figure just under £149,000 and another boost of 48.4% for this year with a turnover of just over £221,000.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Taking charge

Having worked on and off with his father for over 10 years, when it came to the crunch, Liam stepped up to the plate. Moving away from the web development side, he became more involved in the ins and outs of the business.

“To be honest, when I was younger it was just building websites, talking to clients, doing all the day to day stuff and I didn’t get involved in any of the finances, the business running or the admin.

“Over time I got to take on a little bit more and more. I enjoyed it to the point where my time was being split very much more on the running of the business rather than doing the work, which is why I have a great team now to do all that stuff.

“I opted to join my father and become an actual shareholder director, because I know that being in the business and running a business is the thing that I wanted to do. I think meeting new customers, finding out how we can help them, finding out about their business, trying to win their work, the sales process, the marketing, all that rolled into one – that’s the stuff I enjoy. It’s the problem solving, progression and growth.”

Working with a range of different industries, from agriculture and religious bodies to aviation and automotive, there is nothing that Liam sees as beyond the company’s reach. When possible clients approach him with new ideas, he loves the challenge of doing something new and innovative and now he obtains most of his business through word of mouth.

“We love to do stuff that’s not been done before or something that is still in Alpha mode and we can get our hands on it and dabble in it. It’s nice to learn and play with things that technically aren’t that well known and used at the minute. My staff absolutely love getting their hands dirty with that sort of thing.”

This way of thinking has seen Laser Red receive awards for its commitment and innovation, including winning the Best Website Design at the second annual Lincolnshire Digital Awards for its work on the Tong Engineering website. The team also recieved a Highly Commended certificate for Digital Innovation for a job in the USA which is seen by thousands of visitors a day.

“We created an Instagram integration with animation through web technology to bring all the stuff in. It was an incredible piece of software which we’ve developed to work on these big format screens at a large shopping mall in Las Vegas. We’re very proud of that. The mall is just a couple of blocks down from the Bellagio.

“That sort of work is really interesting. That’s one of the benefits of working in the web industry. The projects that you get given by clients are so interesting and unique that you never know what’s just around the corner.

“I like problem solving, idea creation, just that different project every time, not the same sale of the same old thing to the same people. That’s stuff that would drive me crazy.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Planning is key

Having already implemented a relaxed working style, Liam has made sure that his staff feel completely at ease in the office with a pool table and games consoles, and he refuses to allow anyone to have a working lunch. The only thing that he is missing is a slide from the mezzanine floor down to the ground, which is something that could well be in the pipeline.

Having worked so hard over the last few years to be in his current position, Liam has no intention of dropping the ball. He is constantly setting new targets to keep both him and his team on their toes.

“I set goals that aren’t easily achievable and that scare you a little bit and make you think, ‘That’s not as easy as I thought and I’m really going to have to work for it.’

“After the first year of running this place, I sat down and basically came up with, ‘This is the turnover and this is the profit and I’m going to try and increase the turnover by 50% and I’m going to try and double the profit.’

“At the time, I didn’t know how I was going to do that. It was just an off-the-cuff idea. We pretty much achieved those at the end of the year, which I was over the moon about.

“Over the next year we set even bigger targets, which again are quite a bit further away than where we could probably just comfortably get to. But I think that if you’re not pushing yourself, then there’s no point in doing it. You just become a bit too laid back.”

Liam has made sure that he takes all of the help and advice he can get his hand on from reading top business people’s biographies to obtaining a coach and mentor. “I have always found that learning through your mistakes is a great way to learn – but it is slow.

“If someone can help you miss that step, why do it wrong and have to start again, if you can learn off someone who has done it before, you can save so much time, effort and money. It’s really helpful having a coach and mentor and I’ve got both luckily.”

Planning for the future has been at the front of Liam’s mind for the last eight months and now he plans to put it all into action.

“There are certain areas that we want to grow, like marketing, and we want to grow outside of Lincolnshire a bit more. I think Manchester, Birmingham and London were the three big places for innovation and business growth. So we might look at something like that and move into a city.”

This feature interview was first published in issue 77 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.