LO­CAL HE­ROES Events firm that hosts par­ties for tech gi­ants gath­er­ing Mo­men­tum

Two life­long friends have been hon­ing their busi­ness skills since start­ing a suc­cess­ful com­pany while still at col­lege, writes Gabrielle Mon­aghan

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

CRAIG Dee and Stephen Lynch, the 27-year-old founders of Mo­men­tum Events, have known each other since they were tod­dlers. Grow­ing up, the pair lived across the road from each other in the Co Water­ford town of Kil­mac­thomas. As chil­dren, they dipped their toes into en­trepreneur­ship by paint­ing stones they had col­lected and sell­ing them to neigh­bours from the bot­tom of Dee’s drive­way.

Dee and Lynch were friends right through from at­tend­ing the same playschool to study­ing busi­ness to­gether at the Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick.

Dur­ing their col­lege years, they even worked in the same Kil­mac­thomas pub at week­ends.

So it was only nat­u­ral that they would set up their first busi­ness to­gether in the town.

A decade ago, when they were in their late teens, Dee and Lynch spot­ted a gap in the chil­dren’s en­ter­tain­ment mar­ket in the south-east of Ire­land for hir­ing out bouncy cas­tles. Back in 2008, the mar­ket was dom­i­nated by trades­men who used their vans at week­ends to rent out bouncy cas­tles to par­ents for birth­days and com­mu­nions, typ­i­cally ad­ver­tis­ing in the clas­si­fieds sec­tions of news­pa­pers.

Dee says: “But in­surance of in­flat­a­bles got stricter and each prod­uct had to have a se­rial num­ber, like in­sur­ing a car. That tight­ened up the mar­ket, be­cause ev­ery­one had to dis­close their as­sets and in­sure them. But we were able to of­fer a fully in­sured ser­vice.”

Their busi­ness, First Class Cas­tles, was borne out of a first-year col­lege project. Us­ing their sav­ings from part-time work at the pub, the pair started the com­pany by bor­row­ing a van from Lynch’s fa­ther and board­ing a ferry to the UK to source sec­ond-hand in­flat­able prod­ucts.

“It was a week be­fore Christ­mas, which was a bad time for rent­ing out in­flat­a­bles, and we bought 20 of them from this guy in the UK who was sell­ing them be­cause he needed money for Christ­mas,” Dee says.

While this tem­po­rary stock helped the life­long friends launch First Class Cas­tles, they were keen to ex­pand quickly. In Fe­bru­ary 2009, while in the UK col­lect­ing more stock, they spot­ted an in­flat­able slide for which a sale had fallen through.

“I said to the guy, ‘I’ll take it off your hands’, but Stephen re­minded me that we didn’t have the money,” Dee says. “So I bor­rowed my mother’s credit card with­out her per­mis­sion and bought the slide. When her credit card bill came in three weeks later, I had money to give her and she was just laugh­ing at me. She’s al­ways joked that I would sell sand to the Arabs.”

First Class Cas­tles carved out a com­pet­i­tive edge in 2009, when it started work­ing with a Bri­tish com­pany that de­signed in­flat­able prod­ucts which were then man­u­fac­tured in China.

“That year, large-scale obstacle cour­ses were a very big thing, es­pe­cially for com­mu­nions in ru­ral homes with big gar­dens,” Dee says. “We started buy­ing them in and ty­ing them in with fa­mil­iar chil­dren’s char­ac­ters and brands to cre­ate a de­sire for them.

“You could ring us up with your gar­den size and we could of­fer unique shapes and de­signs of obstacle cour­ses that went from 20ft to 100ft long. Be­cause we were im­port­ing from China, we had economies of scale and we could ro­tate stock so that not ev­ery child had the same bouncy cas­tle dur­ing com­mu­nion time.”

By 2010, im­ported stock had at­tracted the at­ten­tion of do­mes­tic event-man­age­ment com­pa­nies and cor­po­rates eager to hire them out for em­ployee fun days and Christ­mas par­ties. The fledg­ing com­pany also scored a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage by be­com­ing the first bouncy-cas­tle hire com­pany to in­cor­po­rate a book­ing en­gine into its web­site, in a mar­ket that had vir­tu­ally no on­line pres­ence.

In 2013, when Dee and Lynch had pro­gressed to a mas­ter’s de­gree in in­ter­na­tional en­trepreneur­ship and busi­ness stud­ies at UL, they re­alised that cor­po­rate cus­tomers that had slashed spend­ing on em­ployee par­ties dur­ing the re­ces­sion were start­ing to loosen their purse strings again. So the pair ap­proached their course direc­tor at the univer­sity about giv­ing them the time to tar­get this cor­po­rate mar­ket and build up a busi­ness around it.

Dee says: “She agreed that if we came up with a vi­able busi­ness, it could form 25pc of our the­sis. So our the­sis be­came a strate­gic com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion plan. They [UL] wanted us to pivot First Class Cas­tles and tar­get new cus­tomers at a na­tional and in­ter­na­tional level.”

The new busi­ness, Mo­men­tum Events, spe­cialised in cre­at­ing, pro­duc­ing and man­ag­ing events and has posted an av­er­age growth of 15pc a year since its cre­ation, ac­cord­ing to Dee.

While First Class Cas­tles ex­ists as a stand­alone busi­ness that caters to con­sumers for smaller events such as birth­day par­ties, Mo­men­tum Events is used solely by busi­nesses, in­clud­ing fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers and event man­age­ment com­pa­nies that hire the Kil­mac­thomas-based com­pany for its props. It has been in­volved in pro­duc­ing Christ­mas par­ties for be­he­moths such as Face­book, Ap­ple and In­tel.

“We are the sup­pli­ers for cre­ative event man­agers, who di­rect the event but rely on peo­ple like us to pull it off,” Dee says. “We do the props and pro­duce units like en­trance arch­ways and mar­quees. We are all about cre­at­ing unique ex­pe­ri­ences, so that from the mo­ment peo­ple hit the arch­way, they are trans­ported to a themed ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There are no de­fined rules. For in­stance, who said that Santa has to have a red-and-white cos­tume? Coca-cola did — he was dressed in green and white be­fore that. We’ve had Jack Frost walk­ing on stilts, a Willy Wonka-themed party for 3,000 peo­ple, and a sil­ver-and-white themed party cen­tred around Santa’s ice cave.”

In 2018, Mo­men­tum Events was hired by Win­ter­val, the largest Christ­mas fes­ti­val in Ire­land, to set up and run the En­chanted Christ­mas Santa’s Grotto. Dee and Lynch turned Water­ford city’s old postal sort­ing of­fice into Santa’s Post Of­fice, and even or­gan­ised a Sen­sory Santa Evening de­signed for chil­dren on the autism spec­trum.

The light­ing, crowds and noise that come with a tra­di­tional visit to Santa can be dif­fi­cult for some­one on the spec­trum, Dee says. “With the sen­sory evening, we only al­low in a lim­ited num­ber of peo­ple per hour, so each fam­ily has own time to walk through it, and we have re­moved the sound el­e­ment.” Dee and Lynch are not afraid of set­ting up spin-off busi­nesses. The two are work­ing on a com­pany called Event­base that will al­low or­gan­is­ers of events to log onto a web­site and hire the stock that Mo­men­tum Events has ac­cu­mu­lated over the years at a trade dis­count.

The in­ven­tory, which is ear­marked to go on­line in the spring, in­cludes props for Harry Pot­ter and Game of Thrones- themed par­ties.

Mo­men­tum Events is based in a for­mer famine work­house in Kil­mac­thomas, just 50m from the new Water­ford Green­way. The Kil­mac­thomas na­tives re­mained ded­i­cated to their home­town, with Lynch and Dee both buy­ing houses there re­cently.

The two friends have plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet for cof­fee: the day the 46km-long green­way opened to cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans in 2017, Dee and Lynch un­veiled the Coach House Cof­fee out­let at the for­mer work­house to cater to vis­i­tors. In May, they added a restau­rant called the Pi­geon Loft. mo­men­tu­mevents.ie

Craig Dee of Mo­men­tum Events says the com­pany is ‘all about cre­at­ing unique ex­pe­ri­ences’. Photo: Dy­lan Vaughan

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.