Q&A with Lucinda Kelly, HDipEntrepS 2003
Bringing together an entrepreneurial spirit, family background in retail and property, and corporate experience in mobile, Lucinda Kelly set up Popertee, an Airbnb-style service that matches vacant commercial spaces with businesses looking for a quick and low cost pop-up retail presence.
1.Tell us about your education and early career.
I did my degree in UCD in information studies and French and went on to do entrepreneurial studies in Smurfit Business School. After that, I got onto a graduate programme with Invest Northern Ireland, where I did a year’s placement with a building consultancy company. I then worked in marketing roles in the Irish Youth Hostel Association and Student Travelcard before joining Eircom in 2008 as programme manager. I broke to do The Apprentice in 2009. Eircom were brilliant about that – they allowed me to go off and do another job interview and then took me back and promoted me onto the Emobile team!
In 2011, I joined Paddy Power as mobile games manager, responsible for getting the mobile casino business up and running. For my last year with the company before leaving in July 2015 to set up Popertee, I was head of strategy for marketing communications.
2. Was setting up your own business always part of your plan?
I have always been an entrepreneur at heart. When I was twelve, I always had a stall, selling stuff at the back of the house. I have always been a wheeler dealer. I love trading and I love the buzz of buying and selling ponies. When I was 16, my dad gave me a loan to buy my first pony, but he made me write a business plan on how I was going to pay him back.
When I was twenty-four, I designed waterproof dog coats and got them specced and made out in China and brought a couple of hundred to Ireland. I sold them through retail channels and online. I also set up equestrian websites for buying and selling horses. My parents were always pushing me to go and get education and to learn from the corporate world. For me, it was amazing to be in the corporate world, but I was always an intrapreneur. My strengths were that entrepreneurial spirit and looking at new initiatives and how we could drive new customers and innovation internally. But ultimately, I knew I wanted to get out and do my own thing.
3. What is your leadership style?
I am always very positive. I am clear in the vision I have and like to mobilise people towards that. I’m full of energy. What’s important is showing people how to do something and allowing them make mistakes along the way. I’m definitely not a micro-manager but do like to keep on top of all areas of the business.
I think it’s important to give people opportunities and responsibilities. I’m also a big fan of giving people praise when they do something good. That’s certainly what I like getting!
4. What’s your philosophy in business and in life?
I have always been inspired by the Walt Disney quote – ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’. It sounds clichéd but it’s true. You can’t overestimate hard work. I think if you ask anybody, they’ll say I work hard and don’t give up and I’m not afraid to fail.
5. What are your tips and advice for success?
I think it’s really important to have a mentor, no matter what level you’re at. I’ve a brilliant advisory board for Popertee that I bounce ideas off. And I’ve always had a good mentor through my career.
I think you must be fearless – I’ve contacted people through LinkedIn who I admire but don’t know and asked them to be a mentor. And I don’t think you have to limit yourself to one mentor. You can have different mentors for different things. Another thing is to take risks. If you don’t take risks, you’re not going to get anywhere. I always say, you could be run over by a bus tomorrow and you haven’t tried what you want to do.
It’s obviously important to keep fit physically, but a lot of us don’t do mental training. I do quite a bit of hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis at night for a combination of confidence, for sport and to relax. I think in business you really need to relax your mind.
6. What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning their career?
I would say keep learning, keep reading, do online courses and don’t think just because you have completed your education and have a great first job that you are sorted. The world is changing, and education should not stop. I would push your employer to contribute towards relevant courses that will help with your professional development too. All you can do is ask and the worst case if you get rejected for a contribution, I’m sure they will value your enthusiasm.
7. Who or what are your influences?
A big influence is my dad. He had a high-end men’s clothes business on Grafton Street [FX Kelly], which brought brands like Hugo Boss into Ireland in the 1980s, and he was also involved in property. I think that’s where the hybrid of retail and property for Popertee came from. Dad has always been quite tough on us: my three brothers and I were always made work and do our own thing. Seeing how hard he works has come through to me. And I think a huge amount of my drive is to prove to him that I can be as good as him.
I also had some really great managers in Paddy Power. One or two were brilliant mentors for me and made me really believe that I was great at what I did. One of them now sits on our advisory board and I still keep in touch with the others (now based in Australia).
8. How has your career impacted the way in which you see the world?
It’s funny as since setting up Popertee, I continue to see new opportunities more than ever before. And especially post-Covid, I think this is an amazing time to start-up with a venture based on the new world we will all be experiencing. I am hungry to not only succeed with innovating Popertee but also continue to think about new business opportunities.
9. Could you please tell us about your experience on The Apprentice?
It was so long ago! I was determined to win it and ended up coming 4th. It was my first time in the “Boardroom” under review from Bill Cullen and I was fired for being too nice. I was livid! I hate losing!
10. What does your typical day look like?
Right now, I’m in self-isolation so slightly different! Morning meditation, at my desk at 8am catching up on both personal and work emails. A few video calls a day, dogs walked, pony ridden, video call(s) with my family/friends in the evening. And wine.
11. What are your interests outside of work?
My main interest is my Connemara ponies. I hunt and show jump and do things like the Dublin Horse Show and some of the big national shows. My downtime is riding the ponies in the evening and competing at weekends.
12. What is the most useful book you’ve read?
The most useful is The Secret. I’m a big believer in the Law of Attraction.
13. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
What the mind believes the mind achieves.
14. What film have you found engaging?
I watched The Pianist the other night. It is a brilliant movie and will not allow you to complain about self-isolating once you see what he had to experience.
15. Describe yourself in three words.
Positive. Hard-Working. Fun.
16. What is your go-to dish to cook when friends are visiting?
Slow-cooked meals, probably a Thai curry.