This year Irish Rose Consulting is celebrating 20 years in business. Since the exact start date has been lost to the mists of time, I decided what better day to call our birthday than St. Patrick’s Day.
In 1989 I was a student at UW-Platteville. One of my part-time jobs was working on an excellent research-and-development project for Niall Enterprises, run by Jack O’Neill, a professor at Platteville. My friend Rick Eagen was also working on the project. The project, developing a collision-avoidance system for small aircraft, was challenging and took us to all kinds of interesting places. We decided we start our own company so that we could pursue our own equally-interesting projects. And so, a nameless company was born.
Shortly after this, we landed a contract with an east-coast educational software firm. We completed a couple of small projects for them, and then were offered a Mac-based project. This presented a bit of a dilemma, as neither Rick nor I had access to, or experience programming, a Mac. We asked a friend, Steve Cooper, if he’d tackle the project for us. When he completed the project, we made him an offer. He could take full payment for the project, or join the company and split the profits. And so, in a matter of weeks, the still-unnamed company would reach its largest number of employees.
With projects coming in, the hunt was on for a name. We all agreed we didn’t want a typical “digital” or “tech” type name, as all technology company names seem to sound alike after awhile. This was in the early days of internet access for students at UW-P, and we were all spending far too much time on internet-relay chat, an early instant-messaging system. One day I was online and saw someone in the user list going by the handle Irish Rose. Immediately Irish Rose Consulting popped into my head. With all three founders being of Irish heritage, we had our name!
Over the following months we continued to pick up projects and formalized the company. We spent a lot of time working on the original collision-avoidance project. Rick and I graduated from school, got “real” jobs and I headed for Chicago, while Steve continued to enjoy the life of a student. So began a couple of years of a distributed company (pre-internet, requiring a lot of FedEx packages!), with occasional weekend meetings and lots of time on the phone. we all carried a lot of hours, working full-time at our jobs and school, then doing Irish Rose work in our off hours.
After a couple of years of this, Rick, climbing the ladder at his day job, opted to leave the company to focus on that. Steve finally graduated from school and moved to Chicago to work for the same engineering firm I did. Irish Rose continued to land larger and larger projects, and we put in way too many sleepless nights keeping up with the work. We bought our first laptop, an early IBM Thinkpad model. Steve and I both moved on to new day jobs and continued with Irish Rose in our off hours.
The start of 1996 brought a large enough contract for Irish Rose to support a full-time employee, so I made the leap, followed a few months later by Steve. We would both work full-time for the company until 2004, when the company went through one more transformation. I had moved to western Wisconsin while Steve still lived in Chicago. We had each developed essentially stand-alone businesses while being co-owners of a corporation operating in two states. The overhead didn’t make any sense, so we split in 2004, with me keeping the Irish Rose Consulting name.
And so Irish Rose Consulting continues to this day. I remain the only full-time employee, choosing not to grow the company. I do often refer to Irish Rose Consulting as “we” because I’ve been fortunate to develop a large network of friends and colleagues who can be called on for projects as needed, as well as relying on the constant support and patience of my wife Kathleen. We’re still based in Menomonie, Wisconsin, recently returned from a two-year stint based in Ireland, a fortuitous event for a company named Irish Rose Consulting. We’ve been fortunate to develop many long-term relationships with clients over the years, a fact which has allowed us to survive and thrive in a constantly changing business.
I’d like to take this chance to say thanks to Rick and Steve for the early days of Irish Rose. The pace and hours involved in a start-up are absolutely crazy, and the only way to survive it and have a little fun along the way is with friends. Our lives took each of us in different directions than we expected when we started Irish Rose, but I’m glad we could at least start this together.
I also owe a huge thanks to our many clients over the years. As we built a new business our clients were generous with their time and loyal in hiring us for repeat projects. We’ve always tried to do good work and have fun, and we’ve been lucky to work with clients who feel the same. Over the years we’ve come to call most of our clients friends, and that alone makes the business a success in our eyes.
And finally, a great thank you to my wife Kathleen. We were living in Chicago barely making ends meet when I came home from work one day and suggested it might be time to try working for Irish Rose full-time. Instead of throwing me out of the house, she told me she had faith in me and that I should take the chance. Being an entrepreneur is not easy. Being the spouse of an entrepreneur is even harder. Kathleen has believed in me from the beginning, and her support has helped create the Irish Rose Consulting that exists today.
Thanks for the first 20 years. Stay tuned to this space to see what happens next!