26 October 2014

Tips from the top: Eamon Leonard

15:41, Philip Connolly

Every Wednesday at The Daily Business Post, we interview a successful startup founder about their career and to get advice for budding entrepreneurs.

This week we spoke to **Eamon Leonard**, VP of Engineering at [Engine Yard](http://engineyard.com/) and founder of [orchestra.io](http://orchestra.io/) which was sold to Engine Yard in 2011.

After a decade of experience writing code for the web, Leonard took the startup plunge and founded echolibre in 2008, which built software for over 20 Irish and international startups.

Three years later, Leonard founded and launched Orchestra with his partners in echolibre. The company developed a cloud platform for deploying, managing and scaling PHP applications - PHP is a scripting language originally designed for web development.

Orchestra was acquired last year by San Francisco-based Engine Yard, a cloud-based offering that allows developers to concentrate on building their sites by taking care of a lot of the infrastructure. Leonard now rubs shoulders with Facebook and Google on Barrow Street as VP of engineering at Engine Yard.

Earlier this Autumn, Leonard’s impact on the Irish tech scene was recognised as he was named as Ireland’s Net Visionary winner in IIA Dot ie Net Visionary Awards 2012.

For Leonard, the desire that it takes to create a successful company is key.

“The first thing is motivation,” said Leonard. “For me, it was to take back some control of my own destiny. There was also a degree of naivety, which can sometimes help to get you over the daunting prospect of starting up. Maybe you embrace a bit more risk because of it.”

A startup is not a nine to five endeavour and is also fraught with risk. Taking the plunge and quitting your day job can be one of the toughest steps.

“The first step for a lot of people is to quit their paying job, which is half the work,” said Leonard. “Convincing yourself and your family that you have to do this. Starting your own business is something you need to become emotionally invested in. It has to take away from somewhere else in your life and having the support of family and friends is really important.”

The cost of setting up a firm is not just financial and will require plenty of personal sacrifices along the way.

“It costs very little to set up a company, it costs a lot to set up a business,” said Leonard. “It is not just money, it costs a lot of your life to do it. You don't realise that until you are neck deep in it. Everyone would set up a company if it was simple and straightforward. It does take a certain type of person, but a lot of people don't realise that they are that type of person until they take the first step.”

Without doubt there will be some very tough moments on the way to a successful startup, having the passion to get you through those moments is key. While the work and risk are not to be underestimated, the rewards can be well worth it.

“If you don't have passion for it, you are not going to be able to do it,” said Leonard. “You can have the best of intentions but really it is the passion that will see you through the good times and the bad. In the first couple of years, it is a way of life. If you are successful, you may end up in a position where you need a pension. The majority of the workforce will spend their whole life contributing to a pension and reap the rewards later on in life. You could condense all that energy and effort into a decade and you get the rewards earlier.”

Setting up a startup can be a lonely road, for Leonard the ability to bring together a good group of people is one of the most important aspects of a successful company.

“Doing it by yourself is very hard,” said Leonard. “Even just on a personal level having someone to share the burden. It is kind of a marriage, you are talking about spending most of your working life with this person so you want to make sure that you have good communication and trust. Obviously they need to have a complementary set of skills.”

Not that finding a business partner is necessarily easy. That said, Leonard met his original business partner in a manner befitting a modern tech firm - through Twitter.

“We met for a pint and about half way through it, I saw we had such chemistry,” said Leonard. “There was a good vibe, we were talking about the same things. I was very lucky, but I know other people that have had to search for a long time.”

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