2012 WAS NOT a good year for Dave McGeady, it’s safe to say.
First of all, he got a skin cancer diagnosis. It took six months and several operations before he got the all-clear.
Then working for a medical devices start-up, having moved on from investment banking, it was during treatment that the idea of being his own boss came to him.
“It gave me a lot of things to think about, but I remember thinking that one of the things I really wanted to do was start a company.”
His hand was forced when just a few months later he was let go from his job. At 31, he was unemployed in the middle of a recession, with job offers thin on the ground.
“I was gutted when I lost my job. Getting my CV up to date and looking up the jobs pages was so demoralising. There wasn’t an awful lot out there, and definitely not much that really interested me anyway. I was unemployed, and that’s a dark place.”
So he started Wyldsson, a sports nutrition company that aims to stand out from the crowd – by not looking for attention.
From the ground up
It all started with nuts and berries. It doesn’t sound like much, but McGeady thought that the market for snack bars was underwhelming. So he decided to create his own alternative ‘trail mix’ of nuts, berries, and other healthy foods.
“I basically spent my redundancy money going to trade fairs in places like London, Paris and LA to source ingredients – the kind of stuff that you can’t find very easily, like organic fairtrade mango, organic persian mulberries and the likes.”
Competing in a crowded marketplace – what I learned
While McGeady’s commitment couldn’t be questioned, a casual observer might raise an eyebrow at the industry he chose to get into.
Sports nutrition is dominated by big players at all levels. From Powerade and Lucozade at the top, all the way down to niche providers of supplements for every kind of gym programme you could imagine.
The consumer spend is big, and so are the advertising budgets from the giants that dominate the scene.
So how did McGeady plan to break into such a crowded marketplace, and grab the attention of consumers?
Simple. He didn’t try to get their attention.
He focused instead on what athletes and nutritionists wanted from a snack food. If he could tick that box, he was sure everything else would flow from that.
“I’m trying to find problems that nutritionists and athletes have, and solve a problem for them. If I can solve a problem for them, then they’ll be excited about it, and Joe Bloggs down the gym will take his lead from them.”
Athlete’s lives are regimented, difficult. Food is one of the few areas of pleasure so a lot of them aren’t willing to compromise…I want to make things that athletes are passionate about.
How it works
When he was on holiday in Los Angeles, McGeady arranged to speak with the nutritionist for the LA Lakers.
It was driven more by a desire to learn than to pitch him, but by the time he left, he had an agreement to supply nutritional products to the world-famous team.
The same approach has won him contracts with domestic professional rugby teams Munster and Leinster, the Irish and Scottish national rugby teams, and professional golfers Shane Lowry, Thorbjorn Olefen and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
Thanks to mentoring from experienced executives that his Local Enterprise Office put him in touch with, McGeady realised that retail was never going to work from a cost perspective.
By concentrating on online only, he was able to supply athletes around the world and keep costs down.
Even Rory McIlroy, as can be seen in this picture, keeps a packet of Wyldsson in his locker.
Not content with expanding in Ireland and the US, McGeady is planning to move onto the UK market next.
“They’re about a third of our total sales at the moment, but there is huge potential to increase this. We’re now supplying the English rugby team and the Exeter Chiefs too, so word is spreading.”
New product development is also in the pipeline, as is an investment hunt – but only from a partner that allows the company to grow naturally without looking to gouge out profits too early.
In just two short years, McGeady has come from a dark place to an exciting one.
“I’m very relaxed now”, he says. “It’s changed a lot.”
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