In anticipation of the IPBN's Investing and Hiring in Portugal event on April 28 and 30, the IPBN sat down with Deirdre McGettrick of ufurnish.com to get her views on setting up her tech operations in Portugal from her home office in London. But how did she come to the decision to split up operations, and how did the process go during the last year of complete uncertainty?
Pre-Brexit, Deirdre McGettrick, Founder of ufurnish.com and winner of the New Entrepreneur of the Year 2020 by Lloyds National Business Awards had hopes to move from London and buy a house in Dublin, but they were dashed once the final vote count was in. She saw her savings plummet from pounds to euros and decided to regroup. The irony is, that McGettrick credits Brexit for giving her the idea to set up Ufurnish.com, a site that she likens to booking.com but for home furnishings.
McGettrick tells the IPBN, “In furniture, retailers are specific to the country they’re in. Brexit, tariffs, the Suez Canal, and the pandemic coupled with massive consumer demand was the perfect storm to create mass shortages. It’s challenging for the retailers but it doesn’t affect us as much because we have set ourselves up in this new world.” Ufurnish allows customers to see where else their desired product is available and work around hurdles caused by the barrage of curveballs.
Ufurnish is a search-and-discover site for furniture, giving the client visual and information consistency when looking for home goods that hadn’t yet been available on this scale. People can browse retailers from across the market, from big brands to boutique brands, all in the same place and once they have selected an item, the customer will leave the site and check out with the retailer themselves, all with one click. Soon after launching the site, it was apparent that the team needed to grow— but where?
McGettrick says, “We needed to build out a team with the ability to speak English, and we were looking at employee retention and sustainability. In London, people move jobs very quickly, especially among engineers, so we had to ask ourselves, ‘Where have successful companies broadened their tech teams?’” McGettrick and her team looked at Ireland, Scotland, and finally settled on Portugal in January 2020, after researching the successes of brands like Trouva and Farfetch and their Portuguese support structures. “Portugal shot out in terms of the talent being available, so that’s why we decided to base our tech operations there,” she says.
As McGettrick is based in London, setting up shop across borders during COVID was challenging, but not impossible. She mentioned having help connecting with potential employees from nearshoring companies, and she credits the IPBN for helping her stay connected despite the divide. “The IPBN has been really helpful as we couldn’t be on the ground as much as we wanted to. I’m a big believer in the power of the network,” she says.
Ufurnish’s first hire in Portugal was made in March 2020, and now, they have five people on staff and are looking to hire two more by May. Combined with the London-based team, there are currently 17 employees altogether, and they are busy raising another round of investment* so that they can double the Portugal team by the end of next year. Clearly, the decision to establish operations in Portugal has been a good one. “We are embracing talent with the flexibility to work from home and going forward, we will be a work remote company.”
McGettrick noted that, for her, working from home took some getting used to, but now she has found her stride and is way more productive than she once was in a traditional work environment. “A one-hour meeting used to take me three hours with travel time. Now, I am having three meetings in a day. I do miss people, so I still believe in the ability to come together on a yearly basis.” We smell one of the more spectacular holiday party events you’ve ever seen in their future— and it will be spanning two countries.
Clearly, the sky is the limit when it comes to ufurnish.com’s future. In fact, Pat McCann, the former CEO of Jurys Doyle Hotel Group, has joined ufurnish.com as Chairman of the Board. In 2007, Pat set up and successfully grew the Dalata Hotel Group. He is the immediate past president and current director of Ibec (Ireland’s largest lobby and business representative group) and a board member of housebuilder Glenveagh Properties PLC and now, he is bringing his exemplary leadership to this exciting online venture.
*If you are interested in becoming an investor in ufurnish.com, please get in touch with Dierdre as she plans the company's next exciting steps.