Founders Series: Sean Finnegan, C.O.O
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Sean Finnegan, the Chief Operating Officer at Receipt Relay was the original brains behind the operation. After enlisting the help of Joe Hennigan and Luke Slemon, they saw their design transform from idea to reality. He shares his story of creation, adapting to COVID and his personal and professional aspirations for the company.
What is your exact role?
I’m Chief Operating Officer of Receipt Relay which makes me responsible for ensuring that the company is always moving forward. With input from Joe and Luke, I set the direction of the company for the future by roadmapping our objectives. The planning ranges between short and long term. As a startup it is always difficult to look beyond a few months at a time so when I talk about long term planning I’m referring to maybe 6 to 8 months from now, with short term planning often between a few weeks and 2 or 3 months.
When drawing the plans it's important to allow for uncertainty, there are always going to be issues and setbacks so the strategy must be flexible enough to deal with that. The next part of my role is more in line with the usual behaviours of a COO, this is where I see the plan through and make sure that we are acting on each part of the plan. It's easy to let opportunities slip past if you’re not paying attention so while Joe is focusing on market strategy and building our brand and while Luke is quite literally building the system that is Receipt Relay I have to be constantly monitoring what’s being done, what’s to do and if there are aspects of the strategy that don’t seem to be working I have to ask the question ‘why?’ and make adjustments if necessary.
How did you get involved?
I joined the Business Analytics Society in college during Freshers week and within the first month or so of my First Year they sent out an email promoting a competition run by Fidelity International. The competition was asking for students across Ireland to pitch a start-up idea that would have a positive impact financially, socially and technologically. When I got the email and checked out the registration form and conceptualised the original version of Receipt Relay, a bar code scanning system on your smartphone that would enable to get an e-receipt opposed to having a receipt printed, the idea had several design flaws but this is where Receipt Relay came from. I asked Joe if he wanted to do it with me and he said he would. After that I submitted the application and we got shortlisted as finalists about a month later.
From that point on we worked on the idea several hours a week with lots of 3 am Skype calls going over designs and pitch ideas. When we went to Dublin for the competition final on November 26th 2019 we were already pretty confident in our idea since we had done everything we could have to prepare. Our pitch was fine tuned to the last, we’d spent near 100 hours on it I’d say. We ended up winning the competition that day and have been working on this since.
Sean (left) and Joe (right) pitching Deleit to Fidelity International judges, November 2019
What do you find to be the most important element of teamwork?
The most important element of teamwork, in my opinion, is removing ego. When we’re discussing strategy and ideas there are inevitably going to be different opinions on the best mode of implementation. By removing ego from the process nobody offends or gets offended. I think we’re quite good at removing ego because we’ve always been able to recognise the best solution to a problem even if all three of us start off on opposite sides of the spectrum.
How did you adapt your schedule to the Covid-19 pandemic?
Covid had its pros and cons for us but we were never in any danger of falling apart. We were already used to working remotely and checking in with Skype calls once or twice a week for a few hours so there was little to no change in the way we did things. If anything we noticed an opportunity to connect with more people through Zoom since people became a lot more comfortable setting up a call with people they didn’t know.
Covid had a massive effect on hospitality and retail, putting most businesses in a constant cycle of opening and then closing when case numbers began to rise again. With the industry in standby it gave us the opportunity to connect with business owners and refine Receipt Relay as a software and Minimal Viable Product. So even though Covid meant we wouldn’t be able to launch our service until the country was back in action it gave us the opportunity to gather as much market intelligence as possible.
What are your personal and business aspirations?
Before anything else, I want to see Receipt Relay launch to the Irish market. We have been working on this for almost 2 years now and if the faith in what we’re creating wasn’t there I’d say we’d have packed up after Joe and I won the Fidelity competition back in November 2019. The evidence of the market is there and now it's time to start establishing ourselves in it. This market is still in its infancy in my opinion, which can be seen by the varying approaches to the problem of paper waste. There are several solutions, each one with a slightly different technology and I think in maybe 5 to 7 years time we’ll see who had the best approach.
Personally, I want to see Receipt Relay establish a strong market presence in Ireland and then the UK. As I said before, it's difficult to make long term plans with a startup due to the high levels of uncertainty but beyond the UK I want to see Receipt Relay take on mainland Europe and then continue to expand overseas.