yieldHUB CEO: How I managed to build a company during one of the darkest periods for startups

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yieldHUB founder & CEO John O'Donnell. Picture: supplied

Just three years after starting yieldHUB, CEO John O’Donnell was hit by the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. He’d come from a stable job at a top semiconductor company but he took a risk because he had an idea he believed in.

He said the GFC was a daunting time. After all, Ireland has a history plagued by poverty and hardship, but the company survived and today yieldHUB is being used by thousands of product and test engineers globally. Customers range from start-ups to big names like Rasberry Pi, LG Electronics, Microchip, and Intel.

“"You don’t have to be ruthless, you need to be someone people can unite behind” - John O'Donnell.”

The founder and CEO explained how he managed to overcome one of the toughest periods for businesses around the world.

“I was approaching 40 [age] and I felt like I had this purpose to help product and test engineers to get the right data and analyze it properly. It wasn’t like I had a dream to start my own business, but I knew I had to leave my job to do this. My interest was in helping engineers,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“We built this really good technology which is robust and reliable. It was based on strong engineering principles. We were starting to get some really good customers and then the crash happened. 

“I was worried about how we were going to survive it so I had to downsize and we got through that period by being very lean. At the time we still had several good paying customers. We also recruited more employees in the Philippines which were lower cost at the time.”

He said sometimes as a business owner you have to make hard decisions but it doesn’t mean you have to be ruthless.

“I believe you can combine empathy and leadership to get a better outcome. If you don’t get the ‘buy in’ from certain people then you need to take action but in general you don’t have to be ruthless, you need to be someone people can unite behind.”

He believes his leadership style was influenced by the values that were instilled in him at a young age.

“"We’ve built a strong financial foundation and that allows us to hire the right people and take on big customers because we can support them” - John O'Donnell.”

“You can’t listen to people properly without humility so that’s the cornerstone of the company. My mother always says ‘I’m not proud, I’m thankful’ and that’s the way I look at things too.

“She was the one in the family who actually managed expenses. I would say that’s rubbed off on me to a certain extent. Perhaps, another reason why is because a lot of Irish people understand that good times don’t always last so we manage things more practically.

“There’s no point being lovely guys to do business with and have no financial base so we’re strong financially. We’ve built a strong financial foundation and that allows us to hire the right people and take on big customers because we can support them.”

Following the GFC, yieldHUB was able to recuperate and a slew of new customers joined in 2010 and 2011. From 2013 a number of new developers and leaders were recruited and in 2015 the company grew steadily in revenue with a solid customer base.

Mr O’Donnell said being an Irish company has its advantages when you’re on the global stage.

“Ireland is a neutral country and I think our people are known as being friendly and approachable most of the time,” he added with a chuckle.

“Some people think Ireland’s low divorce rate comes down to it being a highly religious country back in the day but I think it’s because we know it’s important to nurture relationships. 

“I grew up in a small town in Co. Kerry and it’s all about community, it’s why local sports is so big here and most families still get together every weekend for a big roast dinner.”

He said the key to company growth is building customer loyalty.

““At the end of the day, the world is becoming more and more electronic and we’re part of the ecosystem" - John O'Donnell.”

“At the end of the day we receive confidential data from our customers and they trust us. We also treat our customers as people and really listen to them when there’s a problem.”

Currently, the company is preparing for a boom in chip manufacturing once the industry adds  significant capacity.

“The problem now is many start-ups are not able to get their chips manufactured until new foundries come online in Europe and the US. One of my main goals is to organize the company for the unlocking of capacity in the semiconductor supply chain and we’re predicting that will happen within the next one to two years. 

“Because every semiconductor company needs to maximize their yield to keep costs under control as they scale, companies like yieldHUB, who can provide powerful analysis platforms for the massive data generated in manufacturing, play a critical role in the semiconductor supply chain. 

“At the end of the day, the world is becoming more and more electronic and we’re part of the ecosystem to enable this kind of complex scaling of manufacturing that will deliver a whole new generation of chips across many industries including automotive, data centers and health to name but a few."

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