“Success for a lot of my peers and I is not witnessing climate change destroy our futures” – CEO Q&A with Rónán ó’Dálaigh of Thrifity

By Business & Finance
01 September 2021

Pictured: Rónán ó’Dálaigh, CEO of Thrifity

Rónán ó’Dálaigh is the CEO of online charity shopping website which has 98% of Ireland’s charities signed up to sell on it. Rónán launched Thriftify in 2018 and they recently launched in the UK also signing up many well-known charities there too. 

What are your main priorities and goals in your role? 

Managing multiple priorities effectively is probably my biggest priority! As a growing startup we have a lot of comforting priorities, from funding to customer acquisition. It’s not the case that any one priority can drop so you really do have to stay on top of multiple things at the same time. Because it’s so intense it’s quite easy to develop a culture of burnout, which isn’t healthy or enjoyable. So as a leader I feel it’s important to model the future, showing that it is possible to healthily stay on top of things, and enjoy the journey. 

What are your biggest challenges as CEO? 

Finance has consistently been the biggest challenge right throughout our journey. We have such a big mission; changing how and why people shop, and we would love to have a fortune to spend on achieving it. However, the reality is that budgets are always tight. Having to constantly stretch budgets and plan ahead for the next financing round is a stage of the business I’ll be glad to move beyond. 

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I don’t really need to. Fundamentally, I think corporate culture is a bit twisted. Young people nowadays view purpose as substantially the most important thing in their work. For us that means that we bring in team members who are passionate and who care about our mission. Typically, people like that motivate me more than I motivate them! 

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Right now we’re at the precipice of a major change in the fashion industry. It will simply have to change if we’re to survive the climate emergency. What this means is re-use and second hand is the future. The challenge for charity retail, add the single largest source of used goods, is to be at the forefront of that change and not to let the Amazons of the world dominate it. If we can help them achieve that, it means hundreds of millions in additional funding to our most impactful and ethical organisations – charities. 

What new trends are emerging in your industry? 

We’re seeing a lot of catching up. Charity retail hasn’t been the most advanced digitally and now that the opportunity has become clearer, we’re seeing charities test new platforms, research their options, and engage in digital big time. I think the result of that will be an amazing new industry of online charity retail, where it is used because it is as accessible as fast fashion. 

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I would like to see the government provide tax relief for donations. The UK do this, and it has a major impact. So when somebody donates their items to a charity shop the charity can claim a percentage of the same off the donators tax bill (in the same way we do for cash donations). ‘Gift Aid’ would be a game changer because it would more than pay for the effort of digitisation in charity retail, bringing huge ancillary benefits. 

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

The gap in software developers is well known. Although if you have enough money, you can get the skills, making it hard for start-ups to compete. We’ve addressed that by being global, remote, and diverse.  

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis? 

We were post the crash but as a millennial it hugely shaped my life experience. From seeing friends and family emigrate and commit suicide, to the housing, health and education crises. I’m not sure if most people realise just how unfriendly Ireland is to young people. I’m living in London now and even though it’s not exactly the pinnacle of affordable housing, the quality of life is a million miles ahead. Successful Irish governments have completely ignored young people – it feels like you need a professional corporate lobby if you want your voice heard in Ireland. It’s such a shame because we could easily make Ireland an amazing place for young people and end the every generation brain drain. 

How has Brexit affected you?

It’s been a major pain in the operational backside. We operate in Ireland and the UK and enable our partners to sell cross border – in the two years we’ve been dealing with it there hasn’t been a single positive.  

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

It’s sped everything up hugely. The shutdown of physical retail was the push for a lot of our current partners to start selling online. We also saw a whole new demographic of users start shopping online for the first time. It’s moved our industry forward probably three years.  

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success for a lot of my peers and I is not witnessing climate change destroy our futures. It’s bizarre that that’s where we’re at but again I think the generational difference here is enormous. Young people think about climate change every day whereas oftentimes it seems like older people, who hold the levers of change, think of it as purely conceptually. We feel it as a real and present threat. If we can be even a tiny part of the revolution that’s needed to change our economic model, we’ll be happy. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a lot of great advice throughout the years and deeply value the experienced advice. The best bit of advice was, ‘give it up if you can’t pay yourself after a year!’ I made it, just about, but it really helped me focus in my first year in entrepreneurship on what mattered.  

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Seeing the team grow is by far the biggest highlight. It’s such a privilege to be able to invite people to join you in something and to then work as a team with great people.  

What’s next for your company? 

We’re now looking at international expansion. Two of the team, myself included, have relocated to London and it’s just about implementing what we know works, staying ambitious and committed. It’s such a cliché but persistence really is perhaps the single most important aspect of entrepreneurship. We’ve set ourselves on an expansion plan and now it’s just about seeing it through. 

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Our vision is a world where every purchase is ethical and sustainable. I think people are really starting to wake up to the fact that how and why we buy stuff needs to change. If we can become the household name for those wanting to have a positive impact when they buy, the sustainable impact and income to charities would be amazing.  


If you are interested in this topic, don’t miss out on the opportunity to attend The Business Show’s Sustainability Summit, taking place virtually on the 22nd of September 2021, and be inspired by 50 speakers with innovative strategies on topics such as Circular Economy, Environmental Protection, Our Energy Future and many more. Get your free ticket today here