In this blog, New Frontiers alumnus Pierce Dargan discusses his decision to pivot his business idea and what has gone into building a strong and successful startup. Pierce was careful to get extensive feedback from prospective customers and research his idea thoroughly before making his decision.
When I started working on my own business, over four years ago, it was on a very different idea. Part of the entrepreneurship module for my masters at Trinity College was working on a startup idea. Mine was a marketplace for farmers to look for products and services in their area – such as feed, fencing and manure disposal services – so they could compare prices and make informed choices about suppliers. My background is equine farming, and I felt that a price comparison site, which is very common in a lot of markets, was lacking in farming. I won a number of awards for this idea, including the Trinity College All-Tech Innovation competition.
The importance of validating your market
During the validation phase of my startup, when I started to talk to the farmers I was hoping would become my customers, many told me that price was not their biggest pain point. People generally felt that price was not the big issue for them and in fact they stayed with suppliers because of factors like quality assurance, quick delivery times or credit terms. I spoke to people across Kildare, Cork and elsewhere for this validation phase, and I was very fortunate to meet people who were honest with me about the idea before I spent both time and capital developing a solution. It is important to listen to your potential customers rather than just people in your immediate circle, such as advisors, friends and family. The customer is always the most important person.
When the people I was talking to told me price comparison wasn’t their biggest issue, I always asked what their biggest problem was. Time after time, people in equine yards told me that they were having issues keeping up with the large amounts of paperwork required because of frequently changing equine welfare regulations. Racing trainers and equestrians have to keep medication records for their horses to satisfy regulators and drug testers. Some yards have hundreds of horses, each with their own drug and vaccination regimen. It gets very complicated very quickly and if records are wrong it can lead to heavy fines and, in the most serious cases, prosecution. The yards I was talking to said that if I could develop a solution for this issue, they would be very interested.
Always listen to your target customers
It was at this point I realised that there was a large opportunity to try and build a regulatory technology system to be an education tool that would help ensure compliance for equine yards and help promote equine welfare and transparency. It was a difficult decision to pivot the idea. I had won awards for my original farm marketplace idea and it was hard to let go. However, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, always listen to your customers. It is a common trap that entrepreneurs fall in love with their ideas and don’t listen to what their customers actually want.
Once I pivoted my idea, I knew I would need a CTO who had experience in digitising regulatory paper processes. It just so happened that I ran into a friend from secondary school, Simon Hillary, who had just finished optimising workflows from paper to digital systems for the Oireachtas. Simon came on board, and we started the process of getting our system deemed compliant as a medicines register by the Turf Club (the horseracing regulatory body) here in Ireland and their equivalents in the UK and France.
Early-stage development with support and funding
I completed Phase 1 of New Frontiers at IADT mid-2017. From there, we were accepted onto the Trinity LaunchBox, and I completed Phase 2 of New Frontiers as well. Our Local Enterprise Office has been very supportive, and we’ve had a priming grant and business expansion grant from them. This has all been very helpful, because in all pivoting the idea took two years – refining our solution and getting into the finer details of the regulation.
By 2018, we were ready to launch with an initial cohort of users. That’s when my brother, Finlay, who has a background in finance, joined as our COO. Our app manages the whole compliance process for yards, centrally tracking the what, when, why, and how of medications being administered. Trainers or owners can invite vets and staff onto the system so that everything is tracked and recorded safely and securely.
Our pivoted startup: Equine MediRecord
We already have hundreds of yards on our system across Ireland, the United Kingdom and France, tracking thousands of horses. Our system is the first and only system to be approved as compliant to replace the paper regulatory documents, and the only system in the world ensuring compliance in the equine industry. We won a number of competitions, including the One Zero Conference, ‘Best Use of Mobile’ at Energia Digital Media Awards, and Most Innovative Equine Technology in the UK. We were also accredited with the Business All Star in ‘Regulatory Technology’ at the All-Ireland Business Summit. I also made it into the final 24 (out of 1,600+ applicants) of Ireland’s Best Yound Entrepreneurs, representing the Irish Midlands Region and Kildare at the national competition in September.
As we all become more aware of animal welfare issues, regulations are being strengthened and people need systems to ensure medical record compliance for their animals. Equine MediRecord is looking to enter new markets by the end of the year; we’ve just signed clients in the USA and Argentina and are talking to regulatory bodies inside and outside Europe. We’re also diversifying into other types of equine activity, such as horse breeders and polo teams. None of this would have happened if I had fallen in love with my original idea and been unable to pivot.