Storytelling in Sligo: building a media startup in the North West

Ciaran Byrne, with his wife Martha Kearns and their two children, Ciara and Leo, in Hazelwood, Sligo. Photo: James Connolly 11MAR15

When my wife, Martha, and I decided to launch our digital startup, we also knew that the time had come to move away from Dublin and settle somewhere we could achieve a higher quality of life. We moved to Sligo last year and started StoryLab. This is our New Frontiers story.

I’d seen an advertisement about the New Frontiers programme in the Irish Independent, the paper where I was associate editor and news and features executive for eight years. Martha and I had an idea for a media company that provided big brands with engaging, expertly-edited, readable and visual stories about their businesses, for traditional forums as well as for social and digital.

I could see the whole focus in PR and marketing was shifting to quality, paid-for content. On another level, smaller businesses and brands are feeling overwhelmed by content requirements and require specialist assistance to bring their content up to scratch.

Both Martha and I have worked at senior executive levels on newspapers, including The Observer in London, the Sunday Times and the Telegraph Media Group. With this kind of experience, we felt that we could offer brands the insights and access to networks they need to really stand out.

StoryLab: a new style of high-quality storytelling

We spoke to people at IT Sligo and applied for Phase 1 of the New Frontiers programme. I knew that New Frontiers could help to lay the foundations of a solid business with export potential, based in the North-West, home to a cluster of highly creative, dynamic businesses.

Although we were familiar with the target users and the needs, Phase 1 provided us with the tools and guidance to refine StoryLab’s offering and develop a business model.

New Frontiers made sense on every level. It offered the space and expertise to help us develop a business and it also applied to our location in Sligo where we are trading successfully as a national and international business.

Phase 1: Testing the business idea

Once on Phase 1 of New Frontiers, I devoted time to validating StoryLab’s target customer base and the ‘pain’ the business was solving for customers. It was also a great chance to refine our elevator pitch, which for StoryLab is: We tell your stories, we get you noticed, we show you how.

After Phase 1, we entered the highly competitive application process for a place on Phase 2 of New Frontiers, with a handful of happy customers already on board.

Phase 2: Business planning

On Phase 2, we began the process of more clearly identifying StoryLab’s customer base across regional, national and international lines. The workshops assisted greatly with identifying market segmentation and serving the company’s many varied customers. We established the value of our service, with an hourly, and by project, pricing structure. We looked at the route to market. The workshops also helped us devise a separate, more templated content product for SMEs – which gives smaller businesses a single media package for a one-off fee.

By the time I had finished Phase 2, StoryLab was a fully-trading, profitable company looking to build the team by adding a third member. The programme also helped us focus on developing a high-quality network of associate writers and editors, who assist with delivery of the company’s many content projects each week. StoryLab exited Phase 2 with a roster of more than 10 regular clients in Ireland and Europe who seek regular, specialist content support across a range of different areas.

The right tools and support

With a tested business model and an investor-ready business plan, StoryLab is continuing to establish itself as a trusted content partner to some of the biggest brands in Ireland and the UK – as well as offering its expertise to smaller businesses.

New Frontiers helped us formalise our business model but also our business practices and protocols, which has helped us greatly in our day-to-day management of the company. We would never have advanced so quickly without the programme. The tools and access to the different workshops and mentors have been invaluable.

It also showed us that a business with the right skills can migrate from Dublin to the North West, in our case Sligo, and still ably compete on a national and international basis.

About the author

Ciran Byrne - Suzy McCanny Photography
Ciaran Byrne

Ciaran is a New Frontiers alumnus and Content Director at the startup he co-founded with his wife, Martha Kearns. Their company, StoryLab, helps brands to tell stories by producing high-quality journalistic content that people will want to share and consume… [Read Ciaran’s profile]

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