Tag: business development

New Frontiers Common startup mistakes entrepreneurs

Have you made any of these common startup mistakes?

New Frontiers Common startup mistakes entrepreneurs

It’s human to make mistakes. We all do it. Early-stage entrepreneurs are juggling a lot of balls, so mistakes are bound to happen. The important thing is to not beat yourself up about it and instead invoke the wise adage of Samuel Beckett:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Learning from your mistakes is what will make you successful. And you can even get a head-start by learning from the mistakes of entrepreneurs who have gone before! There are common mistakes that startups make, such as not listening to their customers, not pivoting when they should, or not getting their branding right. Today, though, I’m looking at four key mistakes that entrepreneurs often make running the business itself.

Not having a proper partnership agreement

When times are good and you’re enjoying some success, the thought of drawing up a proper partnership agreement can seem unnecessary. However, growing a business is rarely straightforward. There will be bumps in the road. There will be turmoil. There will be disagreements. None of these detours should deter you from your overall goal too much, but if you have failed to draw up proper contracts with your partner(s) it could be easy to make a mountain out of a molehill.

It is vital to get a partnership contract in writing. Remember, this is not only about protecting yourself but also your partner(s) and the families dependent on the income from your startup. This contract should cover essential information such as the division of ownership, the duties of each partner, the duration of the partnership, what happens in the case of disability or death, how a partner can buy their share and how a partner can be terminated.

Waiting too long to get the next round of funding

Securing your first round of funding is a reason to celebrate. But don’t spend all that money at once! When you see that row of zeros sitting contentedly in your account, it can be tempting to pull out all the stops and get the best of everything: best office, best location, best candidates, best gadgets, and best website! Not only would we suggest not blowing your seed fund, but we’d also recommend you get going on organising the next round of funding at soon as possible.

Securing funding always takes longer than you expect, even though you have now established yourself in the startup space. The worry is that investors who are interested in later-stage funding will be more risk-averse and expect to see more results before they part with their money. This can make attracting the right investor trickier than you might expect. Therefore, the best thing you can do is give yourself as much breathing space as possible and start working on the next stage of funding long before your money has a chance to run out.

Recruiting for technical skills and not soft skills

Having a limited budget will influence the decisions you make in all kinds of areas. Given that salary is one of the biggest costs for any company, it makes sense for a business owner to be judicious in who they recruit. You know what you bring to the table, which makes it easy to see what your startup needs to move forward. Therefore, hiring based on technical skills alone can seem like the wise choice in this early stage.

However, those first hires are going to be instrumental in what kind of company your startup becomes. They will influence the culture, the processes and client relationships. That’s why at this stage it can be a mistake to hire the moody artist or the aloof genius! Look for technical skills but also make sure to hire someone who has those crucial soft skills, such as being conscientious, communicative and trustworthy. It will serve you better in the long run.

Forgetting to delegate (or worse, micromanaging!)

Entrepreneurs wear many hats. They are the doers. The makers. The movers and shakers, as poet Arthur O’Shaunessy called them. The problem with all this doing and making is that entrepreneurs often don’t know when to stop. When you know how everything is done and expect a certain standard, it can be hard to share responsibilities. But if you’ve decided to expand your startup and are in the process of building your team, it would be wise to take some time to reevaluate your role in the company.

Your startup won’t grow if you continue to control everything. Trying to complete every task on your own will not only burn you out but will also stop your team from growing. There will be a trial-and-error period in the beginning so it’s OK to keep the training wheels on for a little while, but eventually you will have to give your team the space to shine. If you’re struggling to get to grips with this new phase of your startup, a great way to gain some clarity is to pull out a pen and paper and create a whole new role for yourself with a specific list of responsibilities.

What mistakes have you made as an entrepreneur? Perhaps you nearly made a big mistake but caught it just in time? We’re always keen to share the insights of our startup entrepreneurs, so if you are a past or present New Frontiers participant and would like to share your story, let us know!

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman runs a content-first marketing agency, Engage Content, and is Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

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Spilling The Beans event provides great insights for food sector startups New Frontiers

‘Spilling The Beans’ event provides great insights for food sector startups

Spilling The Beans event provides great insights for food sector startups New Frontiers

Dominic Mullan, former New Frontiers Programme Manager at the Institute of Art, Design & Technology (IADT), Dún Laoghaire, recently organised an event called Spilling the Beans, delivered by TU Dublin and IADT for food sector programme participants and alumni from across the country. In this article, he shares some of the insights from the event.

‘Sure, launching a start-up is so much easier these days, with all sorts of tech tools and open-source options drastically reducing upfront costs and time to market,’ or so they say! While that may be true of purely digital plays, the same can’t really be said for food ventures. A chat with any food founder will undoubtedly involve tales of the strife associated with raising investment, establishing an efficient production model and building strong channels for distribution. It was this trio of challenges that the Spilling the Beans event aimed to address for current and past New Frontiers participants with a focus on food.

Programme alumni Shane Ryan of fiid (LIT) and Alison Stroh of Dr Coy’s (IADT/TU Dublin) joined us to share the learning points they have amassed along the road to scale. Providing further valuable insights were Stephen Twaddell, Chair of the Food Investment Syndicate within HBAN; Louis Eivers from the HPSU team at Enterprise Ireland; and Jacquie Marsh, the driving force behind the growth of the Butler’s Pantry up to its sale in 2018.

Stephen Twaddell, Chair of the Food Investment Syndicate within HBAN
Jacquie Marsh, former Director of Butler’s Pantry
Jacquie Marsh, former Director of Butler’s Pantry
Louis Eivers, HPSU team at Enterprise Ireland

Investment: When, and how, to raise money?

On quite when is the right time to raise money, both Alison Stroh and Shane Ryan would recommend holding off as long as you can before completing a seed round. Instead, make the most of supports like Local Enterprise Office (LEO) funding, Foodworks Ireland and Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF) to build a more investable proposition. For Shane, this allows you to demonstrate to potential investors just what you have been able to achieve with a small team and limited resources. Clearly, as Louis Eivers of Enterprise Ireland pointed out, be careful not to stretch things too far before taking investment and possibly missing out on the commercial opportunity or running out of cash entirely.

Assessing your investment proposition

Jacquie Marsh shared her checklist for assessing a food sector investment proposition:

Product: Does it address a problem or a need experienced by a lot of people on a frequent and repeat basis? What is its unique point of difference? Crucially, is the consumer prepared to pay a proper price that will avoid the need for discounts and offers that erode margin?

Strategy: Is there clarity in terms of the short-term and long-term strategy? Is the focus on growing a family-owned business, for example, or on the type of dynamic growth that could lead to a trade sale?

Founder: Is the founder ambitious and passionate, as well as bringing expertise in the product area or in sales and marketing? Do other team members and key hires offer strong complementary skills? Are the founders well equipped to network proactively and positively with possible advisors and investors?

Synergy: Is there a strong sense of culture and values within the team? Are these aligned with the founder’s own values and outlook?

Customers & Sales: Is there evidence of significant sales and an ability to generate sales? Have the founders been able to build good relationships with their early customers?

Finance: What have the team achieved so far with their limited start-up resources? How far will the immediate investment requirement carry the venture before focus needs to return to the hugely time-consuming process of raising more money?

Adding to this, Stephen Twaddell encouraged founders to remember that they themselves are the core element of any investor proposition. He said, “You can change and influence most things in a project, but it’s hard to change people.” So don’t be shy about telling of your passion and your story so far.

Stephen also flagged a positive development in the food ecosystem recently which saw Hilliard Lombard (ex-CEO of Valeo Foods) and David McKernan (ex-Java Republic) launch Biavest – Ireland’s only dedicated food investment vehicle – with their first investments being with Nobó and Offbeat Doughnuts. For Shane Ryan, this type of smart sector-informed money trumps non-specialist investors every time.

The production dilemma

Alison Stroh

While the question of in-house or outsourced production seems to offer only two possible answers, the third and resounding response from our panellists was that, while your production model is important, it pales into insignificance against the potential power of your brand. This, for investor Stephen Twaddell, is where the magic lies and where the most value can be created. Generally, your customers will not know and will probably not overly care if you produce in-house or through production partners. It is your brand and the quality of your product that will influence their buying behaviour.

The possible exception to that is where your brand story specifically ties in with a method or place of production. Take by way of example the Wicklow Wolf Brewing Company, of which Stephen is Chair and whose brand story includes messaging such as Independent by Nature and beer brewed the Wicklow Way.

In the case of fiid and Dr Coy’s, both notably offering ambient products, specific technical requirements meant outsourcing production to partners in the Netherlands and Belgium respectively was the only realistic option, and the model has worked well for both. Louis Eivers of Enterprise Ireland clarified that outsourcing production within the EU presents no obstacles to High Potential Startup (HPSU) investment, provided the venture is still likely to create 10 jobs in Ireland. Bord Bia support on the other hand is typically predicated on production being within the Republic of Ireland.

For Jacquie Marsh, who built a business focused on short-shelf-life products, The Butler’s Pantry’s in-house production model was underpinned by two key strategic considerations: firstly, achieving a margin that would not have been possible otherwise; and, secondly, being nimble and adaptable in terms of offering quality and variety to the customer.

As for any entrepreneur, the risk of seeing outsourced partners effectively stealing your product ideas was on the mind of a number of our New Frontiers participants. Shane Ryan was quick to point out that, yes, they probably will copy your ideas, as will other companies and quite possibly your retailers too, which brings us back (once again!) to the key role of brand, brand, brand! As Jacquie Marsh pointed out, the big players are afraid of emerging, nimble players with brands that are so much more engaging and relatable for the consumer.

The distribution challenge

Shane Ryan

The “biggest challenge for food start-ups in Ireland” and “a total nightmare” was how Alison Stroh and Shane Ryan characterised the whole area of distribution, and both had lots of helpful perspectives for food founders who are looking to establish strong distribution channels.

Both companies deliberately managed their own distribution for extended periods before securing central listings or significant distribution agreements. The donkeywork of supporting dozens of stores across Ireland yielded huge value in terms of learning about the marketplace and building relationships with store managers.

On the question of central listings with retail chains, Alison sounded a note of caution: yes, central listings mean that store personnel can order in your products from their hand-held devices, but “if only they did!” It is more than likely that you will still need to engage a merchandising team to visit stores and encourage managers to place orders.

For Shane of fiid, relationships built with store managers in the early days have proven to be the foundation of major in-store campaigns which might not have been feasible or affordable otherwise.

Both fiid and Dr Coy’s now work with major distributors, which allows them to focus less on logistics and more on brand, which is all the more important when you are likely to be competing with the likes of Unilever for your distributor’s attention.

For Jacquie Marsh, it’s crucial to focus on retailers that really fit your brand and customer profile, while Stephen Twaddell would encourage any food start-up to focus initially on developing quality growth with one retailer before spreading yourself thinly across multiple retailers or geographies.

Key conclusions for food startups

So a conversation that was intended to focus on three aspects – investment, production and distribution – kept coming back to the same theme time and time again: brand, brand, brand!

About the author


New Frontiers Dominic MullanDominic Mullan

Dominic was the Innovation, Commercialisation & Development Manager at IADT – Institute of Art, Design & Technology in Dún Laoghaire – and the New Frontiers Programme Manager at the Media Cube. Dominic has worked closely with startups since 2000, and his expertise spans both the public and private sectors… [Read Dominic’s profile]

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5 powerful habits of successful business leaders new frontiers

5 Powerful Habits Of Successful Business Leaders

5 powerful habits of successful business leaders new frontiers

Humans are creatures of habit. This might not be a ground-breaking revelation, but the extent to which we are controlled by our habits is remarkable. According to a study conducted by Duke University, over 40% of our decisions are habitually made rather than consciously decided.

If our habits are bad, this could be pretty scary! But the good news is that we can, with effort, change our habits and even influence them to work in our favour. Aristotle famously said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”, and we agree. If business excellence is your goal, then we suggest practicing the following business habits.

1. Write your $10 million cheque

In 1985, Jim Carrey wasn’t yet the world-famous comedy actor he is today. Instead, he was a struggling comedian finding it hard to make ends meet. Despite the precariousness of his situation, he wrote himself a cheque worth $10 million for “acting services rendered” and dated it for 10 years into the future. It just so happened that in 1995 he shot to fame in the $247 million dollar movie Dumb and Dumber. This story exemplifies the visualisation techniques recommended by so many business psychologists. The secret to visualisation is the details – Carrey identified success as a specific amount of money being attained at a specific point in time and for a specific skillset. So instead of chasing some vague idea of success, start visualising precisely what success looks like for you.

2. Schedule me-time into your calendar

Organisations of all kinds depend on the performance of people. Therefore, it makes sense that if you are not taking care of yourself, your business will suffer. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done because not only are business owners generally run off their feet, but too often they wear the status of workaholic as a badge of honour. This is an outdated concept that only leads to poor decision making, bad management and ultimately becoming burnt out. How to beat these business blues is to regularly schedule “me-time” into your calendar, as you would any other task. You can spend this time meditating, exercising, indulging in a hobby and/or spending time with family. The only rule is that it cannot be work-related!

3. Set goals for your day

At New Frontiers, we love business plans. After all, how can you get to where you want to go unless you know the way! Short-term and long-term goals are necessary stepping stones to success, but great business leaders take the practice of goal-setting to the next level with daily goals. Trying to achieve success can be a daunting task when it is perceived as a singular overarching target looming in the distance. However, if you construct success as the achieving of daily “wins” that keep you going in the direction of that “mega goal”, then not only are you much more likely to get there but you won’t pull all your hair out along the way!

4. Eat the frog!

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain

This often-quoted line from Mark Twain only grows in prominence as our world becomes increasingly demanding. There are a hundred and one tasks you could be doing on any given day as a business owner, but how do you decide which one to tackle first? Twain is suggesting to start with the task you want to do the least and many business leaders agree. Brian Tracy, in his book, Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, advocates this time management technique and highlights that it should not only be the least appetising task that you act on first but also the one which will create the biggest positive impact on your life once it is completed.

5. Surround yourself with talented people

Entrepreneurship is often depicted as a lonely road and it can be, but wise entrepreneurs ensure that it isn’t. Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. By surrounding yourself with the right people, you get access to new perspectives, fresh ideas, different skillsets and alternative opinions. In the fast-paced world of business, developing tunnel vision will dramatically impede your development. But with the right people on your side, you can spot new industry trends on the horizon and become aware of great opportunities that otherwise would have passed you by. Whether they’re peers in your network, people on your team or a business mentor, as long as you are continually having conversations about your industry with talented people, you and your business will continue to grow and develop.

What about you? What habit has kept you both sane and successful? Or what habit do you really want to develop but have been unable to?

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman runs a content-first marketing agency, Engage Content, and is Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

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Alumni profiles: An epic journey towards the dream

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Small business secrets for improving your SEO ranking in 2020 - new frontiers

Small business secrets for improving your SEO ranking

Small business secrets for improving your SEO ranking in 2020 - new frontiers

Small business doesn’t have to mean small website. We’re starting this SEO blog with some gusto by telling you: You CAN rank on the first page of Google.

Yes, with a bit of guidance, ranking high on Google is very much within your capabilities. The only issue is time. SEO can seem like a bit of a slog if it’s not your area of expertise, so before we dive into our tips for improving your website’s SEO ranking, we have some friendly advice to share. The key to SEO success for small business owners who just don’t have time for this is to set yourself achievable goals. Schedule SEO tweaks into your calendar just as you would anything else and set yourself a reasonable time limit for each task. With our SEO secrets and a bit of self-discipline, you can dramatically increase traffic to your website. Without further ado, let’s dive in…

3 secrets to boosting your SEO ranking in 2020

1. Stop competing with the big brands on Google

If there are dominant movers and shakers in your industry taking a big chunk of market share, then this will hold true on Google. Our advice is to leave them to it, at least for now. Think, for a moment, of the main keyword(s) you are trying to rank for on Google. If you are in tech it may be “cloud platform”, “fintech” or “IT security”. If your business is beauty, it could be “perfume”, “anti-ageing cream” or “micellar water”. All of these keywords are much too broad and websites that have been around longer and have strong domain authority will beat you for them every time.

That’s why we suggest that you narrow your target and go after more specific search queries. We’re talking about ‘long-tail’ keywords. Long-tail keywords are search queries with at least three words and often considerably more. For example, instead of targeting the short-tail keyword “micellar water” you could go after “micellar water stop breakouts”. Someone who has this phrase in their search query is looking for very specific information and therefore their buying intent is high. The great news is that long-tail keywords are easy to go after! They currently make up 70% of search traffic and this is only set to increase as more people use voice search.

2. Use your location to your advantage

Databox recently asked 53 SEO experts “Which channel(s) should local businesses spend more time on?” and the second highest answer, after a website, was Google My Business. Google My Business, or GMB, is a free service provided by Google for helping customers find your physical location. If people can visit you then it is a must-have. If you’re not that kind of business, we’d advise getting it anyway simply because of the real estate you get in Google search results. When I google “New Frontiers” from a device in Dublin 3, for example, this is what appears:

Google My Business results in search - New Frontiers

 

There are 16 locations delivering the New Frontiers programme, I saw this result because it’s the closest to my location. That great big box on the right hand side is precisely what GMB can do for you. If you want to boost your visibility in Google search, then this is a fantastic way to do it. Not only can you add basic information such as address and phone number, but you can also include a link for online bookings and add things like services and products. It’s a fabulous shop window for your business and completely free! To set up a GMB account, just visit google.com/business and create your business listing. You’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to be sent a verification code (Google works hard to stop abuse of this tool by sending the code to your physical address) but once verified you’ll be ready to also share regular updates such as news, special offers, and events.

3. Write more website content. A lot more!

We’ll admit straight off the bat that this one is going to be time-consuming. However, if you combine this tip with your new long-tail keyword strategy, you can start making great leaps in your SEO ranking. In a constant battle to capture customer search queries, the more relevant words you have on your website the better. According to marketing expert Neil Patel, every month industry leaders are writing as many as 16+ blogs! To add to the challenge, Google prefers long-form content. We’re talking blogs that are exceeding the 2,000-word count.

blog length and search ranking - new frontiers

At this point, you might be wondering how in the world you are going to manage this! But remember that you’re not competing against industry leaders just yet. You’ve narrowed your net and you’re going after customers with high intent who are far down the buyer’s funnel. Highly targeted content that capitalises on the power of long-tail keywords is your best bet. You can of course also consider hiring a content creator to do the job for you. With content marketing bringing in three times the amount of leads as other marketing strategies, it is worth the investment. However, if you’re reading this then your DIY hat is probably firmly on, so keep an eye out for fantastic online resources such as this copywriting blog to keep you inspired.

Search engine optimisation is a moveable feast

Google takes account of a mind-boggling range of factors when it comes to SEO. For sites with high volumes of sales or leads, optimisation is a full-time job. Even for small sites, SEO isn’t something you can just do once and then you’re good for a year. If that’s your approach, the evolution in best practice and proactive competitors will see you slip steadily down the pages. Another issue is that the user experience itself is fast becoming a big part of SEO strength – site speed, annoying popups, stuff moving around the page as it loads are some examples. Google announced recently that the algorithm will update to take account of these at some point in 2021, so website owners have a little time to get these sorted. You can already see these measurements in your Search Console account, but to learn more about ‘Core Web Vitals’, check out this resource from Google.

As you can see, the SEO landscape is constantly evolving. If ranking is critical to the success of your business, you may choose to outsource this to experts. If you do, make sure they are transparent about the actions they are taking. Also, get involved in the process yourself (regular reviews of their actions/make them report to you regularly) so that it aligns with your business goals. If you choose to take it on yourself, I recommend reading everything that Google makes available (you could start on the Webmasters site) and checking out the Yoast blog (they make plugins for WordPress, but their blog is an excellent resource and they have online courses too).

My main advice, as someone who has been obsessing about SEO for well over a decade, is to build your website for humans rather than bots. If you make a site that works well, looks good, and gives the audience what they’re looking for, you are well on the way to outranking sites that view SEO as a box-ticking exercise. Visit your site regularly and try to see it through a user’s eye. Ask people what they think of it. Ask clients and prospects what they’d like it to do and what information they want from it. But learn the technical basics too. And always put keywords in your headings :)

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman runs a content-first marketing agency, Engage Content, and is Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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Alumni profiles: Unlock your potential, back your dream

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Big business trends to watch out for in 2020 - New Frontiers Programme -Enterprise Ireland

The big business trends to watch out for in 2020

Big business trends to watch out for in 2020 - New Frontiers Programme -Enterprise Ireland

2020 is upon us and we STILL don’t have flying cars. It’s a disappointing realisation that we are entering yet another futuristic-sounding year without even one DeLorean to have taken to the skies. Alas, we’ll have to curb our expectations for now and be content with cars simply driving themselves. Joking aside, 2020 is looking to be a very interesting year for business with great advancements and transformations happening in technology, the workplace, customer relationships, and more.

If you’re craving some sharp insights into what kind of year 2020 is shaping up to be, then look no further! We’re going to share with you 4 business predictions we’re putting our bets on for 2020.

Our top 4 business predictions for 2020

Irish businesses will need to get 5G ready

True, we didn’t need to check a crystal ball for this one! The fifth generation of cellular networking is here, but how exactly will it impact your business? This wireless technology is estimated to be at least 10 times faster than 4G, which means faster communication, faster business processes, and faster results for your clients. Currently, the average time it takes data to upload from a device is 50ms with a 4G network, but with 5G it will take just 1ms.

However, we’re not claiming 5G will be in every single household by the end of 2020. After all, there are still houses in rural areas stuck on 3G. But according to Intel, the rollout will be in full swing in 2020 so they advise businesses to get ready:

“For 5G to become a reality, businesses need to replace fixed-function equipment with virtualised software-defined networks. Switching to the cloud will be vital as 5G relies so heavily on virtualisation.”

Customer Experience will benefit from automation

Customer Experience, or CX, has been a hot topic for a few years, but until now businesses have been struggling to know how to implement it as practical business processes. With increasing accessibility to high-quality automation tools, 2020 will be the year in which we see CX truly take off.

A great example of this is the strides being made with chatbots. The chatbots of 2020 won’t simply trot off a couple of generic messages and then hand the conversation over to a real customer service agent. Instead, chatbots will use intelligent voice messaging to tailor responses to the individual and automate payments in real time.

Customer expectations are increasing constantly as people get used to using more smart devices, such as virtual assistants, in their own home. With Qualtrics finding that 60% of businesses think the mobile experience they are providing is good but that only 22% of customers feel the same, it pays to bulldoze those blind spots, listen to customers’ needs, and invest in the technology you use to drive successful customer relationships in 2020.

Will your business take advantage of the growing remote working trend?

Remote working used to be something that employees who wanted more flexibility pushed for while management looked on sceptically, unsure of whether a divided labour force could really manage to be productive. How times have changed! According to FlexJobs, 75% of people work remotely because there are fewer distractions and 86% say it reduces stress, which all directly feeds into increased worker productivity. In 2020, the encouragement for remote working is coming from the top as employers reap the benefits of this cost-effective, timesaving, and fully customisable work structure.

There are many great reasons as to why remote working is gaining in popularity, but for Ireland specifically we would throw the combination of high rent prices in the capital and long commutes into the ring. On average, it takes commuters in Kildare and Meath one hour and nine minutes to get to work, which is equivalent to, if not quicker than, those taking public transport from Dublin’s suburbs. The Luas and Dart have become notorious for congestion, which not only increases travel time but makes getting to work a very stressful and exhausting experience. Therefore, if not just for productivity then for employee health and happiness, remote working could be a great trend to jump on in 2020.

Gen Z will enter the workforce

They’re coming and they’re going to make up 20% of the workforce in 2020, but what does that mean for your business? This generation is composed of digital natives in the truest sense. Born between 1995 and 2010, they do not know a world without the internet. This puts them in a strong position entering the workforce as we are very much in need of their technology skills! However, to leverage their skills you’ll need to attract them and being a tech-first company is essential.

According to a study by Dell, 91% of Gen Z considers the technology offered by an employer to be a critical factor when choosing a job. Generation Z, or Centennials as they are also known, expect to not only exercise their skills but to continuously improve them. Therefore, it is in the business’s interest to provide these opportunities. Despite being glued to their screens, Gen Z appreciates authentic face-to-face conversations and shows a strong interest in being tech mentors, which can only be a good thing for other members of your intergenerational team!

Running an Irish startup in 2020 is going to be both challenging and rewarding. If you’re about to take the plunge and would like some extra support, why not consider a programme like New Frontiers?! We have locations around the country and start dates throughout the year. Take a look at what’s involved and register your interest today.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman runs a content-first marketing agency, Engage Content, and is Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Alumni profiles: An epic journey towards the dream

Alumni profiles: Breaking the code, building the dream

Alumni profiles: Unlock your potential, back your dream

New Frontiers Comes To NovaUCD At University College Dublin

5 tips for recruiting a stellar first hire for your startup - New Frontiers programme

5 tips for recruiting a stellar first hire for your startup!

5 tips for recruiting a stellar first hire for your startup - New Frontiers programme

Making the first external hire is a big step for a startup. It’s a significant commitment with all kinds of obligations and logistics to consider. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some tactics to help you make recruitment less of a risk.

Before you start, make sure you do really need to hire someone at this point. If you’re running a startup, it’s a good guess that you’re run off your feet and wish you had a second you to make the workday less crazy. However, it’s important to recognise whether this is just the typical whirlwind of getting a new business off the ground or whether the time has come to grow the team.

The first step is to take a careful look at the finances and financial projections to see if you can afford an employee. Consider all the costs associated with this – salary costs plus hidden costs such as equipment, office space, insurance, software, training, etc.

The second step is to consider which area of the business could best be supported by a second pair of hands. There should be enough workload to add up to a new role, and what needs to be done should bring real value to the business and contribute to your bottom line (for example, supply chain or customer services). If your plate is overflowing with smaller tasks that don’t add up to a particular business role (for example, bookkeeping) then rather than making a new hire you should lighten the load by outsourcing specific jobs.

Finally, be careful of making your first hire a big, expensive role. For instance, it’s not uncommon for founders to want their first employee to be the salesperson, because it’s typically a role they aren’t confident in. However, these salaries are usually very high and it can be hard to find the right salesperson on the first attempt (see more about this in our interview with Nicky Bowman).

So, having decided the time is right for your first hire, here are 5 ways to make the transition from founder to employer a little easier.

How to successfully hire your first employee

1.      Identify your startup’s weak spots

Your first hire should not be a jack-of-all-trades. In fact, no hire should be! It’s particularly tempting for startups to seek out that unicorn individual who has a bit of experience in everything. The problem with this approach is that they’re not properly solving any one problem. A much better approach is to identify specific weaknesses in your business that are taking up a lot of time or particular gaps where you can really start to grow revenue and aim to hire someone who can take this on and have a transformative effect.

2.      Document procedures for tasks

You want your new employee to hit the ground running when they arrive. Do not wait until the last minute to figure out how they are going to do what you need them to do. It’s probably clear in your mind how the tasks that need doing should get done, but don’t assume this will be obvious to your new hire. They aren’t familiar with your business or how you work yet. If you’re not used to onboarding employees, you’ll be surprised how many small things need to be communicated in the initial stages.

List the responsibilities attached to this new role and then take the time to document procedures for each one. Trust us, it’s worth it. As an entrepreneur, you’re used to doing everything yourself, which means you have your own set of standards. If you want to maintain those standards and avoid resorting to micromanagement, then procedures are a lifesaver.

3.      Don’t underestimate the importance of culture fit

Skills are not the be-all and end-all, especially at this early stage of your business. Your first hire is going to be working in close quarters with you and, inevitably, will have an influence over how your team grows. This is not the time to take a punt on the aloof genius, the rebellious leader or the troubled artist! Rather trust, integrity, and good communication skills are the kind of characteristics you want to invest in with your first hire.

If there is more than one business founder, we’d advise giving everyone the opportunity to meet with the potential candidate so they have a chance to air their opinions. The last thing you want is your office split down the middle by an employee who gets along swimmingly with one founder and is at loggerheads with the other! This exposure to key people in your business is also a great way to show the candidate that you envision them to be there for the long haul.

“I’ve turned down very good technical people. I know the team they are going to have to work in and if I don’t think they will fit in there is no point in hiring them, no matter how talented they are from a technical point of view.”

Sandra Whelan, Immersive VR Education
read our interview with Sandra

4.      Have them demonstrate their skills

It really is the only way to know for sure that they can do the job. There are many great interviewees out there. These people are personable, passionate, quick with winning answers and they’ve researched your company inside and out. But none of these attractive qualities necessarily means they will be good at the tasks you have in mind for them.

To combat this, don’t be afraid of having more than one stage in your recruitment process. It may be time-consuming, but this is not a hire you want to make in a rush. The first stage of the interview could be designed to whittle down candidates by their skillset and the second stage could be for finding out if they have the right personality fit for your company.

5.      Have a trial period

This is your first hire and there’s a lot riding on it. Feeling a little stressed about getting it right is only natural. Overthinking it won’t make it any easier, however having a trial period can take a lot of the pressure off. Recruitment is a speciality industry for a reason so if you’re not a professional recruiter, it makes sense to buffer the risk with a probationary period. Ensure it is included in the new employee’s employment contract and define clearly the duration of the trial period. Under Irish law, a probationary period must be one year or less in duration.

Making your first hire is a big decision, especially when you are bootstrapping. As with most things in business, careful planning will help you avoid the most common pitfalls. Be clear about what you expect and what you are offering from the outset, because high staff turnovers will only negate the benefit of having the extra help. Also, remember that although you will be able to move over a large part of your workload to a capable colleague, employees do require management, so factor in enough time to oversee their work. 

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman runs a content-first marketing agency, Engage Content, and is Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

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Listen to your market and always be ready to pivot your idea - New Frontiers - Pierce Dargan

Listen to your market and always be ready to pivot your idea

Listen to your market and always be ready to pivot your idea - New Frontiers - Pierce Dargan

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.

About the author

Pierce Dargan Equine MediRecord New Frontiers alumnusPierce Dargan

Pierce Dargan is a fifth-generation racehorse owner and breeder, ex-professional rugby player and New Frontiers alumnus. He is the co-founder of award-winning tech startup, Equine MediRecord… [Read Pierce’s profile]

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4 actions entrepreneurs need to take to scale up quickly New Frontiers Entrepreneur programme (1)

4 actions entrepreneurs need to take to scale up quickly

4 actions entrepreneurs need to take to scale up quickly New Frontiers Entrepreneur programme (1)

So, you think your startup is scalable. You’ve looked at your turnover, you’ve studied the market and you believe your business could handle a bigger piece of the pie. That’s great, but growing your business successfully requires not only a shift in operations but a change in mindset.

With all the research and speculation that goes on in the business industry, you can be sure there are known habits and practices that successful entrepreneurs adopt to grow their business. We’re going to share a few of them with you to get you started on your road to success.

Scale up your startup with these great business tips

1) Visualise success and set a deadline for it

The first step to getting where you need to be is to visualise success for your business in practical terms. Try asking yourself, what does my business look like at double or triple the value? “Scaling up” is a nice idea and a handy phrase to throw around when talking to investors, but it doesn’t come with a guidebook tailored to your business. The good news is that you know your business inside out and you know what resources are available to you. Use this knowledge to drive real action that contributes to business growth. Visualise what you want to achieve, give yourself a deadline to get there and then design a map. As with any goal, the deadline is crucial, so don’t be tempted to skip over that part!

2) Stop micromanaging and start delegating!

We’re sure you’ve heard this one before, but the question is, have you actually put it into practice yet?? There is no understating how important delegation is when it comes to growing your business. As an entrepreneur, you’re used to wearing many different hats and taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to everything you do. It’s this trait that makes the entrepreneur who they are, but you need to recognise when the time has come to take a step back and work on the business rather than in it.

To use the cliché, a healthy business is like a well-oiled machine, meaning it can run on its own. Your role needs to change from a management one to a leadership position so your business can have true value that exists beyond your name and your personal network. It’s time to create a strong senior management team that you trust to make important decisions on a day-to-day basis. When you have successfully done that, the next thing to do is to take a holiday. Yes! That elusive thing people with extra time do! If the business can run itself for a week or two, then pat yourself on the back because the value of your business has just increased.

3) Outsource the nonessentials

We recently wrote a blog covering this topic in more depth to help entrepreneurs decide if outsourcing is right for them or not. Have a read of it, and if you find it does make sense for your business, then we advise you to get going on it! Outsourcing is a fantastic way of getting access to high-quality skills at a cost-effective price. By outsourcing the nonessentials, you can focus on what you do best, streamline your processes and invest in the areas that really matter for business growth. As for those areas you can’t afford to outsource, automate them as much as possible.

4) Share wealth and opportunities amongst your team

We have already recommended that you should delegate by building a strong senior management team. However, if you’re going to invest in doing this, then you would want to make sure these key employees stick around for a while. For any business looking to grow, a high turn over of staff is a killer and a clear sign that something has gone wrong at the heart of your business. Hard working, loyal and talented people who want to help your business grow are vital to the lifeblood of a business looking to scale and you simply won’t compete on an international scale without them.

It’s a good idea to share wealth and opportunities amongst your key team members. This means not only paying your employees what they’re worth but incentivising them in other ways, such as offering them opportunities for self-development, investing in team bonding (whether that’s on-site or off-site), creating a pleasant workplace that has its own distinct character and perhaps even offering them shares in the company. Finding star employees is hard and so is keeping them, so it’s worth taking the time to make them feel valued because they are essential to the growth of your business.

If you’ve just finished the New Frontiers Programme, you might be wondering what comes next. If you’re looking to scale, you should definitely keep an eye out for the next Competitive Start Fund call. Providing access to fantastic one-on-one mentorship opportunities as well as funding, you’ll get all the support you need to take your business to the next level!

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman runs a content-first marketing agency, Engage Content, and is Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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A framework for founders how one VC thinks about pre-seed investments - New Frontiers

A framework for founders: how one VC thinks about pre-seed investments

A framework for founders how one VC thinks about pre-seed investments - New Frontiers

‘When Frontline say we invest early, we mean it.’

At Frontline, 70% of our investments have been pre-revenue and 60% pre-product. At Pre-Seed and Seed, there is little to be learned from intensive quantitative analysis pre-investment (woo). That said, over the past year and a half at Frontline, I’ve built a qualitative framework, designed around four key questions, to help me quickly assess the companies I meet. Together, I believe that these four questions are critical in predicting success. 

1. Can you convince me to quit my job?

The first question I ask myself is, would I quit my job at the fund and work for these people on this problem? I know, it seems like a completely crazy idea, you (the founder), are here for the VC’s money, not to get them to join your team. Consider this though; when you pitch to a VC, you are looking to inspire and excite. At our stage of investment, it’s about taking a leap of faith and believing in your vision and your team’s potential. Surely, this is also what you do when pitching talent you are looking to hire. So, if you can convince a VC to invest in you, great. If you can get a VC to actually join your team, all the better.

Sarah Tavel was so excited after meeting the founder of Pinterest that she invested and swiftly left Bessemer to join the company. Pinterest is now a $15 billion business. It wasn’t that way when Sarah joined — it was still another startup trying to break through the noise.

So, why is this is a good heuristic to access early-stage companies? The key assumption we’re making in venture is that you’re going to build a big business and the essential ingredient in building a big company is the ability to hire the best. In the early days, you’re unlikely to be competing on compensation, option grants are a long way from ever paying the bills, and the hours will likely be long and hard. The one thing that will attract top talent is your ability to tell a compelling story, display a truly unique insight into the problem you’re solving and to be overwhelmingly impressive when you first meet candidates. The team isn’t assessed just on who’s in the room, it’s imagining who might be in 12 months time.

2. From Chihuahuas to exit, can you find a big enough market to scale?

At Frontline, we track all the reasons why we pass on companies — market size, competitiveness, price, strength of team, etc. We then review all the companies we’ve passed on and check in on how they’re doing using the metric of funds raised (not ideal, we know, but it’s a simple public indicator of success).

Surprise, surprise; our data has shown us that multiple cases where we liked the team but passed on the opportunity because we thought the market was too competitive, we were often wrong. The reality is that good teams can succeed in hot markets. In those cases where we also liked the founders, but passed because we felt the market was too small, we have found that founders go on to struggle.

“When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.”

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet lives by this mantra and the data proves it.

Even if you’re good — when you go after a small market in the early days you tend to go deeper into the niche rather than expanding outwards. This can cap your upside and in venture, if we don’t think there’s a viable route to an investment returning half our fund, we are likely to pass on it. Here’s how that practically plays out, on the back of an envelope:

  • Frontline Ventures Fund II: $70 million
  • Target ownership at exit: 10% – 20%
  • Required company value at exit: $150 million – $300 million
  • B2B SaaS forward revenue exit multiples: 5x – 10x (if growing minimum 2X YoY)
  • Company revenue required at exit: $15 million – $60 million
  • You can usually never expect to own more than 10% of any market, so the smallest addressable market we consider for an investment is about $150 million — in reality, to find that market segment you need to look for +$1 billion markets (or be able to make the case that the market is growing or that you can create it)
  • This is fund by fund. Some funds don’t care about ownership/exit multiples – they just care if they think you can build a $10 billion company and can they get a slice of it.

Larger target markets give you flexibility in the early days to figure things out. Longer-term, you must then narrow your focus as you get closer to your customer because once you go deep on a customer segment, it becomes much harder to get back to a larger market without pivoting the company.

One of the best (non-software) examples of this is Chihuahuas. (Yes, you read it correctly). Imagine you’re starting a pet-food business and you decide to start with gourmet, home-delivered meals for Chihuahuas. Let’s say it’s a $50 million market (🤪) that no one is addressing specifically, you can get a big slice of this right? Sure, there are plenty of Chihuahua owners. Plenty of them might have a high willingness to spend on their dogs’ health. But what if it turns out Chihuahua owners aren’t as loose with their wallets as you thought? You’ve gone too deep too early and now all that adorable marketing collateral goes into the bin.

What you could have done is start with the pet food market (multi-billion dollar market). Move down into the dog food market (still multi-billion dollar market). Then go gourmet. Still a huge market and very competitive. But if you follow the rule that you’re never going to own more than about 10% of a market in a best-case scenario, it is always wise to target the larger opportunity. Chihuahuas might turn out to be the right answer — but so might the Maltese or perhaps Pugs. (Analogy inspired by the very cool Butternut Box.)

3. Can you spot the shift beneath your feet?

The world is changing by the day. Yet, major shifts in platform and underlying technology only really happen once every couple of years. The shift to mobile in 2009/10 and the shift to cloud in 2012/13 spawned dozens of new unicorns. In the UK, the opening up of financial regulation in 2014 has since spawned some of the most successful breakout European companies in recent memory.

Often the way these changes empower startups is by opening up new distribution channels. Founders are up against sophisticated sales teams with great brand awareness and multiple routes to reach their customers. But what these incumbents gain in scale they lose in awareness and speed. New routes to customers inevitable open up – and founders that can find these channels early are on their way to building great companies.

One of the best examples of this is the rise of self-serve in SaaS. Founders like Melanie Perkins of Canva that recognised the early trend rode the wave of lower acquisition costs and viral distribution when it was at its peak, and has now built a huge company. Older companies such as Hubspot had to transition from an inside sales-driven growth model to a freemium product-led strategy. For a company like Hubspot, making that transition is expensive and hard. As a startup, you can do it tomorrow.

As a founder, it’s important to recognize key changes in technology and/or customer behaviour that will allow you to create new value. Was there a missing piece of functionality that previously did not exist, and that you can now leverage? Old products become bloated by features whilst new paradigms make better, faster and cheaper products possible. This is a startup’s opportunity. Think about mobile-GPS enabling ride-sharing and food delivery, or AJAX enabling fast content consumption in a browser, or accessible machine learning frameworks like TensorFlow opening opportunities for new analysis.

4. Who are your beachhead customers?

Finally, when meeting new founders, I am always looking for beachhead customers. If a product is to be adopted by new customers, a general rule of thumb — pulled from Zero to One — is that it has to be 10 times better than the existing alternative.

Of course, on day one your product isn’t going to be 10x (lol) better for all your potential customers. It’s not even going to be close for a lot of them. But customer pain is a sliding scale. For most customers, your initial product might only be a 2/3x improvement. But there will be a group for whom the pain you are solving is most acute.

Find these customers and obsess over solving their problem. When you do, nurture them. Grow a loyal and effective group of early advocates who love your solution. Leverage this group to raise capital and as you develop your offering you’ll find you’re a 10x solution for more and more of the market.

TL;DR

Early-stage VCs don’t look that closely at the product or the technology as those are rarely the things that trip up early-stage founders. It’s almost always one of the below:

  • The team isn’t right.
  • The market is too small.
  • The market isn’t ready.
  • The company is unable to find early customers.

If you’re speaking to us, know that this is the lens through which I evaluate an opportunity. I know it isn’t perfect, but I hope this gives you some guidance on how to shape your approach. And, if a VC turns you down, don’t be too disheartened. I got turned down by Frontline when I was in the early days of fundraising.

There are myriad reasons why you can be rejected; some subjective, others less so. At Frontline, we try to give constructive feedback to all the companies we engage. It can be hard to tell a founder you don’t believe in them personally, but more often than not, that’s the real reason. For founders, figuring out why VCs make the decisions they do is another part of what it takes to build a big company.

And remember, the ‘picking’ part of venture is tough. It’s as much our job to get it wrong as it is to get it right (+50% of pre-seed investments fail). But we want to partner with founders as early as possible – and as soon as you have a vision and a plan together. Ping me on finn@frontline.vc if you want to chat or just tell me why most of the above is wrong.

About the author

Finn Murphy Frontline Ventures New Frontiers programmeFinn Murphy

Finn Murphy is an Associate at Frontline Ventures, an early-stage venture fund specialising in B2B software. He loves working one-on-one with entrepreneurs and helping them find their path to building world-changing companies… [Read Finn’s profile]

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New Frontiers - the food business when is a trend not a trend

The food business: when is a trend not a trend?

New Frontiers - the food business when is a trend not a trend

Understanding and using trends to develop sound business opportunities can be a complex area. In the food sector, for example, there are numerous macro and micro trend reports published every year, but what does a start-up food company really need to consider, when determining whether an idea is actually commercially viable?

Trends can mean different things to different people. It’s a much bandied about term, mainly used to describe things that are currently popular or that are predicted to become popular. Essentially, broad shifts in consumer behaviours, attitudes and values drive changes which become identifiable, marketable trends.

Typically, trends are (or should be) the starting point for a good business idea. A way of quickly and inexpensively road-testing your idea is to assess it against the key trend indicators for your sector. Your idea should meet a clear and defined need, solve a problem and align with at least one trend.

The 7 real trends shaping the food industry

Without fail, at the start of every year, a deluge of lists emanates from a myriad of sources, telling us what we ate last year, what we will be eating this year and, of course, what we should be eating. These lists are fun to read, but are linked in many ways to what is being sold by the source, whether it is a data house looking to sell more reports; food delivery companies promoting their businesses; or chefs/food gurus/influencers looking to build their profile.

The question is, how can you discern the wheat from the chaff? What’s a real trend versus a fun fad? It’s clear that a focus on health, community and the environment have taken centre stage of late in the food sector, along with a keen focus on “management of self” in a frantic, always-on, digital era.

Below is my take (please note, far from exhaustive!) on some key trends that a food start-up needs to consider before taking the plunge, along with a few examples of products that meet the trend test.

Food industry trend #1: Changing Meal Patterns

What some commentators describe as the “Fourth Meal”, this trend reflects the growing fragmentation of eating occasions. In our topsy-turvy and less structured world, with mobile and flexible working becoming the norm, breakfast has morphed into lunch and snacks have become mini-meals. Also, the final meal of the day is often a treat more than sustenance, which brings its own challenges. Products such as nutritional bars – a substantial and relatively healthy snack – have been trailblazers in this trend, with Fulfil at the forefront (followed by a long tail of competitors).
Food industry trends - Orla Donohoe - New Frontiers

Food industry trend #2: Health is Wealth

Food & Beverage products in the health space cover a vast spectrum of interest areas and preferences, including disease prevention and holistic well-being all the way through to practical health management tools. Products that claim to aid sleep are a new phenomenon as people find it increasingly difficult to unwind, digitally detox and prepare for rest in the evening. Hot beverage brands such as House of Tea have capitalised on this trend by promoting the features and benefits of variants such as their “Sleep Well” product which has very specific (relaxing) ingredients.

Food industry trend #3: Nutritional Nurturing

It can be very difficult to communicate positive health messages to children that aren’t boring for them and at times it feels that a constant battle is being waged against sugar, which the parent is doomed to lose. I have therefore been eagerly awaiting the arrival of newly launched Hidden Heroes in my nearest Dunnes, and am hoping that my young son will no longer refer to vegetables as the “emeny”. The brainchild of Aileen Cox Blundell, these are junk-free vegetable snacks with 100% natural ingredients which tick all the boxes. Convenient (frozen), guilt-free (quality product) and with a razor focus on a child’s nutritional needs.

Food industry trend #4: Real People, Real Food

The artisan movement is no longer niche and there is huge interest now in knowing where your products come from and who has made them. On social media platforms, posts relating to product provenance generate strong engagement and empathy and add significantly to the user experience. Earlier this year, a small company in the west of Ireland garnered huge publicity following an appearance on a business makeover programme. Aran Islands Seaweed Pesto, an authentic product produced by likeable, relatable people, charmed the public as their journey from idea to product on a plate was shared. Catnip for Millennials.
The 7 real trends shaping the food industry - New Frontiers

Food industry trend #5: Kits are King

Meal kits are one of the fastest-growing segments in the market and have extended in all sorts of directions. Not just focused on meals any more, there are now kits for bread, cakes, biscuits, condiments, cheese and even beer. My absolute favourite is the recently launched Gin Fusion Kit from the Dublin company Drink Botanicals, which aims to enhance the gin experience. Interestingly, in the US, Amazon has introduced a new range of meal kits in Wholefoods, which link with Alexa-enabled devices to provide recipes and cooking instructions – appealing to gadget lovers who also seek convenience.

Food industry trend #6: Plant Protection

Interest in plant-based proteins is at an all-time high. Even children in their early teens (and sometimes younger) are choosing to follow meat-free diets. My own locality of Stoneybatter on Dublin’s north side could well be a candidate for vegan capital of Ireland (three vegan restaurants opening in the last few months). And it is becoming mainstream. California-based vegetarian burger company Beyond Meat has been the best-performing public offering in the US this year, currently holding a market capitalisation of $11.2bn, above Macy’s and Trip Advisor. Definitely not niche.

Food industry trend #7: Green Me

Now more than ever, there is a strong and growing sense of personal responsibility to effect positive changes and address the world’s increasingly pressing and worrying environmental issues. Reducing usage of packaging (especially plastics), commitments to green causes, effective management of food waste – consumers now demand and expect that food (and other) businesses will take their concerns more seriously. There are many great examples here however I particularly like Insomnia’s Mission Compostable campaign, which aims to replace all single-use items with either reusable or compostable alternatives by 2020. Clear, time-bound and accountable.

When you are sure your service or product meets at least one clearly identified trend, the first and most pertinent piece of advice you will receive on New Frontiers and elsewhere is to validate it. Be aware that research can be maddening! Just when you are sure your proposition is fully birthed and ready for launch, someone will throw a curveball. When this happens, take a deep breath. Embrace the feedback. Make any necessary changes, taking advantage of the many resources that are available. And above all, enjoy the experience, as I did.

About the author

Orla DonohoeOrla Donohoe

Orla Donohoe is a trends analyst, food sector advisor, and content writer. She has a background in international business development, and a career spanning over 20 years in market and client facing roles in Bord Bia’s Dublin, London and Madrid offices… [Read Orla’s profile]

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