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How To Supercharge Your New Frontiers Experience 10 Top Tips

How To Supercharge Your New Frontiers Experience: 10 Top Tips

By New Frontiers blog

How To Supercharge Your New Frontiers Experience 10 Top Tips

Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme has been supporting early-stage startup founders for over a decade. Phase 1 is a part-time programme aimed at validating the business idea. On Phase 2 – which runs over six months full-time – founders develop a wide range of skills that will enable them to turn their idea into a revenue-generating business.

The benefits of New Frontiers are wide and varied. But what can you, as the founder, do to ensure you get the most benefit from the programme? We put this question to our Programme Managers in an attempt to distil the most relevant and important tips into a single blog that will supercharge your time on the programme and help you become the best founder you can be. This is by no means the only advice your Programme Managers will have for you, but it’s a good place to start!

In no particular order, here are tips from 10 of our Programme Managers.

Paula Carroll, National Programme Manager at Enterprise Ireland

“If I was to give only one piece of advice (which is very hard), I would say use the time whilst you are on the programme to network! It is really important to get known within the startup ecosystem, and the best way to do that is to use the connections you will have access to whilst on the New Frontiers programme. Network with your fellow participants, with other entrepreneurs within the incubation centres, with the facilitators and mentors, and also get out to events to meet potential customers and funders.”

Tony O’Kelly, Programme Manager at ATU – Galway City + Mayo Campuses

“Prioritising market intelligence is crucial, as it serves as a compass for navigating the complex terrain of business establishment and growth. This involves a thorough understanding of your target market, including customer needs, preferences, and behaviours, as well as staying abreast of competitors’ strategies and industry trends. Such insight not only informs product development and marketing strategies but also shapes investment decisions and operational adjustments. By placing a strong emphasis on market intelligence, founders can make well-informed decisions, anticipate market shifts, and adapt their business models accordingly, enhancing the likelihood of long-term success and sustainability in a competitive environment.”

Orla Reynolds, Programme Manager at Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dún Laoghaire

“My recommendation to founders is to really understand the problem you’re solving and know your customer. Develop milestones and timelines: slowly is the only way to get somewhere quickly. Take time to methodically think through your options; look at where you are today, think about what you want the company to become, and begin to plot the steps necessary to achieve your goal. Everything will take longer than you think, and people will take a very long time to reply. Don’t stop moving forward. Even if it feels like you are going around in circles, that’s OK as long as you are spiralling up! Take time for yourself, too.  Remove your self-worth from the success or failure of the business.”

Nick Allen, Programme Manager at TUS – Athlone Campus

“For founders, learning how to acquire and retain customers is paramount. Steve Blank’s insight, often encapsulated in the simple yet profound model of ‘Get, Keep, and Grow’ customers, is a cornerstone in this area. For the early-stage business, the initial goal is to secure the first customer. This ‘Concierge’ customer, so named for their significance in representing the entire business at this stage, requires an unparalleled level of personal attention and service, a level that is challenging to maintain at scale. As the business grows, strategies to acquire and retain multiple customers need to be more streamlined, incorporating tools like CRM systems, sales teams, and efficient communication channels. However, the key takeaway for start-ups is to avoid getting bogged down in elaborate marketing strategies prematurely. Instead, the focus should be on the essentials: acquiring that first crucial customer, providing exceptional service to keep them, and finding ways to grow their value over time. This approach ensures a solid foundation upon which a business can build its future marketing and operational strategies.”

get keep and grow model from Steve BlankGemma Purcell, Programme Manager at SETU – Carlow Campus

“A valuable aspect of New Frontiers is group learning and peer interaction. The group brings together a blend of different skills, experience, and backgrounds. The peer-to-peer support is invaluable, as is the unique contribution each participant brings to the workshops. Being open and sharing expertise in the workshops is encouraged and is then reciprocated by peers in other workshops.”

Mary Casey, Programme Manager at TUS – Limerick Campus

“I would advise participants to approach the programme with a curious mind. Be curious, ask questions, listen intently and probe further so that you – as the leader – can make knowledge-powered decisions. This is the opportunity to investigate the business idea further, ensure you are creating an offering that people want and that they will pay for, making it commercially viable. Don’t be opposed to challenging your early assumptions. New Frontiers gives you the time to step back, carry out in-depth customer discovery by talking to customers to understand their needs, how they are fulfilling this right now, their challenges, their budgets, how they will benefit and achieve value from your offering. Continue being curious as you develop the first version of your product offering and your first business model. Be adaptable to change as you listen to your users’ feedback. New Frontiers opens a wide network to participants from facilitators, mentors, past participants, as well as other entrepreneurs, research centres, and agencies… Ask questions of them, seek advice, and leverage the wonderful startup ecosystem that surrounds you!”

Geraldine Beirne, Programme Manager at ATU – Donegal Letterkenny and Sligo Campuses

“Maximising the peer-to-peer network is a highly under-estimated benefit of participating in Phase 2 of the New Frontiers programme. It is so important to get to know your fellow entrepreneurs – exchange insights, share your challenges and solutions. Over the six months of the programme, you will get to know each other very well as you navigate the journey together. The learnings that the programme provides through the workshops and mentoring are, of course, invaluable in helping to make your business a success. But your peer-to-peer network adds another layer and can open doors to new opportunities. Leverage the diverse perspectives and experiences within your group – they will have a wide range of areas of expertise from marketing to finance, sector specific knowledge and a wide network of contacts that you can tap in to.”

Dr Eugene Crehan, Programme Manager at SETU – Waterford Campus

“Continuously refining your business plan and pitch deck, with the guidance and expertise of workshop facilitators and the New Frontiers team, is a pivotal aspect of laying the groundwork for your entrepreneurial journey. The business plan acts as a critical roadmap, guiding you through the complexities of launching your startup and strategising for customer acquisition. Its importance cannot be overstated, as it not only serves as a blueprint for your company’s direction and goals, but also as a dynamic document that evolves with your venture. Regular updates to your business plan and pitch deck are essential, ensuring they remain relevant and reflect the changing market dynamics and internal growth of your business. This process of constant refinement and adaptation is not just about maintaining a document; it’s about nurturing a living strategy that keeps your business aligned with its objectives and responsive to opportunities and challenges.”

Colm O’Maolmhuire, Programme Manager at TU Dublin – Blanchardstown Campus

“My advice to founders is learn to manage yourself. Create a structure or system to make the best use of your time and to track your progress. It may sound like six months is a long time, but it flies! It’s easy to relax in Month 1 (“Great, I got on the programme!”); however, if you do, it suddenly becomes a five-month programme. There’s lots to do, and the last month will be taken up with worrying about how you’re going to fund yourself afterwards. The successful founders realise you’re not about being on a programme – you’re about building a business. The best way to raise funding to keep the business going is to show you can deliver. And that’s why you need to use your time (and the support we give you) on Phase 2 wisely – so you can raise funding to grow a business you’ve already shown you can start. If you manage yourself and your time well during Phase 2, you will then have a stronger case to make by the end of it.”

Aoife McInerney, Programme Manager at MTU – Cork Campus

“An open mind will help you get the most from New Frontiers. YDKWYDK or ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ applies to all entrepreneurs, as does an immense pride in the business that you’re creating. New Frontiers is designed to support you to build your business by providing you with the time to really test your business model, access to experienced mentors, a supportive peer network AND by challenging assumptions you may have about your business. Realising that changes are needed can be tough, so to really benefit from the experience you’ve got to be ready to engage and participate with an open mind!”

New Frontiers is Enterprise Ireland’s national programme for startup founders. To learn more, read about the programme, check out the eligibility criteria, and find the application deadlines of your nearest programme.

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Enterprise Ireland’s PSSF Propels Your Startup From Promise To Powerhouse

Enterprise Ireland’s PSSF Propels Your Startup From Promise To Powerhouse

By New Frontiers blog

Enterprise Ireland’s PSSF Propels Your Startup From Promise To Powerhouse

The Enterprise Ireland Pre-Seed Start Fund (PSSF) provides investment of €50,000 or €100,000 (in two €50,000 tranches), plus access to a Development Advisor and supports from the agency such as 10 sessions with a mentor from the Enterprise Ireland panel, access to their Market Research Centre, and other appropriate supports to develop your business.

I spoke to Anna-Marie Turley, Department Manager for Entrepreneurship & HPSU Operations at Enterprise Ireland, to learn more about PSSF (which recently replaced Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund, or CSF) and why it is of particular interest to New Frontiers alumni.

PSSF is a springboard for ambitious startups

First things first. CSF has been retired, but PSSF is not simply CSF with a new name. There are four main differences worth highlighting:

  1. PSSF is not a competitive process. With CSF, you were scored across several areas and only the top scorers won funding. This is not the case with PSSF.
  2. PSSF is open all year round, unlike CSF which had a defined series of ‘calls’ which sometimes targeted specific groups or sectors. Applications to PSSF are accepted at any time and there are no deadlines. This is a really important difference because PSSF is all about timing, as we’ll discover below.
  3. You can apply for either €50,000 or €100,000 (which is split into two tranches of €50,000) in investment (CSF was €50,000).
  4. The funding is in the form of a convertible loan note (CSF was for a 10% equity stake in the business). Convertible notes, or CLNs, are a form of hybrid debt finance, where funders offer investment as an interest-bearing, repayable loan that converts into equity under certain circumstances (most commonly at a future qualifying funding round).

These are the differences, but the fundamental purpose of the fund is based on a similar premise to CSF, as Anna-Marie explains.

“PSSF is designed to accelerate the growth of early-stage startup companies with the capacity and ambition to succeed in global markets. The fund covers operational costs – development of market-ready products/solutions, market testing, building mission critical skillsets, etc. What we’re looking for is those fledgling innovative businesses that have the ability and drive to really scale.”

The money can be spent on salaries, travel, consultancy fees, and other expenditure, but not direct export aid costs such as sales and marketing and only a capped amount in legal fees. Startups can initiate the application process at any time, but Anna-Marie underlines that the timing must be right for the business.

This is not about getting the cash as quickly as possible and you’re not in a race to obtain this funding before someone else gets it. The absence of a ticking clock means that you can choose the optimal time to go for PSSF, at the moment it can do the most for the company and get you ready to raise significant seed funding.

The PSSF application process

The application process involves completing an application form on the Enterprise Ireland online application system and the submission of a video pitch.

The video pitch must be in PowerPoint format with a maximum duration of four minutes. That means slides plus a commentary, as though you were presenting in person. A really impactful pitch will take a while to prepare, so I recommend you start working on this in advance. Workshops are being organised to support you with this (see below). The PowerPoint should address:

  • Overview of the business and the opportunity (problem, solution, team, financials)
  • Management team (skills, gaps)
  • Use of the investment monies (specific technical milestones and commercial milestones)
  • Your future funding requirements and timelines for fundraising

It’s crucial that your application is clear on your technical and commercial milestones. The funding should get you to the point – ideally within 12 to 18 months – where you are able to attract further seed funding. Milestones will be how you know you are moving in that direction.

The online form will be fairly quick to submit, but remember you need to also upload the PowerPoint presentation within the 48 hours the system keeps your application open. Allow time to run into technical issues and fix them so that you don’t have to start all over again.

Formal assessment of the application is similar to the process used for CSF. Expect the panel to consider areas such as:

  • Company and promoter/team profile
  • Product/service and market opportunity
  • Business proposition
  • Product/service innovation
  • Ability to deliver on the key commercial and technical milestones

Although re-applications are possible, you are limited to three applications in any 12-month period.

Tips for the PSSF application process

You’re not alone on this journey. Business Innovation Centres (BICs) around the country and Furthr (formerly Dublin BIC) are running regular PSSF application support workshops and actively helping startups with the new application format. You can attend workshops in any region but will need to register. Upcoming workshops are listed on the Enterprise Ireland site.

What is Anna-Marie’s main advice for founders thinking of applying? “When preparing your application, pay a lot of attention to the technical and commercial milestones. These define how you’re going to get to the next stage, so they are really important in helping the panel assess your application. What are you going to spend the money on and over what timeframe?”

Companies with a minimum viable product (MVP) or Beta are going to have an advantage over those that are still at the idea stage. This is why PSSF is the ideal next step for companies coming out of the New Frontiers programme and where we expect many of our alumni will turn next. Since this fund was launched, 40% of successful applicants have been New Frontiers alumni. The programme is an excellent preparation for this stage of startup growth.

“Work with Local Enterprise Offices, apply to programmes like New Frontiers, and get your startup to the stage where you are ready to push forward towards a seed round within 18 months. That’s the sweet spot that PSSF is for. But be clear on what your steppingstones are and plan ahead so that this funding comes at the right time.”

Anna-Marie explains that the assessment is not weighted against first-time entrepreneurs.

“Track record is one thing, but knowledge of an area or sector is another. If you’ve come out of a multinational in that area or have applicable academic expertise, for example, that is considered as part of your track record. You don’t have to be a serial entrepreneur. But we are looking at the team as a whole and not just the promoter, so your collective accomplishments matter.”

What is an ideal PSSF company?

While this is not a competitive process, there is of course a very serious evaluation of each application to ensure that the startups getting funding have a strong likelihood of becoming Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start-Up companies (HPSUs).

HPSUs have very strong export potential and are capable of generating revenues of over €1 million per year within three years and/or employing more than 10 people. Therefore, HPSUs typically have a strong element of innovation in their product/service, a team with strong domain knowledge, and the kind of business plan that means they will very soon need to raise significant investment as they accelerate their international growth.

The company must be classed as a manufacturing or internationally traded services business, within which criterion a wide range of sectors are included. As with any Enterprise Ireland support, there are some excluded sectors such as gambling, adult entertainment, tobacco, and military. To apply for PSSF, the company must be less than four years old and revenues should be under €150,000 that year or in any previous year.

What would preclude a startup from being able to apply to PSSF? There is also a ceiling of €150,000 in funding raised from external sources. If you have raised more than this, you may not be eligible to apply. A comprehensive list of all the qualifying and disqualifying factors can be found on the PSSF page on the Enterprise Ireland website. There is also an FAQ downloadable from the EI website.

Get ready for PSSF investment

PSSF is a welcome bridge for those startups that are still early stage but need investment to really start flourishing. At that point, raising private equity can be a huge challenge. If you have the ambition to take your startup global, it makes sense to build PSSF investment into your strategic roadmap. However, don’t be pre-emptive with your application! Make sure your MVP is strong, that you have a great team around you, and that you have identified your international expansion and employment potential.

If you’re interested in the PSSF, it’s a good idea to start by having a conversation with your New Frontiers, Local Enterprise Office, or Enterprise Ireland advisor. Interested in reading more? Check out this recent article by Anna-Marie Turley in the Independent and the full fund details on the Enterprise Ireland website.

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

New Frontiers Alumni Case Study Adrienne Magnier and Zarasyl

Alumni Profiles: Adrienne Magnier and Zarasyl

By New Frontiers blog

New Frontiers Alumni Case Study Adrienne Magnier and Zarasyl

Adrienne Magnier’s startup story is one of a serendipitous business opportunity followed up by five years of hard work. Her company, Zarasyl, has created a “miracle cream” for horses and companion animals. Read on to discover how Adrienne charted her path to international success.

Adrienne previously worked in software development, bringing software products to the health and human services market. This meant she already had a deep understanding of what it takes to develop and deliver a product to market and work with customers on a global scale. Adrienne’s husband is involved in the thoroughbred horse business in County Meath, so the couple were around horses every day.

Around five years ago, they were introduced to the technology behind Zarasyl. The formulation was the result of a decade of research at Cambridge University (UK) and was initially developed for human use. Adrienne and her husband knew that a few people had been using the cream on animals, and decided this was a business opportunity worth further exploration.

Starting small with some initial batches of samples, they started to use Zarasyl on the farm and trialled it with a group of local vets and horse owners. The feedback was really positive! From initial research, Adrienne decided to bring this technology market. She focused on the regulatory and compliance requirements involved in bringing the first product, an equine barrier cream. Zarasyl Equine was launched to the market in August 2019 – initially in Ireland and then expanding into the UK.

“From the outset when you look at what you have to do to bring something to market in a space like this, it’s overwhelming. And as a business owner, you wear so many hats on any given day – regulatory, operations, sales, marketing, financial… You must focus on them all to be a success. That’s why New Frontiers was a great programme to be on. It looks at all those skills and how they come together.”

But what is Zarasyl exactly? It’s based on novel silicate technology.  Silicon is the third most common trace element in mammals and is essential for healthy connective tissue growth.  Zarasyl provides the ultimate healing environment – a barrier that is breathable and highly moisturising. The cream is also steroid-free and antibiotic-free, making it very safe for animals and owners.

Zarasyl Equin The Miracle CreamBecause Zarasyl is a new product, buyers may not know what it does, how it works, or why it’s so effective. This means that Adrienne’s first step in selling the product would typically mean a visit to the veterinary surgery, farm, or horse yard to have a face-to-face discussion with the buyer. These trips became impossible during Covid-19, so Adrienne turned her attention to the USA, reaching out to buyers individually and asking if they would like to trial the product.

This is how Adrienne painstakingly grew her base in the USA. Once restrictions had been lifted, she was able to start attending US conferences and trade shows. In time, word of mouth gained momentum and people started getting in touch with the company directly. Today, a host of leading equestrians and veterinary surgeons – both here and in America – use and endorse the product.

“A team of veterinary surgeons at Cornell University who came across Zarasyl were so enthusiastic about the product that they instigated a study. A paper has just been approved for publication in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine and will be published quite soon.”

The company’s second product is for companion animals and launched in January this year. Adrienne has managed to really leverage organic growth and word of mouth in growing her business, with a continued focus on educating vets about the products. Zarasyl is listed by three of the four largest veterinary distributors in the US, which is a fantastic result in such a short time.

One of the most important things about Zarasyl is the absence of antibiotics and steroids. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is working hard to tackle the use of antibiotics because antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today. In addition, any animal that competes is subject to very tight anti-doping and controlled medication restrictions, limiting what can be used to treat them.

Skin problems such as dermatitis are one of the most common reasons for dogs to be taken to the vet, and lots of other domesticated animals suffer from skin issues. Zarasyl is a novel product that’s very safe for pets, as well as their owners, when their skin is compromised.

But even novel products need a solid business behind them to succeed. Having decided to leave her job and focus on the startup full-time, Adrienne applied to New Frontiers. She joined the programme at Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) – Athlone Campus, arriving just before the end of Phase 1. She found the programme, and the financial stipend, very helpful during that period.

“New Frontiers provides a good team environment while you’re working on becoming a rounded business owner. The other participants come from different backgrounds and are building different businesses, but you feel you’re all in it together! There is great structure to the programme and the access to experts is very valuable. You really feel like you’re with people who have your back and want you to succeed. The support is what I would call realistic but positive.”

Adrienne’s team up to now has mainly been composed of consultants and advisors, but now that Zarasyl is an Enterprise Ireland High Potential Startup (HPSU), she is working on her first hires. She has licenced the global rights to the Zarasyl technology, so her ultimate goal is to be in every vet’s dermatology toolbox around the world. She is focused on continued growth in the US market and other markets are opening up on a weekly basis. She is also focused on the product roadmap based on the underlying novel technology.

Adrienne’s approach to product validation and marketing has really paid off. Her advice to other startup entrepreneurs embarking on this stage of the business is to be mindful of rushing ahead too quickly.

“Don’t try to be all things to all people. You may have various potential markets, but you won’t have the budget to go after all of them at once. Rather than diluting your reach, stay laser-focused on your route to market. We launched our second product recently and for now we are concentrating primarily on veterinary surgeries as our route to market, which includes educating vets about Zarasyl and why/when it’s the right choice. You can’t take on everywhere at once.”

To learn more about Zarasyl, visit https://zarasyl.ie/

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Take The Fear Out Of Networking & Start Making Real Connections New Frontiers

How To Take The Fear Out Of Networking & Start Making Real Connections

By New Frontiers blog

Take The Fear Out Of Networking & Start Making Real Connections New Frontiers

Networking is a critical component of building a successful startup. As a founder, you’ll need to connect with potential investors, adopters, collaborators, customers, suppliers, mentors, and partners in order to grow your business. These relationships are the lifeblood of a growing business, because, in the words of Porter Gale, “Your network is your net worth.”

Networking is one of those tactics you’ll find on every founder’s to-do list, yet few of us do it really well. While you may dream of sweeping into every room like an extrovert on a sugar high riding a unicorn, the cold reality is that the typical business person finds networking intimidating and overwhelming. If you’re also new to the startup world, this feeling is only magnified.

In this blog post, we’ll share some tips and best practices for startup founders looking to improve their networking skills. To help us in this task, we solicited some inside tips from Jane Manzor of Manzor Marketing, who is one of the experts that regularly trains New Frontiers participants.

Top tips for good quality networking

TL;DR? If you’re looking for a quick fix for your networking strategy, here are our top tips for a winning networking strategy:

  1. Know your audience: Research the attendees and organisations that will be present. Tailor your message and approach to each person you meet.
  2. Have a clear elevator pitch: Clearly communicate your value proposition and differentiators. Be prepared to adjust it based on who you are talking to.
  3. Be authentic: Be yourself and don’t try to be something you’re not. People can tell when you’re not being genuine, and it can hurt your credibility.
  4. Listen more than you talk: Ask open-ended questions and listen actively to what the other person is saying. This will help you build relationships and gain insights.
  5. Follow up: After the event, follow up with the people you met. Send a personalised message and, if appropriate, set up a follow-up meeting or call to discuss potential opportunities.
  6. Be patient: Networking is a long-term game. Building strong relationships takes time, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Keep attending events and building your network over time.
  7. Provide value: Look for opportunities to help the people you meet. Offer to make introductions, share resources, or provide insights that might be useful to them. By providing value, you’ll build trust and strengthen your network.
  8. Build: Remember, networking is about building relationships, so focus on creating genuine connections with the people you meet.

Who’s afraid of networking events?

For startup founders, Jane says the main thing is to simply put yourself out there. There are lots of reasons to feel nervous about this as we (nearly) all have a reluctance to venture outside of our comfort zones. Maybe you’re new to networking, get awkward around new people, or feel the tug of imposter syndrome. It can be comforting to remember that most of the people there will be feeling the exact same way!

How to bring your networking a-game

Ready to dive in? Jane recommends that you, “Establish your ‘Why?’ before anything else. You need to understand what you are selling, what your brand proposition is, and what you want out of the networking opportunity. As an early-stage promoter, you may be looking for your first customers or for investment. Think about who the people you are trying to reach are and where they are likely to be spending their time. Those are the events you need to target first.”

Beware of jumping into networking before you have adequately prepared. Jane tells us, “I started going to networking events a little too early. I hadn’t finished working on my Why? and I felt unprepared. So, I took a step back and got all that clear in my mind, working on my ‘Three Ps’ of prepare, practice, pitch. Then I started networking again and it felt completely different.”

Jane’s Three Ps of networking

You can, of course, rock up to an event without any planning whatsoever. You could also set sail for America with no map, compass, or clue how boats work. But there’s also a good chance you won’t ever arrive! If you prefer method over madness, try Jane’s approach:

Prepare

Work on clarifying your customer, your brand, and your why. Make a shortlist of the networking opportunities you want to go after (you won’t be able to go to every single networking event, so prioritise the ones with the most potential). You’ll want to adapt your approach to the type of meeting/event you are going to, so make sure you have a plan. Design and print your business cards.

Practice

The elevator pitch isn’t just a theoretical exercise. If someone asked, “What do you do?” would you be able to give a succinct and clear explanation of what your company is all about? You should be able to sum it up in a few sentences by way of introduction. Practice in front of the mirror, your friends, and your colleagues. But remember, practicing doesn’t mean memorising every element of your pitch – do that and your introduction could sound robotic, if not downright creepy!

Pitch

If you feel anxious about attending these events, it’s a great idea to go along with someone you know, such as a peer or colleague. But don’t stick to them like glue. Once you’re in the room, it’s time to divide and conquer. We’ve all seen groups of friend/colleagues stay together for an entire event, but this is counterproductive as they don’t tend to interact with anyone else and no one feels like trying to break into their circle.

If you manage to stick to the Three Ps, you’ll hopefully come away from the event with two or three business cards of people you are genuinely excited to have a longer conversation with.

Invest in physical business cards

If you’re serious about networking, get yourself some quality business cards. While there is a move by many to use digital business cards, some of which are very cool, a physical card is a cost-effective investment. You can use options in card type, printing methods, and finish to create a card that truly reflects your brand. There are lots of eco-friendly materials and ink products available now to ensure your cards are sustainable. If you’re looking for a way to really stand out, get inspiration from the many fun and creative business cards that have been created by brands over the years. Because they are a physical object, there’s a good chance people will hold on to them, keeping you top of mind. Oh, and they’re quite handy for giving someone your phone number and email address :)

If you hate the idea of physical cards, check out the wide variety of digital solutions out there, which range from phone-to-phone contact sharing to personal landing pages to lead generation sites.

Which events should you go to?

Networking opportunities come in every shape and size. Whether you’re looking for a pure networking experience or prefer to network more casually at talks, shows, conferences, and trade fairs, it’s important to find what’s right for you.

You may favour bigger or smaller events, ones attracting a local or international crowd, or centred around a niche sector versus general business interests. Do your research and profile who is likely to attend the different events on your radar so you can pick the most suitable ones. You can often look at the guest list in advance, allowing you to prep further by identifying the people you most want to speak to.

Organisations such as the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland, ISME, and the SFA hold all kinds of events across the year. There are also trade associations operating in niche sectors or industries that host events. If you are bootstrapping, the good news is that lots of networking opportunities are free. While some organisations such as the LEO Women in Business Networks, Chambers of Commerce, or BNI chapters have membership fees, you can often attend one or two events as a guest first.

Jane also recommends conferences for those on a budget, as there are lots of free conferences around the country, many of which are sector specific. Once you know how to get value from the events you’re attending, it makes sense to go to paid networking events or join membership organisations.

Final networking takeaways

If you feel underprepared, don’t panic. It isn’t usually possible to communicate everything you want to during a short introduction, so just keep things simple. Better to leave people intrigued and wanting to know more than to drown them in thousands of facts. When you follow up and meet them again, you’ll have time to expand on some of the details.

If social anxiety is your biggest roadblock, Jane has the following advice. “Fear of the unknown is a big problem in networking. How to break the ice? How to get talking to someone? How to relax? Some easy ways to get over this are to introduce yourself to a group rather than an individual (join an open circle, say hi, and take it from there). When you first approach someone, use casual social openings to strike up a conversation (for example, compliment someone’s handbag or mention a recent sporting event). Whatever you do, don’t just march up and hand someone a business card!”

If you’re not enjoying these events because of the pressure to sell, Jane has some great insights. “Everyone is selling at networking events. You can relieve some of the pressure by focussing on finding out about other people instead of pitching to them. Talk less and listen more. Ask for the person’s business card. You’ll typically have a chance to talk about yourself at some point, and you’ll discover if there are possible synergies there. Make sure to follow up and find another opportunity to connect so that you can build the relationship from there.”

Networking can be a daunting task, but it can also be a powerful tool for achieving your startup goals. By staying authentic, looking for genuine synergies, and giving value, you can build strong relationships with people who are pivotal to your startup journey. Networking is a long-term game, so be patient and persistent. It takes time and effort to build strong relationships, but the rewards are huge!

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

To Be A Good Leader, You Need To Be A Good Communicator - New Frontiers

To Be A Good Leader, You Need To Be A Good Communicator

By New Frontiers blog

To Be A Good Leader, You Need To Be A Good Communicator - New Frontiers

Every blog about being a successful entrepreneur discusses the value of good leadership. But what does it mean to be a good leader? One of the defining characteristics of business visionaries seems to be their ability to build relationships. We spoke to one of the New Frontiers regional trainers, Frank C Guy, a leadership and performance coach with extensive experience in this area. How does he approach this area of leadership and relationships?

Frank sums up his philosophy in the mantra, If you want to improve results, build relationships. If you want to build relationships, improve the conversations. When people on the front-line aren’t doing a good job, it’s often because leadership aren’t giving them the right help or support. In Frank’s view, “This tends to be because communication in business is either not happening or is happening badly. There’s a belief that if you just sit down and have a chat with someone about an issue, it will somehow resolve itself. In reality, for conversations to be truly productive, they much be approached with far more intention and skill.”

Turning organisational structure on its head

One of the first things Frank does when working with startup founders is get them to change their traditional thinking about how an organisation is structured. He advises that we turn the hierarchical pyramid – where the bosses are at the top and the workers are at the bottom – on its head. The chart he uses (below) places the directors and shareholders at the bottom, because it’s their job to support the rest of the organisation. If you look at organisations in this way, you also start to question the language we use about organisations, which is very top-down and directional (phrases like ‘moving up the ladder’, ‘a sideways move’, ‘being demoted down’ are everyday business parlance).
Alternative organisational hierarchy - Frank C Guy

Build relationships, one conversation at a time

Once you start thinking about the leadership role as being one of support, you can see how crucial relationship building is. And at the heart of this lies communication.

As Frank says, “A leader communicating with their team may be having any of three different types of conversation: leading conversations, performance conversations, or coaching conversations. To be effective, leaders need to be aware of what approach they are taking and decide which is best in any given situation. I use the metaphor that a leader wears a different hat depending on what type of conversation they are having.”

What are the main characteristics of these three conversation types?

Leading conversations are about involving people

You may talk about topics such as: Where we are going? What is our purpose? Where do different people fit in? What is a person’s significance? These conversations could happen during one-to-ones or in team meetings. These conversations are how you get people engaged.

Performance conversations are about success

You may talk about topics such as: These are your targets. Are you meeting your goals? Do you need support? Let’s review your KPIs. These conversations are what people managers spend a lot of time on, but they aren’t really leadership conversations.

Coaching conversations are about questioning and listening

These vital conversations are about letting the individuals on your team work things out for themselves. Generally, people have the answers, as long as you give them the means to work out what they need to do. Coaching conversations empower people to bring you solutions rather than problems.

“There is another type of conversation that happens in business but is not a leadership conversation. Feedback. Typically, we neither ask for feedback nor give it because it is so often negative. We’re just not doing it well. But, if you can get feedback right – whether you are trying to improve someone or encourage them – you can use feedback as a tactic for build great relationships.”

Different approaches in conversations

There is a sliding scale for conversations that goes from non-directive at one end to directive at the other. Frank recommends always taking a non-directive approach, if possible. Directive approaches will be necessary in business, of course. There are situations where you have to provide instructions on the correct way to carry out a task or tell someone what you need them to do. But coaching lives at the other, non-directive, end of the scale.

“Coaching conversations are about repeated questioning and listening and reflecting back what you are hearing. If you’re coaching someone, and you think they can work out a problem for themselves, don’t advise them and don’t instruct them. If they don’t manage to arrive at a solution, then you might ask a question along the lines of ‘I wonder what would happen if…’ which is a suggestion they can take as their own and hopefully make a breakthrough with.”

Questioning and listening aren’t skills we are taught, so most of us aren’t particularly good at either. During a conversation, we’re often just waiting for an opportunity to jump in and show off our own brilliance. Steven Covey describes this phenomenon as listening “with the intent to reply, not to understand” in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Leaders need to train themselves to listen better so they can have more effective conversations.

Advice for questioning and listening during conversations

In a startup business, you will bring people in to work with you who need help and support to deliver what you need. Franck encourages founders to have real conversations with their team on a regular basis, allowing them to work through issues. You may need to have performance conversations with these employees, and that’s fine. But a lot of the time, the non-directive approach is best, helping people to feel empowered and autonomous. This is really important for motivation, which will be key to building a successful business.

There are also lots of conversations that need to happen with people outside the startup. Imagine a scenario where you meet with a potential customer. You’ll probably be tempted to launch into a pitch along the lines of here’s my product/service, this is what it does, and these are the benefits. It’s called the tell-and-sell method. Frank recommends a different approach. Spend more time trying to understand what’s going on with the other person: What do they know? What do they really need? What are their wants? You can use this information to make them a more tailored offer.

“Because we aren’t taught to listen, we tend to interrupt, get distracted, make assumptions, change the topic, or rush people. My advice to founders is to ask the right questions and then consciously listen to the answers. If you’re not sure if you were doing it right, just ask yourself who was doing most of the talking. If it was you, that conversation won’t bring you the best results. This applies to all the conversations you have as a leader, whether with your team, suppliers, investors, etc.

It’s about building relationships and influencing people. When you listen with full attention, people feel understood, then they feel respected. People want respect; when you give them this you are fulfilling a basic human need. It’s a vital element of building trust, which is the ultimate goal.”

Frank’s guidance for questioning

  • At the start of a conversation, start questions with What…? and How…? You can also use the alternative opener of Tell me…
  • As a conversation progresses and you want to refine your questioning, you might start questions with When…? Where…? Which…? and Who…?
  • Don’t start questions with Why…? It’s a very confrontational question that puts people on the defensive and forces them to justify their actions. Imagine being in a meeting and someone asking, “Why are you wearing that shirt?” Ouch! Now imagine the person asks, “How do you decide what to wear in the morning?” This question doesn’t cause the same reaction at all.
  • Try to ask questions for which there isn’t a Yes or No answer. Ask open questions that allow people to express themselves fully.
  • Keep your questions short and sweet. Some examples are What’s up? What happened? How come? These kinds of question help you to keep the conversation flowing while allowing you to dig further. If your questions are really long, everyone will lose the thread.

Frank’s guidance for listening

  • What makes you a good listener is genuine curiosity. If you aren’t truly seeking to learn and understand the other person, your conversations won’t give you real value.
  • Focus ALL your attention on the other person. Resist all those reasons to get distracted – both external and internal
  • Maintain eye contact (only important for listeners)
  • Give the person time to respond and don’t interrupt. Remember the acronym WAIT: Why Am I Talking?
  • Bring a conversation to life by looping back or mirroring in three ways:
    i) repeat a word or two to show the person you heard what they said;
    ii) repeat back in your own words what you’re hearing (a paraphrase); and
    iii) summarise what you heard back to them to confirm you have understood correctly.
  • Don’t take notes! You cannot listen fully and take notes at the same time. Also, looking down to write note means you are no longer maintaining eye contact. If there is something you MUST record, ask for a pause in the conversation so that you can do so.

As you can see, communication skills can help leaders to foster a culture of trust, understanding, and collaboration. The methods Frank describes may not come naturally to everyone, but they can be learned. Effective conversations are a crucial aspect of leadership, and investing time and effort in this area will have an immediate effect on you and those around you.

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Customer discovery helps you build products services that people want

Customer Discovery Helps You Build Products/Services That People Want

By New Frontiers blog

Customer discovery helps you build products services that people want

Most startup founders are familiar with the concept of idea validation. In fact, Phase 1 of New Frontiers is all about helping entrepreneurs to validate their startup idea and get them to a go/no-go decision. Idea validation can be summed up as finding out if people want what you are planning to build – i.e., if it’s a viable product/service that’s worth further investment.

But there’s another area of early-stage research that is too often forgotten or neglected by startup founders, and that’s what we want to look at today. Customer discovery provides a more in-depth understanding of the needs and preferences of potential customers, which helps inform product or service development. By conducting customer discovery, founders can ensure that their product or service idea is aligned with the needs of their target market, increasing the chances of success. Let’s look at what’s involved.

What is customer discovery?

Customer discovery is a process for understanding potential customers and the problems they are trying to solve. This involves conducting research and interviews with potential customers to gather information about their needs, pain points, and preferences. The goal of customer discovery is to validate the assumptions you are making about the target market, and to identify potential areas for change and improvement.

Customer discovery has many benefits for a business. The top ones are that it helps you to understand the needs and preferences of potential customers, uncover possible challenges and obstacles that may present themselves, and cement early relationships with potential customers who can help kickstart sales and marketing.

If you’re looking to develop your own discovery process, here are some steps you might start with:

  1. Define the problem or need you are trying to solve: Before starting, be clear about the problem or need that the startup is trying to address. This will help you focus your research and interviews on gathering information about the specific needs of your potential customers.
  2. Identify potential customers to interview: Identify people who are likely to have that problem or need. This can be done through, for example, research and networking.
  3. Conduct interviews with potential customers: These interviews can be in-person, over the phone, or through online surveys. During the interviews, you should ask questions about the potential customer’s needs, pain points, preferences, and other relevant information.
  4. Collate and analyse the data collected: Look for patterns and trends in the data and identify common themes and insights.
  5. Use the insights to inform development: This can involve making changes to the product, adjusting the business model, or developing a new marketing strategy. By incorporating the insights from customer discovery, you can better meet the needs of potential customers and improve its chances of success.
  6. Iterate and continue the process: Customer discovery is not a one-time process. As the startup continues to develop and grow, you should continue to conduct customer discovery to gather new insights and make ongoing improvements to your product or service.

Getting customer discovery right

Daniel Kyne at the Product Management Festival 2021

Daniel Kyne at the Product Management Festival 2021

We spoke to Daniel Kyne, co-founder and CEO of OpinionX, a research tool that enables qualitative research at scale so that companies can find their product/market fit faster. Daniel is a New Frontiers alumnus and also trains New Frontiers cohorts to improve their own customer discovery processes. He is something of a nerd in the area of actionable user research strategies, so who better to bring the theory to life for us!

According to Daniel, one of the best places to start if you are new to this concept is The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. This book addresses a lot of the misconceptions people have about customer conversations. Typically, people think customer interviewing boils down to creating a giant PowerPoint, making people watch it, and then asking, “Would you like this product/service?” Research proves that, if you do this, you will tend to just get people agreeing with you (beware of flattery during this process!). Partly this is because people don’t want to hurt your feelings by saying, “This doesn’t seem like a good idea,” or, “I wouldn’t want this.”

The Mom Test takes you though some basic principles to avoid ending up in that situation. The key takeaways are that you should never use customer discovery interviews to tell people what your idea is or pitch them your product. Instead, you should focus on their lives and their problems – diving into the stories that give you all the context and details needed to really understand real-world examples of the problem. It’s also important that you don’t look at hypothetical scenarios, but actual examples of when the situation you are discussing happened.

As Daniel points out, customer discovery is the wider context of idea validation. It’s about finding the right combination of ingredients that can go together to build a successful business. Done right, it should answer questions like:

  • Who the customer is
  • What problem you are trying to solve
  • How their life will be better once you solve that problem

As a concept, customer discovery really revolves around interviews. There are lots of great resources out there to help you get to grips with what good interviewing looks like, how to find people for interviewing, and most importantly what to ask/not ask. It’s a skill you can learn with just a little effort and practice.

Using customer discovery to prioritise problems

But uncovering problems isn’t the end of the process. It’s vital to understand how much of a priority the problem really is. This is an area of particular interest for Daniel, which he really started to investigate after seeing a tweet from Shreyas Doshi of Stripe, who was working directly with founders Patrick and John Collison.

Shreyas broke down the principles covered in The Mom Test, where founders or product managers try to use interviews to validate that the problem they are trying to solve exists. Described like this, it sounds like this is focusing on the right thing. But Shreyas showed that building a successful startup/product isn’t JUST about solving a problem for someone, you need to know that the problem is high up on their list too. If you are solving a problem that is only a mild inconvenience, people may not care enough about the solution!

Daniel says, “It’s not enough that you’re solving a problem. You want to be solving a ‘hair on fire’ kind of problem. This is the most missed element of idea validation. The way to do this is through what we call customer problem stack ranking, which is a survey technique to find out what really matters to people by getting them to prioritise problems. Once you know this, you are developing products/services with high impact that people will want.”

Getting started with customer discovery

How does Daniel suggest founders start discovering what people care about? It starts with asking yourself why this problem happens and what solutions people are using at the moment. For lots of founders on Phase 1 and even Phase 2 of New Frontiers, the challenge is to park their assumptions far off to one side, go back to the beginning, and re-validate everything they know. There’s a framework called the startup bow tie that you can use for doing this:

  • Stage 1: persona (who is the customer), problem (what is the need), purpose (why does the problem need solving), product (the proposed MVP), positioning (understanding the context), and proposition (value proposition)
  • Stage 2: pull
  • Stage 3: model, medium, and market

Stages 1 and 2 of the bow tie framework are what happen before you gain traction. This is what occurs before you get the combination of ingredients that resonates with people and that people react to in a way that shows there is real need. At the early stages of the bow tie, a lot depends on your ability to interview well, because this is external information that you need to access. You can’t influence results much at this point, as you are still collecting data and insights. It’s at Stage 3 of the bow tie that you have the chance to turn insights into action and results. Daniel recommends checking out the breakdown of how this works in his article, Deconstructing WeatherBill’s $930M Startup Pivot.

As you can see, customer discovery is an essential part of any successful product or business strategy. By conducting interviews and surveys with potential customers, you will gather valuable perspectives that can help you create more effective products that are in tune with your customers’ needs and preferences. In addition, you’ll have an advantage when it comes to positioning your solution in the market and selling it to prospective clients!

Daniel Kyne is the Co-Founder and CEO of OpinionX, a research tool for ranking people’s priorities that’s used by thousands of teams at companies like Google, Amazon, and Shopify. Prior to OpinionX, Daniel was a Digital & Innovation Lead at Unilever UK, a Global Facilitator for Techstars Europe, Head of Speakers and Startups at Dublin Tech Summit, and a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum. He writes about actionable user research strategies for product teams and startup founders on his newsletter The Full-Stack Researcher.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Start your business idea with New Frontiers Phase 1 - Martina Goss

New Frontiers Phase 1: Start Your Business Off On The Right Foot

By New Frontiers blog

Start your business idea with New Frontiers Phase 1 - Martina Goss

In this blog, former Programme Manager Martina Goss explains how to maximise the opportunities available to you on Phase 1 of New Frontiers.

So you have the innovative business idea and received the good news that you have secured your place on Phase 1 of New Frontiers. Now the fun begins – it’s time to start validating the commercial potential of your idea. But with so many things to do, how can you ensure that you maximise the use of your time on Phase 1 and ensure you are on the right track towards validating your idea to arrive at a go/no go decision? Here are some points to consider to help you stay focused on what matters most.                        

The three stages of a startup

Whether you are just starting out as a first-time founder or are a serial entrepreneur, there’s a chance you may have heard of the three stages of a startup: problem/solution fit, product/market fit and scale. As you begin your entrepreneurial journey, think of New Frontiers Phase 1 as a great resource for helping you navigate towards problem/solution fit. Simply put, think of this as the point you arrive at when you have a potential solution to a market problem – a problem that has been validated with a small group of early customers, also known as ‘early adopters’. If you try skipping the problem/solution fit stage it will soon catch up with you – possibly when you launch your product only to find out that nobody wants it, or is willing to pay for it…

Your journey to problem/solution fit will involve you having to test a number of assumptions about your business model, ensuring that your proposed product is desirable (customers want it), viable (customers are willing to pay for it) and feasible (you can actually build it).

ensuring that your proposed product is desirable (customers want it), viable (customers are willing to pay for it) and feasible (you can actually build it)The innovator mindset

So, where do you start? As the founder of your startup, a good place to start is to look inward and ensure you are starting with the right “innovator’s mindsets“. Ash Maurya, the creator of the popular one-page business modelling tool the Lean Canvas and CEO & founder of Leanstack, has created a list of these known as the 10 Continuous Innovation Mindsets. Aptly, first and foremost, mindset number 1 is “Love the Problem, Not Your Solution”.

“Love the Problem, Not Your Solution”

Sometimes, for a founder or innovator, this mindset can be particularly hard to embrace, especially if you have already spent a huge amount of time, money and energy building out your solution without having first done any problem discovery work with potential customers.

Embracing this mindset is critical because it ensures that you are actually solving a market problem – ideally, one that has a large market opportunity and is financially worth solving.  There is a reason the word problem appears at the first stage of a startup. After jotting down your business idea on a Lean Canvas, one of your first steps should be to conduct problem discovery interviews with different customer segments in your target market.

Problem discovery interviews are critical for allowing you to gain insights and a deep understanding of the problems and pains that customers are experiencing with their current solutions (i.e. your true competition). Having this knowledge helps to shape the design of your solution and allows the innovator and entrepreneur within you to build something of value, which is 10x better than the way it is currently being done today. Getting traction and paying customers is the ultimate goal of any start-up, and to get there you need to ensure you are building something that customers want and are willing to pay for.

Phase 1 of New Frontiers is a fantastic opportunity for you to test your idea in a safe environment surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs. This short phase is not just about attending workshops and subsequently making a Phase 2 application, it is all about applying the knowledge and advice you are being exposed to and using it to help you validate your idea with the market, allowing you to move towards a go or no-go decision about your idea.

Getting the most from Phase 1

With everything you’ve just read in mind, here are my 10 tips for your New Frontiers Phase 1 journey:

  1. Dream big but start small. Balance your long-term ambition with the now. Big dreams start with small actions – commit 100% to completing the necessary market validation work.
  2. Fully engage with the Phase 1 programme and resources offered. Facilitators and programme managers are there to support you. Asking questions is free.
  3. Set aside time weekly for the validation work described above, which may require you to put in additional hours in the evenings and the weekends. This is when focusing your energy on what matters most becomes critical.
  4. If you don’t already, try getting into the habit of setting small goals and staying accountable to them. Start acting in order of priority. It is very easy to get distracted into further building out your solution, but if you haven’t conducted enough customer problem discovery interviews you need to re-focus. Learn to say no to other distractions.
  5. Drop your need for perfection. Idea validation is a time for exploration and curiosity. Be curious, agile and adaptive. Ask big questions.
  6. Use the insights, evidence and feedback that you are getting from the market to adapt, pivot or reshape your thinking about your business model and possible solution.
  7. If you do not come from a business or commercial background, don’t fret. Accept that learning is all part of the New Frontiers entrepreneur development process.
  8. Starting a new business can be stressful and lonely so ensure you seek the support of family members or friends. If you are lucky to have a co-founder, team members or advisors be sure to get them on board and involved.
  9. Understand the criteria and expectations of a New Frontiers Phase 2 application.
  10. If at the end of Phase 1, you decide your idea is a no-go but you are still passionate about start-ups, you can always apply the knowledge and skills you have learned elsewhere. The transferable skills will be valuable for other business opportunities, or you could join another Irish startup (they are always looking for co-founders!)

Going beyond Phase 1

If, by the end of Phase 1, you have uncovered a problem worth solving and are starting to see early signs of traction, a natural next step in progression would be to continue your New Frontiers journey by applying for Phase 2. Phase 2 is a competitive process, so the more you have validated and de-risked your business model and assumptions in Phase 1, the better equipped you are for making a good Phase 2 application (there are other selection criteria for Phase 2 and you will receive further guidance on this during Phase 1). It may be the case that you may have a limited window between the completion of Phase 1 and submitting an application for Phase 2, so you need to be fully engaged and committed to the Phase 1 validation process. Use your time wisely – invest it, don’t spend it!

Securing a place on New Frontiers Phase 2 will open up a host of invaluable supports for your startup. For example, the financial support of a €15,000 tax-free stipend, expert-led workshops, personalised mentorship, access to Institute/University facilities, investor pitching panels, widening of your commercial networks and – critically – being on a programme funded by Enterprise Ireland (ranked first globally by PitchBook in terms of venture capital funding deal counts). New Frontiers really can create new beginnings and new opportunities for your startup.

Next Steps

If you have a potentially innovative idea lurking in your head, take the first step today by finding your nearest incubation centre and registering your interest in their next New Frontiers programme. Don’t let your ideas go to waste. 2022 could be your year. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Best of luck!

About the author

Martina Goss Dundalk New Frontiers ProgrammeMartina Goss

Martina Goss was previously the New Frontiers Programme Manager at Dundalk Institute of Technology (Regional Development Centre) and Dublin City University (DCU Invent). She is a certified lean startup coach with Ash Maurya (creator of the popular one-page business modelling tool Lean Canvas) and coaches on his 90 Day Start-Up programme.

Martina is a qualified chartered accountant, having spent 20+ years working with business owners across a wide range of industries. She runs her own startup training, coaching and consulting business offering supports in the areas of Lean Canvas, customer discovery interviews, financial modelling and finances for startups.

She is a practising member with The One Thing – the company behind the Wall Street Journal’s best-selling business book of the same name. The One Thing focuses on the surprisingly simple truth behind achieving extraordinary results.

New Frontiers Common startup mistakes entrepreneurs

Have you made any of these common startup mistakes?

By New Frontiers blog

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-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

5 powerful habits of successful business leaders new frontiers

5 Powerful Habits Of Successful Business Leaders

By New Frontiers blog

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-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

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

Small business secrets for improving your SEO ranking

By New Frontiers blog

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-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

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

The big business trends to watch out for in 2020

By New Frontiers blog

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-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

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!

By New Frontiers blog

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-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

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

By New Frontiers blog

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 and New Frontiers alumnus. He is the co-founder of award-winning tech startup, Equine MediRecord.

Pierce is an ex-professional rugby player having played with Leinster Development and then the US professional rugby league, which is now called Major League Rugby. He won a rugby scholarship to Trinity College, where he completed his Bachelor’s in Political Science and History while a member of the Trinity Rugby Team, which won an all-Ireland 7s title in 2012 and he made the Irish Universities team that played against England in 2016.

It was while studying for his Masters in Business and Management at Trinity that Pierce first had the idea that led to the development of Equine MediRecord. It was an idea that won him the Trinity College All-Tech Innovation competition, and the platform was developed after CTO Simon Hillary joined the team.

Equine MediRecord is a system that provides simplified medical record compliance for equine yards through a regulator-approved digital medicines register. The platform is used by hundreds of yards in Ireland, the UK, and France. The team is also on the cusp of expanding Equine MediRecord into other markets.

Pierce was named in The Independent’s 30 Under 30 in 2018 and was a national finalist of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur 2019. He is the founder, chairman, and racing manager of Blackrock Racing Syndicate that has horses in training with Irish Derby-winning trainer, Joseph O’Brien. He is also the co-founder and chairman of the non-profit social enterprise, Secret Street Tours, that runs tours given by those affected by homelessness who share their story while exploring the cultural and historic landmarks of their local area. It’s aim is to empower their guides with skills and confidence to take the next step toward independent living.

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

By New Frontiers blog

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-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

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

By New Frontiers blog

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 spends most of his time searching for and working with the most ambitious founders in Ireland, Europe and the US. Finn focuses on finding founders at the earliest stages of company formation due to his recent experience building his own company and running the growth team at another early-stage startup.

With a First-Class Honours degree in Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering from Trinity College Dublin under his belt, Finn had many doors open to him but was instinctively drawn to the startup environment. In college, he built a successful software business to digitise ID cards, starting with his classmates at Trinity. It was during the creation of this company that Finn learned the difficulty and necessity of raising external funding when building high growth startups.

Today, Finn loves working one-on-one with entrepreneurs and helping them find their path to building world-changing companies. In his spare time, if not glued to his laptop, Finn is most likely to be out kite surfing in Dublin Bay or planning his next adventure abroad.

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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, content writer, and New Frontiers alumna. With 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, Orla has an immense knowledge of the food sector. Orla’s long experience in analysing trends and advising start-ups led her to the New Frontiers programme with her own business idea in 2018.

Orla is currently involved with a number of start-ups within the food and technology sectors. She blogs on her website, My Food Trends, and has recently analysed trends such as the rise of veganism, the popularity of street food and sustainability initiatives. Orla’s technology interests include content development and assessing new market opportunities for IoT solutions.

How to decide whether to outsource or keep everything in-house - New Frontiers

How to decide whether to outsource or keep everything in-house

By New Frontiers blog

How to decide whether to outsource or keep everything in-house - New Frontiers

Growing your business beyond the startup phase means making some big changes with regard to how your company operates. In a startup, it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation for the close-knit team; communication is a breeze because the company isn’t a sprawling organisation yet and at any given moment you, the founder, can be found jumping between roles, keeping tight control over everything.

However, as you scale up, it quickly becomes apparent that the advantages that made you a startup success could now be the very things that are holding you back. The small team needs to grow so you can keep up with demand and remain competitive, it’s no longer efficient for you to be the last one to sign off on everything and each department in your company needs to start regulating themselves.

As you figure out how to navigate this evolution of your business, there will be a big question that you’ll have to answer early on, and that is “Should we outsource, or should we keep everything in-house?” We’ve narrowed down the primary determinants when considering this question to 1) Expertise, 2) Cost, 3) Time, and 4) Control. In this blog, we’re going to look at the pros and cons concerning each to help you decide which is the best solution for you.

The pros and cons of outsourcing vs keeping it in-house

Expertise

Your business has a core skillset that allows you to offer certain products and services in the marketplace, so it makes sense to keep these types of skills in-house. However, when it comes to other areas – such as marketing, IT, accounting, or recruitment – you may find your team is lacking. You can hire individuals with these skills, but how many people will you need and at what level of experience? Do you have the right knowledge to be able to recruit the correct individuals for the role?

One of the main advantages of outsourcing is that you get immediate access to a team of specialists highly skilled in their area. Rather than hiring someone who knows just a thing or two about IT, for example, outsourcing provides you with technology experts dedicated to getting you results. On the other hand, you may prefer growing your expertise from the inside so you can ensure you have your own stamp on every project while also learning from experiences.

Cost

Outsourcing is by far the more cost-effective solution when compared to an in-house option. The outsourced agency doesn’t require benefits, training, space, tools, holiday pay, or a Christmas bonus. You don’t have to waste resources on a recruitment process, and instead of paying a salary, you only pay for hours worked or input received. Some will say that this doesn’t matter if there is a loss in quality, which can happen when you give an outside source control over an aspect of your business. However, this is simply a matter of doing your due diligence before choosing which outsourced agency or consultant to partner with.

Time

One of the primary motivations for outsourcing is because it gives you more time to focus on your business. Many hours can be eaten up trying to get to grips with financial budgets, marketing analytics, or troubleshooting technical difficulties if these are not your areas of expertise. However, you will only save time by outsourcing if you have good communication channels available.

There are four main reasons why working with an outsourced company can prove problematic if communication is a problem:

  1. Projects slide because you’re not used to working with people remotely.
  2. Project briefs are not clear enough, therefore resulting in inaccuracies and multiple revisions.
  3. You haven’t built up a proper level of trust with your outsourced agency and end up spending a lot of time micromanaging their work.
  4. You and your outsourced agency are working in different time zones.

However, it is worth noting that most of these problems can occur with bad in-house time management as well. Employees working from home can become isolated from their team, vague briefs can result in mistakes, micromanaging employees can take up a lot of time and, if you have expanded internationally, you may find your team is working across different time zones. The lesson here is to find a way to improve those communication channels early on in your business’s progression, whether you choose to outsource or not.

Control

Working with an outside firm is often viewed as a partnership rather than an employment situation. Therefore, instead of having ultimate control over employee work processes, determining how you prefer things to be done from start to finish, you have a situation in which you hand over a project to a team of experts in another company and they get you results their way. Of course, you will be able to specify certain details, such as how many leads you want, the budget, the expected outcome, etc., but the core impulse behind outsourcing is that you recognise the agency to be more experienced than you in a certain area and that is why you are willing to hand over control to them. You have to decide whether this is something you are happy to do when deciding to outsource a service or keep it in-house.

Scaling up? Enterprise Ireland provides funding for established SMEs in areas such as developing your management team, market research and internationalisation, developing your management team, productivity and business process improvement, as well as company expansion. Find out more on their Established SME funding page.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

A strong employer brand is essential for attracting top talent - New Frontiers programme Ireland

A strong employer brand is essential for attracting top talent

By New Frontiers blog

A strong employer brand is essential for attracting top talent - New Frontiers programme Ireland

At the beginning of 2019, the unemployment rate was the lowest it has been in 10 years, at 5.3%. This is good news, but it also means that Irish SMEs are struggling to attract and retain top talent. There is no denying that a high salary has a reliably magnetic effect, but it is far from the only reason why people choose to work where they do and how long they stay with a company.

FDI companies are enjoying a large slice of the talent pie with 229,057 people currently employed in the sector, making competition fierce for smaller indigenous businesses. For Irish SMEs wanting to attract the right people with the right skills, it is vital to tap into these other draws and having a strong employer brand is a powerful enticement for job seekers.

What is an employer brand?

Having an employer brand is how you market your company to job seekers. Just like with the marketing of products and services, the promises you make to jobseekers should be fulfilled at all stages of the recruitment process and followed up on in the work environment. For example, if you market your company as “daring, innovative and fun” but then the job candidate quickly finds out that the office space is a cardboard cut out of every other office they’ve seen and their interviewer comes across as stern and a sticker for the rules, the expectations that brought them to your door in the first place have been shattered. This is why is it important that your employer brand is a clearly defined personality for your company which is holistically incorporated into every aspect of the organisation.

How do you create an employer brand?

Considering that the average person spends a third of their waking life at work and that people are more aware than ever before of the importance of a healthy work/life balance, where someone chooses to work is a serious consideration for them. Therefore, if you have the ability to offer benefits and perks that people with the skills you desire would appreciate, then it makes sense to construct an employer brand that acts as a platform for these advantages. But what does this look like in practice?

Case study: Lush

A great example of employer branding done right is the cosmetics retailer, Lush. When Lush holds their open call recruitment events, they truly are an event! Hopeful job seekers are known to queue for hours to be in with a chance of working as a sales assistant at Lush. But why? For anyone not in the know, Lush on the surface would appear to be your typical high-street retailer that pays their employees an average wage without commission. The hype all comes down to their employer branding, which they’ve perfected.

Lush’s employer brand is all about injecting positivity, fun and a heavy dose of quirkiness into life while also being steadfastly ethical and environmentally conscious. Lush defines itself as being a challenger of the status quo, a champion of individuality and relentlessly passionate about everything they do. Vibrant colours, bold images and a generous amount of sparkle dominate their image and they employ a complementary informal brand voice. Their typical customer identifies intimately with the brand and many fans, or “Lushies” as they call themselves, even help Lush spread the word about new products with their organic user-generated content. It makes sense that more often than not Lush’s employees are also their customers.

In keeping with their branding, you won’t hear humdrum questions such as “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” during a job interview, but rather they’ll ask “Which fictional character do you think is most like you and why?” Staff frequently have opportunities to exercise their creativity by submitting and implementing concept and design ideas for seasonal campaigns. When an employee’s birthday comes around, they will get to have the day off and employees are regularly invited to participate in Lush industry events. With passion being a key Lush trait, employees get to try new products for free and enjoy 50% off all products so that they are truly invested in what they are selling.

More than a job

What Lush has managed to do is create an employer brand that is also a lifestyle choice. People want to work there because they feel that Lush represents them in more ways than simply a job title. In this scenario, employees feel valued for who they are as individuals and not just for the skills they provide. When you show your employees that you value them, they become ambassadors of your brand and when that happens attracting and retaining staff is no longer a problem. The key to a successful employer brand is the crafting of a story that people want to be a part of and proving the truth of that story throughout the employee experience.

If colour and sparkle don’t feel like the right style brand for you, remember that Virgin, The Boring Company, Google and The Walt Disney Company all are examples of successful employers brands with very diverse company personalities and employee benefits. Your employer brand is only limited by your imagination!

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Financial advice every entrepreneur needs to hear - New Frontiers - Ireland (1)

Financial advice every startup entrepreneur needs to hear

By New Frontiers blog

Financial advice every entrepreneur needs to hear - New Frontiers - Ireland (1)

Make sure the money coming in is more than the money going out – that’s the crux of accounting, right? Well, that’s not bad advice, but it’s not exactly helpful either. The day-to-day, month-to-month monitoring of a company’s finances requires a more detailed approach if you aim to make a profit, identify new opportunities and grow your business.

If you want your company to thrive beyond the shaky startup phase, past the inevitable “bad year” and towards a stable and profitable future, then you need to ensure your company is financially healthy. What does that mean? A financially healthy company has the appropriate strategies in place to maintain regular cash flow, be protected during rainy days, secure profits, invest wisely and be ready to scale up. If that sounds good to you, then check out our 4 financial tips below that will whip your finances into shape.

4 financial tips for startups

1. Tighten up your cash flow

For most startups, the issue with cash flow is lagging debtors. Debtor days is how long it takes a client to pay you for your services and chances are some of your debtors are more casual about it than you’d prefer. At the beginning, when you’re trying to get your business off the ground, slow debtors can cause a lot of stress and frustration. The best thing you can do is nip this in the bud from the being.

Firstly, decide if you can afford to provide a credit period. If you can’t, then you need to plainly outline this in your service contract. Some companies ask for part of the payment up front. However, if you are going after bigger, more established clients, chances are they will expect a credit period that can range from 30 to 60 days. Manage this by setting a clear credit period that suits you and prompt clients to pay with a friendly reminder approaching the end of their payment window. If this goes unrecognised, have a second reminder quickly sent from a more senior team member. If you still have no success, then send a legal follow-up and stop doing business for this client until payment comes through.

If you are trying to build up a book of clients in the early stages of your business, this approach may sound aggressive, but in the long run it’s better to have an established process in place to manage debtors because it directly affects your cash flow which is the lifeline of your business.

2. Get financial and tax advice

If you’re not an accountant and you don’t employ the services of an accountant, then chances are you are missing out on many opportunities to make tax savings for your business. From Entrepreneur Relief to Startup Refunds for Entrepreneurs (SURE) to R&D tax credits, there is a lot of support available in Ireland for startups. A financial advisor that specialises in small businesses can provide you with invaluable tax advice that is vital for giving startups the breathing space they need to grow.

There are also numerous state and private funding sources for startups, from microfinance loans to incubator funding to angel investment. A good place to start is your local LEO, and the Enterprise Ireland website also has extensive information on their funding supports (so both tax saving and funding sources). Of course, we can’t but mention our own programme, New Frontiers! We are Ireland’s only national entrepreneur development programme, and as well as providing office space, mentoring, and training, the New Frontiers programme offers Phase 2 participants a €15,000 tax-free stipend.

3. Have access to a bank overdraft

Getting a loan and being financially healthy may sound contradictory, but bear with us! We’re returning to the issue of cash flow. Let’s say for some reason or another your business stops making a profit for a few months. Perhaps your premise was flooded, or you lost a few big clients in a row. Do you have a strategy in place to weather the storm?

Bank overdrafts are not always easily accessed when you suddenly need one. After all, what bank wants to loan money a business when it’s failing? It is much better to set up this facility in advance, when your balance sheet is looking healthy. That way everything is ready to go when disaster strikes, and guess what? With this lifesaver overdraft facility at the ready, it’s not such a disaster after all. It’s just another bump in the road on your way to success.

4. Consider outsourcing

When you’re expanding your business, you might imagine everything you do will be inhouse because you want to retain as much control as possible. However, outsourcing can be a lot more cost-effective if your ambition is to scale up. Doing everything yourself makes sense when you’re a startup, but if you plan on growing your business then this can prove too costly. Hiring an in-house team of marketers or accountants or IT professionals is expensive, and that’s before you take into account the office space and equipment that comes with them. Outsourced services don’t only make financial sense, but you also gain access to the valuable insights of experts in their field. Now you can focus on what you do best and save money at the same time.

If you have a startup idea and would like to take it to the next level, read more about the New Frontiers programme and see our calendar of upcoming application deadlines around the country.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Unleash your inner cyborg and start automating tedious work tasks! - New Frontiers - Enterprise Ireland

Grow smarter and faster by automating tedious work tasks

By New Frontiers blog

Unleash your inner cyborg and start automating tedious work tasks! - New Frontiers - Enterprise Ireland

The buzz around automation is only intensifying as companies continue to discover new ways technology can make businesses smarter and more efficient. The human element of work is evolving as we get better at using technology to our advantage, allowing us to give more time to the areas that need our attention the most. In fact, our relationship with technology has become so symbiotic that leading tech entrepreneur Elon Musk believes we are already cyborgs!

The definition of a cyborg accord to Oxford Dictionaries is:

“A fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.”

Your smartphone may not be directly wired up to your brain just yet (watch this space, Musk is working on ‘neural lace’) but as he explains, “You can answer any question, you can video conference with anyone, anywhere. You can send messages to millions of people instantly. Just do incredible things.” The question is, are you ready to embrace your inner cyborg? If you are then you’ll find you can easily automate tedious work tasks with your not-so-secret superpower – technology.

5 ways to automate tasks in your company

1. Clean up your inbox!

We might as well start with the bane of your working life – your inbox! The emails never stop coming, and god forbid you should go on holiday because when you return you’re going to have to spend a whole day tunnelling through that backlog! The average worker receives 121 emails a day and sends 40, so how can automation help?

Most email platforms, such as Gmail and Outlook, have inbuilt automation tools so you can easily categorise emails by importance. Smart Labels in Gmail or Rules in Outlook allow you to automatically sort your incoming emails based on the sender’s details or keywords. Both email platforms allow you to schedule emails to be delivered at a specific time. You can do this in Outlook by clicking the more options arrow in the ‘Tags’ section of your email or use the plugin Boomerang for Gmail. You can also design email templates for messages you find yourself sending repetitively to save time and avoid errors.

2. Start using voice-to-text software

Sometimes it’s the simplest pieces of technology that can save the most time at work. No one marvels at the wonders of a calculator anymore, but it is one the handiest pieces of office equipment! This is the kind of automation we need in other areas of our working life, a solution that completes a task quickly and precisely every time. Voice-to-text software is just that. Dictation solutions have come on leaps and bounds in recent years and for anyone who finds themselves writing at length on a daily basis, this is a must! If you’re looking for a free version, GoogleDocs Voice Typing is a great choice.

3. Be an automation whizz with Zapier or IFTTT

If you’re serious about automating tasks at work, then you probably have heard about IFTTT and Zapier before. Both applications allow you to sync various solutions so that you can have your Gmail talking to your Dropbox account, or your Twitter triggering messages in your preferred Slack channel. These platforms perform by letting you design rules that in practice look like this: if X occurs then Y must happen.

X could be your company name being tagged on Twitter and Y could be the notification of this in a Slack channel. This one would be very handy for the marketing department, but there are useful rule combinations for everyone in the office. If you’re not sure what you need automated, that’s not a problem – take a look at their library of predesigned rules and find out what’s popular with other users.

4. Get real financial insights with Xero or Bullet

Human error is inevitable, but you don’t want it to happen in your financial accounts. Accounting solutions such as Xero and Bullet (an Irish company) can help you automate repetitive tasks while also providing business intelligence that would otherwise get lost! They enable you to automate payroll, invoicing, expense claims, approval processes, payments, and reports. If your bank allows live feeds, reconciliation becomes a breeze.

Knowing which of these is best for you will depend on your needs, but they both have time-saving features the overworked entrepreneur will appreciate. Bullet, for instance, does automatic mileage calculations and can post Revenue returns directly to ROS. Xero is powerful for growing startups because of the hundreds of other systems it can connect to – stock control, POS, project management, booking, time tracking, CRM, and other business tools. These are cloud accounting solutions, which means everything is safely backed up and encrypted in the cloud, allowing you to always have access to what you need, when you need it.

5. Automation for customer relationship management

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is the go-to for businesses that have a lot of customers to manage and want to design an effective sales pipeline personalised to each individual. With CRM tools you can automate many different aspects of your company’s communication with your customers, such as the initial “Welcome” email, follow up emails, automatic reminders that a subscription is coming to an end and automatic updates to customer profiles and calendars. With customer-centric automation such as this, you can nurture long-lasting customer relationships, boost your brand reputation and capture more leads.

Automation results in higher productivity, reduced operating costs, streamlined processes and the protection of your competitive edge. What’s not to like? Beep-bop-boop, cyborgs are go!

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

product-market fit and finding your sweet spot - New Frontiers

Emer O’Donnell chats about product-market fit and finding your sweet spot

By New Frontiers blog

product-market fit and finding your sweet spot - New Frontiers

If you are unsure about what product-market fit is, ask yourself are customers banging down the door? Instead of manufacturing demand for a product or service and relying on the hard sell, product-market fit is when you have found a sweet spot in the market and customers’ needs mirror the unique value you offer.

A Qualified Executive Coach and regular Enterprise Ireland and New Frontiers trainer, Emer O’Donnell has spent 15 years helping companies to locate their sweet spot and grow. I sat down with her to find out more about this business strategy which turns build it and they will come on its head and puts customer needs in the driving seat.

Emer O’Donnell chats about product-market fit and finding your sweet spot - New Frontiers

 

Let’s start off with the obvious question, how do you define the product-market fit strategy?

One of the participants at the Founder’s Forum summed it up beautifully, way better than I could – customers are banging down the door for your stuff. Two authors have written a lot about this, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits. Their definition of product-market fit is as follows:

Product-market fit, the match between product and market segment that results in high growth or high demand. So many customers are demanding your product that a clear market signal has been sent saying your product is needed.

Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovits

Is there any way to measure it?

There are a couple of people who’ve written extensively about product-market fit in the last five to 10 years, and they’ve come up with mathematical ways of measuring it. I think those are really helpful for start-ups to look at because it takes you a little bit away from the kind of “art” or “voodoo” of am I there or am I not? and instead provides something factual for you to measure.

So, the first one of those is from Sean Ellis. Sean was the original growth hacker or marketeer behind the initial viral growth of Dropbox. Sean’s suggestion for measuring product-market fit is to ask your customers a very simple question, and that question is “How would you feel if you could no longer use or buy my product?” You give customers optional answers such as wouldn’t care, would care a bit, would be disappointed and would be very disappointed. You obviously need a reasonably sized sample to do this, but Sean’s view is that if more than 40% of the people say that they would be very disappointed if they could no longer use your product, then you probably have product-market fit!

As a trainer with the New Frontiers programme, you have a lot of hands-on experience with start-ups. What are the warning signs that they don’t have product-market fit?

If I look at the start-ups that we interact with, one of the indicators to me that a company may be at product-market fit would be when I hear them talk about the challenges in their business and they’re not talking about sales. When I hear start-ups talking about things like “My sales cycles are taking too long”, or “I’m struggling to find customers”, or “I’m missing my sales target”, that’s an indicator to me that they don’t have product-market fit.

I think one of the big mistakes that we see with start-ups that don’t have product-market fit is that they start spending money in places that they shouldn’t be spending it. There is this concept of a growth pyramid which says that at the bottom of the pyramid you should have product-market fit. You need this as a solid foundation first, and then you build everything else on top of it.

One of the most common mistakes I see start-ups making is that they hire a sales team before they have product-market fit, and then they wonder why the sales team doesn’t work out. If you’re not at product-market fit, then you either need to refocus the target audience or you need to tweak the product. But either way you need to keep your cash burn low.

To recap, product-market fit is when the market is sending out a clear signal that there is a need for whatever product or service you’re offering. Often the challenge when a company hits that point will be related to delivery, and not to sales.

Let’s say you are a start-up that does have product-market fit. What would be your advice then?

OK, on the flip side of that is say one of the companies that I am working with right now on the Founder’s Forum. They have product-market fit, and they are hesitating over expanding the team and raising money. Now they are at risk of a competitor coming in and taking the market from them. It is a balancing act. If you go too far, you run the risk that you are not building on a solid foundation; but if you go too slowly, you can miss the boat. It’s about balancing the two.

What are your key steps for achieving product-market fit?

There are three elements. The first is that they have a well-defined sweet spot or target market. They need to be very clear about who they are targeting. This can be a real challenge for a young company, because often they go too broad and go for, say, “Everyone in North America”! You need to focus down and get really clear about it.

The second one is what is the customer trying to do? What is the problem they are trying to solve or the job they are trying to get done? And knowing how you deliver in value against that and being really solid about that.

The last one is understanding why customers should choose you over the competition. You need to be clear about how you’re different from the competition. The three of these things working together is the recipe for product-market fit. If any one of them is out of whack, you are unlikely to hit product-market fit.

It’s important to remember that the answers don’t lie in your team, but in your customers. You need to be good at getting out and listening to your customers in a very open way, without assumptions. Most people will go out and look for the answers they want to hear. Instead of asking “That’s a good idea, isn’t it?” you should have a much more open set of questions to explore and get new insights. I did an exercise over the summer when I talked to 10 of our own customers, and I got some really good insights. I learned things about how our customers view us that I would never have guessed. But it’s all in the way you ask the questions.

If you’d like more insights from Emer, sign up for the monthly email sent out by her company, Select Strategies, examining the issues which affect growth in many companies.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Insights The five WHYs of the New Frontiers programme - Colm Ó Maolmhuire

Insights: The five WHYs of New Frontiers

By New Frontiers blog

Insights The five WHYs of the New Frontiers programme - Colm Ó Maolmhuire

As an entrepreneur, deciding to apply for programmes such as New Frontiers will have a significant effect on the development of your business, but it’s important to thoroughly asses both your motivations and chances of success. In this blog, New Frontiers Programme Manager at IT Blanchardstown, Colm Ó Maolmhuire, looks at five key questions you should ask yourself.

One of the techniques all entrepreneurs and managers need to use, in drilling down into and analysing their business proposition, is the ‘5 Whys’ format. In my experience, any founder needs to take stock and do some serious analysis after Phase 1, for their critical ‘Go/No Go’ decision, and that included deciding whether or not to apply for Phase 2. The alternative is following another path to start up. Based on my experience with founders applying to New Frontiers, I thought it might be useful for potential participants to explore how the 5 Whys might be used in such a situation, and what supplementary questions might be relevant. These are not necessarily in any particular order.

WHY am I doing this?

Why am I starting a new venture? Am I an entrepreneur? Am I willing and able to make the hard decisions, initially on my own? Am I ready to leave my employment/give up my regular earnings to enter the uncertain world of startups?

  • Remember that there is very little you can do self-employed that cannot be done employed. A startup is not for everyone.

WHY am I doing the New Frontiers programme?

Given the great variety of paths to startup, how is this programme the best or most appropriate method of supporting my plan of action for the business? There are many other supports and agencies out there, so how does this match my needs and strategy?

  • Remember that New Frontiers is not suitable for every startup.

WHY will the customers buy what I’m planning to offer?

Do I have a strong initial understanding of my customers, their pain and my solution, my Customer Value Proposition? Can I articulate it clearly? If not, then how am I going to trial and validate anything?

  • Remember, this may change, or pivot, during Phase 2, but you need to start with a clear focus and understanding.

WHY do I think there is a business in it?

Is this going to be a ‘need to have’, rather than a ‘nice to have’? What do I know of my market/domain, from a commercialisation point of view? How will I define and progress the market opportunity in terms of scale, niche, accessibility, addressability, route to market, go to market, and most importantly initial sales? How do I think I will make money at this?

  • Remember, if you can’t figure out how to sell profitably, you could end up with an expensive experiment.

WHY will investors back it?

Will I be able to address the main question investors ask: What’s in it for me? Will I end up with a proposition that’s sufficiently compelling for future investors?

  • Remember, during Phase 2, we address and progress all of the above (and more) elements of your business. You can use the programme to gather evidence, document and deliver strongly. You will also be able to prepare and practice for pitching to professional investors.

Phase 2 of the New Frontiers programme is a strong blend of time, space and support mechanisms for startups, and their founders, to prepare and progress to an advanced stage. It is an opportunity for you to build a business proposition and skillset on a strong foundation. But it only works if you can and do ask yourself the ‘hard questions’ – like WHY!

Thinking of applying to Phase 2 of New Frontiers? Read Colm’s post: Tips for making a successful Phase 2 application.

About the author

Colm Ó MaolmhuireColm Ó Maolmhuire

Colm is the New Frontiers Programme Manager at TU Dublin – Blanchardstown Campus. He has nearly 30 years’ experience operating as an independent, professional management trainer, mentor and consultant. His main areas of expertise are in finance, business planning/analysis and management skills.

Lean Startup using customer-focused development processes

Lean Startup: using customer-focused development processes

By New Frontiers blog

Lean Startup using customer-focused development processes

Originally published in 2011, The Lean Startup by Eric Reiss was an important moment in the history of startups. The book sets out a clear approach to developing new products and services that has established itself as the standard framework that startups now use to turn ideas into companies.

At its core, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses proposes that startups use a build, measure, learn framework in an iterative product development cycle that places the customer at the heart of the process. With each iteration, the lean startup method brings the company closer to achieving product-market fit by developing a product that serves a real customer need.

Get out of the building

The Lean Startup How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful BusinessesThe customer-focused development process which was originally developed by Steve Blank is at the heart of the lean startup. The answers about which features to build and which markets to target are to be found out in the field talking to customers, not at the whiteboard. The only way an idea can be turned into a successful business is through a process of validated learning and the lean startup lays out key steps to achieve this:

  • Identify your key “leap of faith” assumptions about your product and customer
  • Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to test these assumptions as quickly and cheaply as possible
  • Measure your customer reactions
  • Learn from the data collected during the customer development process
  • Change direction if your hypotheses are disproven (pivot or persevere)
  • Iterate on your original idea based on the feedback

Building a Minimum Viable Product – perfection is the enemy

The goal with an MVP is to push it out rapidly with a minimum of time, development effort and expense. If your team is in a position to develop a software product in-house it is easy to become obsessed with the quality of your offering and spend too much time building features and refining the user experience.

The unfortunate fact is that quality is irrelevant if nobody wants what you are building. Rather than building out out a fully realised product and then starting to look for feedback, in the lean startup approach, the idea is to build the most basic demo possible and iterate on it early and often with customer input. If your potential customers complain about missing features this can be used to drive product development in the next iteration.

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder

IMVU – a harsh lesson in customer validation

In The Lean Startup, Eric Reiss details how his startup IMVU spent months coding a complex backend system that would allow interoperability of various instant messaging clients. Once it was ready to ship they found that no one would even download their new 3D messaging client it in the first place, so the entire development effort went to waste. They had failed to test some of the most basic assumptions about their customers before committing to a development effort. The author comes to the crushing realisation that they could have learned just as much about their customers by creating a simple sign up page where they could have gauged early interest without committing to a costly development process.

Dropbox – a highly effective MVP

As a counterpoint to IMVU’s failure to validate with customers, the author describes how the founder of Dropbox used a cleverly edited video to show how Dropbox would work in practice, long before any actual software had been developed that would allow it to work in real life. Overnight, this video allowed them to sign up over 70,000 people who wanted to use the service, proving they were meeting a real market need.

Customer development over product development

Most startups that don’t make it have usually failed due to a lack of customers rather than a lack of product development. Placing the customer at the heart of the development process, as outlined in the lean startup, is crucial for a successful outcome.

Lean Startup methodology, along with Steve Blank’s customer-focused development process and Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, provides an excellent framework that any startup can use to test its hypotheses with the market and develop products that serve real customer needs.

About the author

Dara Burke ShowhouseVR New Frontiers ProgrammeDara Burke

Dara Burke is a past participant of the New Frontiers programme in the north-west and the founder of ShowhouseVR, a virtual reality startup that enables users to visit spaces before they are built. He has combined his deep industry knowledge with a passion for technology to launch a VR startup serving the construction sector.

Dara is a qualified architect and 3D visualisation specialist and has worked as a design architect, project manager and team leader in the construction industry since 2004. Working as an architect, he specialised in large housing developments and high-end residential projects. He has over 20 years’ experience working in 3D visualisation and is an expert in VR development, real-time rendering technology and adapting game engines for commercial uses.

Mistakes to avoid when product testing - Gerard Comerford - New Frontiers

Mistakes to avoid when product testing

By New Frontiers blog

Mistakes to avoid when product testing - Gerard Comerford - New Frontiers

Testing your product is the most important activity your company will undertake. It validates that there is a market for your product and helps you iterate the product for that market. Here is a breakdown of the most common mistakes when product testing and how best to avoid them.

The mistake of testing without a hypothesis

One of the fundamental mistakes is testing your product with consumers as quickly as possible without a hypothesis – i.e. a grounded assumption of the product’s purpose/goal for a defined customer. Product testing is simply an experiment to test your hypothesis or assumptions. Based on the results of the experiment, the hypothesis is either proved or disproved; without a hypothesis, testing your product is utterly meaningless.

If you do not have a grounded assumption of the product’s purpose, you cannot validate that there is a market for it. If you do not have a defined customer, you cannot qualify or disqualify customers’ feedback. For example, my company is developing a computer game, Cerebros, which is a fast-paced First-Person Shooter, a genre which has a complicated control scheme. If we tested the game on 10 70-year-old customers, they would complain that the game moves too fast and that the control scheme is too complicated. If we did not have clear grounded assumption of Cerebros’ purpose (we cannot validate there is a market for a product that has no clear purpose), and if we did not have a defined customer (we cannot disqualify a 70-year-old customer’s feedback), the conclusion we would have to accept is: we have slow the game down and simplify the control scheme.

If we slowed the game down and simplified the control scheme, the 10 70-year-old customers would be satisfied. However, if we tested this new version of the game on 10 20-year-old customers, they would complain that the game moves too slowly and that the control scheme is too simple. If we had the hypothesis that Cerebros is a fast-paced First-Person Shooter for a young, experienced gamer, we could have immediately disqualified the 10 70-year-old customers’ feedback and not waste development time changing the game for customers fit for the product’s purpose.

The mistake of ignoring bias

The most obvious bias is your own bias for your own product. You’re never going to be perfect and you shouldn’t expect your product to be perfect. You have to accept criticism of your product, and ultimately criticism of you, and understand other people’s viewpoints of your product. It is always hard to separate your identity from your product’s and it does not get easier; in fact, it gets harder as the more time and money you invest in your product, the more your identity is tied to your product and it becomes something like your child.

On the same subject, have you ever criticised a child in front of their parent? If yes, what did you use to treat the black eye? If no, you probably already understand why you don’t criticise a child in front of their parent, because that child is that parent’s pride and joy. Similarly, people think the same of your product, as precious to you as your child is. Your customers will be biased towards not criticising your product when talking to, or in front of, you.

You need to understand this bias and enable the customer to voice their criticism of your product. Essentially, you have to give them permission to criticise the product. This could be as simple as asking them bluntly questions such as:

  • “What didn’t you like about the product?”
  • “What would you change?”
  • “What would make it better?”

Cerebros at a game event

Even if people are sincere and they are giving you honest feedback – whether positive or negative – people generally do not know why they act the way they act. There is a bias the customers have of themselves. So, attempting to extract introspection on their processing of their experience with your product should be treated with caution. What people repeatedly DO is a far better indicator of their behaviour and preferences than what people repeatedly SAY. So, if people ask to test your product or try it at an expo, keep coming back to test your product, or ask for more information, that’s a good indicator your product has potential.

Finally, there’s the bias you yourself will have if you are a likeable, charismatic person. I know a game developer who is quite possibly the best showman I’ve seen who wasn’t in show business. At game expos, he set up his game and created a great atmosphere around his exhibition stand that would always draw crowds and excitement. However, he always remarks to me that this enthusiasm he generates at expos (he’s received prestigious awards, etc.) has never transferred to sales and he cannot understand it.

To circle back, as he has never granted me permission to criticise his product, I am always prevented from giving him honest feedback. The problem is the customers are buying him, a very charismatic person, and the event he creates around his exhibition stand, not the product – his game – he’s ultimately selling. So, be careful when product testing: customers should be ultimately making a decision on whether or not to buy your product, not whether or not to buy you.

Key product testing takeaways

For the mistake of testing without a hypothesis, I used an exaggerated example demonstrating the disparity between two groups of customers; it illustrated that having no hypothesis will lead you to change the product, sometimes to its detriment, and waste precious development cycles. It won’t always be that obvious whom you should qualify or disqualify as your target customer, but it significantly helps if you have a grounded assumption of your product’s purpose for a defined customer.

Ignoring bias in tests or opinions is an easy mistake to make, especially if the tests confirm your hypothesis or the opinions coincide with yours. It’s always best to look at the behaviour of people interacting with your product and look at the amount or sample size of people who exhibit this behaviour and their profile.

About the author

Gerard Comerford - Cerebros - New Frontiers participantGerard Comerford

Gerard is a New Frontiers participant and the founder of Cerebros, an independent AI game developer specialising in adaptive AI and innovative AI-driven computer games. A graduate of the University of Westminster, Gerard has eight years’ experience as a contractor in the games industry.

Richard Mc Manus Exhibition tricks and trips New Frontiers

Exhibiting your startup: a 25-step checklist for excellence

By New Frontiers blog

Richard Mc Manus Exhibition tricks and trips New Frontiers

Trade shows and exhibitions are an invaluable opportunity that’s often underused by early-stage startups. However, it’s a mistake to view them solely as a sales tactic. In this blog, Richard Mc Manus looks at other reasons to exhibit at shows and fairs, the lessons he has learnt from attending some 40 events with his startup, and gives us a 25-step checklist for exhibition excellence!

You must be mad!

Unless you are selling food for the hungry or hurley sticks at the Ploughing, you do not make money at exhibitions. Since graduating from the New Frontiers programme in 2015 my start-up, Cara Mara luxury seaweed baths, has participated in around 40 exhibition events. I hope that many business owners and managers, especially of new businesses, can learn from my experience.

Some of my fellow exhibitors have cried after the event because they did not get a single sale. Recently, I heard one high profile startup entrepreneur tell how he spent €10,000 on a single event, had negligible sales and managed to wipe out his cash reserves.

Why exhibit at trade fairs?

To build initial public awareness of Cara Mara – which sells a home seaweed bath product – we exhibited at a range of fairs. This included exhibitions tied in with sport, health, business, as well as summer shows. Yes, they did create a certain level of awareness, but they never generated high volume sales. Truthfully, it was a mistake to have even attended some of them. The lesson I took from this is that it is essential to ask yourself two questions when planning to attend an event:

  1. Will your target customer group(s) be at the exhibition?
  2. Will they be buying?

Here’s how we experienced the different events we exhibited at, and the level of interest a product such as ours could typically attract:

  • Sports events: participants are completely absorbed in their preparation and recovery (e.g. running, cycling, etc.) and then socialising with their friends afterwards.
  • Business seminars/exhibitions: attendees are mainly interested in the conference talks and then socialising and networking during the breaks. Exhibition stands are almost a distraction.
  • Summer shows: visitors are mainly interested in being entertained by animal demonstrations, live music stage shows, and a summer day out to meet friends old and new.

The best exhibitions are those which people attend because they have a specific need to address, and they intend to buy. In my case good examples included:

  • Taste of Monaghan, Taste of Cavan, etc. Yes, these provincial events include non-food products and services.
  • Wellfest. Attendees were specifically seeking ways to enjoy life and improve health.

Think awareness rather than sales

Most businesses, whether they are selling to business or the general public, will have specific exhibitions where their target customers will attend and hang out. It’s essential to research such events to make sure they are right for you.

What does the word ‘exhibit’ even mean?

“To publicly display, show, present, demonstrate, showcase.”

So unless you’re one of those food vendors or hurley stick sellers mentioned above, exhibitions are mainly for creating customer awareness! You’re making a connection in anticipation of future transactions. But remember that consumers are busy people and easily forget you, unless you are in front of them on a consistent, regular basis.

Exhibit with excellence – a checklist of 25 steps

This is my 25-step recipe for a successful exhibition strategy.

Research

  1. Check out the exhibition the year before you expect to attend – i.e. visitor profiles, traffic flow, etc.
  2. If that isn’t possible, check out the organiser’s website to see who exhibited last year. Phone those exhibitors and ask how they got on and what advice they would offer.
  3. Cost benefit – decide what your objectives are and write them down. Are the expected benefits worth the cost (stand costs, staff, travel, accommodation, meals, extras)?
  4. Grants – perhaps you could leverage funding to help with costs? Are there any business development/export grants you could apply for?

Dealing with organisers

  1. Try to get a discount on the cost of a stand. Explain that you are a startup, you are on the books of your local LEO or an Enterprise Ireland client, or perhaps that you are a first time exhibitor at this particular event and you’re not sure it is for you. Always seek a discount, most commercial organisers are flexible on price.
  2. Consider waiting to the last moment to get a discount price for late cancellations/organisers seeking to fill exhibition hall.
  3. Payment: delay to latest date possible and pay in instalments. I suffered a significant bad debt when an event was cancelled and the organiser went into liquidation.

Stand preparation

  1. Traffic flow: check out or anticipate the visitor flow in the exhibition hall. There is no point in taking the cheapest stand if it’s at the quietest part of the hall.
  2. Positioning: the best stand pitches are at corners (you gain exposure from two directions) and the end of aisles (visitors can directly see you as they approach). Ask for them.
  3. Be professional: your stand backdrop, exhibition table, and product display need to reflect quality and grab visitors’ attention. It needs to say “I’m interesting. Check me out.” There are many excellent display providers, but I particularly like focusonline.ie.

Exhibition preparation

  1. Checklist: prepare in advance to avoid any shortcomings
    a) Equipment, brochures, and leaflets for the stand
    b) Product for the stand
    c) Staffing
    d) Times: opening, closing, set up. Organise logistics to get there on time
    e) Insurance: make sure you have adequate public liability cover
  2. Social media: spread awareness and make a noise about the event in advance. If you tag the organisers, they will usually re-post your communications.
  3. Customer communications: if you are a B2B business, write to your existing customers and prospects inviting them to the exhibition/your stand. Provide them with free entrance tickets as appropriate.
  4. Dress code: depends on your industry/business/culture, wear suits, branded t-shirts, name tags, etc.

Showtime

  1. Fellow exhibitors: remember they may be potential customers! Talk to them and ask what exhibitions work well for them. They are a treasure of knowledge and experience.
  2. Be passionate. Enjoy yourself. Make friends.
  3. Pep in your step: always stand ready to engage with people. Sitting at the stand is a big No No! Get in shape in advance by getting sufficient sleep and enjoy a healthy energy diet.
  4. Engage: some people are naturally shy and may avoid your stand or walk by with eyes averted. You have to be active. Stand out in the aisle. Say hello. Draw people in with a leaflet or an engaging question. Most people love it when you give them time and needed information.
  5. Interesting product demo: this is always a winner (live or on video). Help customers to dream and think ‘Yes, this is for me!’.
  6. Special prices: visitors nowadays expect special reduced prices for exhibitions, fairs, etc. Don’t disappoint them. Make sure there is a price list on display.
  7. Eyes, ears, and mind wide open: observe what’s happening, what’s working, and what’s not working. Learn, change, and do better.
  8. Build an email list: visitors love to leave their name and email address if there is a prize on offer. It could be your own product or something attractive (e.g. tickets for an event or a weekend away).

Post-event review

  1. Follow up: with all new contacts and on all promises made – within a few days.
  2. Email list: if you collected a list, your first communication should be within a week. Its focus should be to thank, to educate, to entertain, and not a hard sell. At the end, you could perhaps extend the special exhibition prices for a limited period, as an exclusive offer.
  3. Learn: talk to your colleagues. Talk to yourself. Compare all the outcomes with the initial written objectives – level of engagement, size of email list, revenue, costs, insights, important new contacts. What worked for you? What didn’t? How can you improve the next event?

Best wishes for your future success!

About the author

Richard Mc Manus Cara Mara Seaweed baths New Frontiers alumnus

Richard Mc Manus

Richard Mc Manus is a New Frontiers alumnus and the founder of Cara Mara luxury seaweed baths. Richard qualified as a Chartered Accountant with PwC and has extensive experience in the manufacturing and export sector, working in both Finance Director and Managing Director roles.

While in the west of Ireland, he became familiar with the traditional Irish seaweed bath and its many wellness benefits. This experience led to the idea of bringing the therapeutic benefits of seaweed baths to a wider audience, and so Cara Mara was born. Richard’s mission is to bring the Cara Mara seaweed bath experience into people’s homes and lives, helping them to achieve balance and feel confident, relaxed, happy, and energised.

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

Featured startup: Dublin Design Studio (Scriba)

By New Frontiers blog

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

David Craig is the founder of Dublin Design Studio and inventor of Scriba, a new generation of stylus for mobile devices. David wrote an article for New Frontiers over two years ago, recalling his journey through the early-stage development of Scriba, up to its highly successful Kickstarter campaign in August 2015.

We thought it would be a good idea to catch up with David, as he prepares to send out the first batch of Scribas to his Kickstarter backers. It’s been a longer production period than expected, but the product has undergone a few significant improvements, which David hopes will make it worth the wait.

Let’s get back to summer 2015. The team had already experienced the trials and tribulations of hardware development and had fully working prototypes. The discussion moved on to materials, manufacturing, logistics, and the other elements involved in delivering a quality, shop-ready product. David was clear he wanted to manufacture in Ireland, instead of going the somewhat obvious route of finding a plant in China.

David was introduced to the business development manager from Hasbro – the famous toy manufacturer – who was able to offer a partnership with Cartamundi, their Waterford-based manufacturing arm. With a strong manufacturing support, this meant the team could move into the design for manufacturability (DFM) phase. A whole new language had to be learnt at this point, as David worked with engineers and the Hasbro/Cartamundi team to perfect the design, assembly and materials. There were plenty of challenges and even the bespoke packaging that suspended the product to show off its unusual form was a complex design challenge that needed to be solved.

(click to enlarge the images)

Through an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher, Dublin Design Studio worked closely with Athlone Institute of Technology’s CISD to develop the design of the 3D model that would be used to create the very expensive tool required by injection moulding. Getting the geometry correct from both a manufacturability perspective, in addition to the look and feel of the product, required many iterations; even though the electronics of the product were well-established, the form and feel of the product would have a huge impact on the user experience.

By Christmas that year, David assumed they were ready to go into production. However, a suggestion of an alternative tool design that would yield noticeably better quality results and an associated quote from the tool makers that was double the anticipated cost meant David had to make a difficult commercial decision.

“I felt strongly that anything that might let down the perceived quality of the overall product must be sorted out, and with competition from the likes of Wacom, Adonit and even Apple, it was important that Scriba was as perfect as humanly possible.”

With support from volunteers and numerous interns – David thinks his team may have involved a total of 50 people – all contributing their own expertise and insights to the product, Scriba has evolved into more than just a stylus. David has grown a network of mentors, advisors and friends who have also been instrumental to the realisation of this product. With such a complex project, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details or be consumed by the technical difficulties, so his strategy has been to celebrate the small wins whenever they happen.

“What I probably didn’t appreciate as much at the outset is that as a startup, developing hardware encompassed so many other fields. For instance, we’ve not only developed a hardware product, we’ve also created an ecommerce site, developed an SDK for software developers and produced six apps to go with it!”

The manufacture process itself threw up a number of technical hurdles, each one seemingly insurmountable. David credits the openness of the wider network he had at that point with his ability to overcome each one… companies went above and beyond what would have been commercially expected, and generously gave any insights and expertise they had. In addition to Cartamundi, of particular note were IPC Polymers in Kilbeggan who opened their doors to David to develop and test composite plastics to meet the product’s particular technical requirements. Scriba really is a testament to the Irish business ecosystem.

In parallel with the hardware and materials, the team moved onto software – developing apps and adding functionality (for instance, Scriba can trigger your iPhone camera and you can use it to control presentation slides or annotate PDFs).

“I wanted to change people’s perception of what a stylus could be. Every day I would ask myself: what value can we add for our end users? Sure, people will use the stylus for sketching and drawing; but that’s not all they do during the day so how can we fit into their lifestyle even more?”

A selection of artwork created with Scriba

(click to enlarge the images)

David, an architect by training, says he doesn’t get to spend long days ideating and being immersed in design. As a startup founder, his time is mostly taken up with other, more pressing issues: marketing, logistics, HR, management, finance and business development.

To keep the lights on during the development of Scriba, Dublin Design Studio has taken on a variety of architectural projects, and collected a few awards for these over the past couple of years, including Best Housing in last year’s RIAI Awards. Scriba itself has won a shelfful of accolades – the Irish Times Innovation Awards, UK Design Week Awards, Bank of Ireland Startup Awards and the IDI Awards to name just a few.

Fast forward to October 2017, and the very first batch of Scriba styluses has been manufactured, packaged, and is currently heading out to those first Kickstarter investors, who pledged over two years ago. David has been careful to keep these backers up to date along the way and has sent them regular updates and progress reports.

“I’m pretty hands on and to understand the process, I spent the day at the plant in Waterford working with the operators on the assembly line. That incredible moment of having the very first one, boxed, in my hands, was just amazing. It’s been such a long road and thanks to everyone’s perseverance and hard work it’s now a reality.”

General sales of Scriba are about to go live, initially via their own website – getscriba.com – and also on Amazon. Scriba has been accepted onto the Amazon Launchpad programme, which showcases innovative new products from startups. This will be crucial to the firm’s success, as they have identified Amazon as the key channel for their target market.

David is keen to point out that Scriba is only the first product the studio plans on creating. The collective knowledge the team has acquired since David’s very first prototype will be no doubt be channelled into other exciting projects. It certainly sounds like David is itching to get back to design, so I don’t think we’ll have a long wait!

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

WKI Developing your Market Attack Plan - in four steps New Frontiers

Developing your market attack plan in four steps

By New Frontiers blog

WKI Developing your Market Attack Plan - in four steps New Frontiers

So you’ve completed your market research and analysis. You’ve found a great opportunity to exploit. The solution you have will give you an edge over other approaches and will offer real value to the client. You’ve spent the last couple of months building out the team of advisors and have some friends who’ve agreed to help you with branding, marketing, helping to write a business plan or to get the financials together…

Everything looks great – you’ll definitely need 10 people on board within the next few years to support the €1 million turnover you’ve set as your year three target, especially as you’ll enter foreign markets towards the end of year two. Sound familiar?

But have you created your market attack plan? Have you set out credible steps along the journey that you will need to take to achieve your goals? Over the past few years I’ve coached some of our Phase 2 participants to develop this plan. I use a commercialisation tool developed by WKI to structure the sessions.

WKI Commercialisation methodology

Step 1

We begin by reviewing the participant’s proposed target segments. We also look at the customer profile for each segment (who will use it, who will buy it, how they will use it, what the buy decision is, what motivates the user and what motivates the buyer, etc.). These have been identified by market research conducted to date and have been ranked into an ordered list of segments to target.

Step 2

We then discuss lead customers; these are early adopters who should be willing and eager to try a new idea even if it is in development. You are looking for someone who will collaborate with you to test, suggest, and mould your early stage idea into a customer-ready product for later stage customers.

A question to ask: are the lead customers from our identified target segments? If not, why not? If we can’t get someone from our target segment who will try our solution then has our market research been correct to date? Have we really identified the correct market? It may seem obvious but it does happen that the promoter has profiled a market opportunity in great detail yet introduces clients from different segments without clear reasoning. This can lead to a loss of credibility in the proposal, i.e. does the promoter really know who the customer is?

Step 3

So, having identified the lead customer we next set out what initiatives will be undertaken to advance the idea down the path to market. Each initiative should reflect the stage of development of the solution as well as the commercial roll out. That is why I usually have one or two lead-in steps such as demonstrator stage, prototype stage, before introducing the second and third target segments and beyond moving towards category leadership. Especially when working with start-ups. I also find that the first session specs out the first couple of development steps only. The promoters tend to need a break at this point as for further stages it becomes too vague or harder to define concrete initiatives and measures of success.

Step 4

Profile the risks. All plans have an element of risk associated with them, it is both natural and expected. Stakeholders will want to know that you are aware of potential risks and have prepared a plan to mitigate them should they occur. For early-stage businesses risks associated with technical, market, financial and people should be considered with each stage of the company’s proposed development.  These should also be summarised on the market attack plan.

Market Attack PlanSo what? Who cares? Why you?

Let’s work through an example of what a market attack plan may look like:

Stage – Demonstrator Timing: Month 1 & 2

Major initiative:

  • Update promoter’s LinkedIn profile and purchase premium package for 2 months
  • Build mock-up demonstrator using MarvelApp, CAD, Animation, etc.
  • Get 4 – 5 meetings with potential lead customers to review

Measure of success:

  • 2 customers agree to pilot a prototype

Risks:

  • Unable to secure demonstration meetings

Resources:

  • In-house resources, travel costs and LinkedIn Premium only

Funded bBy:

  • Promoter’s funds

Stage – Prototype Timing: Months 3 to 6

Major initiative:

  • Agree framework for prototype stage with lead customers
  • Develop working prototype – to agreed limited features/command set
  • Company formation

Measure of success:

  • 1 – 2 customers agree to purchase
  • 2 – 3 new customers agree to pilot

Risks:

  • Unable to secure sufficient funding

Resources:

  • In-house resources and travel costs
  • Outsourced tech development – €20- 30K

Funded by:

  • LEO Feasibility Funding / New Frontiers stipend
  • Innovation voucher – for algorithm generation
  • Promoter’s funds & friends/angels

Stage – Market Entry Timing: Months 6 to 18

Major initiative:

  • Secure incubation tenancy
  • Hire CTO and first in-house developer
  • Sales and Marketing hires x 2
  • On-board the first 2 customers
  • Invest in CRM package
  • Complete technical development
  • Attend 1 – 3 national exhibitions and secure speaking slots
  • Start Next Round funding process

Measure of success:

  • Customer income secured – €200k
  • 2 – 3 new customers signed each quarter
  • First segment 2 customers acquired
  • CE Marking, Safety and Compliance certifications secured

Risks:

  • Delays on-boarding key hires
  • Development overruns
  • Delays securing sufficient funding
  • New entrants

Resources:

  • €400K funding requirement (18 months runway)

Funded by:

  • EI Competitive Start Funding
  • EI HPSU Funding
  • Irish VC Funding Delta/Kernel, etc.

Why is this approach important?

There are a number of reasons to use this approach:

  1. For the promoter, it helps break down into manageable steps the road to market entry. It also helps non-financial founders align the sales and marketing, operations and financial requirements of the business for stage of development – which is great when producing three year cash flow projections.
  2. For team members, it provides them with clarity as to what the outcome from each stage of development is. It can also help them see where the business is headed.
  3. For the business plan reader, it summarises what resources are required at each stage and what the output will be in terms of headcount (support agency focus) or monetary gains (investor focus).

So give it a go. You’ll be surprised how easy it can be and what a difference this simple tool can make to developing your company’s market entry strategy.

About the author

Garrett-Duffy-New-FrontiersGarrett Duffy

Garrett is the New Frontiers Programme Manager at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT). An Electronic Engineering graduate from Dundalk Regional Technical College (now DkIT), Garrett has held management and senior engineering roles in a number of multinationals in Ireland, the UK and France.