Tag: business development

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

Mistakes to avoid when product testing

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 participant
Gerard 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… [Read Gerard’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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

Four of the Mid West’s most promising New Frontiers startups

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

A strong employer brand is essential for attracting top talent

Gavin Duffy - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

Gavin Duffy on the changing face of business success

Gavin Duffy - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find Dragons’ Den on RTÉ compulsive viewing. It’s amazing to see the varied and imaginative solutions people have come up with – often to problems you didn’t even know existed. Listening to the Dragon’s questions gives a lot of insight into the thought process and approach of experienced entrepreneurs. I always take notes that I apply to my own business, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

So, it was with great excitement that I learnt an interview had been set up with Gavin Duffy – the only Dragon to guard the Den since the show started in 2009. Gavin was already a successful businessman by the age of 17, and has gone on to conquer numerous sectors since then. He also has a keen interest in training, so I knew he would have some valuable insights for our New Frontiers community.

During our chat, we visited some well-worn topics, such as ‘what makes an entrepreneur?’ and ‘do the Irish lack global ambition?’ But we also dug into issues such as education, which I found out is a subject very close to Gavin’s heart.

Is there a particular mindset or personality that makes an entrepreneur?

Of course, not everyone starts a business in their teens as I did. For me, it was a natural progression of what I was doing at the time. Those with the best chance of success aren’t necessarily rushing headlong into it at 17 and making a go of it by some fluke! Typically, the businesses that can really succeed – generate significant revenues and sustainable employment – are those with a founder who has a track record in their sector.

That said, founding a business is a real challenge if you’re older. You might be at the stage where you’ve started a family and have a good job… but you still have that yearning to do your own thing. Deciding to set up a business at that point (jumping the wall, as it were), is a risk and that can be hard on everyone involved.

So, what should those that do decide to jump do first?

There is a fantastic network of support out there these days. You have agencies like Enterprise Ireland or the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) where people can get the help and advice to appraise their startup idea.

True entrepreneurs have a vision of doing things in a better way – whether that’s making, delivering, or producing something. My advice at that early stage is to make use of those available channels and get your idea validated. There is assistance and funding out there to help you with this, so make use of it!

As an investor, are you seeing a higher calibre of entrepreneur seeking capital?

I think in the venture capital (VC) world, we see more informed business decisions being made, certainly. Entrepreneurs are framing their pitches more coherently, they understand the ins and outs of investment, and we hear them use the word ‘exit’ when they describe their strategy.

For me, as someone in the investment community, it’s always good to see someone with a track record in their industry bringing a startup idea to the table. Their proximity and familiarity with the area have allowed them to spot a potential solution or market, which they have then tested thoroughly with the supports available.

What about on Dragons’ Den? Has the standard of those opportunities changed over the years?

You have to remember that Dragons’ Den is a TV show, so things are a little different there. The producers are on the lookout for ideas that are either truly brilliant or completely wacky, because good solid businesses don’t usually make the most entertaining TV.

But in terms of the business plans and investment opportunities presented, I would say there has been a marked improvement over the years. I’m impressed by the business knowledge that goes into the pitches; people are generally very well prepared.

How do you feel about the health of the business ecosystem in Ireland today?

The offering of the entire business community has improved in Ireland; whether that’s business advisors, professional services, even entities such as small accountancy firms that are advising young startups and helping them with business plans and financial strategies. Ireland is definitely an enterprising country.

I take part in the Enterprise Towns expos, which are organised by Bank of Ireland. Most people judge the economy by looking at their local high street and the number of vacant retail units can lead to them lamenting the loss of family businesses and assuming that the economy is struggling. But that’s only because retail as we knew it has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, so much of it has moved online and now high streets are mostly about food and coffee!

However, turn up to an Enterprise Town event and you’ll see as many as 150 amazing local businesses. They may be run from a garden shed, or a shared office somewhere, but they are providing employment and are part of the backbone of the country. During the downturn, some people had no choice but to set something up for themselves, and they’ve proved very successful at it. Industries evolve, we have to learn to recognise the changing face of success.

We’re great at small business, then. But some people talk about a lack of ‘global ambition’ in Ireland. Where do you stand in that debate?

I hear that criticism frequently. “Irish entrepreneurs are happy with ‘lifestyle businesses’ and don’t tend to go further. Or they sell up.” I think this complaint overlooks one thing, which is that in the tech world there are different classes of business. Companies such as Stripe are platform businesses – they are a global play from the very start, and the reality is that such businesses will always be in the minority.

If a business involves a branded product – say, a food product – you can achieve success and go on to enter other markets, but there will always be much bigger players in those markets that you have to either compete with or who will potentially make you an offer you can’t refuse.

I don’t believe that somehow Irish entrepreneurs are less ambitious than anyone else. It simply depends on what part of a market you’re in. If you look at the handful of major, global entrepreneurs, Ireland is very well represented. For instance, you have the Collisons (co-founders of Stripe), or Liam Casey (founder of PCH). Go back a generation and you have examples such as Smurfit Kappa, Independent News and Media, or Glanbia.

Given its size, is conquering the Irish market enough?

Ireland is a pretty small market, which means that businesses must think about other markets. It’s tricky being an island market, too. If you’re in mainland Europe and need to meet people or attend an event, you can get to eight capital cities within an easy train ride. That’s not the case here, but luckily technology is changing the way we conduct business and geography is becoming less and less of an issue.

That said, I recognise that the Irish can get quite fixated on their home market. A few years ago, one of my investments, TanOrganic (founded by Noelle O’Connor), was doing very well in the Australian market. Marissa Carter then launched Cocoa Brown in the Irish market, where she completely surpassed us. It shouldn’t have been an issue for us, as we were taking such strides in Australia, but somehow it felt like a failure not be Number 1 back at home.

What’s needed to ensure the next generations can compete in the global marketplace?

I see a key role for education systems, but they are slow to adapt. Primary education is still chalk-and-talk; at junior or leaving cert level the curriculum is still a reflection of where we were 15 or 20 years’ ago – because that’s how long it takes to effect change in the education system.

Both primary and secondary schooling needs to change utterly. No one graduating from university at this point is going to get a job in a company, work for 40 years and then retire with a nice watch. There isn’t a single industry or sector that operates in that way now. Younger generations need to learn a different range of skills.

It’s not the sole responsibility of schools to make this change. Change is required in society generally, that includes parents, and of course business. In a generation’s time, the ‘professions’ as we know them won’t be employing people at the same level or in the same way. It’s a big challenge that we haven’t addressed yet

So if we add Computer Science lessons to the curriculum, everything will be OK?

Technical skills are crucial, of course, but I don’t mean we need an entire generation of coders, either. Creativity and innovation may be ‘softer’ skills, but they matter just as much. Being able to sell yourself, create a product or deliver a service needs to be engendered in the education system, and reinforced at third level.

It’s great to see some of the Transition Year projects around the country, were pupils set up a business and get some real-life experience of what might be involved. For some, that’s their first ever understanding of business. I was lucky, because business was the family pastime. That’s not the case for a lot of kids.

I’m Chairman of an organisation called BizWorld Ireland. We run two-day enterprise workshops for children aged 10 – 13 and there’s one thing that always surprises me. The children in primary school have these truly global ideas – creative, world-changing initiatives. By the time they get to TY, the ideas are a lot less ambitious.

You’ll have come across Sir Ken Robinson’s assertion that education hinders the creativity of students the longer they are exposed to it. I’ve seen direct evidence of that. So, while we’re teaching children the right blend of skills they’ll need for tomorrow’s workplace, we should also be working hard to stop putting up barriers for them. The ambition younger children have is phenomenal, if we can nurture that we’ll be securing a sound footing for the future of business.

Check out Gavin’s recent article What’s your Business Strategy for 2018? – 5 Easy Wins for the New Year for more business insights

[Featured image courtesy of Ruth Medjber – Ruthless Imagery. Gavin Duffy on the set of Dragons’ Den (RTÉ)]

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage Content Marketing. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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

Four of the Mid West’s most promising New Frontiers startups

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

A strong employer brand is essential for attracting top talent

Richard Mc Manus Exhibition tricks and trips New Frontiers

Exhibiting your startup: a 25-step checklist for excellence

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

New Frontiers participant, Richard Mc Manus, is the founder of luxury seaweed bath brand Cara Mara. A veteran of the manufacturing and export industry, Richard is passionate about health and wellness, and has developed a seaweed product that can be enjoyed from the comfort and tranquillity of one’s own home… [Read Richard’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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

Four of the Mid West’s most promising New Frontiers startups

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

A strong employer brand is essential for attracting top talent

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

Featured startup: Dublin Design Studio (Scriba)

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 Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage Content Marketing. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

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

Four of the Mid West’s most promising New Frontiers startups

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

A strong employer brand is essential for attracting top talent

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

Developing your market attack plan in four steps

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, and a WKI Certified Coach. He has a background in engineering and has lectured in information systems, computer applications and new venture creation. He has been the Enterprise Development Manager at DkIT’s Regional Development Centre since 2007… [Read Garrett’s profile]

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If you don’t have a story you are just another commodity New Frontiers

If you don’t have a story, you are just another commodity

If you don’t have a story you are just another commodity New Frontiers

A single bead of sweat rolled down my forehead as I mustered up the courage to say the words. We had been coming to this coffee shop for years. We had argued over football scores, TV programmes and politics as we sipped our coffee and took in the world passing outside the large window. I was telling my best friend I was gay that day. Of course, he didn’t care and soon enough we were back arguing over football, TV and politics. Six years later in the same seats, he would tell me he was having his first baby. Same seat, same coffee, same place.

My local coffee shop doesn’t just sell coffee

My local coffee shop doesn’t just sell coffee. They sell a space to grow relationships, a space to escape the stresses of the office or home, a place to reflect or get some work done. Too many businesses don’t fully understand the need they are really satisfying for their customers, and so they often concentrate on the wrong parts of their offer. Customers are rarely motivated to go into a coffee shop because they are thirsty.

Understanding your customer’s story will help you better construct your business offer and make decisions that keep your customers coming back. Whether you are a small corner cafe or a global brand leader, one of your key priorities should be telling the stories of your business but more importantly, your customers.

Why does your business exist?

Ask yourself, why does your business exist? What motivated you to start the business? For me, it was a passion for stories about people. I had been working in media for almost 15 years, every day coming across stories of love, loss, endurance, sadness and triumph. I knew there was a value in those stories and I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working for someone else.

I set out to build a platform that would harness and develop a global community of people who could tell stories – journalists, bloggers, community activists and videographers. StoryStock would become a platform where we could connect that community of storytellers with media but also with brands who needed to tell stories about themselves and their customers. We were creating one of the world’s first global storytelling platforms that would connect people who could tell stories with people who needed to tell stories!

StoryStock helps some of the largest brands in the world to bring those stories out. Here are two examples of how stories were used by our clients:

Dairymaster

One of our first customers was Agri tech global Irish company, Dairymaster. They build some of the most advanced farming technology in the world and have operations that stretch from Ireland to the US and into the Middle East. We helped them to start telling the stories of the farmers who use their technology. Soon enough it became clear that Dairymaster don’t just offer new technology that makes life on the farm easier; they offer farmers the opportunity to spend more time with their children, because new technology is doing the work they once did.

We told those real life stories of their farming customers – at home on the farm. That shows other farmers who may be considering investing in new technology that they can have more family time, a more profitable farm and an easier life by using the tech that Dairymaster are selling. By telling the stories of their customers, we helped Dairymaster realise why they existed and how to communicate this to potential customers!

Global Airlines

Global Airlines don’t just fly people from A to B. They bring people who love each other together. Young couples in long-term relationships, workers who want to get home to see their families. They allow people with ideas to share those ideas at conferences on the other side of the world. Those are the stories they must tell. Telling the stories of why people use your product or service is how you will show others just how valuable it really is and why they should be using it too!

Stories help you stand out

Advertising has changed, with adverts fighting for space in a crowded and noisy online market. Stories help you stand out. Storytelling isn’t just for global brands. If you are a small pharmacy, why not tell the stories of how the drugs you prescribe make a difference in people’s lives? Fish shop? – tell the stories of the fishermen who spend weeks at sea so that customers can sit down with a takeaway on a Sunday evening. Every business has a story, and every customer wants to tell a story.  The best brands are built on great stories! Start building today. Tell some stories or find someone who can tell them for you!

About the author

Francis Fitzgibbon New Frontiers participant StoryStockFrancis Fitzgibbon

Francis Fitzgibbon is a New Frontiers participant and the CEO and founder of StoryStock. His startup has developed a platform that connects content creators – journalists, videographers, bloggers, etc. – with brands, media organisations, PR companies and agencies… [Read Francis’s profile]

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Value Proposition and Channel to Market New Frontiers

Value proposition and channel to market

Value Proposition and Channel to Market New Frontiers

We all know that setting up a new business is almost always an uncertain journey, one that can bring enormous swings, from exhilaration one day to doubt and fear the next. There are many reasons why we subject ourselves to this stress – creating a job for ourselves, escaping dull or unsuitable work, a bad boss, or just the simple desire for increased wealth. After all, who would not wish to achieve financial independence?

The entrepreneurial rollercoaster

The chance to create something from nothing, to see an idea in your head develop and work, either in the form of a new service or new product, is incredibly motivating and, when successful, enormously satisfying. “I did it my way” as the song goes. This is the entrepreneurial rollercoaster of business startups. Managing these emotions is important if we want to banish doubt and remain upbeat, confident and committed to our project.

Managing the bad days

While in the set-up stage of my first venture, a tourism business, a very well respected and established player in the market from Sligo declared that he would ‘eat his hat’ if my business worked in Co Laois! This was at my first trade fair in Germany and, for a 23 year old, this was massively undermining and stuck with me.

We need a coat of armor to protect us on bad days like this or to silence natural self-doubt and banish the demons. Luckily, this coat of armor can be built by using solid ‘good business practice’ at the earliest stage in the venture.

The well-known business writer, Joan Margeratta, ventured that you can distil any business down to two key foundational elements – value proposition and channel to market. This rings true in my experience. Yes, there are many other elements that we need and will need in time, but, to start with, these two elements are critical. Properly validated, they constitute solid business practice that will give you confidence and ensure you are more likely to succeed. It is also something that investors will demand if you are seeking finance pre- revenue.

Value proposition and channel to market

The best way for me to explain what I think is required in terms of validating a value proposition and a channel to market is through explaining the process I went through in developing and bringing to market a new domestic kitchen vacuum – Sweepovac.

By way of context, it took a subsequent four years of product development and market entry to get initial traction. That’s four years of uncertainty, challenges and obstacles. I definitely needed a thick coat of armor to get me through this, to give me the conviction to persevere!

Validation

This validation process was simple common sense really. First, we created the cheapest simplest prototype version possible of something that looked and acted like the finished product. We then tested it on end users – homeowners. We set up with this prototype for 3 days in 3 different retail settings – a hardware shop, a kitchen showroom and an electrical retailer spread across rural and urban centers. Over the three days we surveyed 100 people with a 15 question form using a Likert scale. This showed that 87% of people were positive and liked the product. A critical takeaway was, however, that within this group of 17% who absolutely ‘got it’ and were very enthusiastic, 13% had no interest.

Channel to market

Next, I needed to test the channel to market to see if we could deliver the product in the right retail environment, at the right price and at the right time.

I interviewed 20 kitchen retailers, some with retail chains, and the three largest distributors to these retailers. For each group, I had a different questionnaire that set out to establish their interest, their willingness to take on the proposed product and their views on pricing and margin structure.

The results showed that 70% would display, but with varying levels of enthusiasm and that the expected price should be between €90 and €220.

The result

I drew two key conclusions. The first was that 17%, and possibly more, of kitchen buyers would potentially purchase the product if it was presented in the right retail environment, at the right price and at the right time. The second was that there was enough interest among retailers and distributors to ensure that we could present it in the right environment at the right time. I also had strong guidance that I needed to get the manufacturing price down based on the feedback on the retail prices.

Key takeaway

Attempting to launch a new startup is usually, if not always, high risk with dramatic ups and downs. My key message is this: early and solid validation of your value proposition and your channel to market gives you a far greater chance of success and a coat of armour to help weather the process. It will allow you to focus on delivering, on problem solving and help stop you doubting the road you have chosen or second guessing yourself.

It takes bravery to launch a new start up or transform an existing business, it is usually if not always high risk with dramatic ups and downs. Mentoring has given me a wonderful opportunity to meet great people, to learn, to share and to to be part of their journey.

With regards to the gentleman from Sligo, I never had the opportunity to present him with his hat and some salt. The tourism business ran successfully for 13 years, was sold as a going concern in 2005 and still operates today.

About the author

Henry Fingleton Sweepovac New Frontiers
Henry Fingleton

Henry Fingleton is an Enterprise Ireland mentor and the founder of Sweepovac. In total, he is responsible for six startup companies, which has given him a  thorough understanding of the entrepreneurial process. This insight helps him develop and apply appropriate business strategies… [Read Henry’s profile]

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Starting up how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

Starting up: how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

Starting up how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

My business was set up to help those who might be suffering from social isolation, and yet that is exactly what happened to me in the first 12 months of my startup. Since identifying it and talking to others, I have found that this is an issue that can and does affect a lot of business owners, especially those in the startup stage.

I want to share with you how it happened to me, but more importantly how I identified it and managed to overcome it, just before I threw in the towel.

The unsuccessful success

Like most startups, money was limited when I began planning my business venture. Therefore, working from home was the perfect and only solution. I was well aware that running a business was going to be tough. I’d heard all the cautionary advice – getting my business off the ground would take longer than I planned, all the while costing me more money; and I would be working longer hours than ever before, with no holidays and little or no pay initially!

I went ahead anyway, taking over the children’s playroom and had a fantastic afternoon in Ikea buying all the must-haves for my home office. It was what I had always dreamt of doing when I used to commute to Dublin every day for my previous job – what could be better than working from home! With the home office looking like something off Pinterest, I was good to go and got stuck into putting together my business plan and getting ready to launch my business.

Soon launch day arrived and my business – Count Her In – was officially up and running. I worked tirelessly from the minute the children left for school until they came home in the afternoon. I rarely left the office, trying to fit as much as possible into my working days, and then starting again once the children were asleep. It worked and soon we got great traction, with membership steadily rising and fantastic feedback from members and the local media.

But something wasn’t right, I just wasn’t feeling the buzz I thought I would. I didn’t see anything as being a success and habitually focused on all the things I hadn’t managed to get done that day. With no one to run anything past, I mulled ideas and decisions over constantly in my head, even after making them – what if I had just made a big mistake, what if, what if…

The Mill Enterprise Hub

The weeks rolled into months. The business was thriving and yet, I was struggling to the point that I really didn’t know if I could continue. I couldn’t understand why. Christmas was fast approaching, so I decided to take a week off and think about things. I closed the door to the office and I didn’t set foot in it again! Over the Christmas period I had family and friends over, the house was bustling, and I suddenly realised why I was feeling so down about my business – I was alone and I had been for 12 months.

Every day, all day I was at home in my office, working hard, talking to people on the phone and via email, but not face to face. I had gone from working in a building with over 1,000 employees and managing a large team to being on my own. I now realised if something didn’t change then I would give up. I could not face going back to the office, and I didn’t. A friend had previously told me about The Mill Enterprise Hub in Drogheda, a great facility for startup companies where you could rent affordable office space or even just a hot desk, which was more suitable for me being on my own.

As soon as Christmas was over, I went and paid them a visit and knew, straight after walking in, that I needed to be there. There was such a buzz and energy about the place, exactly what had been missing in my home office. I managed to persuade The Mill to let me move in the very next morning, and I have been there ever since. Starting off with a hot desk in a shared office, and – now that we have grown and there are 3 of us – moving into our own office space a few weeks ago. Moving out of my home office gave both my business and me a HUGE boost.

Making simple changes

Moving into a facility like The Mill is not possible for all, but I believe the most important thing for anyone in the early stages of a business, or for someone who runs a business single-handedly, is to not allow themselves to become so engrossed in working hard that they become isolated to the point at which it begins impacting them and the performance of their business.

In January, I also made some other changes which again have really helped:

Networking events

I have made the most of all local events and some further afield, most recently making my way to Clare and Waterford. But even simply popping into something for half an hour during the day that gives you a break from the desk can be invaluable. You never know who you will meet and what impact they could have on your business or you on theirs.

Business inspiration

I have become great friends with a fantastic local businesswoman, and we try to meet on a regular basis to chat about our respective businesses. This has really proved invaluable. It is important to be able to share the more detailed aspects of your business with someone you trust. It is fantastic when you are struggling with something and need to talk it through, especially when it is with someone who understands what it is like to run a business. We happen to be at very different stages – my business is still very new whereas her business is much more established – but we have learnt that we still have the same types of issues, the same doubts and insecurities.

Coffee shops!

I love coffee. It’s my treat to myself when I get a nice coffee and now they are popping up everywhere. There is so much choice and most have free Wi-Fi, so even though I am now based in an office with a couple of others, sometimes I still head out the door with my laptop and go to a local coffee shop to work for an hour. Again, the buzz about the place just gives me an extra boost. I also realise how lucky I am to have a job that allows me that freedom, so that in itself gives me a reason to work that bit harder to ensure I can continue doing it.

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone from what I have learnt is to listen to your own advice. What do you tell those around you? Probably something like look after yourself, ask for help, you need a little break. Next time you give out some advice just actually think about the last time you took your own advice.

About the author

Georgina McKennaGeorgina McKenna New Frontiers

Georgina McKenna is a New Frontiers participant and the founder of startup Count Her In, a free online and offline social community for women. With an interest in mental health, Count Her In is a response to the difficulties of true communication in modern society… [Read Georgina’s profile]

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The key traits of successful entrepreneurs New Frontiers

The key traits of successful entrepreneurs

The key traits of successful entrepreneurs New Frontiers

While there are various traits that can help to equip a startup founder, there is no magic formula or template. I’ve met lots and lots of founders over the years, including people of all personalities, backgrounds, shapes, sizes, ages, etc. There have been lots of great people whose ventures haven’t worked out; and a few dark horses along the way who have entirely flipped any initially negative impressions.

I have worked closely with startups since 2000, most recently as Enterprise Manager at IADT, where I managed the New Frontiers programme and the Media Cube Incubation Centre. Previous roles spanned stints of employment and self-employment, working with organisations like InterTradeIreland, Local Enterprise Offices, County Partnerships, DIT, Enterprise Northern Ireland and various consultancy practices.

The common theme throughout my career has been a high degree of involvement with entrepreneurs taking the step to launch their own venture. I believe there is no better place to work than among a bunch of people who are motivated enough to take that courageous step! So, from my 16 years’ experience working with startups, these are the key characteristics of successful start-up founders that I have identified:

N.B. This is an entirely unscientific glance at a few traits that, for me, have shone through!

Surfing the waves of uncertainty

The only thing that is certain in the early stages of a start-up is that nothing is certain. The reality is that there is an endless range of unknowns for any founder launching their own venture. As Dave McClure, Founder of 500 Start-Ups, says:

A start-up is a company that is confused about (1) what its product is, (2) who its customers are, and (3) how to make money.

In my experience, it’s a minimum requirement for any founder to be able to live with the high degree of flux that marks the early days, months and years (yes, years!) of any start-up; otherwise, there’s likely to be a few too many sleepless nights. In fact, the best entrepreneurs seem to surf the waves of uncertainty.

Deliberate learners

Those who have ‘been there, done that’ (be it successfully or not so successfully) will often say that launching a start-up was the greatest learning experience of their lives. Some of the best founders I have worked with aren’t just happy to embrace the uncertainty referred to earlier, they either have or very quickly develop a very sharp sense of what they know and what they don’t know (but need to know). They then proactively set out to figure out some of the unknowns, reflect on the outcome and adapt their next steps accordingly. Deliberately learning every step of the way.

Glass half-full

All sorts of academic studies over the years have identified optimism as a key trait of successful entrepreneurs and there’s no doubt that it helps hugely to have a ‘glass half-full’ outlook on things. Indeed, the expression fits perfectly here, as it suggests an outlook which is on the positive side of neutral, without veering towards unbridled optimism or delusional confidence. I’m often struck by how a lot of founders will find silver linings in circumstances which might see others running for the hills. I’ve admired founders ‘positivise’ their way out of messes like lawsuits for patent infringement, the loss of a key customer or bust-ups with co-founders or investors.

Lone rangers?

Are they bold pioneers, happy to strut off into the unknown and tackle whatever obstacles arise? I’ll happily fudge the answer to this one. Yes, a lot of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve encountered are very capable people who believe in their own capacity to figure things out and often achieve remarkable amounts in the early stages. That said, anyone with their eye on genuine scale knows that they need good people around them – both as co-founders/key hires and within a wider network of ‘brains they can pick’. Finding the right people as co-founders/key hires or simply as ‘good people to know’ demands some degree of networking skill and effort. That’s quite different from rocking up at every start-up gig in town; it’s more about proactively and discerningly building a web of people who might be able to help you. Needless to say (I hope), that involves returning the favour!

Charmers?

Closely linked to the previous point, are all the guys and girls bursting with charisma? No, most certainly not. I have often observed how some participants on start-up programmes will determinedly slog away on their own for years, while others manage to develop whole teams of people who seem happy to come on board and work for free. Similarly, strong founders can keep customers and investors on their side, even when products aren’t working and timescales are slipping. It’s not unbridled charisma that makes the difference; in fact, being too ‘salesy’ is often unhelpful. Instead, having a passion for the project, communicating that effectively and being great to work with are all much more important.

Clever clogs?

Most definitely – but not at all in the sense of academic achievement or brilliance. While being a ‘genius’ is undoubtedly helpful when working on projects based on hi-tech or deep science, being ‘savvy’, ‘sharp’ and ‘on the ball’ will carry you much further along the start-up road than being highly intelligent in the conventional sense of the term.

When talking recently to a bunch of founders who have successfully scaled their start-ups, they all agreed that its people (staff, investors, customers) rather than technology or markets that consume the bulk of their effort and time. In that context, emotional intelligence is possibly the most valuable form of intelligence!

Marathon runners?

Yes, a start-up will take 150% of your energy and commitment, most likely over a distance more akin to a marathon than a sprint. I’ve often been struck by how some of the strongest founders have ‘something else’ which helps keep things in balance, be it sporting endeavours, a passion or past-time entirely unrelated to their business activity, and/or a good helping of time with their family. These will all help you find some clarity amid the sometimes ‘foggy’ and extraordinarily busy journey that is being a start-up entrepreneur. Bear in mind that nothing merits more investment than your well-being and that of your nearest and dearest!

About the author


New Frontiers Dominic MullanDominic Mullan

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

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

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New Frontiers programme How personal experience shapes my startup vision

How personal experience shaped my startup vision

New Frontiers programme How personal experience shapes my startup vision

According to Sir Richard Branson, “The ideas for the best businesses tend to come from personal experience. There are many great ideas that have arisen by other means… but when you are generating ideas for a business, first-hand experience is essential.” This certainly resonates with me and reflects the inspiration behind my company, Itchy Little Monkeys.

My startup offers solutions for kids with eczema. Our products are designed to remove the stress eczema can cause both children and their parents, which is something that I have experienced first hand. Let’s examine why Richard Branson feels personal experience is important and what that means for my business.

1. “Personal connection equals commitment”

My daughter Sienna is the inspiration behind setting up the business. She has suffered badly from eczema since she was a baby. I came up with the idea when searching for solutions that could help her and through the frustration of not being able to find products that worked for us. With 1 in 5 kids having eczema, I knew there must be many parents out there that were going through what we went through with our daughter; i.e. the sleepless nights due to unrelenting itching, not knowing what condition her skin was going to be in the following morning, and the ongoing risk of infection from the scratching. Eczema can be very distressing for both parent and child and there is no cure for it – it can only be managed and it’s all about maintenance.

Having a deep personal knowledge of the problem keeps you focused on finding a solution, and means you have the passion to persevere through the tough times.

2. “Building a business is like riding a roller coaster”

There are inevitable ups and downs when starting a business. Experience of the industry from the customer’s perspective will give you an edge.

We currently offer 2 products, with plans underway to extend the product range.

Our Shruggi is a form of scratch mitten that protects the child’s skin from the damage of scratching. It goes on like a cardigan/shrug over the child’s shoulders, making it easy for parents to put on but difficult for the child to remove. We found that traditional scratch mittens just wouldn’t stay on our daughter, so our Shruggi does just that. It is made from organic cotton and silk and comes in bright, colourful, child-friendly designs.

Our fun storybooks feature the characters of the Itchy Little Monkeys (Max and Mimi). These are characters that children relate to. The stories are fun for kids while also providing top tips and advice for parents to help them manage their child’s eczema, which complement standard clinical treatments their child may be receiving.

3. “You’ll have a competitive advantage”

Having experienced what other parents with kids that have eczema have, we know what our customers are looking for so that gives us a competitive advantage.

I AM the customer I’m targeting, so I know what other parents are going through and what it is they are searching for. I have parents regularly contacting me looking for advice on how they can best manage their little one’s eczema.

4. “You know your customer base”

With 1 in 5 kids globally suffering from eczema (more in some countries), we know there is a market for what we are selling. And since we’re able to relate to our customers, we should be positioned to make better decisions that meet their specific needs and wants.

There is no cure for eczema, it can only be managed.

The Shruggi breaks the itch-scratch cycle of eczema. When kids are itchy, they scratch. The more they scratch, the itchier their skin becomes. Scratching damages skin, with the increased risk of causing infection. Our product prevents the damage caused by scratching, therefore reducing the risk of infection and allowing skin to heal quicker, meaning less stress for child and parent.

I know from experience that looking after a child with eczema can be very stressful. When developing our brand, we aimed to remove the stress or eczema by making it as fun as possible for the child.

5. “You will keep refining your ideas”

Because our daughter lives with eczema daily, we are constantly aware of it and are always looking for better ways to help her and therefore our customers too.

As well as our Shruggi and storybooks, plans are underway to extend the product range. We are constantly thinking of the next way we can help make life easier for kids suffering from eczema.

Because our stories are based on personal experiences of dealing with a child with eczema, I haven’t run out of ideas for writing yet – there is so much we have learnt along the way that we can share with other children and parents.

So, although I have a business background and have previous experience of running a business day-to-day, it is the deep personal knowledge I have of this subject matter that makes me passionate about this business in my quest to help other kids (and their parents!) manage their eczema.

About the author

Nicola McDonnell New FrontiersNicola McDonnell

Nicola is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Itchy Little Monkeys. The startup provides solutions for young children with eczema; its product range currently consists of the Shruggi – an innovative form of scratch mitten – and a range of fun storybooks… [Read Nicola’s profile]

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