Tag: business development

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

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

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 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]

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

Insights: The five WHYs of New Frontiers

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 IT Blanchardstown. He has 20 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… [Read Colm’s profile]

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Lean Startup using customer-focused development processes

Lean Startup: using customer-focused development processes

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… [Read Dara’s profile]

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New Frontiers National Networking Event - March 8th 2018 - Red Cow Hotel Dublin

The importance of networking for New Frontiers participants

New Frontiers National Networking Event - March 8th 2018 - Red Cow Hotel Dublin

Joe Healy, (Divisional Manager, High Potential Start-ups, EI) – Minister Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Business Enterprise and Innovation – Maria Gavin (Programme Manager New Frontiers, EI)

Of all the feedback received from entrepreneurs over the years, one key benefit of the New Frontiers programme stands out consistently: how crucial networking and peer support has been for their entrepreneurial journey.
New Frontiers participants get a wide range of supports on the programme. For some, learning sales and marketing skills, or successfully pivoting their idea, or preparing for export are the difference between success and failure.

But another characteristic of the programme is that it’s cyclical, and all entrepreneurs (typically, around a dozen at each location) start at the same time and work out of the same incubator. They face their business hurdles together, even though they’re each working on their own project, and celebrate milestones with their fellow participants. Insights and learning are swapped on a daily basis, as the focus is on collaboration, not competition.

So it’s an added bonus that Enterprise Ireland organises a yearly networking event, where all the participants from the previous year – from the 16 locations around the country offering the programme – can come together and network. From speeches, presentations and inspirational talks from alumni in the morning, to dedicated one-on-one networking sessions in the afternoon, it’s a day not to be missed.

An annual networking event

This year’s networking event was held in Red Cow, Dublin, on 8th March. It was opened by Minister Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation, who has some particularly good news for the programme:

“I’m pleased to learn that 2017 proved to be a record year for the New Frontiers programme with 164 entrepreneurs moving through Phase 2. Enterprise Ireland, together with the Institutes of Technology, work to continually develop and improve the programme and so, I’m delighted to tell you that a third phase is currently being developed and will be piloted later this year. This will no doubt be of immense benefit to those participating!

The Government of Ireland, through Enterprise Ireland, is very supportive of the New Frontiers Programme. €3 million was allocated in 2017 to be spent on this programme across the Institutes of Technology. However, it is important to continue investment in programmes such as this. I am pleased to tell you, therefore, that a further €400,000 has been allocated in the 2018 budget to bring the annual spend to €3.4 million this year.”

New Frontiers is the perfect way for early-start companies to position themselves for further HPSU supports. Over 30% of Competitive Start Fund awards go to New Frontiers alumni, with the potential then to become Enterprise Ireland clients and play an important role in the Irish business community.

After the Minister’s address, Maria Gavin, Manager of the New Frontiers Programme at Enterprise Ireland, gave an overview of the day and thanked everyone involved in making the programme such a success.

“I’d like to underline the uniquesness of New Frontiers as a truly national programme, having a significant regional outreach through the IoTs enabling would-be entrepreneurs from all differing parts of the country to benefit from a professional and comprehensive educational programme.

Today is a chance to rightly celebrate and elevate New Frontiers, in addition to thanking all those who make it such a success: the New Frontiers graduates – I admire your bravery and tenacity in entering the start-up arena; the 13 Programme Managers, whose tireless work and dedication benefit all participants; the LEO staff, whose involvement is pivotal in the start-up ecosystem; and to my Enterprise Ireland colleagues – both HPSU & Regional DAs – for their collaboration and commitment to New Frontiers. All of you are invaluable!”

The morning was packed with information. There was a presentation of the HPSU Unit from Sarita Johnston, Manager of HPSU Start at Enterprise Ireland, a Q & A, and a panel discussion with previous participants. Attendees were also treated to some fascinating insights from three highly successful alumni, James McElroy (HouseMyDog), Michael O’Dwyer (SwiftComply), and Ross O’Dwyer (Pundit Arena).

Download the slides from the various presentations

Collaboration and networking

Feedback from attendees was extremely enthusiastic. Everyone agreed that the opportunity to meet with the wider New Frontiers community was invaluable, and the afternoon’s pre-booked networking sessions proved very fruitful.

Many entrepreneurs disclose that isolation is one of the key limiting factors when building their business in the early days. A programme such as New Frontiers helps to beat this phenomenon with its collaborative approach, incubation facilities, group training events and access to mentoring. Events such as the annual networking event are the cherry on the top!

If you have a business idea and are interested in applying to New Frontiers, discover more here!

Discover a few of the entrepreneurs from the class of 2017!

Vicki O’Donnell – Wilder Wander

Joe Fernandez – Data Origami

Charlotte Matabaro – Mohecan Male Grooming

Mel Clohosey – Socialfeedia

Carol Ann McGowan – Heartstone

Joe Perrott – Remote Signals

Ciaran Brennan – PaidAde

About the author


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]

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Competitive Start Fund Regional New Frontiers Enterprise Ireland

Take your startup to the next level with Competitive Start Funding

Competitive Start Fund Regional New Frontiers Enterprise Ireland

Are you a start-up based outside of County Dublin? The latest call for Competitive Start Funding (CSF) is currently open and offering ten startups up to €50,000 each in equity funding. In support of regional enterprise development and job creation, this call is specifically for all regional entrepreneurs with global ambition.

Enterprise Ireland’s CSF is for the startup that is ready move up a gear and bring value to Ireland on an international scale. Does your product or service have overseas market potential? CSF can accelerate the growth of your early stage company, so you can reach internal and external milestones with a sustainable business.

Call closes: Tuesday, 13th March at 3pm

It is time to think big! CSF welcomes applicants which are companies or individuals, but if you really want to stand out from the crowd, prove to the adjudicators that your startup can scale. To grow on a global scale, a startup needs a strong team. This team would ideally be made up of individuals with diverse skills that complement each other. It is fundamental to the application that you can create 10 jobs in Ireland and realise sales of €1 million within three years. This is support for the long haul, so aim high!

To apply for this round of CSF, your early-stage company must be based outside of County Dublin and be in manufacturing or internationally traded services. Subsectors of this include the following: internet, games, apps, mobile, SaaS, cloud computing, enterprise software, lifesciences, food, cleantech and industrial products. The full list of requirements, and lots of other tips and information, are available on the Enterprise Ireland website. There have been many success stories since the CSF first started. Take a moment to get inspired by reading these two case studies from New Frontiers alumni who successfuly applied for CSF.

CSF, the perfect next step after New Frontiers!

Did you know that 30% of the startups that go on to get CSF funding are New Frontiers alumni? The programme is a great way to prepare your business for success, so it’s not really a surprise that after New Frontiers, many startups find CSF the natural next step to take.

Collette McGowan, Founder & CEO, Kollabro

TCollette McGowan, Found & CEO, Kollabrohe Competitive Start Fund (CSF) allowed Collette McGowan to expand her team and invest further in her software development.

Kollabro is a client communication and task management software that instantly saves time and money for digital and creative businesses through clear client communication. Kollabro eliminates the need for phone calls, emails and meetings during a project by having all the project communications in one place.


I faced plenty of challenges starting Kollabro, but ultimately everything in business comes down to sales and cash – that is what my accountant tells me anyway! Cashflow is hard to push through but when you have good people around you, passion, drive and the belief and vision in your concept you will find ways around the challenges you face. I do like to think that challenges are opportunities to learn, pivot and grow.

Applying for CSF

I applied for CSF when we had just completed the New Frontiers programme in IT Sligo. I knew that an investment of €50,000 into our company at that stage would allow us to bring our software successfully to market. We had applied for CSF funding six months previously, but we weren’t ready.

Growing the Kollabro team

Winning CSF funding was an amazing opportunity for Kollabro because it changed everything in terms of our future planning, strategy and growth. It was a huge boost for our team as it gave us the drive and focus to move Kollabro forward. We were pre-revenue at the time, so the €50,000 allowed us to expand our team and invest further into our software development.

Talk to previous applicants

Applying for CSF is not easy, and my advice is to allow for plenty of time for the application process and don’t rush it. Talk to other successful applicants and ask them about their application process and get their tips and advice. Make sure to practice the video pitch – this is the first time the panel will see you, so you need to clearly get across your products or service.

Launching Kollabro

We are currently on the Startlab and The Female High Fliers programmes which will really help us get our marketing and sales strategies in place and allow for our market entry when we launch Kollabro in April 2018. We are currently signing up founding customers who are pre-paying for our software. This is something that we are excited about as there is proving to be a very strong demand for our software pre-launch. We are also going for further investment and HPSU later this year. With this further investment, we hope to expand our team, opening an international office and launching Kollabro into the educational, financial and architectural sectors.

Sean Ó Tuama, CEO, Firemole

Sean Ó Tuama, CEO, FiremoleHaving gone through the New Frontiers programme in Cork, the Competitive Start Fund (CSF) was the obvious next step for Firemole. 

Firemole is a company that focuses on fire prevention rather than fire detection. Our first product, also called Firemole, is a safety tech gadget that warns users of high temperatures from the surface to which it’s attached by sounding an inbuilt alarm, potentially preventing a fire from occurring.

To date, we have shipped over 1,000 units across the EU, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and Firemole will be available in stores nationwide in the coming months.
We are currently working with some of Ireland’s top research centres on the next generation gadget and we are very excited to see the impact we can have in reducing fires and saving lives.

Getting started

The stand-out challenge of the first year was learning about the product development phase and manufacturing. It’s a very steep learning curve and not only is the physical process itself challenging to learn, but you also need to learn the lingo; ‘BOM’, ‘Tooling’, ‘Shots’ and the list goes on. There have been many awkward meetings where all I could do was nod, smile and take a mental note to google that phrase later.

The important thing to do in these situations is to take a step back and really dissect what is being said, as most of the time it’s manageable.

Applying for CSF

Having gone through the New Frontiers programme at Cork IT, CSF was the obvious next step for Firemole. It is an initial stamp of approval that shows private investors that this start-up company is not just all talk.
The CSF is also the next step in getting full High Potential Start-up status which is a huge achievement for companies.

CSF success

The CSF funding bridges the gap between New Frontiers funding and raising an initial investment round. Enterprise Ireland connections are also a huge benefit to me as my company looks to move into the UK market and further afield.

The funding has also been a huge support in allowing me to protect my company; it allowed me to file patents which are currently covered internationally, we have fully registered designs on how the product looks, and trademarks that are registered in the EU and filed in the US and Canada.

The funding has also allowed me to get retail ready and set up an efficient supply chain and drop shipping location, so orders can be sent directly to the person or distributor who has ordered them.

Advice for future CSF applicants

Listen to your Enterprise Ireland advisor as they know the criteria inside out. Differentiate yourself, prove traction in the market and prove that you’re not a one-trick-pony by showing a solid product pipeline.

What’s next for Firemole?

Our shorter-term goals are optimising Firemole.com and progressing with a nationwide distribution deal. Moving distribution into the UK and mainland Europe is the goal by the end of 2018, while also launching the smart version of the product to the market.

Over to you!

Ready to get started? Make sure you are registered on the Enterprise Ireland Online Application System and commence your application from there. As the application process includes a video pitch, we recommend you start preparing right now and don’t leave it to the last minute! For further reading, take a look at our blog post Making a successful Competitive Start Fund (CSF) application.

Everything you need is here on the Enterprise Ireland website.

Good luck!

About the author


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

New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients

Leaders can help employees achieve their New Year’s resolutions

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

New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients

Leaders can help employees achieve their New Year’s resolutions

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 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]

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Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients

Leaders can help employees achieve their New Year’s resolutions

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.


  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.


  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

New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients

Leaders can help employees achieve their New Year’s resolutions

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 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

New Frontiers companies are rising to meet COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients

Leaders can help employees achieve their New Year’s resolutions

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


  • Unable to secure demonstration meetings


  • 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


  • Unable to secure sufficient funding


  • 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


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


  • €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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