Tag: business development

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:


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]

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

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!


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]

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

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]

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

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!


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]

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

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]

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

Business strategy why it matters and how to do it

Business strategy: why it matters and how to do it

Business strategy why it matters and how to do it

Years ago, when the internet was in its infancy, I was part of a study group that developed a business plan for Intergift, an online shop that would sell books, CDs and other ‘gifts’, complete with reminders for birthdays, anniversaries. Sounds familiar? A year later, Jeff Bezos would start a company called Amazon in his garage.

The point is that loads of people have a great idea. It’s the people who make a decision to prioritise and act on the idea – and then stay with it – who reap the rewards. We did actually set up a company and made some attempts to get something off the ground. However, looking back, what prevented us delivering on a great idea was not dedicating enough time to it and not setting ourselves any goals or action plan, which all resulting in us just not doing it.

Why strategy?

The starting point for a lot of organisations is that people are too busy working away at an operational level making day-to-day things happen. Sometimes, people think they have a common understanding of where the organisation is going, but often – with some probing – it becomes clear that they don’t. Often, ideas about what the organisation might do to support growth are floating around and are either not acted upon at all, or are acted on in an ad hoc way, depending on the forcefulness of the originator of the idea. The development of a proper strategy has the effect of facilitating a common understanding of where the organisation is going, how it’s going to get there and what goals and action are required to make that happen. A lovely analogy I’ve seen is that of a magnet lining all the iron filings up to point in the same direction.

There are various schools of thought on how important goal-setting is in achieving results. Some argue that if you have a strong vision, everything else will fall into place; others, to varying degrees, argue for the necessity of setting goals and developing action plans to deliver those goals. While I’ve no doubt that people have achieved amazing things through vision alone, setting goals and developing action plans generally provides focus and yields better and faster results.

What do you want?

Consider how you would answer the following questions:

  • What’s your organisation’s VISION?
    That is, what change do you want to see in the world?
  • What’s your MISSION?
    In other words, what is your role in that change?
  • What’s your TOP LEVEL GOAL?
    What is your more specific, measurable, time-bound goal?
  • What STRATEGY are you going to pursue to deliver on that mission?
    What strategic objectives will you set to support that overall strategy? What actions are necessary and when? Who else needs to be involved? How will you measure success?

What’s important to you?

But before embarking on any of this, it’s important to ensure that what you’re setting out to do is in harmony with your values.

Values are principles, standards or qualities we hold to be important. Those cited frequently include integrity, innovation, and family… however, there are a whole host of possibilities, for example: money, success, freedom and loyalty. There is no point in pursuing a mission or goal that conflicts with your organisational values as, eventually, something will give, so it is very important to spend some time identifying values upfront. For example, if conservation or environmental protection is a priority for your organisation, then pursuing goals that conflict with these will not sit well and is unlikely to be successful.

How to build a strategy – the process

Once you’ve defined your values, you can work your way through the process shown, determining your vision and your mission, as defined above. For example, your vision may be that the expected standard of coffee in Ireland would be the same as that in New Zealand and your mission may be to be recognised as the best local cafe(s) in Ireland. Then, it helps to step back and do some analysis, both of the context and of your organisation. What’s the environment like? What forces are at play? What are the key success factors for the industry? How well do you perform versus your competitors? A gap analysis will highlight the knowledge, skills and resources that will help you get from A to B, but also the constraints within which you may have to operate.

There are some great tools to help analysis and understanding of your organisation, for example, a simple SWOT analysis, Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, and the ‘Prevailing Logic’ tool.

Next, step back again and take some time to generate some ideas for possible goals and actions that will help you achieve your mission. Again, there are lots of possible approaches, but good old-fashioned brainstorming with a pen and some post-its is still very effective.

It’s now time to define your top level goal – what’s a time-bound, measurable goal you can set yourself in pursuit of your mission? For example, you may decide that you will open your first cafe in Dublin in one year’s time, or that you will have X cafes with a specific profit in 3 years’ time. What’s your strategy to get there – i.e. how are you going to get there? Set yourself five or six smaller strategic objectives – they might be concerned with finance, sourcing of premises, hiring good staff, barista training, roasting training, sourcing of equipment, sourcing of beans – the key is that they, together, will deliver your top level goal and that they are measurable and time-bound.

This is also the time to agree on what you’re NOT going to do. There may well be fantastic ideas generated at the brainstorming phase that have to be parked – the team will have to prioritise and agree what is feasible within agreed resource constraints; what needs to be increased, reduced and eliminated in order to create. No organisation has infinite resources and in order to effectively pursue agreed strategic objectives, it is essential that resources do not get pulled six months down the line to work on someone’s latest hobby horse. Unless, of course, there is an agreed change in strategy.

Action plan

Referring back to the ideas generated during your brainstorming, define the actions necessary to deliver on each of your 5-6 Strategic Objectives.  You can download a template to help you organise the action items under each strategic objective from my website. What’s important is that you have the resources to pursue the actions and that you set yourself targets and milestones. It’s also advisable to decide on a small number of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that measure how well you’re doing on a month-by-month basis. The downloadable template can be used as a live document to track progress and KPIs.

It’s worth spending a bit of time at this stage considering the risks to your plan and working out some contingency plans.


As many have said before me, “…the only sure thing is change,” so there’s nothing surer than the fact that your plan will require adapting at some stage. In fact, being flexible and being able to respond to changing circumstances is a strength, so periodic review of your plan is important, not just to ensure that you are on track but to ensure that what you’re pursuing and what you’re doing are still relevant.

New Frontiers -Business strategy process - Mary Carroll

Maintaining action

The biggest challenge many organisations face is implementation. All too often, they get sucked back into spending all their time on day-to-day operational issues. Dedicating the required resources, accountability and periodic review of the strategic action plan is absolutely critical – otherwise the strategy document will just gather dust on a shelf.

One of the big advantages of determining your mission, setting strategic objectives and detailing an action plan is that all actions should lead back to your mission. Having an action plan allows you to question whether what you’re doing right now is going to bring you closer to your mission. If not, why are you doing it?

About the author

Mary Carroll New Frontiers

Mary Carroll

Mary Carroll is a business strategist and coach with over 25 years’ experience in design engineering, management consulting and business development. She is also an Enterprise Ireland mentor… [Read Mary’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

New Frontiers Business expansion scaling your startup

Business expansion: scaling your startup

New Frontier s Business expansion scaling your startup

Any small company that has tried to expand will tell you that it’s a tricky business! Expansion – whether it’s increasing the number of staff, adding new product lines or more retail locations – brings an array of potential problems and headaches.

The risks of scaling your business are real, and they are as problematic for young startups as they are for large, established companies. But, in identifying the risks, you can work out solutions, learn from others who have faced the same challenges, and become more confident in forging on with your business expansion plans and strategies.

For my own startup, the Irish Biltong Company, our expansion plans are continually growing as new markets present themselves to us. I’ve found that the key is to identify the correct markets and grow in that direction. Here are my top tips for successfully growing your startup:

Maintain a healthy balance

Some business owners (and I was of this frame of mind for a while) think that business expansion is not going to affect their family life, their health, or their personal finances; and that they can be separated from the ongoing pressures of growing the business. Well, I have found that this is definitely not the case! One major change I have made in recent times is to safeguard myself against poor health by getting regular exercise, eating well and spending quality time (vs. quantity time) with family members. This is as important as anything else.

Prepare the whole team for growth

Business growth and expansion brings pressures to your daily systems, and your current structure and team may not have had the time or experience to get geared up for increased production or services due to a sudden growth in demand for your product. Our team had to increase production rapidly to cope with the influx of new sales over a short period of time. Luckily, we were prepared for this potential growth from the beginning and had production capacity schedules to call on and put into action. The team were motivated to deal with this quick growth and it was all hands on deck!

Keep an eye on cash flow

Cash flow is critical to successful expansion, as new timings of payables and receivables can cause financial strain. When expanding and increasing production, it is really important that the daily cash flow is strictly monitored to insure that your company can maintain its daily out. Cash is king – we’ve all heard this saying and it is more true today than ever before, especially for a small business expanding. A healthy profit may look nice on your financial statements, but if capital expenditures or extending credit terms are draining your cash, you won’t be able to stay in business for long.  Too often, small business owners fail to focus enough on cash flow generation. For small businesses, handling business accounting and taxes may be within the capabilities of the business owners, but professional help is usually a good idea. Getting assistance with managing cash and the bookkeeping can allow you to excel when others are calling it quits.

Think about customer service

When focusing on growth and rushing to meet a rise in demand, customer service can sometimes slip. As a company who prides itself on customer service levels it was crucial that we ensured the continuing level of service to our loyal customers whilst bringing new customers on board. Smartphones, social media, texting, email, Twitter and other communication channels are making it easy for businesses and individuals to get their messages out. Figuring out the right marketing channels is key for businesses to be successful in the future. These channels are equally valuable when it comes to customer service.

We quickly identified that our key customers were avid users of Twitter and Instagram. By running polls and asking for feedback from our followers, we were able to identify what new aspects of our existing products these customers wanted. Identifying what our customers want and doing a better job of giving it to them has made all the difference in our expansion and planning for the future.

Take employees with you

Employees can become uneasy about change. From the beginning of our business, we shared our vision of growth with our employees. We stirred in them the passion for growth and productivity that we needed to push forward and develop our products. We identified and made the need for change well-known throughout the business. We also facilitated ownership of this change by involving employees in the planning and implementation processes. We encouraged them to offer suggestions of solutions to problems that arose from our scaling activities. We gave genuine regard to the concerns of our employees, and we put procedures in place to monitor the effects of change.

There’s no one way to scale a business, but by ensuring you have the right vision and culture in place, backed by strong procedures, you’ll give yourself the best chance of success. Strong leadership is important, but so it taking your team and your customer base along with you. Our business is growing and, as a team, so are we!

About the author

Noreen DoyleIrish Biltong - Noreen Doyle - New Frontiers

Noreen Doyle is a New Frontiers past participant, and the co-founder and CEO of Irish Biltong Co. The company produces an award-winning, 100% Irish, gourmet beef snack that is a favourite of sportspeople and nutrition experts around the country… [Read Noreen’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

Using SaaS metrics and resources to bulletproof your startup’s growth


Understanding the health of your SaaS (Software as a Service) business is crucial, but you need to be looking at the right metrics to accurately measure it. This article brings together some of the excellent online (re)sources that are available to the startup software entrepreneur looking to deepen their knowledge of this area. 

This is my quick reference guide to the battle-hardened experts who’ve earned their scars in the SaaS trenches, and who wanted to make it easier for SaaS entrepreneurs like you and me as we follow intrepidly in their footsteps.

Where did I find these awesome resources?

Most of the resources I have come across were from experts I follow on Twitter – either blog posts they wrote themselves, or others that they recommend.

The articles here are applicable, in my view, for both very early stage startups in the search for Product Market Fit (PMF) from €0 to €1M annual recurring revenue, as well as post-PMF startups looking to scale from €1M annual recurring revenue upwards.

Why should you bother reading any of what I’m suggesting?

Firstly, all credit for the content must go to the various trail-blazing authors behind the linked articles, and I’d strongly recommend you to dig deeper into the areas where you feel you and your business can learn the most.

Secondly, a disclaimer. I don’t claim to have a complete handle on all of this – far from it, in fact. That’s the very reason I’ve invested time (and some money) endeavouring to give myself that better understanding.

Moving outside our comfort zones

I’ve always believed that it’s critical to push yourself (and others) beyond the comfort zones of our learning experiences to date. How else otherwise do we grow? How do we learn from the mistakes of others without reading about and learning from them?

From a business perspective – and especially a startup business perspective – a theme that runs through all of the resources is this: if you want to put yourself into the less than 1% of startups who’ve a decent chance of making a commercial success of your idea, then you need to think differently. And the best starting point is to learn from others who’ve been there before, who can tell you the things that they dearly wished someone had told them the first time round. To learn from the best.

The resources in this guide are principally focussed on the engine of your business. But it’s how the entrepreneurs (some now venture capitalists) featured here did it that is interesting. They roll up their proverbial sleeves and ‘get their hands dirty’. There’s no corner of your business that they don’t look into. And they do this for good reason. They want to show you that you need to have a complete understanding of every facet of your business; and it’s your metrics that tell you how the business is doing.

Read these resources, learn to love them, and think of them as a trusted old friend who meets you for a coffee every couple of months and asks you: “But seriously, {insert name here}, are you sure you know what you’re doing with this whole startup lark?”

If you learn from these resources, you’ll reduce your risk of failure, and I reckon you’ll be able to look that friend in the eye and reply, with honesty and conviction, and say: “Yes, my old friend, I do.”

Some SaaS definitions

You’re probably already familiar with these definitions, but just in case you’re not, let’s agree some terms that will appear frequently in the resources:

Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)

This is the lifeblood of your business, and probably the bedrock metric against which all others are measured. There are four generally accepted definitions of Monthly Recurring Revenue:

  1. New MRR: new customers coming on board, and the revenue that they bring with them
  2. Expansion MRR: upgrades from existing customers, i.e. your existing customers buying more from you than they did the previous month. Remember, ‘expand’ means getting bigger
  3. Contraction MRR: downgrades from existing customers, i.e. your existing customers buying less from you than they did the previous month. Remember, ‘contract’ means getting smaller
  4. Cancelled MRR: cancellations by existing customers, i.e. the dreaded ‘churn’ where you lose a customer completely

Net expansion MRR: Coming back to that word I just used in the cancelled MRR definition. One variant on that would be the definition for ‘Net Churn’ or ‘Net Expansion MRR’. This is where Net Expansion MRR grows faster than gross CMRR (Cumulative Monthly Recurring Revenue from that prior period) i.e. more upgrades than downgrades per calendar month, taking into account any downgrades on a monthly basis. This is the sweet spot that as a startup you should be aiming for.

So we can say that “net expansion” is therefore the difference between Expansion MRR (upgrades from existing customers) and Contraction MRR (downgrades from existing customers).

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

One other important definition (and there are of course many more) would be understanding your CAC, your Customer Acquisition Cost. What does it ‘cost’ the business to acquire a new customer? Broadly speaking, this is calculated by taking your sales & marketing costs and dividing that by the number of new customers in (measured quarterly).

Why is CAC so important in a SaaS business? Because your CAC (the cost to acquire your new customer) is pretty much incurred up front. But the return – the revenue that your newly acquired customer pays to you on a monthly (or otherwise) basis – comes in to your business in delayed (probably monthly) stages. So, it can actually take you (depending on your CAC and MRR) sometimes a year or more before your customer has paid you more than the cost incurred to your business in the effort to acquire them as a customer in the first place! That’s expensive.

Economics 101! That sounds like you’re going to have work out how you acquire those customers, when the revenue to acquire them comes in so late. So, without further ado, here’s a list of some of my favourite experts in the area of SaaS, who I wish I’d known about a long time ago.

SaaS resource list

“Pirate” Metrics

Blog name: 500 Hats

Blog focus: Startups, tech, VC funding

Author’s background: Dave McClure is a venture capitalist and founding partner at 500 Startups, a venture capital firm and startup incubator headquartered in Silicon Valley, founded by PayPal and Google alumni with over $250M in assets under management.

Why it’s worth reading: The whole blog has masses to offer, but I’m specifically recommending an article from 2007 called ‘Pirate Metrics’. Pirate Metrics is just a short-hand way to remember McClure’s acronym, AARRR, for what he considers to be the fundamentals to the customer lifecycle. (Go on, say it aloud: AARRR, pretending to be a pirate! Now you get it!)

McClure talks about what he terms the five steps to success in the customer lifecycle. Understanding where your business is at – how it’s measuring up – in each of those 5 AARRR steps, will help you determine your path of the journey towards success. AARRR stands for:

Acquisition: users coming to your site from various channels

Activation: users enjoying their first visit – a ‘happy’ user experience

Retention: users come back to your site, visiting it multiple times

Referral: users like your product enough to refer it on to others

Revenue: users conduct some monetization behaviour

Recommended reading: Startup Metrics for Pirates: AARRR!

Andreessen Horowitz

Blog name: A16z.com

Blog focus: Andreessen Horowitz backs bold entrepreneurs who move fast, think big, and are committed to building the next major franchises in technology. Founded by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, the firm provides entrepreneurs with access to expertise and insights in innovation, executive and technical talent, market intelligence, policy and regulatory affairs, business development, and marketing and brand-building.

Author’s background:  See above.

Why it’s worth reading: “The key difference between traditional software and software as a service: Growth hurts (but only at first).”

Recommended reading: Understanding SaaS: Why the Pundits Have It Wrong

David Skok – For Entrepreneurs

Blog name: For Entrepreneurs

Blog focus: This isn’t light reading. But it contains the keys to the kingdom in understanding this area.

Author’s background:  Slok started his first company a few months after leaving university at the age of 21, and over the next 25 years founded a total of four companies (Skok Systems, Corporate Software Europe, Watermark Software, and SilverStream Software) and did one turnaround (Xionics). Three of the companies went public, one was acquired, and one initially succeeded, but then failed when he moved the company to the US. After 25 years as an entrepreneur, he became a venture capital partner at Matrix Partners, the firm that had backed his last two companies.

Why it’s worth reading: “This article is a comprehensive and detailed look at the key metrics that are needed to understand and optimize a SaaS business.”

Recommended reading: SaaS Metrics 2.0 – A Guide to Measuring and Improving What Matters

Tomasz Tunguz – Venture capitalist blog

Blog name: TomTonguz.com

Blog focus: See author’s background below.

Author’s background: A partner at Redpoint (VC firm) who writes daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups, including how to fund raise, startup benchmarks, management best practices and team building. He co-authored the book, Winning with Data.

Why it’s worth reading: Great data-centric unpacking of questions that should be being asked by all startups.

Recommended reading: The Importance of Payback Period for SaaS Startups

Andrew Chen

Blog name: @andrewchen

Blog focus: “long-form essays on what’s going on here in Silicon Valley.”

Author’s background: Andrew Chen works at Uber, where he heads up driver acquisition programmes for the Growth team. He writes about mobile, metrics, and growth. He is an advisor/investor for tech startups including AngelList, Barkbox, Dropbox, Grovo, Kiva, Product Hunt, Qualaroo, Wanelo, and ZenPayroll. Previously, he was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Mohr Davidow Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based firm with $2B under management. Prior to MDV, Andrew was director of product marketing at Audience Science, where he started up the ad network business that today reaches over 380 million uniques. He holds a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Washington.

Why it’s worth reading: Don’t trust me, trust Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: “One of the best entrepreneurship blogs of all time.”

Recommended reading: Minimum Desirable Product

Price Intelligently – Price Sensitivity Analysis and your SaaS Metrics

Blog name: Price Intelligently

Blog focus: Helping SaaS leaders align the right product to the right customer for the right price in order to boost revenue and learn more about their customer.

Author’s background: See below.

Why it’s worth reading: The authors drill into you that pricing is a process, and probably the single most valuable and overlooked lever in your SaaS business – many SaaS companies will happily spend thousands of hours building and refining their product, but may only dedicate 6 hours to pricing it – and yet wonder why their business with an awesome product went swirling down the drain.

Recommended reading: Buyer Personas – understanding your customers’ willingness to pay

Jason Lemkin – SaaStr Blog – getting from $0M to $100M faster

Blog name: SaaStr

Blog focus: SaaStr began in 2012 as a simple attempt via a WordPress blog, together with a few answers on Quora, to help share back Jason M. Lemkin’s learnings of going from $0 to $100M ARR with the next generation of great SaaS and B2B entrepreneurs. It has since gone on to become the largest community of SaaS founders and entrepreneurs, with over 3 million views per month and 20 million+ views on Quora, and events hosted throughout the year.

Author’s background: Two time tech entrepreneur (with two successful exits to his name), Lemkin moved into the world of venture capital. Previously CEP of EchoSign, online digital signature tech company acquired by Adobe. What differentiated him was his ability to spot the gap in the resources available to someone interested in the entire journey of a start-up, from idea through to acquisition.

Why it’s worth reading: What distinguishes his blog is his unflinching, searing honesty, his consistent supply of real life examples for the the theories he espouses, and his unrelenting encouragement and infusion of belief in the underlying revolutionary aspect of the SaaS model business model. If you haven’t yet started learning from him, he’d be one of the first I’d encourage you to look at. He’s also co-authored a book called From Impossible to Inevitable with Aaron Ross, who lead the outbound sales and prospecting team at Salesforce which added an extra $100M of revenue. Lemkin’s the founder of arguably the world’s largest pure SaaS conference.

This is the blog of the entrepreneur (exits @ $12M and then $50M) turned VC exclusively focusing on Saas. His writing is compelling and highly educational.

Recommended reading: How to Know When You’ve Hit Initial Traction in SaaS. The Moment When You’ve Got A Real Company. I also highly recommend that you sign up to their weekly articles. For example in his article, The Top 10 Mistakes First Time SaaS Founders Make, point no. 7 is bang on for scaling enterprise level software sales.

Mistake #7: Not going up-market fast enough. Dude. If you have one $100k customer, you can get 2, and then 10. And if you have one $100k customer, you really think the next one can’t pay $150k? Of course they can. Don’t be scared. Don’t be timid. Push up market as fast and as hard as you can. Make the ask. Do it.

Chaotic Flow by Joel York – 10-part guide on SaaS metrics

Blog name: SaaS Blog by Joel York of Chaotic Flow

Blog focus: SaaS, coming from a mathematical background.

Author’s background: CalTech and Cornell scientist and technologist who’s been making and marketing and writing about B2B software (desktop, enterprise, SaaS) for the last 20 years.

Why it’s worth reading: Joel York’s blog contains razor-sharp articulations of all SaaS metrics, and he’s been a pioneer in assisting other entrepreneurs to better understand the area. His illustrations of the maths underlying some of the concepts can help even people who struggle, like me, with basic algebra! He’s written an incredibly useful guide to SaaS metrics.

Recommended reading: In his series on SaaS Metrics and their inter-relating impact on each other, he’s written a great 10 part series of articles which are all in my view well worth reading. It discusses:

  1. Churn kills SaaS growth
  2. New customer acquisition growth must outpace churn
  3. Viral growth trumps SaaS churn
  4. Company time to profit follows customer break-even
  5. Best cast time to profit is simple break-even
  6. Growth creates pressure to reduce total cost of service
  7. Churn creates pressure to reduce total cost of service
  8. Upselling and upgrading accelerates SaaS profitability
  9. Joel’s magic SaaS number
  10. SaaS customer lifetime value drives SaaS company value

Inside Intercom – the blog for Intercom

Blog name: Inside Intercom

Blog focus: Design, customer experience, startups and the business of software.

Author’s background: Irish entrepreneurs build global customer software platform with a suite of products for live chat, marketing, feedback and support – and then write about the experience as they go.

Why it’s worth reading: Beautifully put together posts that are actionable and written from the entrepreneur’s perspective (which is rarer than you’d think).

Recommended reading: SaaS Metrics for Fundraising

See also:

Paul Graham

Blog name: Paul Graham

Blog focus: All matters startup and technology rated.

Author’s background: Paul Graham is a programmer, writer, and investor. In 1995, he and Robert Morris started Viaweb, the first Software as a Service company. Viaweb was acquired by Yahoo in 1998 and became Yahoo Store. In 2001, he started publishing essays on paulgraham.com, which in 2015 got 34 million page views. In 2005, he and Jessica Livingston, Robert Morris, and Trevor Blackwell started Y Combinator, the first of a new type of startup incubator. Since 2005, Y Combinator has funded over 1,000 startups, including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, and Reddit.

Why it’s worth reading: Absolute cutting-edge thinking. He’s one of the most influential thought-leaders in technology today.

Recommended reading: Startup=Growth

See also: his book, Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age

About the author

David Millerdavid miller new frontiers

David is a New Frontiers alumnus and the CEO and co-founder of Complyfile. A successful litigation solicitor in a previous life, David is now on an entrepreneurial journey to develop a world-class online volunteer recruitment compliance software tool… [Read David’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

Building your brand is about sharing your vision

Vision is a picture of the future; it’s how you imagine your startup, where it will be in the years to come and the values it will hold. Vision provides direction and acts as a constant reminder of what you have set out to achieve. If you can learn to share that vision, you’ll be able to grow support for your budding enterprise.

Starting out, we wanted to convey of our vision for how people might interact differently with mobile devices. However, during this early stage of shaping the idea, the actual process can make this difficult, especially when you are being advised to protect your intellectual property (IP) and open up at the same time. Once we had lodged a patent application for our product, Scriba, we were finally free to show people what we were doing and therefore get proper feedback from them. This freedom, and the input of others, really allowed us to start thinking about the long-term possibilities of what we were doing.

The bigger picture

Companies like Google can be incredibly open about their vision and ideas, because what they are doing is so huge and so hard for others to replicate that they don’t really run any danger of being copied. But it isn’t the same for small companies, who have to walk a tightrope between getting validation and feedback and having their concepts stolen!

How you describe yourself and how you position yourself changes as much depending on who you are talking to as the context in which you’re speaking. Being on the New Frontiers programme, I benefitted from regular interactions with the other participants, all of whom were free to discuss their own experiences and challenges. This liberation and interaction with others who were in the same boat allowed me to talk openly about both the detail and the big picture. It was great to be challenged on my vision from day one, and of course within this group I didn’t have to be secretive about my idea!

I come from an architecture background, and we work in a different way on projects. With implicit deadlines and demands, we spend much less time working with an amorphous idea. Parameters are fixed earlier and the development is really only refined over time until it finally becomes a building. So, with this startup, I was conscious of trying to keep the idea loose and open for as long as we could, which allowed other people to give us their input.

Turning the vision into a tangible product

Hardware development involves many complex and time-dependent processes, including design, testing, technologies, manufacturing and distribution that develop at their own pace and can sometimes go out of sync for all kinds of reasons.

At any given moment, one element of the project might be more advanced than another – the hardware, the electronics, the business plan (market, price point, positioning, etc.). It became a time versus effort balancing act. Right now, we’re really happy with the electronics, we’re trying different materials for the hardware and we’re confident about our value proposition… so the current balancing act is looking at other applications that the product could potentially have and quantifying the user benefits that they might provide.

When I first came up with the idea for the Scriba, I wanted a stylus that would be really comfortable to use and give me a more natural interaction with my iPad. I had made a simple design and turned it into a 3D model which I carried around with me… but I really had no idea what direction that this was going to take.

To create a working prototype, I taught myself some basic electronics. I started with a Galileo Board that I had picked up at Hackathon; I managed to get it working, but electronics was a black art to me and I struggled on a daily basis. Staged progress through ten prototypes suddenly made a big leap forward when I switched to a Bluetooth development board. Suddenly I had something in my hands that would actually work!

Maintaining your vision is therefore key to always being able to see the bigger picture and focus on your end goal, especially when you have to change direction because the route you had chosen is no longer open to you.

Build a vision, build a team

Vision is about dovetailing your business idea with your own passion, goals and expertise. You build a vision. My approach to this has been greatly influenced by my experience as an architect – where you have to have an overview of all your projects whilst also keeping track of the little details. When your vision is truly a mix of passion and goals, it becomes easier to maintain and follow through with daily milestones.

Your vision also needs to allow for some flexibility so it can accommodate, and be enhanced by, other people’s ideas. Sharing that vision with other people is key to establishing the business in the first place. I shared and shaped my vision with the other participants and mentors on the New Frontiers programme. Once the patent for Scriba was lodged, we contacted around 5,000 people directly through Twitter – people we had researched as being our target market – and asked them for advice on what really mattered to them.

Around 600 people came back to us with incredibly detailed responses: what they used styluses for, where they used them, how many they owned, where they bought them and what would be valuable features to have. These responses meant that we suddenly had real data we could use. As the product developed we did product testing with small groups of creatives, observed by an ergonomics engineer. We gave people a prototype of the product, but no instructions, and watched how they picked it up, investigated it and used it.

Building a wider community

Sharing your vision is as much about validating your ideas as it is about finding support to bring those ideas to commercial reality. You need to be open to learning through networking, asking questions, sounding people out and, above all, listening. Keeping an open mind and being positive, enthusiastic and helpful can open doors and bring opportunities you had never dreamed of.

I have gained a lot from this process and benefited from:

  • learning how to communicate my vision as clearly and as simply as possible
  • learning how to tell a story well (but remember, the more truth it contains, the easier it is to tell!)

It is very important to talk to others about your vision: share enough information about your idea to arouse curiosity, but not so much as to risk it being stolen. Also, people will be as interested in you as in your idea, so don’t forget to share your own personal journey as well.

Regularly assess what you are learning from the process and how, or if, it is helping you move forward. Sometimes this will mean a pivot for your startup, although for us it was more a case of many, minute pivots – such as changes in positioning or changes in the design – which occurred naturally and continually along the way.

Sharing our vision has been a key factor in building an in-house team and in attracting wide network of advocates whose input has been instrumental in moving our business forward.

[If you’d like to see the video above with sound, click here.]

About the author

david craig new frontiersDavid Craig

David is founder and CDO of Dublin Design Studio and a New Frontiers alumnus. An architect by profession, David decided last year to explore his earlier passion for product design. His startup has created Scriba, a new concept in tablet styluses… [Read David’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

John Teeling on entrepreneurship and the future of business

john teeling

We thought we would speak to one of Ireland’s leading businessmen to see what tips and insights he has for Irish startup entrepreneurs in 2015. Teeling is known for his straightforward approach and boundless energy. Despite a punishing schedule, he found the time to speak to me from his offices in Clontarf, giving me a hint of the openness and positivity he so clearly brings to everything he does.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few decades, John Teeling is the intellectual, globe-trotting founder of Cooley Whiskey and the man who has had more companies listed on the London Stock Exchange than anyone else from Ireland. With current interests predominantly in energy and mining, he’s been a force of nature in the business world since he left academia at the age of 41, after a lengthy teaching stint at UCD.

The serial entrepreneur

Although many people describe him as one, Teeling doesn’t really approve of the term “serial entrepreneur”. He is, he explains to me, a “portfolio entrepreneur”.

The first time you do something it’s incredibly difficult, but once it’s done you realise just how easy it was. And if you’re entrepreneurial already, you tend to see more than one opportunity.

And, having spent a lifetime as an entrepreneur, Telling says he has more opportunities now than ever.

Anatomy of an entrepreneur

Everyone has their own theory as to what “makes” an entrepreneur (there are 100 Million hits for that question on Google, if you’re ever at a lose end). For John Teeling, it’s a simple mix of four things:

Having an idea

An entrepreneur has absolute faith in their idea, and isn’t swayed by the opinions of banks, accountants or other interested parties. They have a visceral belief in their vision. And the real superstar entrepreneurs – the Steve Jobs of this world – see quantum leaps ahead of everyone else. Self-belief is the key.

The ability to gather resources

The ability to recognise and pull together resources is the key to succeeding in business. That’s not just about funding, it’s also about people and technology. You don’t always need to have the money in place to try your idea – you can lease or rent technology, and if there are gaps in your knowledge you can hire someone with the skills you lack.

You won’t find Teeling on LinkedIn or Facebook, but he’s no technophobe and embraces technology where it can bring benefits to his businesses. The Dundalk distilleries, for example, are 98% computer controlled and he’s happy to explore any solution that can improve efficiency and processes.

The ability to handle uncertainty

Uncertainty is “not knowing what you don’t know”. Whereas risk is measurable, there are also things that can happen which you could never have anticipated. Be prepared and expect something to go wrong!

Energy and determination

Follow it through to the end and don’t ever give up.

Building the team

Teeling is responsible for the creation of a staggering number of companies and sits on the board of many. He describes his job of Chairman as one of “acting in times of crisis”. Once he has set a company up, and laid out its roadmap, he likes to take a very hands-off approach to managing the day to day.

But he’s only able to do this if the right team is in place.

I trust the people I hire unless they give me a reason not to. The right people are out there, you just have to go and find them. But expect to make mistakes. And if you’ve made a mistake, fix it as soon as you can.

Teeling is a tough recruiter. As a former academic, he likes to see good academic achievement and technical ability. He believes that entrepreneurs are born, not made, and that education brings that out in them – that they “self-select” by getting the technical qualifications they need.

A lot of entrepreneurs have Type A personalities and are very hard to work with. So finding someone who can work with you is an issue. Choosing the right person is really about having an educated gut instinct.

The future

Teeling sees a few key areas with huge potential for growth in Ireland.

Food and drink

Identifying ways to add value is a big opportunity in the food and drink sector. Whiskey, for example, is sold for nine times the value of its raw ingredient, grain. Teeling sees a wealth of opportunities in the dairy sector, such as whey-based products (protein drinks, sodium lactate and even plastics). Another under-exploited resource is in the meat industry. Because of low domestic demand for offal, most of it is currently disposed of, but Teeling believes that in the future, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals will evolve in this area.


Tidal energy will be a big opportunity for Ireland, as will energy storage.


Special Interest Tourism offers huge growth potential in Ireland. Organised, themed trips are becoming increasingly popular with affluent tourists, who’ll spend a few days totally immersing themselves in a particular area. The example he gave me was of a special interest tour in Mexico, accommodating groups of up to 10 people, who have paid an eye-watering amount of money to spend three days at a tequila distillery. Here in Ireland, such tours could focus on our outstanding food production sectors, music and languages.

John Teeling’s advice to young entrepreneurs

Never look back. If you make mistakes, just move on. You can’t change the past.

Creating a startup is an adventure. Enjoy it, enjoy even the bad times. You’ll look back on them with an enormous sense of achievement. Of course you’ll make mistakes, but if you really feel you have the urge and don’t go for it, you will regret it.


About the author

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage. 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

Sign up for our newsletter!
Get the latest from the blog and updates from the New Frontiers community.
We will never share your information or spam you.