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Growing Capital matches PSSF funding for New Frontiers alumnus Smile Genius Dental

Growing Capital Plans To Match Pre-Seed Start Funding (PSSF) For 15 Irish Startups

By New Frontiers blog

Growing Capital matches PSSF funding for New Frontiers alumnus Smile Genius Dental

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In the nascent stages of startup, founders need to achieve product-market fit to attract investors, yet, without investment, reaching that crucial juncture is exceptionally difficult. This is the hurdle that typifies early-stage development – the stage that is arguably the most precarious and pivotal for young companies. This is also the point at which angel investor Gianni Matera aims to make his mark on Irish startups.

Enterprise Ireland’s Pre-Seed Start Fund (PSSF) provides early-stage investment of €50,000 or €100,000 (in two €50,000 tranches), plus access to a Development Advisor and supports from the agency. The PSSF is the bridge for those startups that are still early stage but need investment to really start flourishing, and a large proportion of successful applications for PSSF have come from New Frontiers programme alumni.

The PSSF Booster fund, conceived by Gianni’s company Growing Capital, matches PSSF funding with an additional €100,000 to accelerate the startup. “Our hope is that this larger budget means the startup can reach more ambitious technical and commercial milestones. The process of finding that product-market fit becomes more achievable, more quickly, making it easier to then raise further investment.”

PSSF is emboldening Growing Capital to invest earlier in the journey of a startup, when you can catch a glimpse of product-market fit on the horizon even though it hasn’t fully materialised yet. With a keen eye on New Frontiers programme alumni, Gianni aims to deploy 15 such investments by the end of 2024. The target is bold but calculated, with the anticipation that 60% of these startups will progress to a substantial seed raising round involving Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) fund.

Gianni’s approach is resonating across the investment landscape. In fact, he believes that many venture capitalists, traditionally more inclined to invest more but at later stages, are starting to recognise the potential of earlier-stage startups. It’s a shift in the investment ethos that underscores a broader belief that the earlier the involvement, the greater the influence on a startup’s trajectory.

Anna-Marie Turley, Department Manager for Entrepreneurship & HPSU Operations at Enterprise Ireland, is excited to see how startups can leverage the combined power of PSSF and Growing Capital funding. “It’s a great endorsement to see Growing Capital adding on to the PSSF. It will give the recipients more bandwidth to bridge that gap to seed funding. It will also put companies in a much stronger position to avail of HPSU funding. Having an independent, external investor at this stage gives the business a lot of credibility. On top of the credibility that comes from having gone through Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme, this is really setting them up for success.”

For Gianni, investing is still more an art than a science. He eschews a convoluted decision-making process, instead relying on his own due diligence and judgement. His criteria, though, are clear and discerning. Growing Capital seeks extraordinary, talented people who have spotted an unserved problem in the market with a potential market that’s big enough to build a meaningful company. And he believes that New Frontiers is a great environment in which to find such vision and tenacity.

If you’re a founder hoping to catch Gianni’s attention, it’s vital you can demonstrate your laser focus on the problem to be solved and a strategy to get there with efficiency, innovation, and at a cost that stands out from the competition. Gianni’s ethos is to support, not to steer, allowing the founders the autonomy to make things happen. “In general, I foresee that PSSF will generate a robust, varied, and flourishing stream of investment opportunities for the Innovative HPSU Fund, which is the natural next step in the founding journey of the start-up.”

As a programme, New Frontiers focuses on developing the skills and confidence of the founder, who is often at this stage the only person in the business. However, successful startups require a strong and cohesive team. Gianni therefore expects founders to have pondered the pivotal question, ‘Should I embark as a solo founder, or do I require a co-founder?’

Statistically, there are lots of excellent and successful solo founders, so he is agnostic on this point. But he feels strongly that a founder should have considered both paths and be able to stand over their choice. Solo founders will need the strength of character and charisma that allows them to build and lead a team toward the startup’s goal. Otherwise, the skills and capabilities of the founder may need to be balanced by one or more co-founders.

There is an extensive range of supports available to assist entrepreneurs and startup teams to take those critical first steps in establishing and developing innovative high-growth businesses with international potential, and as Anna-Marie reminds us, “While startups receive significant media attention, it’s important to remember that Enterprise Ireland provides support throughout the entire business journey, not just in the early stages. As a business progresses, we actively assist our clients with follow-on investments and aid in their expansion efforts. We help them scale their operations and facilitate their internationalisation by leveraging our extensive network of over 40 overseas offices. This network equips them with valuable insights on market entry strategies and introduces them to potential customers as their company continues to grow.”

Growing Capital has already invested in around 20 Irish startups, including Glofox, Flipdish, and Siren. Their first PSSF Booster investment was a startup co-founded by New Frontiers alumnus Nipun Kathuria. Nipun completed New Frontiers at TU Dublin – City Campus. His company, Smile Genius Dental, is a platform for streamlining dental workflows for clinics, DSOs, and clear aligner companies, offering a one-stop digital solution for the dental industry.

Speaking about the investment, Nipun said, “This investment from Enterprise Ireland, plus the additional funding from Growing Capital, marks a significant milestone for Smile Genius Dental as we strive to transform the digital landscape for the benefit of dental practitioners and the outcome for their patients. This investment will help us to improve our product, make it more scalable, allowing us to enter key markets and integrate with other ecosystem partners. The New Frontiers programme at TU Dublin has been instrumental in preparing us for investment readiness and in connecting us to the investment network in Ireland.”

Smile Genius Dental’s success is just one example of the potential that lies within the New Frontiers community. The synergy between PSSF and the PSSF Booster has the potential to catapult the growth of 14 other startups by the end of next year, nurturing the seeds of innovation and underscoring the importance of support at the early stages where it’s most needed. As Gianni and his team cast their net wider into the pool of New Frontiers alumni, the PSSF Booster will help to showcase the resilience and dynamism of Ireland’s founders on the world stage.

Gianni Matera founder of Growing CapitalAbout Gianni Matera

Gianni Matera is the founder of Growing Capital, an early-stage investment firm specialising in providing support to startups rooted in Ireland. Before founding Growing Capital, Gianni established DigiTouch, a digital marketing agency that has since been listed on the Italian stock market and employs more than 400 people. He also has prior experience as the country manager for Buongiorno and as a consultant at Accenture.

[Featured image: (l-r back) Diane Hurley, New Frontiers Programme Manager at TU Dublin – City Campus; Anna-Marie Turley, Department Manager for Entrepreneurship & HPSU Operations at Enterprise Ireland; Deirdre O’Neill,

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

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

Top tips for good quality networking

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

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

Who’s afraid of networking events?

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

How to bring your networking a-game

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

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

Jane’s Three Ps of networking

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

Prepare

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

Practice

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

Pitch

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

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

Invest in physical business cards

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

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

Which events should you go to?

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

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

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

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

Final networking takeaways

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

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

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

Turning organisational structure on its head

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

Build relationships, one conversation at a time

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

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

What are the main characteristics of these three conversation types?

Leading conversations are about involving people

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

Performance conversations are about success

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

Coaching conversations are about questioning and listening

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

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

Different approaches in conversations

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

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

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

Advice for questioning and listening during conversations

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

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

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

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

Frank’s guidance for questioning

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

Frank’s guidance for listening

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

Business advice from New Frontiers Programme Manager Jenni Timony

Former Programme Manager Jenni Timony Shares Insights For Startup Founders

By New Frontiers blog

Business advice from New Frontiers Programme Manager Jenni Timony

Jenni Timony is a past New Frontiers Programme Manager and, more recently, the founder of her own startup – FitPink. In a wide-ranging conversation, we explored Jenni’s three decades of entrepreneurial experience, and how it has shaped her approach to her new business.

Jenni Timony former New Frontiers Programme Manager and founder of FitPink

Jenni Timony, former New Frontiers Programme Manager and founder of FitPink

Based in Donegal, FitPink is an activewear business selling functional fitness clothing for women. The company takes a women-focused approach to product development: designed for women and run for women. Starting off with leggings and sweatshirts, Jenni soft-launched the company in 2019, fitting the work around her day job at the Innovation Centre in ATU – Sligo Campus. In fact, she didn’t work full-time on FitPink until November the following year.

The business had its full launch in January 2020, eight weeks before the pandemic hit. Jenni feels that the changes in lifestyle and shopping habits caused by Ireland’s lockdowns probably accelerated the growth of the startup by two years. It brought people into ecommerce that previously would not have bought online, meaning the brand got in front of people much faster than might have happened otherwise. Luckily, these customers also proved to be very loyal.

But it’s a myth to think that if you just launch a website, you can simply sit back and watch the sales pour in. FitPink’s success to date is not accidental. What learnings from previous ventures did Jenni bring to this business? How did she get here?

An early introduction to business

Born in Ireland to an Irish father and Indian mother, Jenni’s family immigrated to Australia during the 1980s recession. She attended high school in Australia and then returned to Ireland for university. Unfortunately, the family’s time living abroad meant that Jenni would have to pay ‘international student’ fees. These being out of reach, she decided to work instead and became self-employed at the age of 18 – starting off with a café and later moving into pre-packed food.

The food company made sandwiches, which were distributed across the country into schools, hospitals, airlines, and retail. With 35 full-time employees, this was a challenging business from the start.

“A mistake that many entrepreneurs make, that I made myself, is falling into a business. You see an idea, you decide to jump in and do it, and from that point you are operating from a position of blind faith rather than informed decision-making. You haven’t researched the market or the industry. I made that some error myself with the sandwich business.

It was a situation where there was demand for the product and very little competition (apart from one publicly listed company, Kerry Group). I just saw this as an opportunity to compete, but what I should have been asking myself was ‘Why are there no competitors in this sector?’ Some of the reasons might have been that food products are very low-margin, have a short shelf-life, are capital- and labour-intensive… It’s really difficult to make money in that kind of business. If you look at the big companies that make products like these, you’ll see that the profit margins are slim to none.

That’s the kind of learning that I always advise other entrepreneurs to take on board at the very start. Do the cold research. Don’t fall in love with the idea until you’ve really looked into it!”

Market research and product-market fit are essential for a business to succeed. Some of the most famous companies in the world took years to find their sweet spot. Even if you’re already weeks or months into your idea, it’s always worth stepping back and doing that research. If you decide not to go ahead, that’s still a good decision.

Lessons from recession

Jenni’s sandwich business stayed the course despite the challenges. But when the last recession hit, it became an early casualty. The company had always ploughed turnover back into the business, meaning there were no cash reserves in place to help cushion the effects of the downturn. It’s one of the common reasons that businesses fail when hit by external or internal shocks; lack of cash is a risk factor for any business – regardless of size or age.

Jenni is adamant about operating on data and not gut instinct. This means research at the very start of the business, but also continually exploring the data in the business and looking into other ways of doing things as the years go by. One example she gives is Facebook Ads. These would have been a go-to for almost any B2C company a few years ago, but given they are universally in decline now, it’s crucial not to be overly reliant on them as a sales pipeline and start experimenting with ads on other channels.

“It’s really important not to get fixated on what’s working for you now, because that won’t necessarily be what works for you next year. This requires continuous research and keeping your eyes open. People have a tendency to assume they know who their customers are, but you must remember to keep researching them and listening to them. And don’t forget to also look outside of that circle to who else might be a good customer or what trends are coming along that your brand might be a good fit for. It’s about being open to opportunity and open-minded – that’s what we call the ‘growth mindset’. I think it’s important to make sure the whole team has that growth mindset.”

Every sector and industry has its opportunities and pitfalls, but it’s important to understand that these cannot be blindly applied, and a good entrepreneur will look at their specific business and context when making decisions. Start with your goals and establish what kind of business you want to run – then work back from there to decide how this will play out in the day-to-day operations of the company. What is different at FitPink given Jenni’s experience working in and advising successful businesses?

A recipe for success

“I was careful not to outsource customer service or fulfilment. Lots of business owners might see these as obvious overheads to optimise through a third party, but I would argue that these are part of the customer experience and therefore core to the business. I don’t see many businesses with 98% un-incentivised five-star reviews that have also outsourced their fulfilment.

It’s said that you can do things when you’re small that you won’t be able to do when you scale, and we’re holding on to doing these things for as long as we can – at FitPink, customer queries and fulfilment are completely manual. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that when we are selling into multiple other countries and languages, but we can for now and that’s vital.”

There’s a lot of advice out there about outsourcing everything you can and automating every possible process within the business, but it isn’t right for everyone. Purpose-driven businesses and those that leverage values-based marketing have been championing approaches like Jenni’s for some time. A good rule of thumb is to outsource strategically and in a way that gives you good levels of control. For cash-strapped startups, it’s a balancing act between operational effectiveness and affordability.

“When you do need to outsource something, staying involved and understanding the ins and outs of what you’re asking for is important. Marketing is a good example; not all agencies can deliver the kind of value that a startup entrepreneur is looking for as agency fees are quite high and the return you can expect from some of the activities often isn’t there. However, if you’re able to put in as much effort or time as the agency, you often get much better results. If you find an agency that is transparent and happy to work in partnership with you, this can be much more productive.”

While the pandemic proved to be an unexpected boon for FitPink, the startup is now closing its third ‘proper’ year in business. In a reversal of the usual startup timeframe, Jenni sees the coming year as offering the biggest challenge so far, with the economic downturn and cost of living crisis presaging a tougher market for the company.

Focus on your core values

External shocks are always easier to navigate when a startup is built on strong foundations. Jenni’s focus on customer service means that the people who buy FitPink products are passionate about them and help spread the word. The team sees this play out in all kinds of ways – for example, if they get a sale in a new area geographically, they see a mushrooming of sales in that same area six or eight weeks later. The company’s quality and environmental credentials also factor in brand loyalty.

“We’re the opposite of fast fashion. While we don’t use ‘recycled polyester’ because it’s not a very technical fabric – we opted instead for a high-quality product at an affordable price. I think that’s important in the current climate. We’re the same quality as our international competitors but at half the price, and right now that’s very important to people.

From the day we started, we used biodegradable packaging (it decomposes at the same rate as a banana skin). Competitors have taken our lead and adopted that since, and I’m glad to see it because that’s great for the planet. Since day one, we’ve supported Plan International – one of the largest international child-centred development organisations. Even through we’re just a tiny business finding our way in the world, I believe that we all have an impact. That’s the power of compounding. It would be great if all startups had that attitude.”

FitPink plans further growth in the Irish market and is moving into the UK market. Jenni intends taking it one step at a time so that she maintains control over those things that are so important to the brand, such as value and customer experience. She will keep operations in Ireland for as long as possible, rather than distributing the team too early. It’s a sector that’s full of opportunity, and FitPink has already proved it can gain traction with its winning combination of quality and comfort without compromise!

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

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

Lauren O Reilly and Bidemi Afolabi cofounders of ProMotion rewards

ProMotion Rewards Is Creating Real Value For Both Brands And Consumers

By New Frontiers blog

Lauren O Reilly and Bidemi Afolabi cofounders of ProMotion rewards

ProMotion Rewards is a consumer rewards startup that connects brands and shoppers. Founded by Bidemi Afolabi and Lauren O’Reilly, the company recently raised €725,000 in pre-seed investment. For this blog, we spoke to New Frontiers alumna Lauren about the journey so far.

Lauren and Bidemi met while completing degrees in pharmacy. In fact, they had an idea for a different promotion startup before having the lightbulb moment that led to developing the ProMotion Rewards app.

Because of their degrees, the founders were already immersed in research and gathering data. While working for a large retail pharmacy group, Lauren saw first-hand how retailers of all types need customer insights that they can turn into concrete business results. But are loyalty cards and customer feedback surveys enough? And, even if a retailer had this information, how can the brands themselves access this and what kinds of consumer trends are hiding in plain sight?

“From the retailer’s perspective, they own the sale. This means they own the related data, and they have the power to then action that data through their channels. We started thinking about the brands that are sold through these retailers; they don’t own the sale and they don’t have the connection with the consumer. A manufacturer of goods might distribute across supermarkets, retail shops, petrol stations, etc. How can they see who their consumers are across the market and reach them with the right offer, at the right time?

We wondered if we could provide really high-quality insights to these brands. We were also thinking about the consumer perspective and their desire for transparency as well as seeing a benefit from this data that can be held about them.”

This became a core of the ProMotion Rewards product – it had to be democratic for the brand but also for the consumer who was bringing all this valuable data to the table. Lauren and Bidemi had identified that the value lies in the receipt, because it’s the only way to really understand what a consumer is buying.

“We became really nerdy about receipts. We looked at how they work, and what their similarities and differences are. That’s where building the product started from, taking the true value from the receipts and rewarding consumers for their data. Obviously, they have complete autonomy and can choose which receipts to upload.”

Lauren and Bidemi have been at university together since 2016. They took part in the Trinity College LaunchBox accelerator with their first startup idea, so they knew they worked well together. The early-stage startup won the LaunchBox programme and gave the founders plenty of experience in essential areas such as the market research process.

“We have different strengths and weaknesses, so we are able to complement each other. Bidemi is the more technical one, he’s a self-taught programmer so he took on a lot of the work of researching the technology and how the product could be built and do what we wanted it to do.

My role was more in researching the value creation side of the product. We wanted to build something that kept the consumer in control but was still seen as very valuable by the brands – that’s the only way a product like this can work. I did lots of primary research with consumers and brands.

There is crossover with our roles, though, because we both like to understand how things work. But we have worn many different hats during this process and if something needed to be done, we just got on and did it.”

The scientific approach these founders brought to their startup is one of its core strengths. They used their own networks to undercover user perspectives early on, then branched out through family and friends to find a wider reach of consumers. The goal was always to bring the broadest range of voices into their research.

“I found that people are very willing to give up some of their time to talk to you if you’re genuinely interested in their problems and opinions. I was like a giant sponge soaking up what they were saying in the most unbiased way! Once we had the MVP, I went back to them to get their feedback. I made sure that people in different countries were trying it out too, as we want the app to be usable in other markets and part of that will be seeing what kinds of differences users in other countries would expect.”

Lauren and Bidemi are well embedded in the startup community, first with their involvement in LaunchBox, then by participating in New Frontiers. They also decided to locate in Dogpatch Labs, which helped them make connections and get introductions to the media industry and the consumer goods industry. As the startup was still in the research phase and not simply trying to pitch to them, these contacts were very willing to share deep insights and knowledge. In fact, Lauren was able to have conversations with some of the biggest and most influential brands out there.

The company is now in a major new chapter as it has secured pre-seed funding of €725,000. The investment was led by Laidlaw Scholars Ventures (LSV), with participation from Delta Partners and Enterprise Ireland. ProMotion Rewards has a new hire starting and will probably hire again soon. This next phase will involve developing the product and getting it in front of more consumers.

“Everyone tells you this, but it’s still a surprise when raising funding takes longer than you expect it to! We started preparing at the beginning of this year and we did the right thing in raising before we actually needed to. That did mean that possibly we jumped in a little before we were ready to, but it also meant that we had a clear idea of what investors needed to see from us.

We worked on our value propositions – different investors have a different focus, so they need to be adapted – and got on a lot of calls. At the end of the day, we wanted an investor we could work well with and who could bring value to the business beyond cash. It’s a bit like a marriage; you have to get along and work well together.

If I went through this again, I would take the early start approach because there is so much involved to get through the process and out the other side.”

ProMotion Reward’s model of transparent data sharing couldn’t be more timely. Consumers are ready for more responsible technology products that respect their needs and privacy.

“I think people are generally tired of feeling spied on and don’t want their data combed through for profit. As pharmacists, we already take a very strong stance on privacy, so that was important to us from the get-go. The whole point of our product is that you have total control over what you share – if you open the app and snap a receipt, you know that’s what you’ve done. In addition, that data has now been anonymised.

In return, you get discount vouchers – or you can donate them to charity if you prefer. We’re giving control to the users and letting them put the benefit of using the app where they want. Brands get insights into consumer behaviour, which is really valuable to them, but without any personal data attached. I feel that our 100% transparency model is different from a lot of products. There’s no sneaky stuff happening, it’s all about direct value being created on both sides!”

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

The three stages of a startup

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

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

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

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

“Love the Problem, Not Your Solution”

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

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

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

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

Getting the most from Phase 1

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

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

Going beyond Phase 1

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

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

Next Steps

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

About the author

Martina Goss Dundalk New Frontiers ProgrammeMartina Goss

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

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

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

New Frontiers Common startup mistakes entrepreneurs

Have you made any of these common startup mistakes?

By New Frontiers blog

New Frontiers Common startup mistakes entrepreneurs

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

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

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

Not having a proper partnership agreement

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

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

Waiting too long to get the next round of funding

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

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

Recruiting for technical skills and not soft skills

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

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

Forgetting to delegate (or worse, micromanaging!)

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

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Bad Elevator Pitches

By New Frontiers blog

You may have a fantastic startup idea, but unless you can effectively communicate it to investors that is all it might ever be – an idea. The good news is that even the most terrible elevator pitches can be polished and honed until they sing.

If you’re looking for secrets to pitching success, then it starts with knowing what not to do…

1.     You’ve forgotten that you’re pitching to a human being

This is a very common mistake entrepreneurs make when they first start pitching. Rather than recognising that investors can be persuaded to be as passionate and excited about your startup as you are, it is easy to fall into the trap of treating them like the inscrutable sphinx. Yes, they need the hard facts but never forget that when you pitch, you are essentially marketing your business idea and the best marketing succeeds because it tells a story. Not sure what your business story is? We advise taking a big step back so you can rediscover what makes your particular business different from the competition.

2.     You haven’t said what problem your startup is solving

They say everyone has a book in them, and it seems we all have a startup idea as well. However, just like the likelihood of getting your book published is low, so too are the success rates for startups. You’ve probably heard the infamous statistic that 90% of new businesses fail. There are many reasons this occurs, such as bad financial management, insufficient growth, and poor leadership. However, one of the top startup killers is that the product/service did not solve a specific customer problem. We hope for the success of your startup that you have recognised the pain point that your business idea alleviates, and if you have then make sure to mention it in your elevator pitch!

3.     You don’t know your numbers

If you ever watched Dragon’s Den, you’ll know that investors love numbers! We’ve already explained how telling a story will stimulate the appropriate emotional response, but now you need to prove how this great idea of yours also works in real-world conditions. If you want an investor to part with their hard-earned cash and take a chance on your business, you will need to reassure them of your financial judgement with some compelling reports. More than anything else, investors want to know how exactly your idea is going to make money – so show them!

4.     Your elevator pitch is too fast

Whether due to nerves or because you’re trying to cram as much information into your elevator pitch as possible, speaking too fast can kill a pitch. People can only retain so much information, therefore it’s your job as the pitcher to make it easy for your audience to remember as much of what you say as possible. Forcing people to try and keep up with you is not going to win you any points. If you’re looking for some inspiration, bring to mind the most captivating human voices in film and television; the languid tones of David Attenborough, Morgan Freeman, Joanna Lumley, and Alan Rickman should come to mind!

5.     Your business idea is too abstract

Right now, you’re in the trenches with your startup. You’re up close and personal with every aspect of it and your head is chockfull with all the different ways it could go. Perhaps you’re deep into research and development at the minute or maybe you’ve been designing your marketing strategy. Before you approach an investor, it is important to distill all these jumbled thoughts down to what is actually important. At this early stage, they do not need to know every minute detail of your business (hence the term “elevator pitch”). Avoid sounding too abstract and knuckle down to precisely what your business is, who your customers are, and why that particular investor should care.

6.     You don’t have a use case

If you really want to stand out from the rabble of entrepreneurs vying for investors’ attention, a great way to do it is by sharing a real-life example of how a customer has already used your product. This ties in well with deadly sin number 2 because it helps you get to the crux of what your business idea is all about – solving a real customer problem. Nothing is as persuasive as showing that real businesses/customers have handed over real money – this gives potential investors confidence in your ability to gain traction. It also is a valuable device to use in your overall business story as well as a perfect opportunity to thread in some impressive numbers to really win them over.

7.     You didn’t practice your pitch

You’ve come to the end of another New Frontier’s blog and we are delighted to still have you with us, but in the words of economist E. F. Schumacher, “An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.” Pitching is a learnable skill just like writing or singing, so pitch repeatedly, into the mirror and to your friends, and make tweaks along the way. While you don’t want your pitch to sound over-rehearsed, you do want to be very familiar with it so that when the opportunity knocks you are always ready to answer!

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

5 powerful habits of successful business leaders new frontiers

5 Powerful Habits Of Successful Business Leaders

By New Frontiers blog

5 powerful habits of successful business leaders new frontiers

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

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

1. Write your $10 million cheque

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

2. Schedule me-time into your calendar

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

3. Set goals for your day

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

4. Eat the frog!

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

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

5. Surround yourself with talented people

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business targets diversity - New Frontiers programme

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business

By New Frontiers blog

Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan For Women In Business targets diversity - New Frontiers programme

Enterprise Ireland has launched the Action Plan For Women In Business, an ambitious and wide-reaching strategy to achieve greater representation of women in business and, particularly, in business leadership across Ireland. We spoke to Sheelagh Daly at Enterprise Ireland to find out more.

Numerous studies prove that having women in executive positions and on boards leads to better outcomes for organisations – with better financial performance and higher employee engagement. Putting women in decision-making roles improves all kinds of business metrics, but we are still not seeing gender parity in business.

An ongoing commitment to gender balance

Focusing on gender balance in business is not new for Enterprise Ireland. There have been a number of initiatives over the past years aimed at improving the ratio, such as Going For Growth or female-only Competitive Start Fund (CSF) calls. The success of these is evident, with Enterprise Ireland investing in three times more women-led companies in 2019 compared to 2011.

Looking forward, it was clear that as the national agency for economic development, Enterprise Ireland had an important role to play in improving diversity in business. CEO Julie Sinnamon asked the agency to put together a plan.

“Harnessing the full talent and expertise of our diverse population will result in better businesses and faster economic growth. Unleashing the creativity and skills of more women represents an unparalleled opportunity for fuelling economic growth in Ireland.”

Julie Sinnamon – CEO, Enterprise Ireland

The plan has been piloted by Sheelagh Daly, Entrepreneurship Manager at Enterprise Ireland. She spent a year putting together the strategy and identifying the first 24 actions for 2020. She started by asking four key questions about the lack of female participation in enterprise: What are the reasons? What are the barriers? What needs to change? What additional supports are required?

“Women in leadership roles means increased profits, improved productivity, better returns on assets, and overall superior performance. We want companies making smart decisions about the senior management team that will help them be the best they can be.”

Sheelagh Daly – Entrepreneurship Manager, Enterprise Ireland

An evolving plan with multiple themes

Action Plan For Women In Business

Research demonstrates that – in general – women take a different approach to business, so the plan includes a commitment to working on a one-to-one basis with women as well as addressing systemic barriers that women tend to face. An excellent example of concrete action is a new grant for Enterprise Ireland clients that offer part-time leadership roles. While a grant already exists for full-time roles, this new funding reflects the reality that many women ready to take on such responsibilities may need more flexibility.

The scope of the plan is broad and in addition to the horizontal focus across Enterprise Ireland activities, we will see initiatives developed in partnership with other agencies, stakeholders, the private sector, and government departments. Input into policy development is likely to be significant as the plan evolves.

But if you were thinking this strategy is just about startups, think again! Research and development, education, mentoring, investment and venture capital, networking, leadership development, showcasing successful businesswomen, and bringing experienced female leaders back to work are all going to be a feature of the Women in Business plan.

“People with more senior management experience in their industry are more likely to spot opportunities for innovative new businesses, plus the beliefs and skills to go ahead with the idea. These people are also more likely to have the all-important network of connections that will make things happen in the business.”

Sheelagh Daly – Entrepreneurship Manager, Enterprise Ireland

The objectives of the Women in Business plan

In total, the plan comprises four main objectives, each with six associated actions that Enterprise Ireland has committed to starting in 2020.

Objective 1: Increase the number of women-led established companies growing internationally

  1. Drive the Women in Business action plan in each division of Enterprise Ireland
  2. Engage with financial institutions to deliver a finance and funding landscape that is accessible and inclusive
  3. Develop a #GlobalAmbition campaign featuring Women in Business leaders and initiatives
  4. Offer increased one-to-one engagement to women-led companies to effectively support growth ambitions and expansion into new global markets
  5. Ensure all Enterprise Ireland programmes and supports are designed to maximise participation by women
  6. Explore proposals for new finance offers to support scaling for women-led established companies

Objective 2: Increase the number of women in middle and senior management and leadership roles

  1. Introduce a new grant for Enterprise Ireland-supported companies to facilitate the recruitment of part-time senior managers
  2. Promote the benefits of diversity to enterprise and provide funding support for diversity planning to Enterprise Ireland-supported companies
  3. Work with external stakeholders to influence national policies to address identified barriers to women’s participation in enterprise
  4. Work with key stakeholders to facilitate Irish companies to improve gender diversity on their boards
  5. Target women managers in Enterprise Ireland-supported companies and within Enterprise Ireland for participation on leadership development programmes
  6. Promote a focus on diversity in the development of skills and talent for Irish enterprise through the National Skills Fora and within Enterprise Ireland

Objective 3: Increase the number of women becoming entrepreneurs

  1. Partner with key stakeholders to drive better access to finance and funding for women at all stages on their enterprise journey
  2. Collaborate with the Local Enterprise Offices to develop and grow female entrepreneurship in every county
  3. Target more women to become founders, mentors, and investors
  4. Ensure enterprise and entrepreneurship policy is aligned with the objectives of the Enterprise Ireland Women in Business plan
  5. Develop, support, and promote a national network of role models to interact with and inspire future entrepreneurs
  6. Promote a focus on women in business in the actions and funding of Regional Enterprise Plans

Objective 4: Increase the number of women-led start-ups with high growth potential

  1. Appoint a dedicated team in Enterprise Ireland to develop and drive initiatives directed at female founders
  2. Issue a series of funding calls targeting women entrepreneurs, and women researchers from third level institutions
  3. Pilot an initiative to include women leaders/senior managers in project teams spinning out from third level institutions
  4. Explore the potential to establish a women-focused seed investment group with key finance industry stakeholders
  5. Roll out national and regional communications campaigns showcasing women entrepreneurs
  6. Offer increased one-to-one engagement to women-led HPSUs and support female founders through mentoring with experienced entrepreneurs who have scaled their businesses

The Women in Business plan addresses a broad range of factors contributing to the under-representation of women in enterprise and will help to initiate sustainable and enduring change in the Irish economy. If you’d like to know more, you can download the action plan brochure, visit the Enterprise Ireland website, or talk to your Enterprise Ireland/Local Enterprise Office advisor.

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients - New Frontiers programme

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients

By New Frontiers blog

Top tips for dealing with late-paying clients - New Frontiers programme

We’re not pointing any fingers, but you know who we’re talking about! When it comes to late-paying clients, there are always a few stragglers. Although it’s not personal and usually just an indicator of clunky business processes, if you’re a small business trying to grow it is hard to be sympathetic. However, if most of your late-paying clients also happen to be your biggest clients, your problem is a bit more of a challenge.

According to ISME, the Irish SME Association, 55% of companies experience payment delays of two months or more (Q2, 2019). CEO Neil McDonnell points out that:

“Smaller businesses do not have working capital to wait for payment as long as big businesses. 36% of multinationals are taking longer to make their payments, showing a total disregard for SMEs.”

It all comes down to big companies wanting to have as much ready cash available to them as possible, but this can turn into a serious problem for SMEs in the long run.

Although no healthy business should be reliant on any one client, this worrying trend of late payments can be detrimental to a small business if not managed correctly. That’s why in this blog we’re going tackle the credit-control challenge head-on.

Should you be giving credit at all?

Providing credit is not uncommon in business, but it is not the rule and you are not obliged to offer it. If you’re a small business ticking over with only a handful of clients and you can’t afford to give credit, then perhaps you shouldn’t. In the creative industries and for freelancers, payment on delivery is the most common payment term. For larger or longer projects, it’s typical to pay half upfront, or even staged payments throughout the life of the project. Maybe your business could adopt a similar model? Take a close look at your current cash flow situation and determine what kind of figure you should be starting the month with. If getting to that figure requires bringing those invoice deadlines closer, then don’t be afraid to put your foot down. Remember, it’s your business and you make rules, not your debtors.

Set clear terms before you start

When a new project or contract comes through the door, it’s tempting to show how keen you are for the business and dive in as soon as possible. But not setting clear boundaries from the outset can be something you come to regret. If you do need to offer credit, then agree in advance what that will be and get it in writing. Ideally, this will already be laid out in your Terms and Conditions, but even so it’s worth drawing the new client’s attention to what these are. If you don’t have Ts & Cs already, or if you want this client to stick to different payment terms, make sure to get this agreed in writing beforehand including a) at what point(s) you will invoice, and b) how many days they will have to pay. If they subsequently don’t stick to these terms, you can start chasing straight away and draw their attention to the agreed terms.

Offer an early-payment discount

As with everything in business, you are dealing with human beings, which means that incentives and motivational tactics can work a treat – especially when it comes to saving money! You don’t necessarily have to offer this to all your clients, but you can pick a select few who you think would be open to the idea. You can offer them a discount for paying within, say, 10 days if that is helpful to your cash flow situation. The only drawback with this strategy is that payments may still be unpredictable. It is up to your client whether they take you up on your offer, and even if they do you won’t be sure exactly when they’ll pay.

Penalise those naughty late payers

Did you know that you are entitled by law to charge interest on late payments? It doesn’t just apply to your Irish customers, as this is a European Union regulation. The majority of businesses don’t do this, perhaps because they don’t know they can, don’t want to rock the boat, or think it isn’t worth the hassle. But you can do this for any commercial transaction and you don’t even need to send a reminder first; you can start charging as soon as the invoice is overdue. The Late Payment Interest rate is currently 8%. This means that if a client was a month late paying a bill of €2,000 + VAT, you’d be able to charge them €16.13 in interest. You can use this online interest calculator to work out what you are due.

In addition, you are automatically entitled to “compensation for recovery costs” without needing to provide evidence of having incurred recovery costs or issuing a reminder. This is a flat fee entitlement. If you had a particularly tricky situation and had to hire a solicitor or debt collection agency, this would obviously be a whole different situation. The automatic compensation you are entitled to under the regulation is:

  • Up to €1,000: €40
  • €1000 – €10,000: €70
  • Over €10,000: €100

Automate the credit control process

These days, there is a software solution to alleviate any business ailment. If you’re tired of payments dribbling past the finish line like the world’s slowest snail race, the time has probably come for more proactive credit control. There are lots of fintech solutions for debt management out there that make it easy to chase late payers. Some examples are Chaser and Fluidly.  With Chaser, you simply connect with your Sage, Xero, or QuickBooks account and set up auto-reminders so that your clients are prompted when their invoice is past due. Solutions like this allow you to personalise these prompts so that your business brand is kept intact. You can also control who gets reminders and how often, and even escalate the reminders to get more serious the longer the debt is outstanding – for instance by changing the recipient and sender of the reminder to more senior counterparts in your respective businesses.

Leverage outstanding bills with invoice financing

A 60- or 90-day credit window can become too much to bear for some small businesses. It’s a situation many businesses try to suffer through but there are ways to get around this problem if chasing your clients isn’t enough. If existing credit terms are now proving challenging for your company’s cash flow, you could look into invoice financing. Invoice financing is a finance facility that allows businesses to borrow money against outstanding customer invoices. Typically, you’ll receive a large portion of the funds immediately and when your client settles the invoice, you’ll receive the rest (minus a fee for the service, of course). This isn’t an ideal scenario in the long-term, but it can get you through a challenging period.

As you can see, there are many ways to manage late-paying clients. The key is to find the solution that works best for your type of business as well as your clients. It can be uncomfortable talking about this issue with clients, but never forget that you deserve to be paid for your hard work. Asking for what you are due is a fair and reasonable thing to do!

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

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

The big business trends to watch out for in 2020

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

Our top 4 business predictions for 2020

Irish businesses will need to get 5G ready

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

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

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

Customer Experience will benefit from automation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gen Z will enter the workforce

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

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

coworking vs traditional office - new frontiers programme Enterprise Ireland

Coworking space vs the traditional office – which will you choose?

By New Frontiers blog

coworking vs traditional office - new frontiers programme Enterprise Ireland

Congratulations! If you’re thinking about expanding your workspace then you must be enjoying some startup success right now. You have secured enough customers to have the confidence to make the big move and you want to be fully prepared to take on any extra work. It’s an exciting time, but important decisions need to be made!

With coworking spaces popping up all over Ireland, it is no longer a given that a startup should have its own private office. There are advantages and disadvantages to both scenarios and which work environment you should choose all depends on your specific needs and priorities. However, we can provide you with some helpful food for thought to guide you through your decision-making process.

Coworking spaces as a budget-friendly option

The main draws for opting for a coworking space are flexibility and cost-saving. Renting private office space is a big commitment and cost for any business, but the return of Celtic Tiger pricing is exacerbating the issue. If you’re looking to rent office space in the capital in 2019-20, you can expect boom-era prices at over €60 per square foot! This doesn’t take into account the cost of insurance, rates, utility bills, cleaning services or the added expense of furniture and technology.

On the other hand, coworking providers offer more affordable hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rates, so you can find a payment option that suits you with a predictable, fixed cost. Dogpatch Labs, for example, is a popular choice for its impressive facilities and is located at the heart of the city centre. They charge €200 per month to hot desk and €400 per month for a dedicated desk. Included in this cost is all utility bills, all service charges, access to meeting rooms, the kitchen, fibre-based internet, the receptionist, as well as refreshments. Another high-quality coworking space is The Tara Building, which keeps a busy calendar of events for its members to get involved in and offers a private, lockable office at €350 per desk. It’s worth shopping around and find the best fit for you.

Compromising on security and productivity

There is an ongoing debate as to whether coworking spaces end up costing businesses with regards to security and/or productivity. While there are advantages to working alongside other business professionals, it can end up being more of a hindrance than a benefit if your work style doesn’t sync well with an open-plan coworking environment.

Privacy is scarce in coworking spaces. If you are hot-desking, you will literally have no idea who you will be sitting beside from day to day. By relinquishing control of fundamental elements of your work environment – such as noise levels, atmosphere, space and seating arrangements – you take the risk that every day is different and not necessarily in a good way. While we all like to think everyone is as courteous and considerate as we are, this is not a given and dealing with these issues in a coworking environment is not as straightforward as it would be in your own private office.

Apart from the potential distractions that come with sharing your work environment, security is another concern. Consider the kinds of discussions you will need to have on a regular basis with your employees, investors, advisors, and clients. How often do you need to discuss sensitive information? Determine if you’re happy for this information to be potentially overheard by other businesses. If your only concern is the weekly meeting, then coworking could still be a good option for you. All you need to do is book the meeting rooms which are available in most coworking spaces.

How beneficial is networking for your business?

If you are just starting out and find that growing your network of business contacts is proving more of a challenge than you expected, deciding to work in a coworking space could be the perfect solution. Coworking spaces are a hub of creative activity. These unique ecosystems enable business professionals, with their various skills and levels of experience, to come together and create coworking communities.

The best thing about this is that most of these companies will also be startups. By entering a coworking environment, you have instant access to entrepreneurs who are going through all the same trials and tribulations as you are! You will have the opportunity to learn from each other, share your stories and act as each other’s sounding boards. The invaluable business opportunities that can be fostered in this kind of environment are limitless.

Many coworking spaces capitalise on this attractive networking opportunity by holding events, primarily for the purpose of aiding the development of supportive business relationships. These can vary from a simple breakfast spread to yoga sessions to happy hour to guest speakers. You’ll easily find an event that will suit you and attract the type of people you would prefer to work with. But if you want our advice, we say dive right in and try them all! You never know who you could meet and how far that relationship could take you and your business.

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to successfully hire your first employee

1.      Identify your startup’s weak spots

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

2.      Document procedures for tasks

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

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

3.      Don’t underestimate the importance of culture fit

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

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

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

Sandra Whelan, Immersive VR Education
read our interview with Sandra

4.      Have them demonstrate their skills

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

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

5.      Have a trial period

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

In this blog, New Frontiers alumnus Pierce Dargan discusses his decision to pivot his business idea and what has gone into building a strong and successful startup. Pierce was careful to get extensive feedback from prospective customers and research his idea thoroughly before making his decision.

When I started working on my own business, over four years ago, it was on a very different idea. Part of the entrepreneurship module for my masters at Trinity College was working on a startup idea. Mine was a marketplace for farmers to look for products and services in their area – such as feed, fencing and manure disposal services – so they could compare prices and make informed choices about suppliers. My background is equine farming, and I felt that a price comparison site, which is very common in a lot of markets, was lacking in farming. I won a number of awards for this idea, including the Trinity College All-Tech Innovation competition.

The importance of validating your market

During the validation phase of my startup, when I started to talk to the farmers I was hoping would become my customers, many told me that price was not their biggest pain point. People generally felt that price was not the big issue for them and in fact they stayed with suppliers because of factors like quality assurance, quick delivery times or credit terms. I spoke to people across Kildare, Cork and elsewhere for this validation phase, and I was very fortunate to meet people who were honest with me about the idea before I spent both time and capital developing a solution. It is important to listen to your potential customers rather than just people in your immediate circle, such as advisors, friends and family. The customer is always the most important person.

When the people I was talking to told me price comparison wasn’t their biggest issue, I always asked what their biggest problem was. Time after time, people in equine yards told me that they were having issues keeping up with the large amounts of paperwork required because of frequently changing equine welfare regulations. Racing trainers and equestrians have to keep medication records for their horses to satisfy regulators and drug testers. Some yards have hundreds of horses, each with their own drug and vaccination regimen. It gets very complicated very quickly and if records are wrong it can lead to heavy fines and, in the most serious cases, prosecution. The yards I was talking to said that if I could develop a solution for this issue, they would be very interested.

Always listen to your target customers

It was at this point I realised that there was a large opportunity to try and build a regulatory technology system to be an education tool that would help ensure compliance for equine yards and help promote equine welfare and transparency. It was a difficult decision to pivot the idea. I had won awards for my original farm marketplace idea and it was hard to let go. However, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, always listen to your customers. It is a common trap that entrepreneurs fall in love with their ideas and don’t listen to what their customers actually want.

Once I pivoted my idea, I knew I would need a CTO who had experience in digitising regulatory paper processes. It just so happened that I ran into a friend from secondary school, Simon Hillary, who had just finished optimising workflows from paper to digital systems for the Oireachtas. Simon came on board, and we started the process of getting our system deemed compliant as a medicines register by the Turf Club (the horseracing regulatory body) here in Ireland and their equivalents in the UK and France.

Early-stage development with support and funding

I completed Phase 1 of New Frontiers at IADT mid-2017. From there, we were accepted onto the Trinity LaunchBox, and I completed Phase 2 of New Frontiers as well. Our Local Enterprise Office has been very supportive, and we’ve had a priming grant and business expansion grant from them. This has all been very helpful, because in all pivoting the idea took two years – refining our solution and getting into the finer details of the regulation.

By 2018, we were ready to launch with an initial cohort of users. That’s when my brother, Finlay, who has a background in finance, joined as our COO. Our app manages the whole compliance process for yards, centrally tracking the what, when, why, and how of medications being administered. Trainers or owners can invite vets and staff onto the system so that everything is tracked and recorded safely and securely.

Our pivoted startup: Equine MediRecord

We already have hundreds of yards on our system across Ireland, the United Kingdom and France, tracking thousands of horses. Our system is the first and only system to be approved as compliant to replace the paper regulatory documents, and the only system in the world ensuring compliance in the equine industry. We won a number of competitions, including the One Zero Conference, ‘Best Use of Mobile’ at Energia Digital Media Awards, and Most Innovative Equine Technology in the UK. We were also accredited with the Business All Star in ‘Regulatory Technology’ at the All-Ireland Business Summit. I also made it into the final 24 (out of 1,600+ applicants) of Ireland’s Best Yound Entrepreneurs, representing the Irish Midlands Region and Kildare at the national competition in September.

As we all become more aware of animal welfare issues, regulations are being strengthened and people need systems to ensure medical record compliance for their animals. Equine MediRecord is looking to enter new markets by the end of the year; we’ve just signed clients in the USA and Argentina and are talking to regulatory bodies inside and outside Europe. We’re also diversifying into other types of equine activity, such as horse breeders and polo teams. None of this would have happened if I had fallen in love with my original idea and been unable to pivot.

About the author

Pierce Dargan Equine MediRecord New Frontiers alumnusPierce Dargan

Pierce Dargan is a fifth-generation racehorse owner and breeder and New Frontiers alumnus. He is the co-founder of award-winning tech startup, Equine MediRecord.

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

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

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

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

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

By New Frontiers blog

Immersive VR Education builds on startup success with a strong team

In 2018, Immersive VR Education became the first New Frontiers startup to be listed on the Irish Stock Exchange’s Enterprise Securities Market. Just four short years after it was founded, Sandra and David Whelan’s company went public with a valuation of around €21.6 million, the first Irish tech firm to be listed on the exchange since its inception.

How did the company create an offering that has landed it clients such as the BBC, JESS Dubai, Oculus, and the University of Oxford? We spoke to Sandra Whelan, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, to discover what goes into building the team that drives a successful tech startup.

Q1. Everyone has their own route to startup. Where did your business idea come from? How did it all come about?

It all began when my husband, David, saw a Kickstarter project for a virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift. He invested, and sometime later the headset turned up at the house. We all tried it out – David and I, and our three children. The technology wasn’t very advanced at that point, but I could see the potential. We all recalled information we’d seen much better than we would from reading a book. It was evident to me that there were a lot more useful applications for this than what was available, especially in education.

This is what got David interested in the sector. He started a site to review VR technology – called Virtual Reality Reviewer, very original! Running that site is what led to us realising there was a gap in the market for educational solutions using VR. We created our own Kickstarter for a project involving the Apollo 11 mission. That gave up 30 days to raise €30,000 and we actually raised €36,000! That’s the moment we knew we had hit on something that could work. David sold his web design business and Immersive VR Education was born.

Through the Local Enterprise Office in Waterford, we were pointed in the direction of New Frontiers. David went through the whole programme and it was absolutely brilliant. He learnt all about the financial projections we needed to do, how to formulate a business plan, and how to pitch it. Before this, he had no experience of public speaking or pitching to investors.

It was evident at that stage that if we were going to go ahead with it, I would need to be involved in a bigger way. Up until then, I was working full-time as a logistics manager while working on this in the evenings. I was going to have to give up my job, which was scary because we have a house and three kids to look after. But we felt that we’re either going to give it 100% or we’re not. David was so passionate too and he really believed in the idea, so I thought, OK, let’s do this together.

Sandra Whelan and David Whelan Immersive VR Education New Frontiers Past participant

Sandra Whelan with her husband and co-founder, David Whelan, CEO of Immersive VR Education

Q2. It is a very niche business you’re in, so how did you go about growing a team?

In January 2016 we moved into our new office, and that’s when we made our first hire: Mike Armstrong. Mike was someone we met through the Virtual Reality Reviewer website, so we already knew him. He is now the Lead Technical Developer for our platform. He actually moved over from America with his girlfriend who he has since married and they now have two beautiful children. By permanently relocating, Mike really has come along the whole journey with us.

To make our second hire, we held a VR party in our office. We thought that if we put out the invite on the right messenger boards and explained that anyone interested in working in VR should come along, then we might find the perfect fourth member of our team. That’s how we met Bobby. So, our first two hires were pretty unorthodox, but after that, we started using LinkedIn and recruitment agencies to hire people.

Q3. Did you have a recruitment strategy?

Initially, our strategy was very much determined by the business plan David had developed on New Frontiers, because that was how we secured funding in the first place. In the business plan, we had stated how many developers we needed, so we always knew this was what that money would go towards. We started by putting up ads on LinkedIn and our own website, but there was nothing really coming through.

The skills we were looking for were not available in Ireland at that stage, so we started to look further afield with recruitment agencies. The result is that today only 10 of our team are Irish, and the rest are either American, European, or Argentinian. We do use Indeed sometimes, but a lot of our hires are through recruitment agencies. The fees for recruitment agencies can be on the high side, but we find it is worth it because it saves us a lot of time and we end up with people who are fully qualified for the position.

Q4. How does hiring people from abroad work in practice? What kind of interview process do you have?

We have a relocation package available for people which comprises of us finding them a house, putting down a deposit on the house, providing their first month’s rent, covering moving costs and also paying for their flights. It is something I took responsibility for from the beginning and I have helped relocate numerous candidates at this point. As you can imagine, it is time-consuming, so it helps that the recruitment agency takes control of the other side of the process. We don’t meet the hires face-to-face until they arrive in Ireland, but we do have Skype interviews.

The first interview with potential candidates is held over Skype and would be a technical interview. Depending on the position applied for we will get them to do a test that they could send back in four or five days. The next stage would be an interview with David and myself, because even though someone may be technically fantastic that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a good fit. For me, that’s more important than anything else and it has been the reason I’ve turned down very good technical people. I know the team they are going to have to work in and if I don’t think they will fit in there is no point in hiring them, no matter how talented they are from a technical point of view.

Q5. Considering your background isn’t in people management, why do you think you’ve been so successful at building a team?

It was a steep learning curve because I don’t have a background in people management. However, before this I was a client manager, so I am good at understanding people. I think it helps that I’m very hands-on in my role. There is no HR manager, it is just me and has been from the beginning, so I get to know everyone individually and I love that. I understand their little nuances and help them get settled when they arrive. Of course, it was more challenging as we grew. We started with a four-person team in January 2016 but that quickly grew to seven people, then 10, then 12 and by March 2018 we had 21 people. Today we have nearly 40 but I think the culture we’ve managed to nurture here is key to our success.

We have a very diverse team with people coming from all kinds of background, which is fantastic, but it also needs to be managed carefully. We decided from the outset to be very transparent by letting people know exactly what we expect from them. We have a very relaxed environment at VR Education, and I am happy as long as the work gets done. That’s why, when someone new starts at the company, we explain how relaxed the work culture is here but make sure to point out that at the same time they cannot take advantage of this.

I also make sure the team receives a lot of feedback. Because of what we do, the workday is mostly people sitting at computers with their headphones in, so I like to give people time to talk. I make sure everyone gets one-to-one feedback from their line manager every month. There is no point in me living in a happy rose-tinted bubble in my office, not knowing what is actually going on outside and there is nothing worse than letting problems fester. So it’s important to give people a chance to air any issues they have at these meetings.

Q6. Is there an example of a problem you came across that you found a solution for?

I noticed in the mornings when people came in there would be a lot of yawning going on. I decided it would be a good idea to push the morning meeting back because people weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders! But we also didn’t want anyone getting burnt out because they all work very hard. That’s why I went a step further and offered the team the option of working a four-day week every second week, as long as they had their work done. I thought this would be great for people travelling back and forth from the UK and Europe to visit their families.

It was voluntary, and about half the staff tried it. But in our feedback sessions, we found out that in reality, people were becoming more exhausted by trying to squeeze a full week of work into four days! It was at this point I asked them if there was a solution that they felt would work better. In the end, the introduction of core hours was the answer because everyone was able to design a workweek that would suit them best. Those up early dropping off kids at school were happy to start earlier and finish earlier, while those who felt like they were only really awake at 10 am could push their day forward. Being able to talk and listen to people in this way means we can get the most out of the team and they can get the most out of their job.

Q7. Are there any other perks you offer your staff?

We offer two team-building events every year, the Christmas one and the summer one. That’s always great fun. We close every Good Friday and we do a full shut down over Christmas, but it’s not counted against people’s holiday entitlement. We hold game competitions in the common area of the office to encourage people to get away from their desks. We also have a fully stocked canteen.

Q8. Do you have any top tips for start-ups trying to build a great team?

Ask your team what they want. I could guess what would work best for everyone, but that’s just my opinion. I think getting real feedback is essential to determine what is and is not working. Also, we try not to differentiate between management and everyone else. I have my office, but my door is physically always open for people to come in and out. Our management team have their desks out on the floor with everyone else. After all, when it comes down to it, we all work for the same company and our goal is exactly the same.

Another thing that I had to learn myself over time was to not be too swayed by other people’s recommendations for potential hires. I found that I have had many hours wasted by talking with someone about a role based on a recommendation. Always make up your own mind on matters like that because you know your company and your team and what works somewhere else won’t necessarily work for you.

To find our more about Immersive VR Education, read our article about their IPO last year or visit their website.

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

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

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

1. Can you convince me to quit my job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Buffett

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Can you spot the shift beneath your feet?

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

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

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

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

4. Who are your beachhead customers?

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

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

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

TL;DR

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

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

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

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

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

About the author

Finn Murphy Frontline Ventures New Frontiers programmeFinn Murphy

Finn Murphy is an Associate at Frontline Ventures, an early-stage venture fund specialising in B2B software. He spends most of his time searching for and working with the most ambitious founders in Ireland, Europe and the US. Finn focuses on finding founders at the earliest stages of company formation due to his recent experience building his own company and running the growth team at another early-stage startup.

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

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

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

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

The 7 real trends shaping the food industry

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

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

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

Food industry trend #1: Changing Meal Patterns

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

Food industry trend #2: Health is Wealth

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

Food industry trend #3: Nutritional Nurturing

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

Food industry trend #4: Real People, Real Food

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

Food industry trend #5: Kits are King

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

Food industry trend #6: Plant Protection

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

Food industry trend #7: Green Me

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

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

About the author

Orla DonohoeOrla Donohoe

Orla Donohoe is a trends analyst, food sector advisor, content writer, and New Frontiers alumna. With a background in international business development, and a career spanning over 20 years in market and client facing roles in Bord Bia’s Dublin, London and Madrid offices, Orla has an immense knowledge of the food sector. Orla’s long experience in analysing trends and advising start-ups led her to the New Frontiers programme with her own business idea in 2018.

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

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

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

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

Expertise

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

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

Cost

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

Time

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

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

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

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

Control

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

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

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

Financial advice every startup entrepreneur needs to hear

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

4 financial tips for startups

1. Tighten up your cash flow

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

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

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

2. Get financial and tax advice

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

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

3. Have access to a bank overdraft

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

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

4. Consider outsourcing

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

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

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

Grow smarter and faster by automating tedious work tasks

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

The definition of a cyborg accord to Oxford Dictionaries is:

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

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

5 ways to automate tasks in your company

1. Clean up your inbox!

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

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

2. Start using voice-to-text software

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

3. Be an automation whizz with Zapier or IFTTT

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

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

4. Get real financial insights with Xero or Bullet

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

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

5. Automation for customer relationship management

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

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

Drone Consultants Ireland wins European Satellite Navigation Competition

Drone Consultants Ireland wins European Satellite Navigation Competition

By New Frontiers blog

Drone Consultants Ireland wins European Satellite Navigation Competition

Bruce Hannah, (Irish National Space Centre), Ian Kiely, Peter Downey and Keith Tracey (Drone Consultants Ireland) at the Galileo Masters

A huge congratulations to New Frontiers participant, Ian Kiely, and his team at Drone Consultants Ireland on being announced as the winner of the 2018 European Satellite Navigation Competition (aka the ‘Space Oscars’).

A Media Cube (IADT) company, Drone Consultants Ireland offers a range of aerial solutions and develops UAV ideas for companies looking to improve efficiency and safety. The company also runs Drone & Tech Expo in the RDS.

The European finals of the competition took place in Marseille as part of European Space Week. Drone Consultants Ireland’s entry, Jack in the Box,  is used for UAV Persistent Surveillance. Self-contained, tethered, and aircraft-deployable, the system provides real-time visual data and pinpoints locations to assist emergency services and disaster relief in remote or inaccessible areas. It monitors up to 300 square kilometres from a fixed position, with flight times up to 500 hours. It can also operate in adverse environments without risking lives.
Jack in the Box can provide reliable positioning data to support emergency services, environmental protection, government bodies, civil defence, and border control on land, at sea, and in remote locations. It offers benefits such as reliable real-time data, extended flight times, re-usable hardware, the ability to network multiple devices, variable payload options, and cost-efficiency compared to standard aircraft.

Drone Consultants Ireland New Frontiers company wins European Satellite Navigation Competition

Peter Downey, Ian Kiely, Keith Tracey (Drone Consultants Ireland) with Bruce Hannah, (Irish National Space Centre)

Congratulating Ian Kiely on winning the European Finals, Dr. Annie Doona, President of the Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Dún Laoghaire praised the winning submission:

“We were delighted when Ian Kiely, a New Frontiers DIT/IADT graduate company from the Media Cube, won the recent Ireland Regional Competition of the 2018 ESNC Awards. To win the overall European Award is a remarkable achievement. I would like to congratulate Ian Kiely and his team and thank him for his engagement with the staff and students at IADT.”

Jessica Fuller, Head of the Directorate of Creativity, Innovation & Research at IADT commented:

“It is uplifting when a New Frontiers graduate flourishes on the programme and Ian’s success is well deserved. “The real value comes from the mentoring and financial supports available through the Media Cube. We are always looking to support entrepreneurs and innovators with a thirst for international success. It’s wonderful to see innovators like Drone Consultants Ireland being acknowledged and awarded for the risks they take. A considerable amount of effort and research made the Jack in the Box vision a reality. We look forward to working with Ian and Drone Consultants Ireland on future projects’.

The Media Cube works in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Office in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council and beyond. It provides state-of-the-art facilities including office space, meeting rooms, boardroom and canteen facilities, serviced reception areas and of course the best sea views from its rooftop terrace!

Ann Marie Phelan, Enterprise & Innovation Manager at the Media Cube and New Frontiers Programme Manager in partnership with DIT Hothouse, works closely with client ventures to help them formulate and refine their proposition and navigate the investment options available to support the growth of their start-up. She is delighted with how well the company is doing:

The success of Drone Consultants Ireland centres on the fact that they started from the premise of building their technology around the problems faced by the emergency services in dealing with natural disaster events. The technology was specifically tailored to address the problems of trying to properly survey inaccessible locations, the need to speedily determine whether there were injuries or fatalities and the need to identify the most efficient rescue route out of the disaster area. A classic example of responding to the pain points of those they wished to serve.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

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

Lean Startup using customer-focused development processes

Lean Startup: using customer-focused development processes

By New Frontiers blog

Lean Startup using customer-focused development processes

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

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

Get out of the building

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

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

Building a Minimum Viable Product – perfection is the enemy

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

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

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

Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder

IMVU – a harsh lesson in customer validation

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

Dropbox – a highly effective MVP

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

Customer development over product development

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

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

About the author

Dara Burke ShowhouseVR New Frontiers ProgrammeDara Burke

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

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

New Frontiers startup, Immersive VR Education, lists on Irish Stock Exchange

New Frontiers startup, Immersive VR Education, lists on Irish Stock Exchange

By New Frontiers blog

New Frontiers startup, Immersive VR Education, lists on Irish Stock Exchange

Former New Frontiers participant company, Immersive VR Education, was recently listed on the Irish Stock Exchange’s Enterprise Securities Market. The Waterford-based technology firm raised €6.7 million before expenses through listings on Dublin’s Enterprise Securities Market (ESM) and the AIM in London. The placing of 60,000,000 shares of 10p each implied a valuation of £19.3 million (around €21.6 million) on admission and the deal was oversubscribed.

Immersive VR Education is a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) software company dedicated to transforming how educational content is delivered and consumed globally. Their virtual reality teaching platform for schools, universities and businesses allows people to create a virtual classroom to bring together teachers and learners from anywhere in the world.

The company was founded in October 2014 by husband and wife team, David and Sandra Whelan. David participated in the New Frontiers programme at Arc Labs (Waterford Institute of Technology’s Research and Incubation Centre) in 2016 and recommends the programme to ambitious entrepreneurs involved in a start-up business. A WIT graduate, he believes the AR/VR market is growing and as hardware becomes more affordable, growth will gain further traction.

“We are at the forefront of this as a VR software and technology group operating in the niche education sector, we provide students, educators with a customisable learning environment.
New Frontiers is a place where you can shape your idea into a business with a group of peers and prepare your business plan for scrutiny from venture capitalists. It’s been instrumental to establishing a solid base for our continued success and the contacts we made during the programme will of course always be useful for advice and guidance going forward.”

The first New Frontiers participant company to list on the Irish Stock Exchange

Eugene Crehan, the New Frontiers Programme Manager at Waterford Institute of Technology, said:

“Immersive VR Holdings is a great example of how an innovative technology start-up can benefit from the business development skills workshops and mentor supports available as part of the New Frontiers programme. By being technically innovative and building a solid investor-ready business plan on the New Frontiers programme in WIT, Immersive VR Holdings secured investments at several stages of their development, culminating in an IPO within three years of being on New Frontiers.”

Immersive VR Education’s listing on the Irish Stock exchange celebrates a number of firsts:

  • it’s the first IPO for an Irish tech firm on the Irish Stock Exchange’s Enterprise Securities Market (ESM) since its inception in 2005
  • it’s the first New Frontiers participant company to list on the Irish Stock Exchange
  • it’s also the first technology firm in the southeast ever to list on the Irish Stock Exchange

Virtual and augmented technologies as an education tool

Immersive VR Education’s free, award-winning platform, ENGAGE, allows educators and trainers to put together their own content in a virtual setting, inspiring students whether in a classroom, lecture theatre, operating theatre, or on the surface of Mars. The company has also won global accolades for its showcase experience, Apollo 11 VR. This multi-award winning educational experience is based on actual events and recreates the full Apollo 11 mission, using original NASA audio and mission data recorded during the 1969 moon landing. It has recently been announced that the Apollo 11 VR experience will feature as part of the launch collection for Oculus Go. In 2017, the company also launched an early release experience of the wreck of the Titanic.

The startup works with businesses and organisations such as Oculus, the BBC, HTC, the Royal College of Surgeons, and the University of Oxford. Post-IPO, the company is looking to establish ENGAGE as the world’s leading digital education and corporate training platform.

[featured image: Sandra Whelan, co-founder of Immersive VR Education, rings the bell at the Irish Stock Exchange. (l-r) Eugene Crehan (Director of Programmes, CEDRE, WIT), Sandra Whelan, Ciaran Cullen (Manager, ArcLabs) and David Whelan (CEO and co-founder, Immersive VR Education). Credit: SON Photographic]

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

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

Orlaith Carmody interview -leadership starts with the self - New Frontiers programme

Orlaith Carmody: leadership starts with the self

By New Frontiers blog

Orlaith Carmody interview -leadership starts with the self - New Frontiers programme

What is the secret to success? Orlaith Carmody, Irish businesswoman and author of Perform as a Leader, says it stems directly from authenticity. Entrepreneurs don’t succeed just because their idea is perfect, but rather it is down to their own unique blend of background, interests and passions.

Interview with Orlaith Carmody - New Frontiers

Orlaith Carmody

Orlaith’s own background as a news reporter and working on the board of RTÉ before diving into the world of serial entrepreneurship, lends well to the leadership and communication skills necessary for building start-ups from scratch.

But Orlaith recognises that the transition isn’t easy. In her book, she highlights how being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey, especially if you were previously employed. The camaraderie, support and teamwork are suddenly gone and it’s just you and your idea.

This is why she is adamant that a true passion for your product or service is necessary to drive you on. Networking is key to this, and you should take full advantages of everything that’s out there. But the bottom line is you have to believe in it yourself!

As for all the other skills that the entrepreneur needs in their toolkit, can you simply learn them? I decided to ask Orlaith herself when I sat down with her for a quick chat…

Clear, engaging written and verbal communication… are these skills anyone can learn?

Yes, all types of communications can be learnt. At an early stage, it’s easy to get caught up with the job in hand – designing, packaging, bringing to market. It’s easy to think that communication is not important at this point. But then you have to pitch for investment and, suddenly, it becomes critical and you have to catch up!

Courses such as those offered by the LEOs or Enterprise Ireland get people in a room to learn the skills and practice in front of peers. Wherever the bar is, it can always be moved higher. If you’re already a natural communicator, you can learn to be an outstanding communicator. It’s like a muscle, the more you flex it the better you can get.

Even when you think you’re too early-stage to worry about communication, the fact is you need these skills for everything you do: speaking to banks, to providers, negotiating with a component manufacturer, when you’re writing to people… You have this one chance to engage with them – or not. When you pitch at a local networking event, you have the opportunity to connect with people who could be instrumental to your success.

So, everything ultimately comes down to communication. It’s the heart of what you do as a business owner.  But if you feel it’s not something you’re good at, go out and get support, because there is plenty of it out there. Grab opportunities to talk about your business and polish your pitch.

People on the New Frontiers programme learn to pitch from day one and will have many different opportunities to pitch along the way. What advice would you give them?

The key is to put the audience first. Don’t assume that people want you to just talk about your product or service, even if that’s what the invitation says. It’s actually an opportunity for you to connect with an audience by letting them know how your offering will benefit them. Put yourself in their shoes and talk about their needs.

Tailor your pitch every time you give it. Don’t just learn one single pitch and deliver that every time – it won’t work if it isn’t about the audience. In the end, your pitch will get stale and you’ll lose passion, which will be picked up by the people listening.

So, keep it lively, relevant and engaging by tailoring it to the audience every time – whether that’s with investors, fellow promoters, potential clients, etc. If you bring new energy to your pitch, that’s infectious and will keep people listening. Obviously you need to know your core script, but adapt every time.

Yes, the security of learning off a template is appealing. Relying on a slide-deck feels safe. But imagine being an investor who has listened to over a dozen such pitches, one after the other. Use your template as a failsafe, not as a blueprint. On a demo day, your goal is to stand out.

Leadership – every entrepreneur is meant to embody it. But how do you become a leader before you have people to lead?

If you came out of a corporate role and had a team in your organisation, you may already have effectively led people to achieve and hit goals. But once it’s you on your own, building your startup, is leadership still relevant? Absolutely, you have to start with leading yourself. You have to be positive and motivated, get into a good routine, be organised and get out networking with people.

By leading yourself and staying on top of your game, every time you go for a meeting with a bank or an investor, you’ll communicate that focus and energy, and, in return, they are more inclined to believe in you and open doors for you.

Then when taking on those first interns or staff members, they will immediately see that passion and drive. This is how you attract the right kind of people; because you need the people who will take a leap of faith in coming to work with your young startup instead of the perk-laden job down the road.

In your book, you discuss your concept of ‘commander to coach’. Can you tell us a little about that?

Being ‘the boss’ is a role that has changed in recent times. The old-fashioned notion that the boss is he (usually) who rules absolutely and must be followed unconditionally used to be universal. I like to describe it as the “I’ve the map written on the back of my eyeballs, trust me, I know where I’m going’’ attitude.

But with millennials and Generation Z, things are different. No one stays in a job for life, people move jobs regularly and they are looking for something more than blind faith and a wage package. They are looking for a sense of purpose. They want to be part of a team that is going to make a difference, they want to believe in what is happening and feel valued, that their voice will be heard, that their contribution is important.

Feeling in line with the direction the ship is going in, feeling motivated and energised – if you as a promoter can offer this, you’ll make a connection with great employees. It’s all about motivating people and being a mentor and coach to your employees, not their commander.

Fewer women than men target leadership opportunities – whether in corporate settings or in building a startup. Why do you think that is still the case?

It is changing, but it is changing slowly. Security is still an issue for women. However we cut it, the reality is that women are still taking the larger burden in care – whether that’s because of children or other carer roles.

Women who have arrangements at work where they can leave earlier to collect children from the creche and other commitments are careful to hold onto such roles because of the security it offers. It stops them, perhaps, in making the leap to entrepreneurship.

Also, women self-select. The phenomenal response to women-only calls for initiatives such as Competitive Start Fund is a clear illustration of this. When I was president of the Irish chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, in 2014-2015, I made an increase in female membership a goal. But it was a real struggle and after six years the current president has the same challenge.

Access to finance, to supports, and to childcare are crucial and need to be in place before we’ll see gender parity in leadership roles. The Silicon Valley culture, which I saw when I started working with start-ups 10 years or so ago, was built on this notion that the start-up was your entire life. You lived in the office, practically sleeping under the desk, and you didn’t surface until your product was built.

When I was a consultant to the first Propeller Programme for women at the DCU Ryan Academy, we knew that this approach would never appeal to women. So the programme was carefully designed to fit with the lifestyle patterns of those who would be taking the course, and a direct rejection of that startup ‘mythology’ which no one needs – male or female – to succeed.

That programme has been very successful, and there are a good number of programmes out there now that are more user friendly. They give participants the space to fit something else in – whether that’s childcare, or a part-time job that funds your start-up, or learning opportunities. We’re much more sensible now and the focus on work-life balance is a healthy one.

When flexible working hours are right across the board – at whatever time of life and for whatever reason – we’ll really see change.

Why not just legislate for gender parity? Wouldn’t that be the quicker solution?

It’s possible to legislate, but I don’t know if we’ll see it here. In the UK, public boards have a quota of 30% female participation, here in Ireland state boards are now gender balanced, and part filled by a public appointment process.  I was one of the first cohorts onto a state board (RTÉ, 2010-15) where some of the appointments were by competition rather than by Ministerial selection.

Eight years on, private boards are still not as balanced as they could be because there is no compulsion to appoint women, and no one wants to see a situation where a woman is only appointed because of her sex, not her skillset. We probably could do more.

However, in the corporate world, people are selected for boards from the executive pool. If women aren’t in that pool to start with, we can’t then complain that they aren’t chosen to be on boards. Women who have had to step back to have children, or haven’t pushed for promotions aren’t there and available for selection.

Recent research from DCU on the impact of maternity leave gave a fascinating insight into the role of the company in a successful maternity leave. The company, and the line manager in particular, have a huge responsibility in how the woman re-engages. When a woman feels that her employer sees maternity leave as a problem, then it becomes a problem for her too.

Welcoming an employee back, making sure she feels facilitated to get back into work and pick up where she left off, is crucial. As we hit full employment and retention becomes an issue for businesses, the onus is on the employer not to make maternity leave a stumbling block. That way, women will continue to climb the ladder and will be in that executive pool where they will get picked for boards. They will be loyal, because they were supported. That’s good leadership.

Orlaith Carmody’s book, Perform As A Leader – The Skills And Strategies To Take You Where You Want To Go, is published by Ballpoint Press. Find out more at gavinduffyandassociates.com.

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

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

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

Featured startup: Dublin Design Studio (Scriba)

By New Frontiers blog

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

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

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

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

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

(click to enlarge the images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A selection of artwork created with Scriba

(click to enlarge the images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Bierman

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

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

Developing your market attack plan in four steps

By New Frontiers blog

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

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

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

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

WKI Commercialisation methodology

Step 1

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

Step 2

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

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

Step 3

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

Step 4

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

Market Attack PlanSo what? Who cares? Why you?

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

Stage – Demonstrator Timing: Month 1 & 2

Major initiative:

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

Measure of success:

  • 2 customers agree to pilot a prototype

Risks:

  • Unable to secure demonstration meetings

Resources:

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

Funded bBy:

  • Promoter’s funds

Stage – Prototype Timing: Months 3 to 6

Major initiative:

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

Measure of success:

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

Risks:

  • Unable to secure sufficient funding

Resources:

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

Funded by:

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

Stage – Market Entry Timing: Months 6 to 18

Major initiative:

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

Measure of success:

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

Risks:

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

Resources:

  • €400K funding requirement (18 months runway)

Funded by:

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

Why is this approach important?

There are a number of reasons to use this approach:

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

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

About the author

Garrett-Duffy-New-FrontiersGarrett Duffy

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