Tag: entrepreneurship

Business strategy why it matters and how to do it

Business strategy: why it matters and how to do it

Business strategy why it matters and how to do it

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

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

Why strategy?

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

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

What do you want?

Consider how you would answer the following questions:

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

What’s important to you?

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

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

How to build a strategy – the process

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

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

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

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

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

Action plan

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

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


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

New Frontiers -Business strategy process - Mary Carroll

Maintaining action

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

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

About the author

Mary Carroll New Frontiers

Mary Carroll

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

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Eamon Crosby BriteBiz New Frontiers programme

Case study: BriteBiz – business management solution

Eamon Crosby BriteBiz New Frontiers programme

BriteBiz is a Galway-based technology company that specialises in end-to-end business management software. The company’s CEO, Eamon Crosby, took part in the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

Since qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with PwC 12 years ago, Eamon Crosby has been involved in founding and managing a number of different companies, mainly in the service and events industry. “I had been involved first hand in managing and scaling various companies. We constantly came up against roadblocks with the amount of administration load involved and continually sought ways to streamline processes. Although we were always using modern management tools such as Salesforce and Quickbooks, there was no efficient way to integrate them and create a streamlined, end-to-end solution.” notes Eamon.

A lack of end-to-end solutions for SMEs

He points out that, “Over my years at PwC, I had worked with several large blue chip companies that used highly bespoke and integrated systems, such as SAP or Oracle, but this same streamlined process did not seem to be available for small and medium sized companies, particularly those that wanted a cloud solution.” After many failed attempts to find a better integrated cloud-based solution for SMEs, he decided to go it alone and set about developing the solution for himself – and so the adventure began.

“We developed the software in-house over a two-year period, and began to deploy it within a small number of beta customers. It really did have a hugely transformative effect, allowing companies to scale more rapidly and cut costs significantly through integrated systems,” says Eamon. “BriteBiz acts as an end-to-end solution from lead generation and capture on your website to product and service management, from quotes and e-contracts to booking management, from credit control to payment processing. BriteBiz also has many unique features not available in any other system currently on the market, such as client portals and worksheets for each individual deal, as well as resource allocation. Essentially, it takes the best parts of a CRM, project management system, payments platform and resource management and bundles them all together in a beautiful, easy to use cloud application. BriteBiz makes it easy for companies to do business, particularly companies in service industries.”

A solution that works across many sectors

After a successful deployment within the initial early adoption customers, Crosby and the rest of the team started to notice that other companies across different industries, and across the world, were suffering from the same problems and pain. The application has become a particularly good fit for the hospitality industry. “We work with several hotels and provide them with powerful tools for their sales and marketing teams to manage weddings and events,” notes Eamon.

“We knew that there was a huge potential market for BriteBiz, but there was a significant challenge in developing the correct sales and marketing strategy to achieve this. We became aware of the GMIT New Frontiers programme and decided to apply. The programme has been hugely beneficial in formulating a strategy and developing the best route to market for BriteBiz, we would highly recommend it to anyone starting off a new business, particularly in the tech sector,” says Eamon.

Britebiz is currently scaling from its Galway office and now has customers across Ireland, the UK and the US. “We are looking at bigger markets outside of Ireland, particularly the US. We are targeting the SaaS (Software as a Service) marketplace, which is estimated to reach $300 Billion by 2025. As BriteBiz also has a payment platform, we will also be targeting other high-value markets such as construction industries, the legal profession, IT and healthcare sectors. Our payment platform is currently being expanded to included digitised direct debit, and we will be working more on the payments part of our system over the years ahead, as Fintech technologies continue to develop.”

The company plans to grow its workforce within Ireland over the coming months and years. If you are a company looking for the perfect end to end business management solution, or you are looking for a role with an exciting tech company, take a look at the BriteBiz website. The New Frontiers programme at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology is delivered at Innovation Hubs in Castlebar and Galway.

[The image above shows Eamon Crosby from BriteBiz receiving the New Frontiers Best Emerging Business award from Conor O’Dowd, KPMG]

About the author

GMIT School of Business New FrontiersPhotograph by Aengus McMahonTony O’Kelly

Tony is the New Frontiers Programme Manager in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). His main expertise lies in finance, manufacturing, sales and procurement across a wide range of business sectors. He has experience in automating business processes and managing projects from conception to delivery; skills he brings to the structure and delivery of New Frontiers in GMIT…  [Read Tony’s profile]

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Dr Chris Horn & Audience at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Valuable insights at the DIT/IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Dr Chris Horn & Audience at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Cast your mind into the future and imagine that your ‘start-up’ is employing more than 1,000 people in 22 offices around the globe, has clients such as Boeing and has just been acquired for more than $160m. Then imagine that the investment bank handling the sale goes belly-up, taking with it all the proceeds of the sale. That’s the doomsday scenario which Irish tech legend, Dr Chris Horn, avoided by a mere 48 hours in 2008.

48 hours from disaster

Dr Chris Horn at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Dr Chris Horn

Speaking at the recent 2016 Showcase of the DIT/IADT New Frontiers Programme, Chris recalled a Friday afternoon in September 2008 when he received a call from Lehman Bros to advise that the sale of Iona Technologies to Progress Software had completed and that all shareholders had been paid. Two days later, Lehman Bros – then the fourth largest investment bank in the US – filed for bankruptcy: an excruciatingly narrow escape for the founders and shareholders of one of the greatest Irish tech start-ups.
Dr Chris Horn

Reassuringly for the start-up founders listening to Chris, the early days of the Iona success story were marked by many of the same ups and downs as they too are experiencing along their start-up journey.

Minister MMOC at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD

In essence, the Trinity College graduates behind Iona were setting out to compete against global players like IBM and Oracle, so it’s not entirely surprising that early approaches to banks, seed investors and VCs yielded a resounding ‘No!’ In those barren financial days, the team did ‘anything semi-legal on the streets of Dublin: file-ups; consultancy… whatever brought in much needed money.’ Heading to their first trade show in the US, the team still weren’t entirely sure who their customer would be until such time as Sun Microsystems not only became interested in Iona’s products but also offered to invest in the company in 1993. Four years later, in 1997, Iona completed the 5th largest IPO in the history of the NASDAQ, before its subsequent sale to Progress Software in 2008.

When asked for a few words of advice for the founders present at the event, Chris underscored the importance of building capability AND aspiration among indigenous founders. Ask yourself if you want to be truly global in scale and, if you do, align yourself with a really strong mentor who brings deep experience – ‘someone who has seen the movie before’ – in the case of Iona’s non-Executive Chairman, Kevin Melia. Chris also noted how Brexit impacts on the logic of approaching the UK as a first export market.

Minister MMOC, Dr Chris Horn and Participants at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, Dr Chris Horn and participants of the Showcase

Reflections from the other end of the startup journey

Kindly hosted by William Fry Solicitors, the event saw a number recent programme participants join in a panel discussion to share their experiences of launching a startup. The key theme emerging from the Q&A session was the importance of figuring out who your target customers should be, both in terms of fit with your product or service, but also as regards the time it might take them to commit to purchasing your product or service.


Co-founder of fin-tech startup Cambrist, Jacob Clafin, admitted to being perhaps a little arrogant in the days before New Frontiers:

We felt we were all pretty experienced in the finance space and knew exactly what we were doing. Looking back now, we didn’t have a clue about actually getting anyone to buy the product!

Minister MMOC and Martin O'Connell founder Nasal Medical

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD and Martin O’Connell, founder of Nasal Medical

Cambrist’s multi-currency processing platform enables card issuers and processors to optimise the FX rates and margins applied to their customers’ international payment transactions. In the early days, the team set out to sell their platform to major banks. Jacob now looks back humorously on his early interactions with banks.

I thought we nearly had the deal across the line just because these guys had agreed to have coffee with us. I now know that we hadn’t even registered on the sales cycle of the banks that we thought would be our first customers.

Minister MMOC, Dr Chris Horn and Erica Sheehan founder Homespun Foods

Erica Sheehan, founder of Homespun Foods, Dr Chris Horn, co-Founder, former CEO/Chairman of IONA Technologies and Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD

Demonstrating one of the key competencies of any startup team, Jacob and his co-founders took stock of the slowness of their progress and reassessed their target market, soon pivoting towards credit/debit card issuers and processors, who have proven to be much more receptive and faster to move.


Peter Devlin, founder of Local, echoed Jacob’s sentiment. Despite a long career as a member of Dublin music group the Devlins, Peter took a while to figure out the right audience for his startup. Peter initially pitched Local to a number of airlines as an app which would provide passengers with information on their destination city.

Peter Devlin - Local at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Peter Devlin, Local

He soon figured out that ‘the only things that move fast in the airline sector are the planes!’ Faced with that never-ending sales cycle, Peter reoriented his pitch towards hotel groups, offering a virtual concierge service, providing valuable opportunities to engage with guests and generate ancillary revenue for the hotel. Immediately, Peter found the decision-making process much faster and soon secured a range of hotels and chains as customers, while also securing investment from a key player in the tourism sector in Ireland.


Lucinda Kelly Popertee at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Lucinda Kelly, Popertee

Lucinda Kelly of Popertee highlighted the importance of really understanding what it is that your customers are looking for. Popertee started out as an online marketplace to match owners of available space with businesses looking for venues for pop-up shops, promotions or events. Conscious of competition from similar players, Lucinda felt Popertee needed to strengthen its competitive differentiation. The answer lay in listening closely to what corporates were asking about, notably data like footfall and population density. Popertee is now marrying that sort of data with content on properties available for short-term lets, strongly reinforcing the company’s value proposition.

Success for our 2016 alumni

Orla Battersby, Head of the HPSU Division of Enterprise Ireland, congratulated the participants and noted how 11 of the 30 founders who completed the programme in 2016 have already secured investment through the Competitive Start Fund. Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, also applauded the participants’ courage and tenacity, and reassured them by quoting James Cash Penney, founder of JC Penney Stores: ‘It is always the start that requires the greatest effort.’

About the author

New Frontiers Dominic MullanDominic Mullan

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

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rachel hanna new frontiers startup journey

My startup story: belief, support, action!

rachel hanna new frontiers startup journey

“All roads lead to Damascus.” Someone very close to me once said these words when I was having one of my mental blocks, and it has come to be a bit of a mantra I tend to use on this roller-coaster entrepreneurial journey.

Believe and Do!

The belief part of this equation is at times difficult, and we can all have periods of doubt, questioning and “what the hell am I doing?” moments, but it is the inaction that stifles any startup and I am convinced that it is the latter part of this equation that separates the winners and losers in business.

We can all read and buy into a lot of the self help books and entrepreneurial success stories out there and belief is a huge part of making something happen, but action – follow through and a relentless, endless pursuit of the end goal – is imperative if you are to realise your ideas.

My own entrepreneurial journey probably started when I fled the nest at 17 and headed to Dublin City University to study for a Communications degree. This was actually my second choice, having fallen short of the points for English and Drama in Trinity.

I was not too disappointed, though, as the Communications degree was also right up my alley – covering TV, radio, broadcasting and a host of other interesting topics such as linguistics and social and cultural perspectives. I also managed to satisfy my theatrical bent through part time employment at Andrew’s Lane Theatre and claiming the role of President of the Drama Society.

Following college, I spent a summer performing with Shannon Heritage, completed a course with the Gaiety School of Acting, and started an MA in Drama in UCD at the tender age of 21. I continued to work in the theatre industry and around this time I secured an agent and had some minor successes with a number of TV commercials, plays and my ’15 minutes of fame’ in Damien O’Donnell’s Inside I’m Dancing (including an on-screen kiss with JAMES MCAVOY – a movie moment that I will be able to show the grand-kids some day!).

When life changes course

Trying to make it as an actress and failing to make the elusive breakthrough into the big time proved to be a great foundation for what was to come next, and furnished me with some very important tools to bounce back.

I learned that ‘no’ is not necessarily a definitive “NO!” and that the word “NEXT” is just a step closer to the next part – not an indication that it’s time for you to exit stage left (or right)!!

As the story unfolded, I did actually exit… or at least sidestep slightly. Trying to keep a roof over your head while living hand to mouth goes hand in hand with this type of career, and in order to keep going I fell into a number of so-called ‘stop gap’ promotional jobs. I found that working in events, public relations and publishing was more suited to my skill set and I also liked the novelty of suddenly having a slight jingle in my pocket for a change.

With hindsight, I now realise that there is a close similarity between being a starving artist and a budding entrepreneur!

The move into publishing

Having worked in events for a number of years, I started working for a publishing company in my late twenties and spent several years working across a variety of titles and with a number of publishers before setting up on my own in 2010. I spent a few years working on contract publications, but was eager to launch my own title and in 2012 I identified a niche in the market for a lifestyle publication for secondary schools.

Acting quickly, I gave birth to Bell TIME Magazine in 2013, sending an inaugural copy to every secondary school in Ireland to test the market from both a consumer and commercial perspective. We had great feedback from advertisers and schools alike and with that Bell Media Ltd was established in 2014.

And so the story begins

Getting used to rejection at an early stage in life has, I believe, proved to be a great life lesson for me as a budding entrepreneur – something which gives me the resilience needed to continue in difficult moments.

I was lucky to have had some good people around me who supported me in the delicate and difficult startup period. I had energy, passion and good marketing skills and a vision for where BellTime could go, but there were a host of other gifts I needed which were not in my own repertoire. Graphic design, customer care, distribution, sophisticated IT skills were some of the more obvious deficits that needed attention, but there was also the need for what might be called the ‘softer’ support systems such as encouragement, prudence, patience and wisdom.

This is where having a support network is imperative to survival. My family, my partner and a few close friends were my ‘go to’ people, who nourished and protected me in fraught moments when I thought I had taken on too much and that I was in over my head. They also kept me balanced and helped me take time out to avoid becoming totally absorbed by my work; this helped to recharge my batteries and to keep me sane when life had become all too hectic and work all too engrossing.

The next step in this process is to get busy living – I relate this to the now immortalised line in one of my favourite films, The Shawshank Redemption:

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

My Phase 1: BELIEF

Being a one-woman band back in 2014 – and not having the first idea how to even play a musical instrument – I quickly tapped into a number of resources that were available to start ups.  Through the help of our Local Enterprise Office, The New Frontiers programme, InterTrade Ireland, Plato, The Regional Development Centre, and DKIT Dundalk, as well as support from Enterprise Ireland, we have been able to reach our third year in business and launch phase three of our business plan.

Making the right decisions in employing the right people is imperative if you are to realise your dreams. Having key staff members, a support network and people you can trust who will tell you what you don’t want to hear is crucial. Being surrounded by “Yes Men” is a sure key to failure.

My Phase 2: SUPPORT

Having valuable experience across a number of industry sectors relevant to your business startup are essential ingredients for the success of your company; if you excel in a certain aspect of the business, apply the majority of your efforts to this area.

Employ other people to do the jobs you can’t. People who are better and more talented than you! Life has a funny way of leading you down many meandering country lanes, allowing you to experience different career paths. You can get very competent passing through these routes and even feel like an accomplished driver before you finally reach the motorway and suddenly…

Oh my God!  you’re in the fast lane for the first time now and you have to overtake competitors, only you have never done this before or driven this fast!

This is where what you have learned thus far – your successes and failures to date, the preparation, blood, sweat and tears you have put in to your startup – kicks in. With a bit of tunnel vision and some, albeit, blind ambition, it’s time to accelerate.

My Phase 3: ACTION

We are about to climb a summit – hope to see some of you guys on the other side!

Some of my tips for startups


For those mental block moments, I use the following:

“The blank page is the place to begin. Open your mind and fill the page in.”

About the author

rachel hanna bell media new frontiersRachel Hanna

Rachel Hanna is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Bell Media. With a magazine, website, digital channels and events, the startup is on a mission to foster a culture of innovation in school communities and inspire young people internationally… [Read Rachel’s profile]

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startups stand for something New Frontiers advice

Success in business: stand for something

startups stand for something New Frontiers advice

John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa stood for human rights and better life and living. So too have Padraig Pearse, Michael Collins, John Redmond, as well as thousands of other people who will never be acknowledged or achieve fame.

It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, what religion you are or if you are of no religion, what political party you support, what football club you follow, what pop star you worship, what music you like, what clothes you wear or what beer you drink. However, it does matter that, as an adult, you stand for something.

When you become an adult, you acquire extra legal responsibilities and social responsibilities. Everybody has moral responsibility. Governments and society also impose legal responsibilities on you. If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.

What would you do if you had no worries?

Any fool can complain or condemn, and most fools do.

Blame looks back, responsibility looks forward.

How does this apply to an entrepreneur? Entrepreneurs perform in a very fluid but competitive trading environment. If they don’t have some critical anchors, then they are vulnerable to those who have. From my experiences out there in the business world, I believe that ‘clarity of purpose’ is the critical anchor one has to have in order to be commercially successful.

Form your own moral and social responsibilities from your values and your moral code derived from your family background, culture, philosophy, religion or school.

I assume that, imperfect though they may be, you respect the laws of the land and that you try to live by the cultural and ethical codes and practices that control civilised society. I assume that you would behave peacefully in the company of others. I assume that you stand for, and will campaign for, improvement in the quality of life and living for your family members, your friends and for members of the community around you. I assume that you will help someone who needs help and that you will defend someone who is being attacked. I assume you stand for something.

Think about how you can embed this in the team culture you are. You’ll need to to ‘win the debate in your own head’ first, and only then can you  start to communicate and over time influence these critical values within the team. Culture is a difficult concept to understand, but it manifests itself in what the business consistently celebrates and reprimands.

What are you going to do differently? How are you going to do it? When will you have it completed? What evidence can you give to show that you have made the sustainable change?

“We would be happier with what we have if we weren’t so unhappy about what we don’t have.”

Frank A Clark

If you think you are average, you will achieve average results. Stretch yourself, but for the sake of your health and happiness, not beyond breaking point.

I work with a number of CEOs who really understand this critical anchorage. They keep telling stories to emphasise the point, and they use it as the backdrop when they are making difficult decisions. Having declared transparent VALUES facilitates the team to better understand and appreciate ‘how things are done around here’. This facilitates them to optimise their contribution, since they don’t have to waste energy second guessing.

About the author

Blaise BrosnanBlaise Brosnan New Frontiers mentor

Blaise is a business trainer, consultant and author, and a New Frontiers mentor. He is the Managing Director of the Management Resource Institute Wexford and recently published his third book: I Dare you – win the debate in your own head... [Read Blaise’s profile]

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John Teeling on entrepreneurship and the future of business

john teeling

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

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

The serial entrepreneur

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

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

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

Anatomy of an entrepreneur

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

Having an idea

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

The ability to gather resources

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

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

The ability to handle uncertainty

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

Energy and determination

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

Building the team

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

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

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

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

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

The future

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

Food and drink

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


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


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

John Teeling’s advice to young entrepreneurs

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

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


About the author

Scarlet Merrill

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

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Being opportunistic made me a better entrepreneur

opportunistic business new frontiers

A major part of success in business is being opportunistic: recognising a window of opportunity and being bold enough to go after it with both hands. I’ve embarked on several opportunistic endeavours in my business life. This is the story of how they came about.

Be open to opportunities

The first one came while I was working as a roofer at my uncle’s company, GFM Systems, which was the second largest in Ireland at the time and employed 70 people. I was 21, and looking around me during those Celtic Tiger years, I saw people build up immense amounts of wealth from property.

I sought out advice from someone I was fortunate enough to know who owned over 100 properties. I asked how I could do it too. I devised a simple buy-to-let strategy and within a few years I owned seven houses, worth a total of €1.4 million.

This never would have happened had I not been opportunistic and made it my business to find out how I could build up a portfolio. Nothing in business ever just happens. You need to make things happen; you need dogged determination and self-belief.

Use your contacts to get introductions

Around this time, I came across another opportunity – heard about through a friend. CityWest Hotel was looking for a valeting service, and using my network I managed to get a meeting with the owners. Within six months, this new venture was turning over €100K with two employees.

Having several properties to maintain, I found that I was doing a lot of maintenance work on the houses and it made sense to start offering this service to other landlords and property owners, so I started RSM Facility Services. Unfortunately, in 2008 the biggest crash since 1930 arrived and business dried up overnight.

Don’t be afraid to try something new

Not one to stay down, I looked for the next wave of opportunity. My lightbulb moment came one evening in 2011, when I was watching RTÉ’s The Business. It featured a company that had increased its turnover from €1 Million to €3 Million using Google AdWords. I instantly realised that this was the future and focused all my attention on digital marketing – spending up to 16 hours a day learning all I could about PPC & SEO and completing a course at the Digital Marketing Institute.

I started FirstPage.ie, running PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns, and a chance meeting led to another opportunity to work for a company called Centric Health, who run the Vhi SwiftCare clinics and have the largest GP network in Ireland.

I spent two years with that company, perfecting my skills and starting a MSc in Digital Marketing in Michael Smurfit UCD.

Learn from the masters

After two years, I left Centric Health and returned to FirstPage.ie. I used my connections again to secure a meeting with Michael O’ Leary, legendary CEO of Ryanair. Sensing an opportunity to work with and learn from one of Ireland’s greatest business men, I put myself forward for a full time role.

I landed the role of Head of Digital Marketing for Ryanair, reporting directly to Michael. I was essentially creating a brand new department, and it was an immensely challenging but rewarding time. We implemented dramatic improvements at the airline which resulted in passenger and share price reaching an all-time high. I really appreciated being able to work directly with Michael and learn from him. He has amazing energy and has created a great work culture at Ryanair, which keeps an agile, startup mentality despite its size.

I left Ryanair last year and now run my own agency called DMAD – Digital Marketing Agency Dublin.

What I’ve learned

My advice to budding entrepreneurs is: if you have an idea, just go for it. Even if it doesn’t work out, what you learned in the process will be invaluable going forward in your business life. My experiences in business have taught me that successful business men are no different from anyone else; it’s simply that they spotted an opportunity and took it.

Before you start your entrepreneurial journey, have enough capital to last you twelve months – enough to pay all your bills and business costs even if you don’t get one paying customer. Use the internet to market your business. Go niche, go big or go home!

About the author

Reuben MayReubenMay-New Frontiers

Reuben May is the founder and Managing Director of DMAD (Digital Marketing Agency Dublin) and an Enterprise Ireland mentor. He has started several companies of his own and was also the man behind Ryanair’s recent digital transformation… [Read Reuben’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

What I learned from the New Frontiers programme


I founded my visual effects startup, Glue, in 2013 and was looking for a dedicated startup programme that would complement my industry experience with the business knowledge and structure I required. In 2014, I participated in Phase 1 of New Frontiers, and subsequently went on to Phase 2 later in the year.

I learned a huge amount on the programme and Glue is gaining momentum; we’ve been able to grow our team and develop custom systems to improve our processes. Looking back, I’ve identified seven areas that were key to my startup journey.

Building on an idea

New Frontiers was my first major step in starting up the business. Personally, I found it extremely helpful and challenging in so many ways. First of all, it challenges you to dismantle your idea and test to see if it’s a viable business model. This happens with group discussions, one-to-one meetings, review stages and presentations. Secondly, it helps you to build your idea from the ground up, while putting proven business theory into practice.

Creating processes

Establishing business processes was the most important aspect to benefit Glue. We have now developed processes and backend structures that allow us to keep track of projects and to clearly show both staff and clients how each project is progressing at the various stages. Not only this, but putting solid terms and conditions in place for new customers helps avoid confusion down the road. For us, it’s a simple ten-line document which lets both parties know where they stand before work commences. The help given by New Frontiers in streamlining this process alone has been invaluable.

Core team and culture

I also believe that culture is incredibly important, even at early-stage. I think every startup should make clear decisions about how their company will behave and ensure that all staff enjoy what they do and are happy with the work they’re producing.

So much of these thought processes have benefited from specific  personality tests given during the programme to identify how an individual ticks and to develop symbiotic relationships between staff, based on their particular strengths and insights.

Knowing how you think and what type of person you are will allow you to understand how others perceive you. I have applied some of the lessons learned from the personality tests given throughout the programme to my whole team – with great results. This allows you to plan more efficiently and allows staff to identify qualities in each other that are necessary for delivering the best product.

Pitches and sales

There is a lot of great advice given regarding presentation skills, something I was quite poor at in the beginning but which I quickly improved upon through pitches to the class and at review stages. Basic things, such as having your pitch video recorded so you and your colleagues can dissect it and give constructive feedback, or being supplied with templates and pacing advice all come together to help you pitch better.

One very important factor in running a business is, of course, sales. How to successfully sell is paramount to the success of your business. There were many great tutors on the programme, such as Andrew McNeille and Dermot McKonkey, who both opened my eyes regarding sales and negotiating. I would happily purchase training videos from the tutors on this programme, simply because the information given is so in-depth; I still find myself looking over class notes from time to time.


A lot comes down to the individual entrepreneur, but if you are driven to make your business a success you’ll find that there’s a huge amount of information available to you on the programme. From the basics of structuring everything you do to clearly defining goals and milestones, you will learn many elements to help you set up and run your business.

Mentoring was a great help, as were the one-to-one sit downs with experienced professionals – which allow you to review each stage you have reached and gain great insight and knowledge.


The €15,000 grant paid over the course of Phase 2 (six months) gives you the space to concentrate on your business idea and give it the time and focus it needs to develop.


For a digital video creation company like mine, the networking aspect has been especially helpful. Not only to share experiences and advice with like-minded entrepreneurs, but also as a test bed for us to sell our services.

New Frontiers gives you information on many business events throughout the course. Managing your time effectively is certainly one of the most difficult aspects, but ultimately the most rewarding as you learn and develop under their structured guidance.

Anyone can learn how to start up a business, but having the right mentors and structure around you will make the process easier and help it to happen sooner. Even if you know that you have a viable product or service, it requires a certain mindset to take the leap – especially if you have been working for someone else for years. It can be daunting at first, but my advice is to jump!

About the author

Ray-Mongey-New-FrontiersRay Mongey

Ray was a New Frontiers participant at DIT and is founder and Managing Director of Glue, a visual effects company. Glue specialises in creating videos that present services or products using a mix of 3D graphics and video footage and they have clients in the UK, Ireland and UAE…. [Read Ray’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

What makes a successful startup entrepreneur?


Muhammad Ali summed up his boxing style with the now famous phrase, “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” This perfectly captured Ali’s ability to glide around the boxing ring yet unleash a mighty punch when required.

This phrase has stuck with me and for many years now and it is something I purposefully remember every time a prospective entrepreneur walks into the office or sends in a programme application form. For me, it forms a sort of yardstick that I always use to gauge an application: will this business idea float and does the promoter have a sting in the tail?

This yardstick is particularly useful during Phase 1 of the New Frontiers Programme. Often, nobody – neither the promoter nor the programme managers – knows if an idea will float and the purpose of this first phase is to help determine whether it could.

Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee

So, Phase 1 provides the sparring ring that allows participants to start to learn about their opportunity and to discover their skills. Is there a market? Will people buy? Can I sell to them? Can I make money? How much will it take to get something to the point where it can be sold? These questions are jabs, discovery punches, that allow us to size up the opposition. It allows us to determine the gap the business will have to cross to land a winning punch.

But that is only half of the yardstick; the second element is about the sting. Is the promoter determined to succeed? Does he or she have the necessary drive and commitment to make it happen? Does the promoter show real ambition? Phase 1 helps me to answer those questions, as I get to spend time observing and interacting with the programme participants.

How to prepare for Phase 1 of New Frontiers

With limited places available, what can a promoter do to strengthen their position before applying for Phase 1? I believe it’s important to have answers to the following:

What’s the real pain?

Talk to people (including some you don’t know) about your idea. What do they think of your offering? Is it solving a real world problem?

What’s the idea?

How will you solve the problem? How is it being solved at the moment? What makes your approach different? Brainstorm as many possible solutions to the problem as you can at this stage. Often, this can produce a much stronger proposition, which will help you get the support you need.

Go beyond your comfort zone

Don’t just discuss things with friends and family. Are you comfortable doing this? Get to know yourself; it will help you to honestly assess what skills you bring and those that you may need to bring on board.

Show commitment to the project

Keep a record of the time and cash investments you’ve made in the project to date. How many meetings have you had and with whom? Have you bought software, equipment, registered a domain, etc.?

Can you take the pain?

Starting out to build a business is not easy and getting into the ring will result in you taking punches. Are you willing to pay this price? Are you resilient enough?

Be under no illusion, to succeed in business and to progress onto Phase 2 of the New Frontiers Programme, you will need to learn how to float and sting. And to prove to others that you can.

About the author

Garrett-Duffy-New-FrontiersGarrett Duffy

Garrett is the New Frontiers Programme Manager at Dundalk Institute of Technology. He has a background in engineering and has lectured in information systems, computer applications and new venture creation. He has been the Enterprise Development Manager at DkIT’s Regional Development Centre since 2007… [Read Garrett’s profile]

Top tips for startup entrepreneurs


These are some of the best pieces of advice I can give based on 12 years’ experience of bringing ideas to reality as an entrepreneur and innovator.

Imagine your business start up is a new bus. You are the driver. You are about to begin a very long road journey on a totally new route in a place you have never been to before. You need to know where you are going and directions to get to your destination. You need to stock up on resources for the upcoming journey:

Find and follow your passion

Do what you love doing. Watch the doors open and you will enjoy the journey even more.

Believe in yourself & your idea

Believe in you first. Believe you can. Believe you are the right person to do this. This will help you build the right team, the right product and bring the right customers.

Learn from the best

Educate yourself by learning from the best. Learn from experts in your business domain.

Have a clear vision of the future

Planning the business journey is like planning any other type of journey: it requires a destination (or goal) and a clear path (or direction). Apply this to your business at all times… and don’t begin until you have it clear in your head. Visualize your goals and how you will get there, often. Imagine how it will feel to achieve your goal.

Plan your time

Prioritise and plan your day and week. I spend 15-30 minutes every Sunday evening planning the week and it puts me in control of my business and my life, not the other way around.

Challenge yourself & get out of your comfort zone

This may be difficult at first, but when you apply it regularly you will see great results and you will be amazed at how much more you are able to do. Do the things you feel are a challenge and watch yourself grow.

Surround yourself with positive, like-minded people

Getting a good mentor is an important part of this. You also need to build a team that shares your passion, goals and philosophy.

Trust in yourself and others

Have faith in your choices and follow them through. You have the amazing gifts of choice and free will, so the only wrong choice is to not make a choice at all.

Look after your health

It’s crucial to find a work/life balance that keeps you healthy. Exercise and good diet are great places to start. For me this involves getting outdoors, keeping fit, eating plenty of ‘live’ foods, drinking lots of water, prayer and meditation.

Get the right plan & funding in place

Be prepared and plan early for funding so that your idea doesn’t become sabotaged by a simple lack of cash flow. Seek advice from experts and talk to other entrepreneurs who have been successful getting funding.

Enjoy the journey and stay strong

It’s all about persistence… with a smile.

Daunting? Initially. Impossible? No way!

The important thing to remember is that you are in complete control of the journey, where you go and how you get there.

You decide who (your customers) you will take to where they want to go. You decide when to start the bus (begin your start up) and when to switch off (when to stop or when to step back and unwind). Which road to take (your business model) and how fast or how slow (when to put in extra hours or make quicker decisions). When to invite new passengers (your team) on board. You’ll see signs along the way (advice and choices) that will help you. You will have markers (targets) along the way too and every time you pass them you’ll know you are getting closer to your destination (your goal).

I have used this and it has worked and still works brilliantly for me as an entrepreneur.

So get on the bus, take the wheel and begin this amazing journey. Go for it!

About the author

Anthony Carroll
Anthony Carrol

Anthony is a New Frontiers participant. He has a passion for sports, and has combined careers in sales and business development with football coaching and training. He was also a professional football player. Anthony’s startup, Gateway Sports, is an online asset management platform for grassroots/amateur sports bodies and sports organisations… [Read Anthony’s profile]

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