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New Frontiers Alumni Case Study Adrienne Magnier and Zarasyl

Alumni Profiles: Adrienne Magnier and Zarasyl

By New Frontiers blog

New Frontiers Alumni Case Study Adrienne Magnier and Zarasyl

Adrienne Magnier’s startup story is one of a serendipitous business opportunity followed up by five years of hard work. Her company, Zarasyl, has created a “miracle cream” for horses and companion animals. Read on to discover how Adrienne charted her path to international success.

Adrienne previously worked in software development, bringing software products to the health and human services market. This meant she already had a deep understanding of what it takes to develop and deliver a product to market and work with customers on a global scale. Adrienne’s husband is involved in the thoroughbred horse business in County Meath, so the couple were around horses every day.

Around five years ago, they were introduced to the technology behind Zarasyl. The formulation was the result of a decade of research at Cambridge University (UK) and was initially developed for human use. Adrienne and her husband knew that a few people had been using the cream on animals, and decided this was a business opportunity worth further exploration.

Starting small with some initial batches of samples, they started to use Zarasyl on the farm and trialled it with a group of local vets and horse owners. The feedback was really positive! From initial research, Adrienne decided to bring this technology market. She focused on the regulatory and compliance requirements involved in bringing the first product, an equine barrier cream. Zarasyl Equine was launched to the market in August 2019 – initially in Ireland and then expanding into the UK.

“From the outset when you look at what you have to do to bring something to market in a space like this, it’s overwhelming. And as a business owner, you wear so many hats on any given day – regulatory, operations, sales, marketing, financial… You must focus on them all to be a success. That’s why New Frontiers was a great programme to be on. It looks at all those skills and how they come together.”

But what is Zarasyl exactly? It’s based on novel silicate technology.  Silicon is the third most common trace element in mammals and is essential for healthy connective tissue growth.  Zarasyl provides the ultimate healing environment – a barrier that is breathable and highly moisturising. The cream is also steroid-free and antibiotic-free, making it very safe for animals and owners.

Zarasyl Equin The Miracle CreamBecause Zarasyl is a new product, buyers may not know what it does, how it works, or why it’s so effective. This means that Adrienne’s first step in selling the product would typically mean a visit to the veterinary surgery, farm, or horse yard to have a face-to-face discussion with the buyer. These trips became impossible during Covid-19, so Adrienne turned her attention to the USA, reaching out to buyers individually and asking if they would like to trial the product.

This is how Adrienne painstakingly grew her base in the USA. Once restrictions had been lifted, she was able to start attending US conferences and trade shows. In time, word of mouth gained momentum and people started getting in touch with the company directly. Today, a host of leading equestrians and veterinary surgeons – both here and in America – use and endorse the product.

“A team of veterinary surgeons at Cornell University who came across Zarasyl were so enthusiastic about the product that they instigated a study. A paper has just been approved for publication in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine and will be published quite soon.”

The company’s second product is for companion animals and launched in January this year. Adrienne has managed to really leverage organic growth and word of mouth in growing her business, with a continued focus on educating vets about the products. Zarasyl is listed by three of the four largest veterinary distributors in the US, which is a fantastic result in such a short time.

One of the most important things about Zarasyl is the absence of antibiotics and steroids. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is working hard to tackle the use of antibiotics because antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today. In addition, any animal that competes is subject to very tight anti-doping and controlled medication restrictions, limiting what can be used to treat them.

Skin problems such as dermatitis are one of the most common reasons for dogs to be taken to the vet, and lots of other domesticated animals suffer from skin issues. Zarasyl is a novel product that’s very safe for pets, as well as their owners, when their skin is compromised.

But even novel products need a solid business behind them to succeed. Having decided to leave her job and focus on the startup full-time, Adrienne applied to New Frontiers. She joined the programme at Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) – Athlone Campus, arriving just before the end of Phase 1. She found the programme, and the financial stipend, very helpful during that period.

“New Frontiers provides a good team environment while you’re working on becoming a rounded business owner. The other participants come from different backgrounds and are building different businesses, but you feel you’re all in it together! There is great structure to the programme and the access to experts is very valuable. You really feel like you’re with people who have your back and want you to succeed. The support is what I would call realistic but positive.”

Adrienne’s team up to now has mainly been composed of consultants and advisors, but now that Zarasyl is an Enterprise Ireland High Potential Startup (HPSU), she is working on her first hires. She has licenced the global rights to the Zarasyl technology, so her ultimate goal is to be in every vet’s dermatology toolbox around the world. She is focused on continued growth in the US market and other markets are opening up on a weekly basis. She is also focused on the product roadmap based on the underlying novel technology.

Adrienne’s approach to product validation and marketing has really paid off. Her advice to other startup entrepreneurs embarking on this stage of the business is to be mindful of rushing ahead too quickly.

“Don’t try to be all things to all people. You may have various potential markets, but you won’t have the budget to go after all of them at once. Rather than diluting your reach, stay laser-focused on your route to market. We launched our second product recently and for now we are concentrating primarily on veterinary surgeries as our route to market, which includes educating vets about Zarasyl and why/when it’s the right choice. You can’t take on everywhere at once.”

To learn more about Zarasyl, visit

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.

Customer discovery helps you build products services that people want

Customer Discovery Helps You Build Products/Services That People Want

By New Frontiers blog

Customer discovery helps you build products services that people want

Most startup founders are familiar with the concept of idea validation. In fact, Phase 1 of New Frontiers is all about helping entrepreneurs to validate their startup idea and get them to a go/no-go decision. Idea validation can be summed up as finding out if people want what you are planning to build – i.e., if it’s a viable product/service that’s worth further investment.

But there’s another area of early-stage research that is too often forgotten or neglected by startup founders, and that’s what we want to look at today. Customer discovery provides a more in-depth understanding of the needs and preferences of potential customers, which helps inform product or service development. By conducting customer discovery, founders can ensure that their product or service idea is aligned with the needs of their target market, increasing the chances of success. Let’s look at what’s involved.

What is customer discovery?

Customer discovery is a process for understanding potential customers and the problems they are trying to solve. This involves conducting research and interviews with potential customers to gather information about their needs, pain points, and preferences. The goal of customer discovery is to validate the assumptions you are making about the target market, and to identify potential areas for change and improvement.

Customer discovery has many benefits for a business. The top ones are that it helps you to understand the needs and preferences of potential customers, uncover possible challenges and obstacles that may present themselves, and cement early relationships with potential customers who can help kickstart sales and marketing.

If you’re looking to develop your own discovery process, here are some steps you might start with:

  1. Define the problem or need you are trying to solve: Before starting, be clear about the problem or need that the startup is trying to address. This will help you focus your research and interviews on gathering information about the specific needs of your potential customers.
  2. Identify potential customers to interview: Identify people who are likely to have that problem or need. This can be done through, for example, research and networking.
  3. Conduct interviews with potential customers: These interviews can be in-person, over the phone, or through online surveys. During the interviews, you should ask questions about the potential customer’s needs, pain points, preferences, and other relevant information.
  4. Collate and analyse the data collected: Look for patterns and trends in the data and identify common themes and insights.
  5. Use the insights to inform development: This can involve making changes to the product, adjusting the business model, or developing a new marketing strategy. By incorporating the insights from customer discovery, you can better meet the needs of potential customers and improve its chances of success.
  6. Iterate and continue the process: Customer discovery is not a one-time process. As the startup continues to develop and grow, you should continue to conduct customer discovery to gather new insights and make ongoing improvements to your product or service.

Getting customer discovery right

Daniel Kyne at the Product Management Festival 2021

Daniel Kyne at the Product Management Festival 2021

We spoke to Daniel Kyne, co-founder and CEO of OpinionX, a research tool that enables qualitative research at scale so that companies can find their product/market fit faster. Daniel is a New Frontiers alumnus and also trains New Frontiers cohorts to improve their own customer discovery processes. He is something of a nerd in the area of actionable user research strategies, so who better to bring the theory to life for us!

According to Daniel, one of the best places to start if you are new to this concept is The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. This book addresses a lot of the misconceptions people have about customer conversations. Typically, people think customer interviewing boils down to creating a giant PowerPoint, making people watch it, and then asking, “Would you like this product/service?” Research proves that, if you do this, you will tend to just get people agreeing with you (beware of flattery during this process!). Partly this is because people don’t want to hurt your feelings by saying, “This doesn’t seem like a good idea,” or, “I wouldn’t want this.”

The Mom Test takes you though some basic principles to avoid ending up in that situation. The key takeaways are that you should never use customer discovery interviews to tell people what your idea is or pitch them your product. Instead, you should focus on their lives and their problems – diving into the stories that give you all the context and details needed to really understand real-world examples of the problem. It’s also important that you don’t look at hypothetical scenarios, but actual examples of when the situation you are discussing happened.

As Daniel points out, customer discovery is the wider context of idea validation. It’s about finding the right combination of ingredients that can go together to build a successful business. Done right, it should answer questions like:

  • Who the customer is
  • What problem you are trying to solve
  • How their life will be better once you solve that problem

As a concept, customer discovery really revolves around interviews. There are lots of great resources out there to help you get to grips with what good interviewing looks like, how to find people for interviewing, and most importantly what to ask/not ask. It’s a skill you can learn with just a little effort and practice.

Using customer discovery to prioritise problems

But uncovering problems isn’t the end of the process. It’s vital to understand how much of a priority the problem really is. This is an area of particular interest for Daniel, which he really started to investigate after seeing a tweet from Shreyas Doshi of Stripe, who was working directly with founders Patrick and John Collison.

Shreyas broke down the principles covered in The Mom Test, where founders or product managers try to use interviews to validate that the problem they are trying to solve exists. Described like this, it sounds like this is focusing on the right thing. But Shreyas showed that building a successful startup/product isn’t JUST about solving a problem for someone, you need to know that the problem is high up on their list too. If you are solving a problem that is only a mild inconvenience, people may not care enough about the solution!

Daniel says, “It’s not enough that you’re solving a problem. You want to be solving a ‘hair on fire’ kind of problem. This is the most missed element of idea validation. The way to do this is through what we call customer problem stack ranking, which is a survey technique to find out what really matters to people by getting them to prioritise problems. Once you know this, you are developing products/services with high impact that people will want.”

Getting started with customer discovery

How does Daniel suggest founders start discovering what people care about? It starts with asking yourself why this problem happens and what solutions people are using at the moment. For lots of founders on Phase 1 and even Phase 2 of New Frontiers, the challenge is to park their assumptions far off to one side, go back to the beginning, and re-validate everything they know. There’s a framework called the startup bow tie that you can use for doing this:

  • Stage 1: persona (who is the customer), problem (what is the need), purpose (why does the problem need solving), product (the proposed MVP), positioning (understanding the context), and proposition (value proposition)
  • Stage 2: pull
  • Stage 3: model, medium, and market

Stages 1 and 2 of the bow tie framework are what happen before you gain traction. This is what occurs before you get the combination of ingredients that resonates with people and that people react to in a way that shows there is real need. At the early stages of the bow tie, a lot depends on your ability to interview well, because this is external information that you need to access. You can’t influence results much at this point, as you are still collecting data and insights. It’s at Stage 3 of the bow tie that you have the chance to turn insights into action and results. Daniel recommends checking out the breakdown of how this works in his article, Deconstructing WeatherBill’s $930M Startup Pivot.

As you can see, customer discovery is an essential part of any successful product or business strategy. By conducting interviews and surveys with potential customers, you will gather valuable perspectives that can help you create more effective products that are in tune with your customers’ needs and preferences. In addition, you’ll have an advantage when it comes to positioning your solution in the market and selling it to prospective clients!

Daniel Kyne is the Co-Founder and CEO of OpinionX, a research tool for ranking people’s priorities that’s used by thousands of teams at companies like Google, Amazon, and Shopify. Prior to OpinionX, Daniel was a Digital & Innovation Lead at Unilever UK, a Global Facilitator for Techstars Europe, Head of Speakers and Startups at Dublin Tech Summit, and a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum. He writes about actionable user research strategies for product teams and startup founders on his newsletter The Full-Stack Researcher.

About the author


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.

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

Mistakes to avoid when product testing

By New Frontiers blog

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

Testing your product is the most important activity your company will undertake. It validates that there is a market for your product and helps you iterate the product for that market. Here is a breakdown of the most common mistakes when product testing and how best to avoid them.

The mistake of testing without a hypothesis

One of the fundamental mistakes is testing your product with consumers as quickly as possible without a hypothesis – i.e. a grounded assumption of the product’s purpose/goal for a defined customer. Product testing is simply an experiment to test your hypothesis or assumptions. Based on the results of the experiment, the hypothesis is either proved or disproved; without a hypothesis, testing your product is utterly meaningless.

If you do not have a grounded assumption of the product’s purpose, you cannot validate that there is a market for it. If you do not have a defined customer, you cannot qualify or disqualify customers’ feedback. For example, my company is developing a computer game, Cerebros, which is a fast-paced First-Person Shooter, a genre which has a complicated control scheme. If we tested the game on 10 70-year-old customers, they would complain that the game moves too fast and that the control scheme is too complicated. If we did not have clear grounded assumption of Cerebros’ purpose (we cannot validate there is a market for a product that has no clear purpose), and if we did not have a defined customer (we cannot disqualify a 70-year-old customer’s feedback), the conclusion we would have to accept is: we have slow the game down and simplify the control scheme.

If we slowed the game down and simplified the control scheme, the 10 70-year-old customers would be satisfied. However, if we tested this new version of the game on 10 20-year-old customers, they would complain that the game moves too slowly and that the control scheme is too simple. If we had the hypothesis that Cerebros is a fast-paced First-Person Shooter for a young, experienced gamer, we could have immediately disqualified the 10 70-year-old customers’ feedback and not waste development time changing the game for customers fit for the product’s purpose.

The mistake of ignoring bias

The most obvious bias is your own bias for your own product. You’re never going to be perfect and you shouldn’t expect your product to be perfect. You have to accept criticism of your product, and ultimately criticism of you, and understand other people’s viewpoints of your product. It is always hard to separate your identity from your product’s and it does not get easier; in fact, it gets harder as the more time and money you invest in your product, the more your identity is tied to your product and it becomes something like your child.

On the same subject, have you ever criticised a child in front of their parent? If yes, what did you use to treat the black eye? If no, you probably already understand why you don’t criticise a child in front of their parent, because that child is that parent’s pride and joy. Similarly, people think the same of your product, as precious to you as your child is. Your customers will be biased towards not criticising your product when talking to, or in front of, you.

You need to understand this bias and enable the customer to voice their criticism of your product. Essentially, you have to give them permission to criticise the product. This could be as simple as asking them bluntly questions such as:

  • “What didn’t you like about the product?”
  • “What would you change?”
  • “What would make it better?”

Cerebros at a game event

Even if people are sincere and they are giving you honest feedback – whether positive or negative – people generally do not know why they act the way they act. There is a bias the customers have of themselves. So, attempting to extract introspection on their processing of their experience with your product should be treated with caution. What people repeatedly DO is a far better indicator of their behaviour and preferences than what people repeatedly SAY. So, if people ask to test your product or try it at an expo, keep coming back to test your product, or ask for more information, that’s a good indicator your product has potential.

Finally, there’s the bias you yourself will have if you are a likeable, charismatic person. I know a game developer who is quite possibly the best showman I’ve seen who wasn’t in show business. At game expos, he set up his game and created a great atmosphere around his exhibition stand that would always draw crowds and excitement. However, he always remarks to me that this enthusiasm he generates at expos (he’s received prestigious awards, etc.) has never transferred to sales and he cannot understand it.

To circle back, as he has never granted me permission to criticise his product, I am always prevented from giving him honest feedback. The problem is the customers are buying him, a very charismatic person, and the event he creates around his exhibition stand, not the product – his game – he’s ultimately selling. So, be careful when product testing: customers should be ultimately making a decision on whether or not to buy your product, not whether or not to buy you.

Key product testing takeaways

For the mistake of testing without a hypothesis, I used an exaggerated example demonstrating the disparity between two groups of customers; it illustrated that having no hypothesis will lead you to change the product, sometimes to its detriment, and waste precious development cycles. It won’t always be that obvious whom you should qualify or disqualify as your target customer, but it significantly helps if you have a grounded assumption of your product’s purpose for a defined customer.

Ignoring bias in tests or opinions is an easy mistake to make, especially if the tests confirm your hypothesis or the opinions coincide with yours. It’s always best to look at the behaviour of people interacting with your product and look at the amount or sample size of people who exhibit this behaviour and their profile.

About the author

Gerard Comerford - Cerebros - New Frontiers participantGerard Comerford

Gerard is a New Frontiers participant and the founder of Cerebros, an independent AI game developer specialising in adaptive AI and innovative AI-driven computer games. A graduate of the University of Westminster, Gerard has eight years’ experience as a contractor in the games industry.