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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.

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.

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.

Nicky Bowman chats about sales strategies and finding your first customers - New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development programme Ireland

Nicky Bowman chats about sales strategies and finding your first customers

By New Frontiers blog

Nicky Bowman chats about sales strategies and finding your first customers - New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development programme Ireland

There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing your startup idea come together and take the shape of a deliverable service or product. But now there’s a fresh challenge waiting for you – winning those invaluable first customers. Not beta testers, not friends and family. Real, paying customers.

We spoke to Nicky Bowman, an experienced sales coach and Enterprise Ireland mentor, about how startup founders can develop their sales strategy and find those crucial first customers.

Presumably, if a founder has built an amazing product or service, getting sales should be fairly easy?

As a startup founder, you probably have years of industry experience behind you that’s been invaluable for getting you to this point. But suddenly you have to think about sales, and this is likely to be far out of your comfort zone. For the first few years at least, you won’t be generating the kind of turnover that will enable you to hire a salesperson, so that duty is going to fall on you as founder. But sales is a lot more skilled than many founders imagine, and it’s important to go about it the right way. If you go out there with the impression that a monkey could do it, you’re probably in for a big shock.

Tell us more about what makes for a good sales strategy

Sales is not about going out and telling people how fabulous your product/service is and how excited they should be. The chances are you’ll have a great meeting but won’t actually sell anything. When done right, sales brings a customer to the understanding that they need your product, but very few people will make that connection for themselves. It’s the reason a lot of new startups get off the ground but then struggle to get past the first handful of sales. I think a lot of organisations tend to throw a lot of mud at the wall – they might do a huge amount of untargeted marketing, for example, in the hope that people will pick up on it and make the connection. But, as they say, hope is not a strategy!

A good sales strategy is quite targeted then? How do founders go about that?

Yes, the key to success is to find those people who are willing to make the switch to you despite the fact you don’t have a track record. These ‘early adopters’ as they are known are your first target market. You need to identify the reasons why they might be interested in your service/product and then align your approach with those reasons. You start this process by identifying which organisations – and which individuals within those organisations – are likely to be willing to try something a bit different so you can focus on them. This would be in the B2B market, obviously.

That sounds difficult if you don’t have inside knowledge of the company. How is this done?

You’ll want to be quite programmatic about it. It all starts with good research. You should look for those organisations that are less traditional, ones that may have been early adopters of other solutions or processes in the past. You can tell a lot of that just from their mission statements and the texts on their websites. Do they talk about being innovative? Or do they talk about being steady and reliable? With good market research, you can identify those forward-thinking organisations to target. Then ask yourself questions such as: What is their process for buying and who needs to be involved? Would they need to do some kind of trial or pilot? Do they have to go through a committee for approval? That will show you how to make your initial approach to them.

It sounds like a data-led approach is most likely to get results?

Absolutely, it’s all about data. But it often surprises me that people who have a very data-led approach to the rest of the business start making a lot of assumptions when it comes to sales. Experience in an industry doesn’t always mean experience of a market. The ideal candidate for purchase is often not the one the startup founder assumed. The way to get over this gap in assumptions is to ask yourself WHY? If you think your ideal prospect is a 40-year-old male in business development, ask yourself why you think that and look for evidence to back it up. You won’t know who to get in touch with until you have a solid grasp on the market and the prospects you need to target.

And what needs to happen once that first contact with the right prospect is made?

Even if you’re not experienced in sales, you can still build out a strong process to support the sales function. This involves establishing how a prospect will make a decision and determining how you can help them along that path. If your product/service is fairly expensive, there is likely to be a reasonably complex decision-making process on the purchaser’s side. The scenario where you walk into your first meeting and someone says “I love your stuff, here’s a cheque” is for movies. The more likely situation is that you first raise awareness, then you establish interest, and then you move on to talk numbers. But because you’ve already found out what their decision-making process is, you’ll be able to help them at each stage.

What should happen once someone does say ‘Yes’?

It’s fairly common for people to say ‘Yes’ in the room, but you must never stop with your process until you have a signed order in your hand. They may say they want to work with you, they may say the product/service looks great and they can’t wait to get going, but what you want is concrete action. This is where your robust process will keep the wheels turning: Can I call you next week? Who needs to approve this? How can we get a Purchase Order raised? Your sales process should help people along the journey of Awareness, Interest, Decision and Action.

Are there any common mistakes you see inexperienced salespeople repeat?

Yes, it’s very common to see what we call the show-up-and-throw-up method, which is just to sit there telling the prospect everything you can about your product/service. The key skill in selling isn’t to talk until you establish interest, it’s to ask questions so that you can establish WHY they might be interested. The other thing people do is they keep talking after the prospect has shown clear interest. Once someone is interested, they don’t need to hear, “It also does this, and it can do that.” They’re interested, so now you need to start asking for action. Ask for a commitment, or get decision-makers into the room, whatever the next step is according to your process.

What would be your key takeaways for the founder fulfilling their own sales function?

The headline for me is that selling is a profession like any other and you have to learn the skills involved to do it well. You can’t wing it.  As a founder, it’s likely that you’ll have to take on sales at the beginning because you’re bootstrapping. And you probably dream of the day you start making a bit of money and can hire a salesperson to take this task over. My advice to you is to not do that until the day you can afford to make the wrong hire. The issue is that hiring salespeople is even harder than selling, because salespeople are really good at interviews. They’re salespeople, after all. So, before you make that hire, and it’s an expensive one to make, think about how much it will cost you if it doesn’t work out.

But I don’t want to end on a negative note! Sales is simply a skill and a set of processes that anyone can learn. You can too, and who better than you in those early days to go out and sell the product or service you’ve developed. I’ve seen entrepreneurs who really don’t like selling and are not naturally a fit for it learn to do it very well. They’ve understood that it’s all about developing a good process and they’ve adjusted to that way of thinking. And it’s worked for them.

You can find out more about Nicky Bowman and her sales coaching at

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.

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

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

By New Frontiers blog

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

If you are unsure about what product-market fit is, ask yourself are customers banging down the door? Instead of manufacturing demand for a product or service and relying on the hard sell, product-market fit is when you have found a sweet spot in the market and customers’ needs mirror the unique value you offer.

A Qualified Executive Coach and regular Enterprise Ireland and New Frontiers trainer, Emer O’Donnell has spent 15 years helping companies to locate their sweet spot and grow. I sat down with her to find out more about this business strategy which turns build it and they will come on its head and puts customer needs in the driving seat.

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


Let’s start off with the obvious question, how do you define the product-market fit strategy?

One of the participants at the Founder’s Forum summed it up beautifully, way better than I could – customers are banging down the door for your stuff. Two authors have written a lot about this, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits. Their definition of product-market fit is as follows:

Product-market fit, the match between product and market segment that results in high growth or high demand. So many customers are demanding your product that a clear market signal has been sent saying your product is needed.

Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovits

Is there any way to measure it?

There are a couple of people who’ve written extensively about product-market fit in the last five to 10 years, and they’ve come up with mathematical ways of measuring it. I think those are really helpful for start-ups to look at because it takes you a little bit away from the kind of “art” or “voodoo” of am I there or am I not? and instead provides something factual for you to measure.

So, the first one of those is from Sean Ellis. Sean was the original growth hacker or marketeer behind the initial viral growth of Dropbox. Sean’s suggestion for measuring product-market fit is to ask your customers a very simple question, and that question is “How would you feel if you could no longer use or buy my product?” You give customers optional answers such as wouldn’t care, would care a bit, would be disappointed and would be very disappointed. You obviously need a reasonably sized sample to do this, but Sean’s view is that if more than 40% of the people say that they would be very disappointed if they could no longer use your product, then you probably have product-market fit!

As a trainer with the New Frontiers programme, you have a lot of hands-on experience with start-ups. What are the warning signs that they don’t have product-market fit?

If I look at the start-ups that we interact with, one of the indicators to me that a company may be at product-market fit would be when I hear them talk about the challenges in their business and they’re not talking about sales. When I hear start-ups talking about things like “My sales cycles are taking too long”, or “I’m struggling to find customers”, or “I’m missing my sales target”, that’s an indicator to me that they don’t have product-market fit.

I think one of the big mistakes that we see with start-ups that don’t have product-market fit is that they start spending money in places that they shouldn’t be spending it. There is this concept of a growth pyramid which says that at the bottom of the pyramid you should have product-market fit. You need this as a solid foundation first, and then you build everything else on top of it.

One of the most common mistakes I see start-ups making is that they hire a sales team before they have product-market fit, and then they wonder why the sales team doesn’t work out. If you’re not at product-market fit, then you either need to refocus the target audience or you need to tweak the product. But either way you need to keep your cash burn low.

To recap, product-market fit is when the market is sending out a clear signal that there is a need for whatever product or service you’re offering. Often the challenge when a company hits that point will be related to delivery, and not to sales.

Let’s say you are a start-up that does have product-market fit. What would be your advice then?

OK, on the flip side of that is say one of the companies that I am working with right now on the Founder’s Forum. They have product-market fit, and they are hesitating over expanding the team and raising money. Now they are at risk of a competitor coming in and taking the market from them. It is a balancing act. If you go too far, you run the risk that you are not building on a solid foundation; but if you go too slowly, you can miss the boat. It’s about balancing the two.

What are your key steps for achieving product-market fit?

There are three elements. The first is that they have a well-defined sweet spot or target market. They need to be very clear about who they are targeting. This can be a real challenge for a young company, because often they go too broad and go for, say, “Everyone in North America”! You need to focus down and get really clear about it.

The second one is what is the customer trying to do? What is the problem they are trying to solve or the job they are trying to get done? And knowing how you deliver in value against that and being really solid about that.

The last one is understanding why customers should choose you over the competition. You need to be clear about how you’re different from the competition. The three of these things working together is the recipe for product-market fit. If any one of them is out of whack, you are unlikely to hit product-market fit.

It’s important to remember that the answers don’t lie in your team, but in your customers. You need to be good at getting out and listening to your customers in a very open way, without assumptions. Most people will go out and look for the answers they want to hear. Instead of asking “That’s a good idea, isn’t it?” you should have a much more open set of questions to explore and get new insights. I did an exercise over the summer when I talked to 10 of our own customers, and I got some really good insights. I learned things about how our customers view us that I would never have guessed. But it’s all in the way you ask the questions.

If you’d like more insights from Emer, sign up for the monthly email sent out by her company, Select Strategies, examining the issues which affect growth in many companies.

About the author


Scarlet 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.

Richard Mc Manus Exhibition tricks and trips New Frontiers

Exhibiting your startup: a 25-step checklist for excellence

By New Frontiers blog

Richard Mc Manus Exhibition tricks and trips New Frontiers

Trade shows and exhibitions are an invaluable opportunity that’s often underused by early-stage startups. However, it’s a mistake to view them solely as a sales tactic. In this blog, Richard Mc Manus looks at other reasons to exhibit at shows and fairs, the lessons he has learnt from attending some 40 events with his startup, and gives us a 25-step checklist for exhibition excellence!

You must be mad!

Unless you are selling food for the hungry or hurley sticks at the Ploughing, you do not make money at exhibitions. Since graduating from the New Frontiers programme in 2015 my start-up, Cara Mara luxury seaweed baths, has participated in around 40 exhibition events. I hope that many business owners and managers, especially of new businesses, can learn from my experience.

Some of my fellow exhibitors have cried after the event because they did not get a single sale. Recently, I heard one high profile startup entrepreneur tell how he spent €10,000 on a single event, had negligible sales and managed to wipe out his cash reserves.

Why exhibit at trade fairs?

To build initial public awareness of Cara Mara – which sells a home seaweed bath product – we exhibited at a range of fairs. This included exhibitions tied in with sport, health, business, as well as summer shows. Yes, they did create a certain level of awareness, but they never generated high volume sales. Truthfully, it was a mistake to have even attended some of them. The lesson I took from this is that it is essential to ask yourself two questions when planning to attend an event:

  1. Will your target customer group(s) be at the exhibition?
  2. Will they be buying?

Here’s how we experienced the different events we exhibited at, and the level of interest a product such as ours could typically attract:

  • Sports events: participants are completely absorbed in their preparation and recovery (e.g. running, cycling, etc.) and then socialising with their friends afterwards.
  • Business seminars/exhibitions: attendees are mainly interested in the conference talks and then socialising and networking during the breaks. Exhibition stands are almost a distraction.
  • Summer shows: visitors are mainly interested in being entertained by animal demonstrations, live music stage shows, and a summer day out to meet friends old and new.

The best exhibitions are those which people attend because they have a specific need to address, and they intend to buy. In my case good examples included:

  • Taste of Monaghan, Taste of Cavan, etc. Yes, these provincial events include non-food products and services.
  • Wellfest. Attendees were specifically seeking ways to enjoy life and improve health.

Think awareness rather than sales

Most businesses, whether they are selling to business or the general public, will have specific exhibitions where their target customers will attend and hang out. It’s essential to research such events to make sure they are right for you.

What does the word ‘exhibit’ even mean?

“To publicly display, show, present, demonstrate, showcase.”

So unless you’re one of those food vendors or hurley stick sellers mentioned above, exhibitions are mainly for creating customer awareness! You’re making a connection in anticipation of future transactions. But remember that consumers are busy people and easily forget you, unless you are in front of them on a consistent, regular basis.

Exhibit with excellence – a checklist of 25 steps

This is my 25-step recipe for a successful exhibition strategy.


  1. Check out the exhibition the year before you expect to attend – i.e. visitor profiles, traffic flow, etc.
  2. If that isn’t possible, check out the organiser’s website to see who exhibited last year. Phone those exhibitors and ask how they got on and what advice they would offer.
  3. Cost benefit – decide what your objectives are and write them down. Are the expected benefits worth the cost (stand costs, staff, travel, accommodation, meals, extras)?
  4. Grants – perhaps you could leverage funding to help with costs? Are there any business development/export grants you could apply for?

Dealing with organisers

  1. Try to get a discount on the cost of a stand. Explain that you are a startup, you are on the books of your local LEO or an Enterprise Ireland client, or perhaps that you are a first time exhibitor at this particular event and you’re not sure it is for you. Always seek a discount, most commercial organisers are flexible on price.
  2. Consider waiting to the last moment to get a discount price for late cancellations/organisers seeking to fill exhibition hall.
  3. Payment: delay to latest date possible and pay in instalments. I suffered a significant bad debt when an event was cancelled and the organiser went into liquidation.

Stand preparation

  1. Traffic flow: check out or anticipate the visitor flow in the exhibition hall. There is no point in taking the cheapest stand if it’s at the quietest part of the hall.
  2. Positioning: the best stand pitches are at corners (you gain exposure from two directions) and the end of aisles (visitors can directly see you as they approach). Ask for them.
  3. Be professional: your stand backdrop, exhibition table, and product display need to reflect quality and grab visitors’ attention. It needs to say “I’m interesting. Check me out.” There are many excellent display providers, but I particularly like

Exhibition preparation

  1. Checklist: prepare in advance to avoid any shortcomings
    a) Equipment, brochures, and leaflets for the stand
    b) Product for the stand
    c) Staffing
    d) Times: opening, closing, set up. Organise logistics to get there on time
    e) Insurance: make sure you have adequate public liability cover
  2. Social media: spread awareness and make a noise about the event in advance. If you tag the organisers, they will usually re-post your communications.
  3. Customer communications: if you are a B2B business, write to your existing customers and prospects inviting them to the exhibition/your stand. Provide them with free entrance tickets as appropriate.
  4. Dress code: depends on your industry/business/culture, wear suits, branded t-shirts, name tags, etc.


  1. Fellow exhibitors: remember they may be potential customers! Talk to them and ask what exhibitions work well for them. They are a treasure of knowledge and experience.
  2. Be passionate. Enjoy yourself. Make friends.
  3. Pep in your step: always stand ready to engage with people. Sitting at the stand is a big No No! Get in shape in advance by getting sufficient sleep and enjoy a healthy energy diet.
  4. Engage: some people are naturally shy and may avoid your stand or walk by with eyes averted. You have to be active. Stand out in the aisle. Say hello. Draw people in with a leaflet or an engaging question. Most people love it when you give them time and needed information.
  5. Interesting product demo: this is always a winner (live or on video). Help customers to dream and think ‘Yes, this is for me!’.
  6. Special prices: visitors nowadays expect special reduced prices for exhibitions, fairs, etc. Don’t disappoint them. Make sure there is a price list on display.
  7. Eyes, ears, and mind wide open: observe what’s happening, what’s working, and what’s not working. Learn, change, and do better.
  8. Build an email list: visitors love to leave their name and email address if there is a prize on offer. It could be your own product or something attractive (e.g. tickets for an event or a weekend away).

Post-event review

  1. Follow up: with all new contacts and on all promises made – within a few days.
  2. Email list: if you collected a list, your first communication should be within a week. Its focus should be to thank, to educate, to entertain, and not a hard sell. At the end, you could perhaps extend the special exhibition prices for a limited period, as an exclusive offer.
  3. Learn: talk to your colleagues. Talk to yourself. Compare all the outcomes with the initial written objectives – level of engagement, size of email list, revenue, costs, insights, important new contacts. What worked for you? What didn’t? How can you improve the next event?

Best wishes for your future success!

About the author

Richard Mc Manus Cara Mara Seaweed baths New Frontiers alumnus

Richard Mc Manus

Richard Mc Manus is a New Frontiers alumnus and the founder of Cara Mara luxury seaweed baths. Richard qualified as a Chartered Accountant with PwC and has extensive experience in the manufacturing and export sector, working in both Finance Director and Managing Director roles.

While in the west of Ireland, he became familiar with the traditional Irish seaweed bath and its many wellness benefits. This experience led to the idea of bringing the therapeutic benefits of seaweed baths to a wider audience, and so Cara Mara was born. Richard’s mission is to bring the Cara Mara seaweed bath experience into people’s homes and lives, helping them to achieve balance and feel confident, relaxed, happy, and energised.

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


  • Unable to secure demonstration meetings


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

Funded bBy:

  • Promoter’s funds

Stage – Prototype Timing: Months 3 to 6

Major initiative:

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

Measure of success:

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


  • Unable to secure sufficient funding


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

Funded by:

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

Stage – Market Entry Timing: Months 6 to 18

Major initiative:

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

Measure of success:

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


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


  • €400K funding requirement (18 months runway)

Funded by:

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

Why is this approach important?

There are a number of reasons to use this approach:

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

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

About the author

Garrett-Duffy-New-FrontiersGarrett Duffy

Garrett is the New Frontiers Programme Manager at Dundalk Institute of Technology (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.

Value proposition and channel to market

Value proposition and channel to market

By New Frontiers blog

Value proposition and channel to market

We all know that setting up a new business is almost always an uncertain journey, one that can bring enormous swings, from exhilaration one day to doubt and fear the next. There are many reasons why we subject ourselves to this stress – creating a job for ourselves, escaping dull or unsuitable work, a bad boss, or just the simple desire for increased wealth. After all, who would not wish to achieve financial independence?

The entrepreneurial rollercoaster

The chance to create something from nothing, to see an idea in your head develop and work, either in the form of a new service or new product, is incredibly motivating and, when successful, enormously satisfying. “I did it my way” as the song goes. This is the entrepreneurial rollercoaster of business startups. Managing these emotions is important if we want to banish doubt and remain upbeat, confident and committed to our project.

Managing the bad days

While in the set-up stage of my first venture, a tourism business, a very well respected and established player in the market from Sligo declared that he would ‘eat his hat’ if my business worked in Co Laois! This was at my first trade fair in Germany and, for a 23 year old, this was massively undermining and stuck with me.

We need a coat of armor to protect us on bad days like this or to silence natural self-doubt and banish the demons. Luckily, this coat of armor can be built by using solid ‘good business practice’ at the earliest stage in the venture.

The well-known business writer, Joan Margeratta, ventured that you can distil any business down to two key foundational elements – value proposition and channel to market. This rings true in my experience. Yes, there are many other elements that we need and will need in time, but, to start with, these two elements are critical. Properly validated, they constitute solid business practice that will give you confidence and ensure you are more likely to succeed. It is also something that investors will demand if you are seeking finance pre- revenue.

Value proposition and channel to market

The best way for me to explain what I think is required in terms of validating a value proposition and a channel to market is through explaining the process I went through in developing and bringing to market a new domestic kitchen vacuum – Sweepovac.

By way of context, it took a subsequent four years of product development and market entry to get initial traction. That’s four years of uncertainty, challenges and obstacles. I definitely needed a thick coat of armor to get me through this, to give me the conviction to persevere!


This validation process was simple common sense really. First, we created the cheapest simplest prototype version possible of something that looked and acted like the finished product. We then tested it on end users – homeowners. We set up with this prototype for 3 days in 3 different retail settings – a hardware shop, a kitchen showroom and an electrical retailer spread across rural and urban centers. Over the three days we surveyed 100 people with a 15 question form using a Likert scale. This showed that 87% of people were positive and liked the product. A critical takeaway was, however, that within this group of 17% who absolutely ‘got it’ and were very enthusiastic, 13% had no interest.

Channel to market

Next, I needed to test the channel to market to see if we could deliver the product in the right retail environment, at the right price and at the right time.

I interviewed 20 kitchen retailers, some with retail chains, and the three largest distributors to these retailers. For each group, I had a different questionnaire that set out to establish their interest, their willingness to take on the proposed product and their views on pricing and margin structure.

The results showed that 70% would display, but with varying levels of enthusiasm and that the expected price should be between €90 and €220.

The result

I drew two key conclusions. The first was that 17%, and possibly more, of kitchen buyers would potentially purchase the product if it was presented in the right retail environment, at the right price and at the right time. The second was that there was enough interest among retailers and distributors to ensure that we could present it in the right environment at the right time. I also had strong guidance that I needed to get the manufacturing price down based on the feedback on the retail prices.

Key takeaway

Attempting to launch a new startup is usually, if not always, high risk with dramatic ups and downs. My key message is this: early and solid validation of your value proposition and your channel to market gives you a far greater chance of success and a coat of armour to help weather the process. It will allow you to focus on delivering, on problem solving and help stop you doubting the road you have chosen or second guessing yourself.

It takes bravery to launch a new start up or transform an existing business, it is usually if not always high risk with dramatic ups and downs. Mentoring has given me a wonderful opportunity to meet great people, to learn, to share and to to be part of their journey.

With regards to the gentleman from Sligo, I never had the opportunity to present him with his hat and some salt. The tourism business ran successfully for 13 years, was sold as a going concern in 2005 and still operates today.

About the author

Henry Fingleton Sweepovac New Frontiers
Henry Fingleton

Henry Fingleton is an Enterprise Ireland mentor and the founder of Sweepovac. Henry’s experience in international sales started 20 years ago when he established and successfully marketed Kilvahan Horse Drawn Caravans into nine European markets, bringing the equivalent of 6,000 bed/night into Co Laois, a nontraditional tourism location. In total, he is responsible for six startup companies and, therefore, has a wealth of experience in many facets of business. Henry also has a strong academic background, having in recent years achieved a first-class Masters in Business (MBS), winning student of the year twice.

Business strategy why it matters and how to do it

Business strategy: why it matters and how to do it

By New Frontiers blog

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.

Mary has worked in senior management and management consulting roles across various sectors. She has supported clients in personal growth, business process change, systems implementation, technology acquisitions, strategy development and planning. Her areas of interest include: strategy, business process optimisation, analysis, inclusion, diversity, gender balance, women in business, business coaching, mentoring, executive coaching, business consulting, programme management, and project management.

Business expansion scaling your startup

Business expansion: scaling your startup

By New Frontiers blog

Business expansion scaling your startup

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

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

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

Maintain a healthy balance

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

Prepare the whole team for growth

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

Keep an eye on cash flow

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

Think about customer service

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

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

Take employees with you

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

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

About the author

Noreen DoyleIrish Biltong - Noreen Doyle - New Frontiers

Noreen Doyle is a New Frontiers past participant, and the co-founder and CEO of Irish Biltong Co. The company produces an award-winning, 100% Irish, gourmet beef snack that is a favourite of sportspeople and nutrition experts around the country. Irish Biltong Co is very much a family-owned business. Both Noreen and her husband John come from farming backgrounds, with a life-long connection to the beef and dairy sector. The family owns and breeds high quality, prize-winning cattle; using their own stock to supply their wholesale meat producing plant in County Kildare.

becoming an expert in your field new frontiers advice

Startup PR: increasing awareness and becoming an expert

By New Frontiers blog

becoming an expert in your field new frontiers advice

For new businesses, raising brand awareness is the key to building a community of fans and driving sales. A good way to do this is to highlight the expertise of the founder or co-founders with public appearances and authoritative content. 

When I started Mummy Cooks, there was no such thing as a ‘weaning expert’ in Ireland. By virtue of being the first person to start talking about this topic, I became the weaning and feeding expert – initially for Eumom and then for MummyPages. I also became the weaning expert for the Pregnancy & Baby fair; talking at events in Dublin, Belfast and Cork.

In order to promote my fledgling business, I started to work on my PR. I have a friend who helps me write up my press releases, and then I contact the various media contacts myself to see if they’re interested in the story. This personal touch goes a long way. I’ve also found it useful to reach out to mums in the media – I send my products to new mums and they almost always feature me in their magazine or paper.

Getting on television

I’ve also been able to get some appearances on TV, which has been incredibly helpful to the brand. My daughter and I appeared on a few slots on Ireland Am, and then on RTE’s Today. Often, openings like these are down to luck, and being in the right place at the right time. However, it’s also about creating these opportunities and putting yourself out there. In my case, the RTE appearance came about because I was producing online content for the RTE Food website. We were filming a video for this, which the Today show producer saw, and he asked if I would come to Cork to cook on the show.

Being on TV wasn’t something I had ever thought about, or in fact wanted to do, but when it can drive traffic to your website you soon lose the nerves! Becoming an expert in a particular area means that you have to be confident when speaking about the topic. Contact the media and let them know that you are prepared to write about your subject area, or go on TV. Don’t be shy!

Blogging and content partnerships

I started writing blog posts about weaning and feeding young children, and we also started writing recipes. I saw an opportunity to share our content with other online content sites, so we partnered with media providers as a way to grow our brand without a huge marketing spend. I used my network to get an introduction to the content editor of RTE, and because she could see that we were already producing great content, she gave us a weekly slot on their website. They get our content, and in exchange we get links back to the website. We have nurtured similar partnerships with Xposé Parenting, MyDealDoc, SuperValu, MummyPages and GloHealth. We also recently took part in the Tesco Back to School campaign – creating recipes and food hacks for parents.

Increasing awareness of our brand does not lead to instant sales, and it has possibly been a slower road for us than if we had invested in direct marketing. But our hard work is now paying off, as we’ve been able to see with our recent food flask product launch… mums who had previously purchased from us or connected through our recipes have been buying this new product because they trust the brand. Sales since January have been really strong and we are now planning to launch other colours.

Engaging social media content

Social media is another place where you can build your reputation, and once again it’s about producing good quality content that’s helpful and raises awareness of your product. Here too, brand image is important, so on social media we pay attention to our message, language and image. We keep the way we write content consistent across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Each post is friendly and helpful and I always sign it myself. Because I’m a mum of two young children, customers know that I’ve experienced the same issues around weaning and food as they have, and that helps to build trust.

I get emails every day from other mums asking if I can help them. Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so it’s important to seek professional advice from a doctor or dietitian if the problem persists. However, there are tactics and improvements I can share with them that can help. Simple things, like asking someone else to feed the child so that they don’t pick up on mum’s stress, can have a huge impact. Sharing these insights with other mums is an important part of what our brand is about, and it’s a great way to build our community of loyal fans.

Our next step is creating videos to get our message out there and drive product sales. This has been a difficult step, mostly down to cost. We’ve been focusing on growing organically, and we don’t have a large marketing budget to call on. At first, we went for a budget option, but the videos weren’t really in line with our expectations. It’s crucial when you’re building brand reputation in this way that everything fits with the image you are creating, so I’m always thinking about the overall brand experience. We were recommended another video producer, and although this time the cost was higher, we’re really happy with the results. We’ve created a series of recipe videos that back up our core messaging about weaning and show how useful our products are. These will be great for brand awareness, and we can share them with our media partners.

Choose opportunities carefully

Becoming an expert and raising awareness is as much about what you don’t do as anything else. For instance, I was asked to become a brand ambassador for a company that had had some very bad press. While I would have been well paid for it, I knew that there wouldn’t have been any positives for the brand image I had spent a long time building, and luckily I declined. Listen to your gut and if it feels wrong, don’t do it!

Also, be careful not to associate yourself with too many brands. Make sure the companies you partner with are a good fit in terms of their ethos as well as their relevance to what you do. You should also consider whether they want to partner with you because they are thinking about moving into your space in the future – in these cases there’s no point you giving them a boost just so that they can take over your market share!

Obviously, some partnerships come with financial compensation, and some don’t… so when doing any free promotion for other brands, think about how you will be able to build on it for the benefit of your own brand. For instance, I’ve done talks at baby & toddler events, which I’m happy to do for free because I’m able to present my products to an interested audience, and the organisers also promote our business on social media.

It’s all a case of balance. Although I do events for free, it is important to make sure you are getting enough back – for instance, that the audience is large enough and you will get good PR from it. In the past, I wasn’t always as cautious. I agreed to do one event on the basis that there would be lots of people attending and I was likely to make plenty of sales. I interrupted a family holiday to travel to the event, only to find that just four people had turned up.

Becoming an expert in your field is about looking for, and being open to, opportunities to talk about your expert topic and share your experiences. You’ll need to work on your confidence and be prepared to put yourself out there, of course! And the other key element is to consider any channel, and balance any offers you get, to make sure the opportunity is of benefit to your brand.

About the author

Siobhan Berry MummyCooks New Frontiers alumnaSiobhan Berry

Siobhan Berry is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Mummy Cooks. The startup has developed a range of storage solutions to help parents with weaning, and provides practical and simple feeding advice and recipes to inspire, educate and empower parents to feed their young families healthy, homemade food.

With a background in asset management, the entrepreneurial journey started for Siobhan after she became a mother. She started giving classes in baby food cooking, and after seeing how many parents were looking for advice and support with weaning, she decided to found Mummy Cooks in 2013.

Supply versus demand how to set your pricing

Supply versus demand: how to set your pricing

By New Frontiers blog

Supply versus demand how to set your pricing

Pricing is one of the most difficult issues for new businesses, but it is also one of the most critical. While there are some general principles that should be applied by all businesses, there is no one size fits all model for setting prices.

Creating the right image through pricing

Pricing affects profit, but it also plays a major role in forming your brand’s image. Set your prices too high and you will be perceived as not offering good value for money, set prices too low and you may be perceived as cheap. The basic starting point for setting prices is an understanding of costs – you cannot sell your goods or services for less than the cost of production, at least not for very long.

Costs of production include the direct costs of each item of product or hour of service – such as raw materials and wages – but they also include longer term and indirect costs, such as rent and electricity. An element of profit should also be included as a cost when considering price. No one wants to be in business to just break even.

Looking at costs will give you a floor price below which you should not sell. It is better to do no business at all than to have a loss-making business. Up to this point in the process, pricing is a science dependent on good and accurate information about costs; the next steps are an art requiring judgement about how the market will react to your pricing decisions.

The context for your pricing

The next step for most businesses is to look at the competition and see what they are charging. Most small and new businesses see themselves as price takers. That is, they must charge what the market dictates. This may be true in some cases, but most small or new businesses should be able to use their greater flexibility to position themselves to charge a premium price.

This will depend on the product or service being sold. Every buyer wants the cheapest price when it comes to buying a commodity item (something that is the same no matter where you buy it), but not every item is a commodity.

Everyone wants the cheapest sofa, but no one wants to get their hair done by the cheapest hairdresser in town. How do you know which hairdresser is best? Well, it is probably not the cheapest. The price a supplier charges sends out a strong signal about the quality of the goods or services supplied. There are many areas where buyers want the best they can afford – no one wants the second-best lawyer, for example. And even looking at sofas, people want quality at a price, not just the cheapest on the market.

Charging an adequate price

Charging an adequate price also allows a supplier to pay for a good after-sales or support service, thus reinforcing the quality perception. Where a sale is made at a break-even cost, there is no room to deal with any customer queries that may arise after the sale. The idea that price sends a signal about the quality of the goods or services being offered should be included in every business’s approach to price setting. No business wants to be perceived as expensive, but being seen as cheap is also damaging.

Each business must balance the too-expensive v too-cheap seesaw for themselves, but it helps to understand the needs of your own business. In approaching the issue of price, a business needs to understand its own limiting constraints. It is all very well to charge as low a price as possible if you can increase your output almost infinitely at little or no cost, such as may be possible with a software product or if you have a large number of air plane seats to fill.

Many businesses, however, have staffing, premises or other constraints to resolve before they can increase production; for businesses in this position, increased pricing may allow them to grow profits working within existing constraints.

As a last idea to consider we have the supply versus demand curve beloved of economists. On the left hand side – where the price is low – there are lots of buyers, but nobody wants to sell. On the right hand side – where the price is high – everybody wants to sell, but there are not many buyers. In the theory, the equilibrium point at the middle is where buyers and sellers meet.

Price v quality New Frontiers Supply Demand

For a small or new business, this diagram shows something else: that there are a small number of buyers who are willing to pay a premium price. There can be profit in addressing these buyers, offering them a reason why they should buy from you rather than at the market price. This may be a better service, branded product or simply a higher price.

Key considerations for pricing

  • Costs set a floor for pricing
  • Pricing sends a message
  • Know your own business constraints
  • There are premium buyers out there

To illustrate these ideas more fully, I thought it would be helpful to share a case study. The names are changed and some of the details reflect experience with more than one business, but the case study does fairly reflect actual events.

Case study: setting pricing for a quality systems company

The problem

Jason had a quality systems design implementation and training business. Jason himself is highly qualified and very experienced in designing and implementing quality systems within a specialised area. His business employed himself and three other people: Jason as a consultant, two associates and an admin person.

Jason would hold an initial meeting with clients and design a solution to meet their requirements. One of his associates would then implement Jason’s design.

Jason was working 70+ hours per week and feeling overwhelmed when he came to me. The obvious first question was: why not hire more staff? Jason felt that what he needed was another consultant at his level, but that the cost would be considerable and the extra income would not be all that much, as a new employee could not be expected to do the 70 hour weeks that Jason was doing.

While expanding the staff was considered as desirable in the medium term, some change was needed in the short term. We looked at the company’s income. Jason was charging 50 hours per week to clients and his two associates were charging nearly 40 hours each. Clearly, there was a limiting constraint in terms of available hours.

The analysis

I suggested that a fresh look at pricing was needed. The business was profitable, though not as profitable as it should have been. Due to the long hours worked at the operations end of the business, very little attention was being paid to cost control. Any issue that arose was solved by throwing money at it.

We looked at the other suppliers that Jason was in competition with. The market involved one major company with about 25% of the market and a number of smaller businesses similar to Jason’s, none with more than 5% market share. Their pricing was opaque, none had a published set of daily rates as they all priced each job individually.

We then looked at Jason’s customers. They were all strong businesses in an expansion phase looking to beef-up their quality controls. I suggested to Jason that they were all potentially premium customers, willing to pay a good price if they were convinced that Jason could deliver a better service than his competitors.

The solution

As a result of this review, Jason increased his rates by 50%. While this certainly increased profits, Jason considered that that was not the most important benefit. The additional revenue allowed him to hire a second consultant and a third associate. He is now working 50 hours, rather than 70 hours, per week himself and devoting his energies to developing the business – with a lot less time taken up in firefighting.

Although Jason did loose some customers, he has a much better relationship with the customers he retained and he has seen no slowdown in new enquires or new business. The increased level of service that Jason can provide to his customers allows him to pitch his company as the best in the business, effectively being seen as the premium supplier with the major company seen as the bulk supplier.

About the author

Patrick O Flaherty New FrontiersPatrick O Flaherty

Patrick is a business consultant and Enterprise Ireland mentor. His expertise spans areas such as financing and funding, as well as business development and internal structures and processes – with a particular focus on projections, business plans, costings and pricing.

UK markets and beyond think before you leap

UK markets and beyond: think before you leap

By New Frontiers blog

UK markets and beyond think before you leap

The United Kingdom represents Ireland’s single largest export market, providing significant opportunities for ambitious and growth-focused companies. The UK market is a natural overseas destination for Irish businesses looking to expand and is viewed by the Irish Government as a key export region for our economic recovery.

Not only is the UK one of Ireland’s most important trade partners, but its geographical proximity and cultural similarities make expansion into the UK easier for Irish businesses… on paper, anyway.

There is no doubting that both regions share common characteristics. However, the strategic and operational approach that needs to be adopted in, say, Dublin versus Manchester, or marketing and selling to the public sector in the UK versus that of Ireland differs greatly. In my experience, too many home-grown companies treat the UK as an extension of their Irish market place and are left wondering where it all went wrong or why they did not achieve the progress and success in the UK that they had originally anticipated.

Some common mistakes best avoided

  • Rushing in and not carrying out adequate market research and planning from a quality perspective
  • Underestimating the cost of go-to-market and in-country activities e.g. number of meetings, travel, accommodation, etc.
  • Underestimating the timelines required to achieve success – leading to frustration & impatience
  • Assuming the length of your product, solution or service sales cycle will be the same as that experienced in Ireland
  • Not being cognoscente of the subtle cultural differences and buying behaviours, patterns and preferences
  • Spreading yourself thin by attempting to cover too much geography too soon – this is very common mistake; travelling to a meeting from Dublin to Galway is not the same as travelling between, for instance, Bristol and Norwich

In order to provide you and your organization with the best chance of success in your UK target market, there are key considerations and activities that must be taken on board prior to, during and after market entry. As many of you will be aware from day-to-day experience, getting domestic business decisions wrong or merely misjudging them can prove costly. This experience will be amplified significantly in the UK.

Therefore, a well thought out market entry and market activation plan is essential.

Think before you leap

Some organizations enter new markets and pursue a large contract or opportunity based on a loose strategy commonly referred to as ‘gut feel’. Over the years, I’ve heard many explanations of UK market entry decisions – based on what can only be termed as misguided assumptions, such as:

“We’ve grown our business in a small market like Ireland, so imagine what we can do in the UK.”

“Let’s open an office and see how we get on. Sure how difficult can it be?”

“They speak the same language and we are only an hour away by plane.”

“We have been looking after one customer in Leicester so let’s get over there and sign the rest of them up.”

This type of logic would never be entertained if it was the US, China or mainland Europe that was under consideration – so the strong advice is to adopt the same mindset when looking at our nearer neighbour.

Evaluate, activate, execute

This three step approach ensures you challenge your beliefs and try find answers to important questions that will help to support you before, during and after market entry…

Market evaluation

Have you:

  • assessed the overall market opportunity and size, defining your specific target market(s) by sector, region, company, etc.?
  • decided on the level of resources required to maximize the market opportunity?
  • developed a clear and compelling value proposition?
  • identified your ideal customer across selected criteria?
  • gained a clear understanding of your buyer behaviour and expected sales cycle?
  • decided on where and how you need to differentiate against the competition?
  • considered the most effective channels to promote and sell to your ideal customer?

Market activation

Have you:

  • created a sales delivery plan with clear accountability and ownership?
  • introduced key performance metrics and milestone management?
  • adopted the most appropriate market awareness campaign?
  • aligned internal sales, marketing and product team(s)?
  • introduced a sales and pipeline management process?
  • successfully recruited and on-boarded UK sales or partner representation?

Market execution and management

Are you:

  • actively reviewing and monitoring sales progress?
  • constantly driving the critical few activities?
  • being effective with the remote management of UK employees and partners?
  • expanding your customer/partner base?
  • planning for the next growth phase?

The above are far from exhaustive lists of considerations, however hopefully some of the content and tips will prove helpful and be of some value to any organization with an eye on the UK – or any overseas market for that matter. As they say, the only source of knowledge is experience and I am happy to have shared some of mine.

About the author

Barry Moylan New FrontiersBarry Moylan

Barry Moylan is an Enterprise Ireland mentor, and co-founder and Director at Sales Transitions Ltd. He has 25 years of sales, leadership and executive coaching experience. Barry is an expert in delivering strategic and operational sales growth – working with startups and established/multinational technology companies in both domestic and overseas markets.

International growth how to get started

International growth: how to get started

By New Frontiers blog

International growth how to get started

International growth is not the same as getting beta customers in your home market – to sell overseas, you’ll need to be able to scale your sales acquisition, and service and manage all the possible agents and resellers in the market. This article will illustrate the major points your startup should be aware of and how you can best position yourself for international growth

The international growth ‘toolkit’

Startups today have to think in terms of international growth pretty much from day one. However, it involves a very different set of skills than the one it takes to achieve the first beta customer in your own market – skills more aligned to scaling growth, and managing customers and intermediaries at a distance. We’ll look at how to achieve those first international customers and then how to consider the major intermediaries – agents, wholesalers, and resellers – that you might take on and looking out for key differences and watchpoints for your international growth strategy.

Startups today are growth-oriented, and it helps your vision and investment narrative to be so. However, it is useful to look at some scaling international companies to see some of the effects that international growth has had on their product/service offering.

The US example

Looking at US companies, language is an interesting issue. For their home markets (which remember, might be a state such as California with ~38 million people), a common English language allows them to scale to much larger markets than a European or Asian equivalent.  When they do start to internationalise, they manage their UX very carefully (for instance, by using symbols and pictures such as an envelope to indicate mailbox, or an avatar to represent personal settings). This leads them to think about customer onboarding, which might involve the delivery of online training and certification, like the Salesforce University.

Looking again to the US for a lead in this subject, we can look at large urban regions as proxies for our international efforts. If a startup operates in the Los Angeles area, they have a population equivalent to the Netherlands and Belgium within two hours, or in the New York region, a population equivalent to the UK within three hours.  Think in these city terms as you internationalise in Europe. The UK is too broad a target to have as a vision, try a market entry point such as Manchester/Liverpool or Newcastle/Edinburgh – two regions with populations (i.e. a market) the size of about 5 Million people. This gives you an accessible target to aim for.

Understanding and managing your network

Internationalising will offer you many options to scale your customer acquisition, from agents, wholesalers, distributors, and resellers. All good options, if you appreciate the differences between them and manage them as tightly as you would your first customer. Essentially, their roles can be defined as follows:

  • Agents – they will act on your behalf and get a margin of the sale
  • Wholesalers – they will buy your product and sell it on to their network
  • Distributors – they will move your product to customers but won’t buy your product off you in advance
  • Resellers – they will have authority to act for themselves, selling your product directly and passing a margin back to you

As you can see, there are significant differences in who owns the product, who tracks the cashflows and who owns the actual customer.

Filling the gaps in your knowledge

Finally, it is worth noting that doing or operating business internationally exposes you to risks that are not that easy to ignore, such as different legal codes, local practices and competitive bidding that you might not be used to. It is hoped that you probably do achieve early market adoption in your home market, allowing you to somewhat perfect your product-market fit, achieve seed funding and get good legal, corporate finance and taxation advisors with good experience in international markets.

In technical sales, enterprise sales and equivalent, international sales also means a harder-to-reach customer in terms of training, development, the understanding of their actual usage and remoteness from up- and cross-selling. On the other hand, international sales means that you are able to compete with local players in the market, suggesting you have a defendable and sustainable USP.

Remember though, that internationalisation is not a goal in itself for your startup – it is a process that needs to be managed, in the same way as marketing or product development, so that you can build value for your customers, your investors, and your team.

About the author

Alan Costello New FrontiersAlan Costello

Alan Costello is a business consultant and Enterprise Ireland/New Frontiers mentor, helping scaling companies across multiple sectors. Alan is also the founder and managing director of Ruby Consulting, a strategy and innovation-focused boutique consultancy which strives to assist in the growth of companies and to work with business owners and leaders to help orientate planning for action.

After completing his MBA, Alan began working with early-stage startups, VCs, PE firms, universities and enterprise agencies. Alan provides high-value input for small/early-stage/HPSU companies, as well as delivering projects and programmes for public sector agencies, universities, colleges, large corporates, venture capital and many early-stage startups with ambitions to scale internationally.

Goals milestones for growth-focused businesses

Goals & milestones for growth-focused businesses

By New Frontiers blog

Goals milestones for growth-focused businesses

I recently delivered a one day workshop as part of IT Tralee’s New Frontiers Phase 2 programme entitled, ‘Goals & Milestones for Growth-Focused Businesses’. The aim of the session was to discuss goals for each of the participant business and to help them identify milestones to be prioritized among the many competing demands for their time and attention. Sessions such as this assist participants to communicate both their progress to date and the potential of their business to Enterprise Ireland and other potential investors. These are some of the key points we covered.

Starting point: hitting milestones is extremely important for early-stage investors

The calibre of the team driving a new business is very important in determining an investment decision. This is evaluated both in terms of career to date and track record with the current business of the collective team. Progress to date can be judged by viewing milestones achieved and quality and credibility of the plan going forward: has the business achieved market traction?

Enterprise Ireland gives 10% of the marks during the first phase of the evaluation of Competitive Start Fund (CSF) applications towards the ability to deliver key commercial and technical milestones; as they define it:

Looking for a well-defined strategy and roadmap with very clear achievable and measurable technical and commercial milestones.

With the growing popularity of tranched funding (financing agreement in which the agreed upon sum is advanced in stages depending on achieving specified targets or milestones), setting ambitious yet realistic and deliverable milestones is a hugely important issue for startup promoters at every stage of their development.

So what is traction?

According to Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, (Market) Traction is quantitative evidence of customer demand. The book defines it as:

A sign that something is working – if you charge for your product, it means customers. If your product is free, it’s a growing userbase.

The book Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers talks about the power of setting Traction Goal(s) – this could be 1,000 paying customers, 100 new daily users, or 10% of your market.

What is a milestone?

A milestone is a significant achievement toward a major goal by which project progress can be measured, in this case business success. Generally they build – later milestones are dependent on earlier milestones, representing something of value being completed. So any discussion of milestones requires an understanding of the stage of development of your Startup.

new-frontiers-lean-startup-modelsAsh Maurya’s Three Stages of a Startup

The 3 Stages of a Startup is a perfect framework to set milestones in context.

The following milestones are implied by Lean Startup:

To use fast, iterative development practices to:

  1. Validate core hypotheses (customer problem-solution).
  2. Develop the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  3. Achieve Product-Market fit
  4. Produce a development and marketing roadmap for scaling

Product-market fit

Accordingly, advocates of Lean Startup describe Product-Market Fit as a critical milestone. This is defined as being when a product shows strong demand by passionate users representing a sizeable market.

Achieving Product-Market fit requires at least 40% of users saying they would be “very disappointed” without your product… Sean Ellis, Lean Startup Marketing

Startup Pyramid

The Startup Pyramid sees the achievement of Product-Market Fit as a prerequisite before significant resources is invested in marketing and sales to scale the business.

10x product launch-new-frontiersAsh Maurya’s 10x Product Launch

Ash Maurya sets a challenge for very early-stage businesses to get 10 Customers, and then to get 10 times or 100 customers, and so on.





The Business Model Canvas

Appropriate commercial and technical milestones should emerge from the startup Business Planning activity.

The ideal tool to list and test your business assumptions is the Business Model Canvas, which identifies 9 building blocks to a business.

business canvas new frontiers

An evolving business  

While your traction goal, stage of development and business model will determine appropriate milestones, it is also very important to understand that your business model will evolve over time. Paul Graham advises businesses to do things that don’t scale.

Pulling it all together: The Milestone Mix

Every startup business founder and team – where ultimate responsibility lies – must focus on a small number of stage appropriate priorities to bring their business to the next level. SMART goals are called for – goals must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound.

startup milestone mix donncha huguesA balanced set of goals is also required. I suggest that the balance of any startup business can be evaluated in terms of balance across four areas: Product, Marketing, Finance and Team – which I refer to as the Startup Milestone Mix.

I suggest that startup promoters should set high-level goals in each of these areas. It should also be part of their job description to ensure that the business is developing in a balanced fashion – using this as a high level framework allows a business to judge if sufficient attention is being given to all critical areas of the business.

For New Frontiers and Enterprise Ireland, the critical milestones to exhibit traction relate to: intellectual property, early reference customers, route to market, internationalisation, engagement with investors, and building a core and non-traditional team – as appropriate to the stage of development of your business.

My conclusion and Call to Action

As Lean Startup says: Life’s too short to build something that nobody wants. Your job, with the support of your New Frontiers network, is to build a business, not just a product. It is all about gaining market traction.

Set goals and prioritise milestones that work for your business; that excite you and act as a calls to action for investors, potential employees and other stakeholders. I hope that you find this article of value as you set about this task!

[Some related articles by Donncha (external sites):
How To Write Your ‘Job Description’ As A Startup Promoter
My favourite Startup Marketing Books for Fast Growth Businesses

About the author

Donncha Hughes profileDonncha Hughes

Donncha Hughes is a former incubation centre manager and has worked with startups for almost ten years. A big advocate of Lean Startup, his areas of expertise include: marketing, sales, business models, supports for business, business plans and financial projections. An EI mentor and member of the CSF Evaluation Panel, Donncha specialises in working with early stage startups.

New Frontiers workshop: How to find customers

By New Frontiers blog


Around 30 Phase 2 participants from around the country joined us at Enterprise Ireland on Thursday for a special workshop that looked at how to find customers and the sales pipeline.

This is the first time New Frontiers participants from different locations have come together for a training session, so it was also an opportunity to meet and network with entrepreneurs from other Institutes.

How to find customers

new-frontiers-alan-costelloFinding and retaining customers was the subject of Thursday’s workshop, which was facilitated by Alan Costello of Ruby Consulting, a strategy- and innovation-focused boutique consultancy. Alan has worked with numerous small/early-stage/HPSU companies, and as a founder himself has great insight into the reality of startup life.

Alan’s workshop looked at the different sales cycles that our entrepreneurs may be dealing with, and how to design and manage the sales pipeline, taking into account factors such as:

  • Product vs Service
  • B2B or B2C
  • Pricepoints
  • Regulatory impacts
  • Cycles of the year

He also talked about ways to build an integrated process to manage marketing, sales and service, before discussing the sales process itself: the attributes of a good sales person; how to make a proposal; why deals are lost and the principles of selling, such as:

  • People buy people, not products
  • Sell the benefits, not the features
  • Present your solution from their perspective
  • Remember that buying is emotional and not logical
  • Make your solution easy to remember
  • The best place to validate your offering is in the market
  • Think about the personal wins of who you are selling to
  • Know what stage you are at and focus on getting to the next one

According to Alan, it’s also important to have a trade show strategy. You don’t necessarily have to go down the expensive route of paying for a stand; if you have clear objectives and are focused you can simply attend and make the most of the networking opportunities available during meet-and-greet sessions and coffee breaks. Trade shows should be part of your sales strategy: make a plan, research who will be there, be prepared and then network as much as you can.

Don’t think of trade shows as part of your marketing strategy and sit around waiting until your startup hires a Marketing Director before you hop on that wagon. Trade shows are an invaluable sales opportunity that you should be taking advantage of as early as possible.

Our participants also had the chance to hear personal stories from two entrepreneurs with very different companies, followed by short Q&A sessions.

Michael Culleton with fellow Directors, Ben Millett and Alan Harrison. Photo from

Michael Culleton – Stayhold

Michael Culleton’s company, Stayhold, developed a simple but elegant solution to stop things rolling around in the boots of cars.

The original Stayhold product went from brainstorming session to manufacture in China in an incredibly short period of time. Michael mapped out the journey from production to launching and marketing the product and talked about how he manages distribution to markets around the world.

David Hurley. Photo from

David Hurley – Tel Magnetic

David Hurley started Magnetic Solutions Ltd with his university professor over 20 years ago, and they were recently acquired by Tokyo Electron Limited (TEL).

Tel Magnetic produces the machines that are used by computer manufacturers to build most of the world’s hard disk drives and other semiconductor devices. David talked about the sales process they have developed – sharing the template used at Tel Magnetic to plan the objectives of every sales meeting – as well as how they manage their ongoing relationships with clients.

Inspiring insights

I’ve obviously only touched on the ‘highlights’ of what was covered during the four-hour session. Training and workshops form a vital part of the New Frontiers experience. Bringing participants from a variety of sectors together to meet seasoned entrepreneurs who bring real-life insights is crucial for developing skills and knowledge. The participants really valued the workshop and hopefully this format will be repeated at future events.

It was invaluable to hear advice and tips from experienced sales people who are familiar with the sales and client issues we face every day.

Shane Lynn, CEO, KillBiller

I found the meeting plans segment from David Hurley very useful, as I have sometimes finished meetings and only later realized I should have done or said things differently!

Eoin ó Fearghail, CTO, EnergyElephant

If you have a business idea and are interested in accessing the best quality support to help develop your startup, register your interest in New Frontiers 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.

Generating your startup’s first sales leads

Generating your startup’s first sales leads

By New Frontiers blog

Generating your startup’s first sales leads

Generating sales leads is key to starting a business, but what’s the best way to connect with and convert potential customers who are not aware of your company?

For most start-ups the priorities are:

  • Confirming that someone will buy your product or service;
  • Building the first version of your product or service;
  • Getting your first paying customer;
  • Raising funding, or making enough sales to self-fund.

Every one of these priorities, even building your product, depends on acquiring customers. And you need to acquire customers in a repeatable way, so you know which inputs will generate more outputs (i.e. more customers).

Your goal should be to build a process for acquiring customers that is predictable, scaleable and automatable.

There are two main options for building a repeatable flow of sales leads – outbound lead generation and inbound lead generation. But before looking at your lead generation, there are two initial steps you need to take: identify who you are targeting and clarify what you are selling to them.

Who are you targeting?

Define your ideal customer profile

Should you go for a broad sweep of targets or focus narrowly on one niche? My suggestion is to narrow down your focus to a few specific kinds of people within one or two market sectors. This is because, as a startup, you have limited resources (money and people). So, it makes sense to focus those resources on one or two sectors rather than spreading them thinly across multiple sectors.

We also need a clear definition of who we are targeting when we start “prospecting” – the process of researching the names and contact details of potential customers. We’ll look at this again in a moment.

What are you selling?

Your value proposition

Your value proposition is the value a customer obtains when they use your product or service. You will be using this as part of your pitch in all your lead generation activities, so it’s important to get it right. If someone is left confused or unclear by what you’re selling then they won’t buy. And if customers are aware of your competitors then your value proposition needs to clarify why you are different and better.

See the article How to craft your Value Proposition – a tool and a formula for more information

Lead generation and lead conversion

Acquiring your first customers involves lead generation and lead conversion (converting leads into paying customers). Lead generation is problem number one for most start-ups.

There are three kinds of leads – warm referrals from existing contacts and customers; leads generated online; and leads you generate through “outbound” activities. We won’t concentrate on referral leads in our discussions because these are hard to scale up for a new startup. Instead we will concentrate on online (“inbound“) and “outbound” lead generation.

Outbound lead generation

For a lot of start-ups outbound lead generation should be the first area to look at. This is because it requires less lead-in time than inbound/online lead generation. It is also because you can target the lead generation efforts more precisely and, in the case of B2B, it may produce results faster.

This doesn’t mean that I think you can ignore online lead generation activities. Instead, I suggest that you kick off outbound lead generation while ramping up your inbound lead generation in parallel.

Outbound lead generation consists of:

  • Using your target customer definition to research a list of prospects. You can use a combination of Google, LinkedIn and online list sources to compile these contact details.
  • Review the value proposition or pitch you plan to use specifically for this outbound lead generation campaign.
  • Draft your introductory emails – short and snappy emails that introduce your company and ask for a call or meeting. Don’t try to sell in these emails, don’t use graphics or logos and don’t include attachments. Keep the text to a bare minimum to obtain a response. You should expect to send out a first email and three or four follow-ups in order to make contact.
  • Prepare follow-up materials for interested prospects – a presentation or document that you can send them if they express interest in your pitch.
  • Send the emails in batches – there are a number of tools that plug into Gmail and Outlook that can automate this process.
  • Manage all responses immediately – if they are positive, make sure to schedule a follow-up call or demo straight away.
  • Qualify the lead – during a call or demo make sure they are actually interested in your type of product, have the ability to buy it and have a time-frame in mind. If they are not qualified, then get them off your list and move on to the next prospect.
  • Handle objections and questions – if a lead is qualified, handle any questions or objections they have, moving them through to the sale.

A lot of the steps in this process can be automated, from tools to help with prospecting and email automation through to CRM systems for recording calls and follow-ups.

And you can monitor four or five key weekly metrics to keep yourself on track – for example number of new contacts researched this week, number of leads added to pipeline, number of prospects converted to opportunities and so on.

Inbound lead generation

Inbound lead generation means using a combination of your website, blog, social media and content to generate inquiries and sales leads. Online leads should account for a third or more of your leads in the longer term – four out of the top five sources of leads are online:

  • corporate website
  • email
  • advertising (banner ads, search engine marketing)
  • social media (including videos)

The first step when looking at online lead generation is to ensure your website pages include clear calls to action (CTAs). For example, “Register for a free trial” or “Download our white paper”. Each of these calls to action should link to registration pages known as landing pages.

You also need to ensure that your website clearly communicates who you are targeting and your value proposition. It should act like your best sales-person, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Once you are sure that your website is ready to capture leads, you can focus on driving increasing numbers of relevant visitors to the website (traffic) and getting people to register on the site for content or for demos (conversion).

Once visitors have registered, you treat these registrations as leads and define the most efficient way to convert them to customers. This could be through direct phone or email contact, or by encouraging them to sign up for a trial online.

The main tools to drive traffic are:

  • Content (e.g. documents, presentations, videos, graphics)
  • Pay-per-click ads (PPC)
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Social Media
  • Email marketing
  • Online paid ads/display ads

Your start-up needs to focus on generating leads and acquiring customers. You have two main options for generating leads, inbound and outbound lead generation. I don’t advise that you try to choose one or the other – you need both. There are lots of great resources online to help, from guides on landing page design through to tools for automating outbound lead generation. Getting it right will take focus and a little trial and error. The reward will be a steady stream of sales leads and new customers, delivering revenue and increasing the value of your company.

About the author

Michael-White-new-frontiersMichael White

Michael White is an Enterprise Ireland mentor and Managing Director of Motarme, a sales and marketing automation startup, which he co-founded in 2011. Michael has delivered numerous seminars on startup marketing for the New Frontiers programme and NISP Connect.

Michael is a specialist in complex B2B technology marketing and lead generation, with a previous background in software development and product management. He has successfully developed and launched enterprise technology and software products in sectors including finance, telco and government. He has managed technology promotion campaigns across Europe and in the US, and has managed enterprise system implementations in the UK, Holland, Sweden, South America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Market Research: a key component of business strategy

By New Frontiers blog


The Enterprise Ireland Market Research Centre is located at our offices at East Point Business Park, Dublin. Client companies can access the most up-to-date information on a vast range of markets, sectors, companies and countries, either in Dublin or at our regional locations.

What is market research?

Neil Armstrong defined research as a “means to investigate something you do not know or understand.” This definition can also be applied to the more specific area of market research.

There are two types of market research: primary and secondary. Primary market research involves collecting data from its source (e.g. by surveying customers). This type of research is usually used by the company itself. The other type of research is called secondary research (or “desk research”) and involves the gathering and summarising of primary research.

Enterprise Ireland subscribes to over 30 premium online sources of commercial information, prepared by sector specialists from some of the leading analyst houses, in order to assist clients with secondary research work. These sector reports and directory sources cover market, company and country information in global industries ranging from medtech and pharmaceuticals to pet food and everything inbetween.

Who can use the Market Research Centre (MRC)?

The MRC’s service is available to all established clients of Enterprise Ireland, as well as Phase Two participants of the New Frontiers Programme.

Anne Walsh is a New Frontiers Programme participant. Her company, Allergy Lifestyle, provides a range of products for the management of allergies & anaphylaxis. After using the MRC, she commented,

“We found that Enterprise Ireland Market Research Centre reports are an invaluable resource not to be overlooked in helping us research our market and profile our competitors. Staff were extremely helpful in assisting us access the many industry standard reports available.”

What’s in it for me?

The American anthropologist and author, Zora Neale Hurston, said that “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” There are many benefits to taking the time to conduct market research. For those of us working in the MRC, our job is to assist clients in their research for market, company and country information. We do this by talking clients through their request, so that both parties can clarify what exactly needs to be researched and what direction will be taken. As I have mentioned earlier, we specialise in three main areas of market research:

  1. Market information deals with the sector size and share as well as its growth rates. We also have resources such as which gives top-line information about industry structure and overview. Drivers and restraints, SWOT analysis and information on trends and forecasts are also a very important part of researching specific markets.
  2. Company information involves researching your competitors, potential customers and the players involved in the route to market (e.g. suppliers, distributors, wholesalers, etc.).
  3. Country information is concerned with regulations and legislations within a particular country, how to do business and PESTLE insights.

By conducting research in these three key areas, you will gain great insight into the markets you wish to enter and develop your existing knowledge about the industry you are situated in.

It has been proven time and again that companies that undertake effective market research have a huge competitive advantage over their competitors and often become leaders in their sector. Needless to say, good market research will also help your business to save money, time and headaches in the long run.

Katja Bressette, a leading qualitative market researcher, said that “to understand how consumers really think and feel, it is vital to go beyond words.”

Let’s get started!

If you’re interested in using our Market Research services, you can call us on 01 727 2324 or email us at There is also a full list of our resources on the Enterprise Ireland website (click on “All Databases” in the Global Research Databases section).

Once you have contacted us, a member of the Market Research Centre team will assist you in deciding what to research and how to go about it. We will look into your query and gather relevant information, arrange an appointment for you to visit the Market Research Centre and when you visit we will show you how to use the research the available information in our resources and databases.

Carl Sagan, the famous astrophysicist and astronomer, rather poetically said that “somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” I believe that to be true, whether you are researching the stars or simply reaching for them!

About the author

Dearbhla-oDwyer-New-FrontiersDearbhla O’Dwyer

Dearbhla is a student in Law & Business at Maynooth University. She is currently on an 11 month internship as an Information Executive in Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre in Dublin.