Hi Ellen and welcome to InspiredStartups.com! I was privileged to attend your recent talk sharing your entrepreneurial journey with other startups during Entrepreneurs Anonymous - startup networking event organised by Irish Entrepreneur John Muldoon in Dublin. And I must say you are an inspirational woman!
But firstly, please tell us a few words about yourself. What motivated you to take the deep dive and start working for yourself?
"I'm a builder of things. I love to see ideas come to life, as an inventor, entrepreneur, designer and developer.
I started to build my own ideas with my partner while we were both in full time jobs. We wanted to have our own income, and see our own ideas come to life, instead of spending our lives making other people's dreams come to life. I left my paid job in Biomedical Engineering when the startup we were building on the side needed my full time attention.
I've been working on my own startup projects for the past 5 years, in Ireland, Chile and the US."
What do you enjoy most about running your own startup business? And what do you enjoy least?
"I loved the intensity and adventure. It's incredible to see things happen because you made them happen. It's almost like playing God.
I didn't like the constant uncertainty and lack of support from the world - most people don't like it when you take risks and they try and talk you out of it. The hardest for me was maintaining this "crazy" optimism."
Now, tell us about your startup "babies". How did they evolve over time?
"We wanted to connect new people, through ideas, and conversation. We started organising events, then built apps to connect people at conferences and events, and finally built apps to connect the "right" people in cities for knowledge dating."
What were your highs and lows throughout your startup journey?
"The high was thinking we were going to get investment from 2 big VC's in the US.
The low was not believing I could make it work, and walking away. That was one of the hardest decisions in my life."
In your opinion what are the secrets to startup success?
"I have no idea. Speaking with people who have been investing for years in startups - a lot of them claim not to know either. The trick is not to care, but to enjoy what you are working on, and trust that it's meaningful.
You need to be bullheaded about your ideas and dreams, but you also need to be honest with yourself. You need to love the lifestyle - the highs, the lows. Success may come, it may not, but it's fun to dream and build and work hard and test your theories, and learn and grow and hopefully make a viable business, for as long as there is demand for what you're selling."
When do you think it's the right time to call a quit?
"When you don't believe in it anymore - but not just when you lost faith for a week or two. When it's been months, and you don't see any evidence that it's going to work: take a break, and come back, and if you still don't believe in it, then quit."
What are the key lessons you've learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
"You need a good idea; the skills to make it a reality; a cheap, repeatable, scalable way to get users and a proven way to make money from those users. It's not as easy as it sounds."
I've also learned that ego is really dangerous: it's often a huge factor in the creation of successful companies, but it's not necessary. I think when people find a way to drop the ego: this need to succeed to show the world, then they can start to really build interesting, meaningful stuff."
Idea generation is one of your specialties. What are your strategies for generating ideas and what should every entrepreneur take into consideration when brainstorming ideas?
"The more ideas we generate, the more likely we are to generate really unique, important ones, so developing the skills to create ideas and test them is really important.
For me it was hard to come up with new ideas after working for so long on my previous startup, so I came up with a method to train my brain to generate ideas. I'm still working out the details, but you can read more about it in my blog called "How to become a better inventor - Experiment."
What are you working on at the moment?
"Now I'm in Mexico, and about to start working with another startup. It's the first time I won't be working on my own idea in 5 years, but I'm excited to put my own ideas on hold for a while. In fact, I've started to believe that ideas don't belong to anyone, and we can all add value to existing ideas, in order to give our working lives meaning."
What are your aspirations for the future?
"To keep learning."
How do you see the current startup scene in Ireland? Drawing from your recent startup experience in the US, could this be further improved?
"I don't know enough about it to be honest but everything can be improved. Ireland seems to have a vibrant scene, but it's not like SF where every startup is treated like the next Facebook - we got free company setup and legal assistance from one of the most important legal firms in the world just because we were a startup with some success in the past.
It was hugely beneficial to work from Berlin, NY, Chile and London, just to taste the flavour - they are all different and they suit different types of startups. Plus it's a small community - now in Mexico, I've found the coworking spaces of startups and it's like I've found my "people".
Finally, would you have any inspirational tips for aspiring entrepreneurs about to kickstart their startup dream?
"Don't quit your day job just yet. Find a way to test your idea. Find people through Startup Weekend or otherwise to work on it with. And then when you think you may be onto something, quit your job, and go for it. You can always go back to a stable job if things don't work out."
And three words to describe yourself?
Finally, where can our startup community find you online?
Thank you Ellen for sharing your startup story. We would like to wish you great success with your entrepreneurial initiatives in Mexico!