Hi John and welcome to InspiredStartups.com! We've met during the recent "Entrepreneurs Anonymous" networking event which you run on a monthly basis to give an opportunity for Irish entrepreneurs to meet, connect and exchange startup ideas with each other.
But firstly, please tell us a few words about yourself. Where did you begin your startup journey? What motived you to start your own business?
"I was born in Ireland (a long time ago) and raised here (also a long time ago) but I have lived in Ireland, France, the Netherlands and the US. I began my startup journey early in life but didn't realise it at the time. I used to organise plays in my parents' garage and charge the neighbourhood kids in. I also ran a few "sales of work." In secondary school, a friend in college wrote a program (these were the days before PCs!) on the college mainframe to match boys and girls for an upcoming school dance. There was huge interest and I sold lots of tickets. The day arrived when the program was run and I showed up in school with a "green-bar" print out of the results. Everyone thought it was brilliant. But when the day of the dance arrived, none of the people matched up would have anything to do with each other!
In college I got a part-time job wearing sandwich boards at lunch time. It was only for a few weeks, so I attached a note on the bottom of my board saying the space was for rent. I also copied a few fliers and put them in the shops around Grafton Street. I got some business but soon found out that business isn't even scalable to 40 hours a week! This was way before the concept of scalability was in common use.
In America, I set up a short-lived monthly newsletter for Irish-Americans. This was pre-internet and it was pitched at those who wanted to learn about Ireland without looking at it through "leprechaun glasses". Over there, I also worked for several years as a self-employed IT consultant. Unlike sandwich boards, this was scalable to 40+ hours per week. But there was still a limit on scalability.
I completed my MBA in 2011, and, instead of concentrating on the corporate route with promotions, etc., I decided to see if there were opportunities in start-up land. Many lessons learned later and I am still optimistic. I run the monthly Entrepreneurs Anonymous meetup in Dublin
. That is now three years old and is pitched at early stage and aspiring entrepreneurs. It's great fun and a great way to network."
What do you enjoy most about being entrepreneur? And what do you enjoy least?
"Being largely in charge of my own destiny. You will always have a boss of some kind (CEO, chairman, venture capitalist, whatever) but it is a different relationship than an office manager."
What does it take to start an online business nowadays? A unique innovative idea? Know-how? Long working hours? People? What is your recipe?
"I've been involved in two over the last couple of years and I am now on my third. So to answer your questions:
It takes a lot
Not necessarily, but execution is key.
My "recipe" is to know what you are good at. Play to your strengths. Find a partner who shares your commitment and is flexible. Start off with your kernel concept and do it well."
What do you think are the common characteristics/traits of successful entrepreneurs?
"Perseverance, optimism (often unfounded), hard work, belief in their concept (also called "passion") balanced by the realism to know when it's not working, single-mindedness balanced by the mental agility to adapt as conditions change, ability to read a market and the ability to adapt if necessary."
What are your biggest achievements along your entrepreneurial journey?
"It's a cliche, but in life, we don't regret doing things. We regret the opportunities not taken. Following those paths, even if they lead to dead ends, is always enjoyable."
Any big mistakes you did and could advise other early-stage entrepreneurs on how to avoid them?
"The same advice I give to people voting: start early and start often."
In one of your most recent startup projects you developed the technology to improve doctors' productivity. What real life problems did this startup initiative attempt to address and how far did this idea evolve?
"The concept was simple enough. It was to cut down on the frustrations doctors and patients experience in consultations. For doctors, it would have led to advance knowledge of the patient's condition and a more focused consultation. For the patient, it occupied "grey time" in the waiting room and let them collect all their questions so they didn't walk out forgetting to ask about something.
We developed a prototype and tested it."
I've learned from you recently that you had to kill this startup. It usually takes a lot of time to abandon the idea if it doesn't go the right direction, because you always hope it will get better. When do you think is the right time to call a quit?
"It gets easier the more often you do it! But, yes, it is hard to let go sometimes. If you have an honest friend or adviser, they can help you hurry the decision along. Basically, you have to remind yourself that you got in to this to make money. If that is not a realistic prospect, then there is no room for sentiment. Save that for old family photos and childhood mementos."
I looked at your profile and you also wrote a piece called "Best practices on starting a business in Ireland". Could you share some of your insights with our startup community?
"It was a chapter for a book published by the Irish Executives Network. Basically, it outlined most of the options available to people who were thinking of starting a business. These ranged from funding from friends and family to accelerators to grants to bank loans. It's a hell of a read and I'm surprised it wasn't nominated for a Nobel Prize."
You are also a great observer of the Irish startup scene. How has it evolved over the past 5 years? Additionally, what would be your main recommendations to further improve the startup ecosystem in Ireland?
"It has exploded in the last few years. Entrepreneurs Anonymous
was started because people felt there was nothing similar for aspiring entrepreneurs to keep in touch. It is now three years old. I was talking to Sean Blanchfield
once and he told me that that was the case until around 2010-11. His event Techpreneurs, and Eamon Leonard's Pub Standards
started in 2010."
Besides the startup event which you organise each month (Entrepreneurs Anonymous), are you aware of other startup events you would recommend to Irish startups?
You are also an active blogger writing on startup, innovation and technology topics. Where can our startup community access your blogs?
What websites, blogs or news do you follow and would recommend to other entrepreneurs? Any favourite books on entrepreneurship?
Thanks for sharing all those startup resources. Btw, what are your entrepreneurial aspirations for the future?
"To get my latest venture off the ground for less than €100. €15 spent so far."
And 3 words to describe yourself?
"I like to think these three words come to others' minds when I leave the room: WTF?"
Finally, would you have any inspirational tips for aspiring entrepreneurs about to kickstart their startup dream?
"Have a clear idea what you are doing. Make sure any partner(s) you have are clear, too. Investigate your market first. Be ready to fail while also being ready to grab any opportunities."
Thank you John. We would like to wish you great success with your upcoming startup projects. Let's keep in touch!