Hi Andrew and welcome to InspiredStartups.com! Firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you begin your entrepreneurial journey and what has motivated you to break away from your 9-to-5 job?
"I did electronic engineering in college, followed by a masters in management science. After that, I went to work with Accenture consultancy. I enjoyed it there but always wanted to start something from scratch as I thought it would be very rewarding."
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? And what do you enjoy least?
The most: Consistently coming up with new ideas and being able to execute them instantly. That rarely happens in corporate environments.
The worst: The pay! In the start you don’t make anything and your career is completely uncertain.
Now, tell us about your most recent startup project NewsWhip (co-founded wih Paul Quigley). How did you guys come up with the idea and what inspired you to pursue this project?
"Paul had been working on a content creation site under the name NewsWhip for the Irish market. He noticed that journalists were obsessed with the social scores around the news they wrote. So he figured, why not track all of the world's content and rank it by its social interaction? That’s where the idea came from. He then needed to work with someone technically minded – so that’s where I came in. We knew each other through an Entrepreneurship Program in IADT
and discussed the idea. I thought it was brilliant and was surprised no one had done it already. So off we went and started building the company."
You began working on NewsWhip back in 2011. Could you describe your journey since then? What obstacles did you encounter throughout this and how did you overcome them?
"I had come out of a start up that had failed at that point, so it was an interesting time. I had no money but was incredibly excited about the new opportunity ahead. My main fear was staying alive, that we would be able to get NewsWhip somewhere before I went completely dry on money. We were both in the same position so to keep the servers running we need to get some money on board no matter how little. Fortunately I had built up contacts over the years and we were able to ramp things up much quicker than the first time. So we applied for grants, got into NDRC
which gave us initial start up investment and that was just enough to keep us alive until we could get a working prototype out. Then with that we closed an investment round."
Did your product require many course corrections or pivots to find a successful formula?
"Actually not so much on the tech side. The product is in consistent development – that’s just a fact of life in technology. If you don’t change with technology it will make you redundant very quickly. But the initial idea of using social metrics to signal the best content still remains. Our patent pending system is based around the rate of change of social engagement, and is also fundamental to what we do. With the sales and marketing, we have concentrated much more on the news services industry rather than the news reader as the route to market and revenue is easier."
I suppose there where times when you wanted to quit? How did you manage to pass over crises?
"I actually never wanted to quit. I always feared I would be forced back because of running out of time or money. I always say that starting up a company is financial insanity (if you do the risk reward analysis on it and compare it to your day job). So you at times in your journey you need to be incredible determined or semi delusional with self belief or a bit of both!"
What was the moment when you realised your business could be successful? How did you make it scalable?
"There was no real point, at any moment a business can be successful or a failure. This is true from everybody from Microsoft to the butcher across the road. So I don’t think about it that it is or can be a success or failure – more that if you make the correct decisions it can be a success. If you don’t, it will fail. As for the scalability – my first start-up wasn’t scalable enough. I learned that lesson the hard way so I only listened to ideas that had what I believed to be scalable."
What has been your experience with raising capital so far? Can you you share some useful tips with other entrepreneurs?
"I could speak for days on this. But if I was to summarise it, listen to investors and take the feedback very seriously. They have been around the track a number of times and often have seen maybe people do exactly what you are trying to achieve and fail. So with that information they can save you a lot of time and money. That’s not to say they are always right, but you better have a good reason to say why they are wrong in your case or that ‘you're different’."
You have built a team of 10 people to date. Could you describe your company culture and share some of your company culture tips with other entrepreneurs? What do you look for when recruiting new team members?
"The culture is very relaxed and friendly. I love the way our office feels. Problems are solved in a relaxed and intelligent manner. I worked in corporates and often they were very stressed places – there is very little stress here even if we are having the worst day ever. Stress will only make it worse and more unpleasant. Generally the fun relaxed attitude seems very common in start-ups. As for recruiting, a mixture of skills and intelligence but also personality fit are all important."
NewsWhip enjoys high caliber clients such as Huffington Post, BBC, Yahoo!, News Corp, amongst others and your news trending service "Spike" is now used worldwide. What were the key factors that contributed to such enviable success?
"I would say doing something that is unique and increasingly critical to their business. That and doing it to a high spec as it gets the word of mouth going."
How do you picture NewsWhip in the next 3 years? Any new developments down the road?
"We have huge developments in the pipeline. We now have a lot of feedback about how people use the product and what they want us to do with it. So we will be doing things from metric-ing newsrooms with analytics to emailing you when your company is doing well on the social networks."
Looking back at your startup projects, what are you key learnings from your entrepreneurial journey so far?
1. Always be outward looking – you never know where then next big chance will come from.
2. Persistence is important but flogging a dead horse with get you nowhere.
3. Get advice and help – its very unlikely that you will be the first person to make a particular mistake. Speaking to the right people can save you a lot of time.
Any big mistakes you did and could advice other early-stage entrepreneurs on how to avoid them?
"Many people are very concerned about telling them the idea for fear they will steal it. I once heard a saying: “Nobody will steal your idea – you will be lucky if they let you ram it down their throat”. Of course don’t hand your patent to your competitor. But some people lock themselves away when they should be outward looking. Being outward looking allows you to get signals from the market (as initially you have no clients) and adjust your idea so you develop something of use.
Also make sure that people will pay for your solution – too many people concentrate on the idea and then their revenue stream is ‘advertising’ – that will never cut it."
If you were to give top 5 tips to young entrepreneurs, what would they be?
1. Outward looking – get advice.
3. Hard work.
4. Always be cool.
5. Don’t take it too seriously – enjoy it, that’s why you set up a start up.
Based on your past experience setting up your business, could you provide recommendations on "startup launch checklist" for entrepreneurs looking to start their own business in Ireland?
1. Get an idea.
2. Get feedback.
3. Find an incubator.
4. Create a team.
5. Get money – government money is out there, investors as well but client cash is king.
6. Finally - make money.
As a startup CTO, what are your favourite tools, web services, apps or hacks?
I love Amazon EC2
– it's incredible for developers. I like coding and solving real world problems. Remote log in services like logmein are a life saver too.
Finally, where can our startup community find you online?
My LinkedIn account
is probably the best.
Thanks Andrew for sharing your startup story and for giving us some great startup tips. We wish you, your co-founding partner Paul Quigley and your NewsWhip team great achievements on your exciting entrepreneurial journey!