The startup scene in Ireland tends to revolve around the various incubation and accelerator programmes, which are ideal for getting companies off the ground.
But what happens once you’ve achieved product-market fit, gained product validation and are getting giddy over finally having a paying client?
For the past couple of months, a cohort of startups – amongst them my own – has been benefiting from a new initiative created by Niamh Bushnell, Dublin’s Commissioner for Startups, and Joe Hogan of Openet. I’m the CEO of TenderScout, which started in early 2012, providing public procurement services, and has since developed proprietary intelligent sales technology that allows firms to benefit from greater predictability in their CRM sales pipelines. TenderScout will be launching in the US market later this year, so this initiative comes at a crucial time in our business.
The Mentoring for Scale programme matches startups with experienced CEOs – we’re talking about people who have helped scale companies to multi-million dollar revenues and, in some cases, $100M+ exits. The startups are selected with help from Enterprise Ireland, based on criteria such as the readiness to build scale. Building scale necessitates a different kind of support – one that is not so readily available – which is why this programme is so impactful.
There’s no fixed agenda, everyone gets 30 minutes with 2 or 3 mentors to ask for advice on anything they like. Questions like: Do I need to move to the USA to sell there? Should I change my company name to better reflect the market? How am I going to recruit early adopters?
Mentors are matched with startups beforehand, on the basis of sufficient similarity in terms of the business journey to make the sessions meaningful. As you articulate your challenges, the mentors share their war stories and challenge your assumptions, while providing insights based on their own experiences. It’s interesting to note that not only are the mentors willing to invest their own time, but they are also prepared to share business connections where they feel it would be of benefit.
I proudly explained to one mentor, Alan Robinson, CEO at Clever Techies (who has raised $15 Million in venture capital as co-founder of Shenick) how our product helps sales reps to accurately forecast the likelihood of closing deals. He noted that telling sales reps how bad their current forecasts are might make for a rather depressed sales force… So that’s an issue we’ll have to work on.
This initiative aims to help grow the startup ecosystem – as many do – but its uniqueness is in supporting startups at this crucial time in their evolution, just at the point where most other programmes and accelerators drop off.
After exiting the New Frontiers programme in 2013, we spent two years working on our product-market fit. Had this programme been available to us then, it would have hugely accelerated our progress. As it is, it’s taken this long for us to figure out that the primary market for TenderScout’s Sales Intelligence technology is US professional service firms. After four years of trial and error, we’re now finally ready for scaling into the US market, and this programme has given us the opportunity to access the kind of unbiased feedback that will take us to launch – armed with impartial and constructive insights from experienced CEOs.
At present, great Irish scaleups on the Mentoring for Scale programme include NewsWhip, Indigo Connect, SparkPage and Beats Medical. As the programme grows, I hope that it will include, amongst its panel of ultra-experienced entrepreneurs, some CEOs who are perhaps just a couple of years further down the road than startups like ours and in whose warm footprints we are about to walk. If that happens, we’ll really be looking at an ecosystem that supports businesses from startup to exit.
Pictured: The author with Dublin Commissioner for Startups Niamh Bushnell