Postcard From Home: Tech Dublin Made Me

Dublin in January conjures a litany of (mainly negative) thoughts in my mind: cold, wet and dark.

Returning home for a short trip to meet the great and the good of the Dublin startup ecosystem, however, I can happily say that my negative thoughts were laid to waste. Having recently joined the investment team at Notion Capital, I jumped at the chance for a working trip to Dublin to coincide with the Steering Committee meeting for SaaStock 2016 and the opportunity to meet some of the great (SaaS) startups that currently call Dublin home.

Ireland has long been the European HQ for many US tech darlings, but it is increasingly making a name for itself as a major European startup hub. Breakout successes like Intercom and Teamwork, coupled with great exits like Logentries, Trustev and Hassle, are proving domestic investors’ thesis that Ireland can build competitive tech businesses and making international investors stand up and take note. Dublin sits at the heart of this emergence, and as I criss-crossed the city by foot (and occasionally taxi) I couldn’t help marvelling at the volume, ambition and quality of startups that are crammed into this relatively small space.

Notion invests in early stage B2B SaaS, therefore the number of startups that fit our strategy is significantly less than an investor with a broader focus. Nevertheless, in one day I met seven startups who are tackling problems as diverse as recruitment, alternative financial data, mobile marketing, streamlining our professional networks, events & ticketing software and how we book meetings.

As my last meeting drew to a close I began to reflect on the day; the thing that struck me most was the community feel in the city. Nearly everyone I met knew at least one of the other companies that I’d spoken with earlier in the day; it’s relatively easy to meet key members of the community within a short time period, which cannot be said of most international hubs. As one founder said, the beauty of Dublin “is that we get to pretend we’re a global capital while having the feel of a small town”.

I couldn’t help marvelling at the volume, ambition and quality of startups that are crammed into this relatively small space.

I also met several entrepreneurs who have had good exits in the past and are embarking on their second and third ventures. They are using the learnings from their earlier successes to great effect; from simple things like company structure, to more complex ones like building a well-balanced founding team. As Dublin produces more and more serial entrepreneurs, the effect of their experience will begin to compound and can only increase the volume of future successes.

Being most familiar with the London startup scene, it’s difficult to escape comparisons. By and large, Dublin stacks up well, while the pool of companies is obviously significantly smaller; there’s a burgeoning mix of new and experienced founders, a strong local VC community and regular events amongst the ecosystem which help build relationships and ultimately, cross-pollination of ideas.

As the ecosystem in Dublin continues to mature, it’s crucial that there are big success stories to add to those of Stripe and Intercom and, ultimately, that we produce an Irish-domiciled unicorn. For Dublin to become a true global player, founders need to demonstrate the ambition to build global businesses and prove that it is possible to create companies in Dublin which regularly achieve values north of €500m. This will ensure the international investment community has Ireland firmly on its map, and open access to the larger growth equity rounds that startups in the US and UK often benefit from.

Dublin is maturing into a great place to found a startup; experienced founders, great local VCs who know their markets really well and an attractive city for international talent.

Compared to companies in the UK, which can build a relatively large business just by focusing on their domestic market and often don’t consider international opportunities for several years, there are many benefits to being a relatively isolated island nation with a small domestic market. It means companies must think globally from day one and utilise the learnings from operating outside the domestic market to scale more quickly and build a playbook for international expansion. This is a huge advantage in large tech markets where ‘winner takes all’ dynamics are often at play.

As I headed to the airport after a hectic couple of days, it certainly felt like Dublin is maturing into a great place to found a startup; experienced founders, great local VCs who know their markets really well, an attractive city for international talent and an emerging group of early stage startups like Barricade, Jobbio, Eagle Alpha, Pulsate and MeetingsBooker.

Despite the guarantee of rain, I’m already looking forward to my next trip home.

If you’re a B2B SaaS founder at Seed or Series A stage and would like to chat about investment, get in touch via Twitter @danjotoole.

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