Diary of a student entrepreneur 2019: Vol.2

Four student entrepreneurs on LaunchBox, Tangent’s Student Accelerator, at Trinity have agreed to chronicle their adventures, the highs and the lows, as they build their businesses. 

Rebecca Gilligan, co-founder of Snaggletooth

Over halfway through the LaunchBox programme and we have overcome a few hurdles. However, our biggest challenge will be validating our idea. Unlike tech, testing a physical product often involves designing, prototyping and receiving necessary approval before it can be sold to the customer. These processes cost both time and money. Conducting a survey won’t tell us much, because even if the public tell us that they “love the idea”, when push comes to shove, will they be willing to hand over their hard-earned cash for our product? Therefore, the challenge is going to be validating our idea, in the most cost-effective way, while getting real customer feedback.

“For me, being an entrepreneur means breaking free of the typical mould that guides my life, and creating my own path, venturing into something unknown, which is both terrifying and exciting”

To help guide us through these challenges, we’ve had the privilege of having guest entrepreneurs into LaunchBox to tell us how they achieved success and handled failure. Our most interesting speaker so far has been Brian Caulfield, a serial entrepreneur and investor, who also played a major role in setting up the LaunchBox programme. Brian told his story simply, without needless glitz and glam. He touched on the personal hardships, and the personal toll that start-ups can take. This offered a real reality check for me and demonstrated that entrepreneurship really does offer the highest highs but the lowest lows.

For me, being an entrepreneur means breaking free of the typical mould that guides my life, and creating my own path, venturing into something unknown, which is both terrifying and exciting. It means being part of a community of risk-takers and free-thinkers, who view success partly as the thrill of the journey. I want my start-up snaggletooth to change the way we think about oral health, making it easier for everyone to achieve a longer, healthier life. Being part of the entrepreneurship ecosystem here in Dublin has been one of the greatest parts of my LaunchBox journey so far. Before this, I had no idea such a community existed, that such a vast amount of supports were available and that if you looked, you could easily fill each day attending the countless events on offer. 

Andriy Babiy, co-founder of Study.ie

It is just past half way point on the LaunchBox programme and we have made a lot of progress around the product and idea in the last few weeks. Following a lot of the speakers’ advice, we have found there are lots of opportunities within the areas of data and creating user insights. This allowed us to develop and pivot our original idea for Study.ie and our value offering into an area that is really relevant at the moment. It also meant we were considering applying to a competition that seeks data start-ups.

Pivots, I have learned, are not simple to execute. Even though this pivot really added to our original value proposition, it resulted in the team being dragged in a number of different directions as opposed to working cohesively towards building something that we can execute effectively. All of this added to the underlying uncertainty of working at a startup and we were working hard, but it seemed too difficult to get a new prototype out as none of us have backgrounds in data science. At this point we got together as a team to re-evaluate what we were doing, and we understood that the competition we were applying for was not creating a lot of value at the stage we are at. We also felt that it was forcing us to add innovation in an area that is not core, in order to sound more viable and interesting.

“Pivots, I have learned, are not simple to execute”

Since then we have taken a step back and are now looking at a more structured approach to our goal setting using the Objective Key Results approach. With this we hope to align our team once again and focus on building a fundamental MVP and testing it, rather than imagining future scenarios that are diluting our focus. This experience has brought home to us once again how being lean at the start is crucial, no matter the potential distractions.

Robin Twist, co-founder of Cash Box

Validation, validation, validation. This is what we have been working on so far on LaunchBox. Everyone in the startup ecosystem needs to meet people, everyone needs to find out what people care about, what the pain points are. And it’s hard, but one of the things that has hit me since I started down this path is just how frequently events are organised with start-ups in mind. There are presentations by seasoned veterans, people who have been through all of this before. They have already encountered many of the problems you may face and can give you hope that it is possible to succeed.

“What has surprised me the most though since I started is how many people are willing to share their advice and experiences with you”

There are also those founders who have moved on to other things and carry a different approach with them because of it. For me, these present some of the most interesting lessons. One such person came in to speak to the teams on LaunchBox – Finn Murphy. Finn came through the LaunchBox programme himself but now works for Frontline. The advice he gave was, “this is what I want to hear as an investor and this is what I don’t” – simple and direct as that. That alternate perspective, that look inside the head of the person across the table, is hugely valuable. What has surprised me the most though since I started is how many people are willing to share their advice and experiences with you. The start-up community in Dublin, is a community that is more extensive, welcoming and interconnected than you may have realised. My second lesson: There are people on your side.

Laura Brennan, co-founder of Ethicart

So far in LaunchBox we have been focusing on customer validation, developing our prototype, perfecting our pitches, and developing relationships with key people in the food industry to gain insight into areas we don’t know ourselves. We have talked to brands such as Keoghs, Bunalun, and Airfield Estate, who have given us interesting feedback and advice. We managed to work with a couple of brands and obtain a sample amount of their product’s sustainability information, allowing us to have a small pilot set of data, which has been brilliant.

It’s really encouraging how willing people have been to help us. Recently we met Devan Hughes from BuyMie at a talk he was giving in Tara buildings. We got chatting and met again, he ended up bringing us onto his podcast where he helps start-ups. It was a surprisingly fun experience once I got over the nerves, and I also learnt a lot from him.

“Being an entrepreneur can be scary enough in itself, being a student entrepreneur can feel even more daunting”

That’s the great thing about the start-up ecosystem here: in typical Dublin fashion, you never know who you might bump into! Going to start-up events opened us up to a community of motivated entrepreneurs going through a similar process. Being an entrepreneur can be scary enough in itself, being a student entrepreneur can feel even more daunting. Feeling all of that doubt and fear but pushing myself to do something anyway has been something I’m proud to have learnt this summer on LaunchBox.

We have had several impressive speakers in, but for me Colin Keogh from The Rapid Foundation stood out. They do 3D printing for prosthetics to become more accessible to those who need them. I was inspired by his altruistic approach to entrepreneurship, using it to make a real difference in people’s lives. It can be easy to get caught up in sales forecasts and revenue models but hearing him speak reconnected me with why we started Ethicart in the first place. Climate change is the greatest challenge humanity is faced with – we all need to be a part of the solution.

Published by Stephen Larkin

19 July, 2019