Start-ups discover the value of putting customers at the heart of everything

The 11 finalists gather in The Irish Times for week four of the eight-week AIB Start-up Academy, joined by Lisa Hughes of Irish Times Training, to help them master the funnel

Week 4 of the AIB Start-up Academy

Finalists attend week four of the AIB Start-up Academy in The Irish Times


‘Marketing is the engine of your business and at the core of everything you do’ was the message at the heart of today’s AIB Irish Times Start-up Academy which was facilitated by Lisa Hughes (Irish Times Training). Hughes shared her expertise with ‘Marketing and Mastering “The Funnel”’ today, which marked the halfway point for the 11 finalists as they follow an eight-week accelerator programme.

‘We have a tendency to think of marketing as something separate that is over “there” in the marketing department. Really, what I am saying to them is that everything is marketing. You can have beautiful branding and ad campaigns, but if your customer experience is rubbish it just completely destroys all the emotional engagement you are trying to create, and that is really where these guys are at. What we are really trying to do is tap into the customer and understand their problems, their needs and build a relationship over time.’

Hughes explained that today’s session would explore three things; ‘content, which is your value proposition; your context, which is all about what that means to somebody; and then community, how are you going to build your audience up so that they then become your very best advocates and hopefully sell for you.’

The Academy is a joint venture between AIB and The Irish Times to help start-up companies develop as the finalists follow an eight-week training programme in a range of entrepreneurial topics, from business planning to social media.  

Martin O’Connell from Nasal Medical said he was really enjoying the Academy and thinks it should be an essential for every new company.

‘I think every single start-up in the country should have an Academy like this. Every start-up is the same, we all go through the same problems, so this has been really brilliant because we are really learning from the Academy and from each other.’

Like a lot of companies, O’Connell said marketing was a bit of an afterthought, whereas now he knows it is as important as any part of the business. ‘Lisa is brilliant and today really made me think because one area I haven’t really thought about is the marketing as it’s all been about the prototype and the manufacturing. I have been making notes all morning, my head is about to explode with all the ideas.’

Mark Browne from Buska said that a quote from Hughes blew his mind. ‘For my own business, I set out to create a market for our business, so without marketing we would not be anywhere. I live and breathe marketing and I am fascinated by the subject. What Lisa said about your value proposition being at the intersection of unmet customer needs blew my mind. What it stimulated for me was to really put the customer first and at the core of all your thinking so you can create interesting content for their needs and wants.’

Hughes met the finalists on their first day and will be with them again to prepare for their final pitch at the end of the eight weeks. ‘The first day was a little “first day at school” but now they are really easing into it and what is nice is that they are starting to offer each other wisdom and insights on their own businesses. That is a brilliant connection piece for them to have because being an entrepreneur can be quite lonely and you can think “Am I doing the right thing, what do my customers want?” so having other people’s perspective is really, really useful for them as well. They are starting to shine and bloom so by the time I get back to them on April 18 for their pitch they will be fully blossomed, I have no doubt.’

Hughes said she hoped the finalists would gain some insights that they would apply to their own businesses. ‘I hope they will come away with an understanding that marketing is not the shiny happy people in the brochures, much as that is nice. Marketing is about everything that you do. I really hope that they will put the customer at the heart of their journey and that they will be able to match the customer experience and talk to people at every single point on that journey. Because that is what marketing is, it is the fabric of everything that you do. And I hope they have a bit of creative inspiration as well and get some ideas so they can shine and sparkle with their own.’

The 11 finalists in this year’s Academy are Rebel Chilli, The Cool Bean Company, Brendan Joseph, Nasal Medical, Popertee, Leaves, Buska Boxes, Blackwater Distillery, DropChef, Queezybags and Topper.

The coveted prize is what all the finalists are hoping for at the end of the eight weeks when they make one final pitch to this year’s judges. The overall prize is worth over €200,000 and includes a €20,000 cash investment from AIB, substantial advertising and marketing packages, PR training, office space and development support. There will also be a runner’s up prize.

Next week Barbara Lynch will facilitate the group for ‘Sales and Negotiation’.