All aboard the Start-up Express for some tough love

Plenty of advice for start-ups on journey to Web Summit

Andrew Kingston, Peter Duffy, Brendan Finucane and Daniel Rosehill just off the Start-up Express from Cork for the Dublin Web Summit. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Andrew Kingston, Peter Duffy, Brendan Finucane and Daniel Rosehill just off the Start-up Express from Cork for the Dublin Web Summit. Photograph: Aidan Crawley


Tough love from managing director of start-up accelerator Techstars Nicole Glaros did nothing to dampen the spirits and mood of entrepreneurs aboard the Start-up Express to Dublin yesterday.

More than 180 entrepreneurs, start-up employees and company directors boarded a train in Cork yesterday that had been chartered to take them to the Dublin Web Summit at the RDS. The excitement was palpable.

How to pitch
Among the topics Ms Glaros covered in giving advice to entrepreneurs and start-up chief executives was pitching.

A pitch must use simple language that is easy to understand, with the most interesting points about the business mentioned first, she said. “I keep hearing things like, ‘We are a connected social mobile engagement platform’ and I wonder what the hell does that mean and what does the startup do? You need to be specific with language,” she said.

Ms Glaros reminded entrepreneurs to tell people – be they potential customers or investors – why they should care about the business. “All I heard you go is, ‘Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, social gaming,” she told one entrepreneur, to emphasise the importance of using non-technical language ordinary people can understand.

After hearing a pitch from Rob Cosgrave of LearnLode, she advised him to practise writing his pitches using the Twitter maximum length of 140 characters. “Your sentences are really, really long and they go on and on forever. Everyone’s minds wander as a result,” she said.

After his session, Mr Cosgrave said he appreciated the advice, adding that he got great value from the practice session. “Pitching is hard. You have a better idea every time you do it. I’ll remember to breathe when I pitch later,” he said.

GroupBooked co-founder Andrew Kingston said the advice he got in the start-up carriage was hugely helpful. “Our business takes the pain out of organising private group events. Nicole advised us to focus on solving one problem as opposed to several. I did my first pitch on the train and took that advice with me.”

Gadget carriage
More than 20 start-ups received advice in the start-up carriage. There was also a gadget carriage in which passengers could try out new tablets, mobile phones and other equipment.

In the speakers carriage passengers could hear talks from such heavyweights as New York-based entrepreneur Niamh Bushnell of Kinnecions. She told passengers it’s important to know the technical side of a start-up as well as the business and financial side. “To be a successful entrepreneur you’ve got to be a poet and a plumber. The poet gets out there and sells the business, the plumber knows all the nitty gritty.”

Ms Bushnell, whose closed community platform counts Arizona State University and Enterprise Ireland among its clients, said for a long time she was very good at selling the business but hadn’t a clue what the programmers and coders did.

“Investors love a story but you need to know figures such as the cost of each customer acquisition. If you don’t know the business from a numerical perspective, you won’t get anywhere.”

Confidence deficit
Former Skype chief operating officer and Mangrove Capital partner Michael Jackson said entrepreneurs and start-ups needed to be more confident if they wanted to be successful. “I’m an investor and I’m on board this train. They know I’m here but none of them have contacted me or approached me. They need to be more pushy,” he said.

Also on board was Microsoft Ireland managing director Cathriona Hallahan who said she was impressed at the quality of some start-ups on board.

“The economic turnaround will happen as a result of indigenous companies. There are some phenomenal ideas on board from Irish companies which is a good sign.”

She said Ireland has a culture where failure is not accepted, but that needs to change. “People shouldn’t be afraid to fail,” Ms Hallahan said.