Start-ups savouring opportunity offered by FUSION

One day to go as start-ups in ‘Irish Times’ experiment prepare to pitch industry leaders

Week four of The Irish Times' five week experiment in which startups with no prior experience of advertising work to bring their products to pitch-readiness for the leaders of the advertising and media industry.


Tomorrow 10 start-ups will pitch media industry leaders from The Financial Times, Contagious Magazine, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere at the Grand Finale of Irish Times FUSION project.

FUSION is this newspaper’s five week experiment to work with early stage digital entrepreneurs to define a new wave of advertising.

Now with only one day to go it’s a good time to ask the startups how the five-week experiment has gone so far.

Advertising, for most of the startups, was a completely new area of focus. Over the five weeks of the FUSION process David Pierce of Buzzoo, a new social music experience for venues, has learned that he and early stage entrepreneurs like him “can give traditional advertising organisations great insight into changing trends, and can create early opportunities to build revenue streams from them”. Jason Roe of Parkya, which helps drivers find and pay for parking spaces on the go, the “fail fast & cheaply” approach of the startup community is a key lesson for the advertising industry. If an idea does not work out a startup will learn and move on, sometimes coming up with a radically improved idea as a result. And this fail fast approach is exciting advertisers.

A few of the startups had given some thought to advertising. Limetree is an app that gives parents a safe space to capture daily moments with their families. Jaime Quintas of Limetree, its co-founder, says that before FUSION “we knew that Limetree had a good potential to engage with brands, but we weren’t sure how to take advantage of that”. He believes that the startups offer advertisers new ways of approaching old problems. “As for Limetree, we have a very strong and engaging message for parents, and we can be a good vehicle for brands to connect and engage with families”.

According to Christian Ryder of Fonesense, a new audio ad format for mobile advertising, working inside The Irish Times has given the FUSION startups an opportunity to regularly meet leaders in the advertising industry, learn their needs and understand their objectives. “The FUSION programme is reducing the gap between start-ups and the advertising industry. It’s helping the start-ups understand how the industry currently works, and giving a clear insight of what the advertisers and media buyers are looking for”.

“It’s brilliant to get access to these type of people, and even better they are opening up and telling us about their industry. If Fonesense went to these people on our own we would struggle to meet one of them in six months. Now FUSION has introduced us to all the leading people from the industry who have opened up and told us how it really works”.

And on the other side of the table, the advertising industry is taking notice. At the second round of judging in week one, Steve Latham of the world’s premier event for the advertising industry, said “I can definitely see these ideas on stage at Cannes as potential Lion winners”.

Nonetheless, there have been frustrations. The FUSION programme’s loose schedule (for which the present writer has been responsible) imposed a tough time commitment on otherwise busy entrepreneurs. The startups had to grapple with dodgy connectivity inside the Irish Times building. And because of the Chinese wall that rightly exists between The Irish Times editorial and commercial operations, the initiative’s focus on advertising made it difficult for some of the startups to engage with writers early on in the process.

On top of that, the startups understandably gripe that they want longer to pitch tomorrow (they have only five minutes, and then a gruelling three minute question and answer session with the judges). Most importantly though, the startups’ feedback to The Irish Times is that they want more and deeper connection to advertisers. This connection is what tomorrow’s Grand Finale event will establish: each startup will pitch to a venue packed with the leaders of Ireland’s advertising industry.

Typically, startups are used to pitching for venture capital or “angel” investor finance, and run through a formulaic series of points to convince would be investors to part with their cash. Pitching to advertisers and brands, however, is an entirely different proposition. Part of the FUSION process was to force the startups to rethink how they pitch, and who they are pitching to.

Pat O’Sullivan-Greene of D2E, a garden-design site, says that “Fusion provides the opportunity to look at your business from a different perspective. The focus is on how we - in partnership with the Irish Times - can provide an alternative channel for brands to reach consumers. This has made us change the way we look at our business”.

And because the startups have focussed on a consumer problem first, and only then begun to explore the advertising dimension, they have an unusual and arguably more valuable appeal for would be advertisers. As Vincent Breslin of Sian’s Plan, a food planner system, says, “the reason that most of us are in this game is that we’ve seen a problem, think we have a solution, and have built a business around it. We’ve got strong brand values. We aren’t going to sell ourselves or our members short for brands that we don’t believe in. This offers those brands that we do believe in a place to shine and become part of what we do”.

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