A version of this article originally appeared on http://sarahpaddleswim.wordpress.com
Simon Cocking specialises in covering Dublin tech / start up / innovation events. You can find him on Twitter @SimonCocking
This year so far there have been five of these events, taking place about every month and a half. Gathering together innovative entrepreneurs and innovators from the Irish Tech scene to give the inside scope on how they developed and grew their own businesses. The events have aimed to make the speakers as accessible and open to discussing their greatest failures as well as successes. The result has been people have left the events feeling they gained useful insights into how to grow their own business ideas.
If you want more details and slideshare resources from previous events check out their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/673956112649981/
The most recent event took place in the Sugar Club, Leeson Street.
Below is an account of what happened.
Fred Karlsson was first up.
His white shirt was great, and he brought his own documentary crew too, which was kinda fun too. Fred delivered the classic pitch. He told us briefly who he was, what the problem was that he encountered, and the solution he used to solve this problem. While you will hear this, in many different ways, by many people. If you can nail this simple narrative you will deliver a compelling story. He was Swedish, his wife to be Irish. They met here, moved to Sweden for a while, decided to move back to Ireland. They sold their stuff online over there, successfully and painlessly. Then when they returned to Ireland they realised there wasn’t a similar option here.
Here was their opportunity. He also described two classic actions they took to help achieve success. Naturally it was a challenge to encourage people to use a site to buy and sell things if no one else had used it before. Therefore they followed the ‘fake it to make it’ school of thought. The first 60 items for sale on donedeal.ie were all actually just items from their own rented house, including a bike borrowed from the brother in law. Luckily the site began to get other people using it, and they were then able to remove the ‘fake’ items.
The second smart strategy was to be open to other people’s suggestions of what might work for them. Fred explained he was convinced furniture sales would drive the site’s growth. He said however his father in law kept pestering him to have dogs for sale on the site too. Fred was not convinced of the value of this. Against his better judgement, he did include a dogs category, at which point usage of the site went through the roof. The dogs brought massive numbers of users to the site, who realised DoneDeal did more than just dogs. He also spoke about how they monitored the data and came to understand user behaviour. The dogs section of the site would drive initial visits to the site, often with frequent, non purchasing visits to the site. This was not a failure to convert, but rather people looking at different types of potential puppy purchases, showing friends, weighing up choices. Often too with DoneDeal dog breeders will post news of upcoming births of new litters of dogs, so it’s not even possible for buy the dog until it is born a couple of months later. Once they were able to recognise there was interest in unexpected categories the site quickly grew from just being a place to buy and sell furniture, to the 250 odd categories it now has.
Share-ability with humor was also used. He showed a fantastic half-track vehicle.
He said no one ever bought it, but it prompted a lot of sharing across social media, achieving free advertising for the site. People would visit to view the halftrack, other bizarre products on sale, and then stay to look at things they were actually interested in buying.
His latest venture is http://purpletag.ie/ to sell women’s shoes in Ireland.
Next up was Brian Monaghan from Currency Fair.
Brian showed that his company had also found a customer pain point, 3% bank charges on making overseas credit transfers. After identifying this problem they quickly devised a secure, quicker and cheaper solution for people. This solution rapidly achieved ‘product market fit’. Despite making a lot of mistakes including not scaling as quickly as they could have, the company has still developed and secured more business. Brian was the 7th person in the door, and in a year it has now grown to 50 staff.
This was the first of the revised format interviews. Brian was interviewed by James Kennedy, one of the event organisers. James asked Brian a series of technical growth hacking questions. Aiming to drill into what tools and techniques Brian actually used to boost the exposure and returns of the company. Brian gave a lot of interesting, in depth and honest answers. Explaining the quite practical and logical approach of some of their strategies. Targeting ads at very specific groups of people who would be likely to use their service, such as people listening to French radio services in London. He acknowledged this is a very specific niche, and that to build up an overall successful strategy required finding and developing a series of niches like this.
Brian spoke about using the data to track performance, kill what wasn’t working, and scale what did. Facebook was working, especially with peer referral, so they were continuing to use this. He felt ‘Growth Hacking’ was about using new channels before your competitors or using new methods on an existing channel. He acknowledged it was a challenging approach, as you need to keep looking for new approaches, and continuously innovating. James asked if there was much brainstorming. Brian replied constantly, aiming to be as specific as possible, including time based cohorts, to try and extract as much meaning as possible from the data. He said they were also targeting customers across a range of mediums, even radio. He said while this might seem old school, it enabled them to speak to very targeted groups, such as those listening to French radio in London.
Next was Howard Kingston
Howard had a great track record with several ventures behind him, event management, Irish ancestral holidays, before finding what he really loved in online social Gaming. He described finding the right niche with micro transactions for in-game purchases in a free to play game. As with Marcus Segal’s comments about Zynga (http://sarahpaddleswim.wordpress.com//2014/04/25/growth-hackers-on-the-loose-in-dublin-meet-up-event-at-the-sugar-club-april-24th/), people will buy all sorts of virtual things. Similarly for Howard they even tried out offering an in-game Yacht for $2000. This seemed insane, it didn’t do anything, you couldn’t sail it, not even virtually, it truly was only a status symbol. And yet! People bought it. Truly a sign of people with too much money on their hands, but still a great move to have offered it for sale.
Howard discussed other ways they grew the user levels of their game. While some seem obvious now, at the time they were innovative or at least unusual, and so stole a march on their competitors. Inviting friends to play, to gain extra in game credit yourself, brought a 4 fold growth in user numbers. Aware that the methods he described would seem common place now, Howard mentioned how to identify trends and use them for your own start ups. The best place to look for ideas was to look at new game apps, download them, try them out, see what innovative things they are doing to encourage user engagement and take the bits that work. Do it in a structured way, keep a gannt chart, run ideas for 3 months, look, in detail at what the data was saying. Examine the results, down to weeks and days, identify spikes, map them to events and actions that took place. If you put the time in at this level you will gain meaningful data to help shape your own strategy.
Finally was Deena Wlodawski from Yelp http://www.yelp.ie/
To continue the variation in format, this began as a Q and A session. Asking Deena about her role in the recent rapid development of the Dublin based Yelp office. Deena also stressed that Yelp are looking to hire a lot more people too. She outlined the type of people they are looking for, positive, driven, who want to be successful, who will work hard, can implement feedback and who are naturally curious. Her own back ground was in Art History and journalism, so it wasn’t necessary to have an extensive marketing background.
To then demonstrate the process she takes her potential candidates through we had a volunteer from the audience. He was asked to try and sell her a wooden souvenir. This was entertaining to watch. After his initial pitch she then critiqued how he could have sold it better. Deena explained he needed to focus on two key questions. What can I, the seller, help you, the buyer, with? And, why are you here? She suggested that if he had engaged more with her, it might have better persuaded her to engage with what he was offering.
Then … finally, all four speakers came back to the stage and an open question and answer session took place.
It was a longer evening that usual, but the audience had really got their money’s worth. From the back you could see people frantically taking notes when another useful tip was mentioned. Being back at the Sugar Club seemed to create a good vibe, and the audience and the speakers were able to mingle and chat during the mini breaks. Overall it seemed like a really successful evening.