By @ interview with Alan O’Beirne, UniBrowse.ie founder, UniBrowse.ie makes searching for the right CAO course simple. We take the stress out of searching, for students, parents and teachers http://www.unibrowse.ie
What’s your background and how did you form the team?
My education background is a bit diverse – I completed a Degree in Sports and Exercise Management in UCD, then a Masters in Business and Entrepreneurship in DIT and then I did a second Masters in eCommerce in DCU, as I wanted to do something a bit more technical and hands on. Workwise, as a graduate I went straight into Harvey Nash Technology as a Consultant and got some invaluable experience and training.
As it turns out, Wally (Co-Founder of UniBrowse.ie, likes to be referred to as ‘Walter’ for business purposes) was on my hurling team in UCD. So in that sense, it’s funny because we could never of expected to doing this together 6 years later. Wally worked in Deloitte with a child prodigy, Ken (Co-Founder of UniBrowse.ie) who liked the idea as well so Ken came on board also.
Niall (Co-Founder of UniBrowse.ie) and I have been friends since we were 5 years old – school, sports, part-time jobs all together. We’ve always worked great as a unit. We did the MSc. eCommerce together. Some people say that Niall carried me through the course on his back…they wouldn’t be lying!!!
What inspired the business idea?
The idea came from pure frustration at the current system. From a student perspective, it just isn’t user friendly. That’s not me having a dig at the efforts made my others, the other sites are very comprehensive and have some brilliant information but we found them somewhat difficult to navigate. The lack of access to clear information means its quite difficult to find what you’re looking for, especially when you’re 16,17,18 and don’t know what you’re looking for. It leaves students feeling very overwhelmed and lost at sea.
Sometimes, when there’s too much information – there may as well be no information. Less is more in some cases. To us, it just wasn’t designed with user’s best interests in mind. Our whole focus from the start of this was to make the site quick, accessible and easy to use. Simple and clean. Our interface and how we present our data is very visual and easy to engage with.
We sat on the idea for a while, but I went to a conference one night and Des Traynor (Co-Founder of Intercom) was speaking. He gave a powerful talk on startups and building ideas into reality – so we did just that. That was the trigger we needed.
You said 2016 was tough, what lessons did you learn that you’ll apply in 2017?
It was tough in the sense at we were all embarking on something new and it was very much uncharted territory.
We learned that we have the team and the drive to build this product, and this learning alone will be the defining factor of 2017. We now know we have the vision, infrastructure and ability to deliver and we will need all of this belief in order to scale up to the UK market. That’s an invaluable lesson.
A big lesson we’ve all had to come to grips with is effective communication within the team. Can’t be stressed enough and we will certainly carry that into next year, absolutely key. Four opinionated lads trying to communicate simultaneously at times can be intense but it’s a necessity. I suppose the lesson from that is to use technology to track everything and organise your communication, you’d be surprised at the value. Slack and Trello have been our saviours for that. Everyone really needs to be on the same page and working towards the same goal.
Another important lesson we found was breaking down big goals into smaller, more manageable blocks. When we go to scale up, this will critical as the volume of data and size of the task will be multiplied.
— DundalkStudyAcademy (@dstudyacademy) January 10, 2017
Anything you’d do differently?
To be honest, there are probably a small number of things that I would do differently but overall, I am delighted with the progress in a year from idea to paper, and from paper to web. We’ve built a product that people are really enjoying and getting brilliant traction, so I cant complain. My only thing would be to probably automate a bit more of our data work as it was quite labour intensive!
I've been on the site simple to use and so helpful to see all the choices a student would be considering. Congrats. https://t.co/Xi0jA3qOpl
— Gavin Duffy (@GavinDuffy) December 22, 2016
What tips would you give to people thinking of launching their own businesses?
There’s a great quote from Evan Williams (Co-Founder of Twitter) and it really speaks volumes – “take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time, and use modern technology to take out steps”. This is just so true. You’re not reinventing the wheel. Use technology to simplify something that a lot of people do often.
Build a great team, don’t go it alone. Build a team with people that you’d follow into battle.
Have thick skin, or be prepared to grow it. Take negative feedback on board and use it. Take stock and re-evaluate constantly.
You’re a person, your customer is a person – speak to them like a person.
If you’re going for it, go for it 100%. All or nothing. And most importantly enjoy it, soak it all in. Keep the balance and switch off.
Who has helped you to develop your business / did / do have any mentors?
As a team, we’ve spoken to so many people about our idea so I wouldn’t like to single out any person for fear of leaving anyone out. We’ve had numerous people contribute to the business and act as mentors and we will forever be grateful and no doubt we will back asking for more favours this year!
On a personal level, my Dad has been a great mentor. He would always back me 100% in what I was doing and he encouraged entrepreneurship from the word go. Always onto me about knocking on doors to cut grass, clean windows etc etc.(I ignored him I never did any of them!!! But the mentality was always instilled into me from him)
Who do you read / follow for inspiration and insights?
There’s loads of great books out there for people looking to get involved in a StartUp. Wally got us all to read ‘The Lean StartUp’ by Eric Reis as homework from the outset (I’m pretty sure Ken read it in a day!). We took a lot from it, lots of good stuff in there. Also ‘Zero to One’ by Peter Thiel. I also think its important to read a bit of psychology because you need to be aware of the mental side too.