Having featured a piece on beer recently, it seemed only opportune to do a piece on Sober Sessions, a Dublin startup running alcohol free music sessions. Winner of the Minovation Award, founder Aine Ryan, @ has some great insights and tips on how to successfully start up your own business.
I have worked in theatre and arts management/administration roles on and off in Ireland for years. In 2010, I went to Vietnam to run an art and music project for disadvantaged children at Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. I came back to Ireland in the middle of the recession at the end of 2011 and had to reassess my career and where I wanted it to be. This was a tough time for me personally and it really felt like I was starting from scratch so when the idea for Sober Sessions came about it was a bit of a eureka moment and it felt like a real opportunity for me to just go for it.
What is Sober Sessions? / And what isn’t it?
Sober Sessions is an alternative to the pub/club venue and offers a unique live music experience from contemporaries of Ireland’s thriving and diverse live music scene in cool unlicensed and intimate venues. It is not an anti drinking campaign or loaded with any heavy message.
You won the Minovation award – well done. Tell us a little more about what it is, what sort of startups apply for it, how you heard about it?
Thanks! I became aware about Social Entrepreneurs Ireland through a friend and they are an amazing resource for Ireland offering people funding supports and mentoring in the social and environmental start up contexts. They run these really engaging talks (Impact Series) on various topics and the one back in Sept was on ‘Innovation in Health’ where key speakers were invited to talk about their projects. The minnovation fund is generated from ticket sales from this event and three people were shortlisted to pitch about their ideas, including myself and the audience voted for me on the night.
Did you prepare your pitch? Did it go as planned
Yes, I spent a lot of time working on the pitch, tweaking the content right up to the day of the event (not to be advised) and basically ran over it ad nauseum. However, when it came to me standing there in front of all those people, the nerves really hit in and there was a couple of times I thought how am I going to get through this?! I had flash cards which helped but ideally I would have preferred not to use them. Also we only had 2 minutes each and they were very strict on this which made it even more challenging!
There is an interest in the startup sector for non alcohol related events, startup hiking, breakfast events, how has been the reception to Sober Sessions in this context?
I have not yet tapped into the start-up sector re these type of events but great idea- I will have to do my research! Generally I am looking more at the existing live music scene, seeing who the movers are shakers are in terms of the types of gigs already out there and how Sober Sessions would fit into the existing scene.
After winning Minovation you used some of the award to take up a place at the Fumbally in Dame Lane. How did this go?
Yes, I was lucky to be able to renew my Associate Membership there and really for someone like me starting out, having a network of really supportive and brilliant people is hugely beneficial. I work from there a couple of days a week and I find I am much more productive than when I am working from home. It is also less isolating and there are always new opportunities to collaborate, share ideas and just having a coffee with the other members there is great!
How do they help startups?
In Feb 2014, I approached them with a very vague idea about Sober Sessions and they immediately took me under their wing and I went on a High Potential Start up Scheme with them for 3 months. From the get go, they encouraged me and support me and in May last year I ran the very first Sober Sessions event at their pop up space on Dame Lane. They are very open to fresh new ideas coming into the building and there seems to always be a hive of activity with people collaborating regularly and sharing ideas – it’s very inspiring to see
How was 2014, what went well, what would you do differently?
2014 for me was a real eye opener in terms of how well received Sober Sessions has been. I have felt very encouraged by the response and it spurs me on and gives me confidence to keep going with this. What I would do differently? I probably would not have gotten so ahead of myself – there was a tendency to get so enthusiastic that I get very lost in this idyllic and possibly unrealistic version of what SS might become instead of focusing on building it up on a small scale, which is what I am doing now.
2015, plans for the year?
This is still a work in progress! I am sailing this ship solo, so it can slow things down in terms of the planning strategy but I am getting there. Sober Sessions will roll out events on a more regular, sustained basis this year with some exciting potential collaborations on the horizon and of course amazing live music guaranteed
You have a good online presence, how has social media helped you to promote your startup?
Thanks. I find that people respond well to the blog, which I do regularly and it seems to generate a lot of interest. The facebook page is very active with over 1,400 likes already and also twitter is gaining momentum although I find it a slower burner.
Which ones do you find the most helpful?
WordPress is a brilliant online resource and its so user friendly and I love the stats updates when a blog peaks hits – its exciting to see. Facebook I feel is losing momentum in terms of impact and posts getting lost almost as soon as they are published. It seems the only way for real results is for promoted posts and sponsored ads, which for someone like me is not very practical at this early stage. Twitter is great for the immediate moment although it can be hit and miss and if you are not hashtag savvy then, tweets tend not to get any traction
Life / work balance, tips, words of advice?
Keeping time and space for yourself outside of work is so important. I make time for myself as much as I can by cycling, keeping active, meeting friends and most importantly not getting bogged down in the bigger picture, which can be overwhelming. Only do what is feasible, don’t make unrealistic goals and always keep a sense of humour.
When is the next event?
Nothing confirmed yet but it will be soon. Updates on our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SoberSessions)