By @SimonCocking

Eoghan Stack – CEO, DCU Ryan Academy

Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?

  • This is my third career. I started out as a techie design engineer, designing computer chips for a data communications multi-national.  So I learned to think and talk tech there.  After the dotcom crash I became a dotcom refugee and even though I had just been offered a new job with another top design house in Dublin, I quit on my first day as I had subsequently been offered a job to work with Declan Ryan in his private venture philanthropy fund called “One”.  At “One” I learned loads by working with some amazing entrepreneurs –social entrepreneurs- and talent around devising business strategies and investment plans that would achieve significant social impact in Ireland and Vietnam.  I’m hugely proud of what we achieved.  Some of the same people we worked with in “One” were key movers in Ireland’s recent marriage equality referendum for example, people like Michael Barron with Belong To.
  • I’m still very excited about the potential of philanthropy to positively impact Ireland and am the deputy Chair on the Board of Philanthropy Ireland for example.  “One” was a ten year limited life fund, so at the natural end it was time to move on again.  At “One” I learned about investing, business development and how to connect talent with opportunities while aiming high.  I was then lucky enough to move to the DCU Ryan Academy after I became compelled by DCU President Brian MacCraith’s ambitions to be Ireland’s University of Enterprise.  Since then I have been amazed at some of the talent, leadership and ambition and great people who represent Dublin’s startup ecosystem.  Being on a third career path just shows you how utterly versatile people can be if you are confident in your ability to learn anew, work hard and bring along existing experience and skills.

How was 2014, what went well?

  • We entered into two European-level partnerships under the StartUp Europe initiative and so now have great active partners in the London, Berlin, Madrid, Salamanca, Vilnius, Milan, Cartagena and Zoeetmeeer. It’s like playing Champions League football – you just have to watch out for the German’s in the semi’s.
  • We worked with Enterprise Ireland and Dublin City Council to agree to create and recruit the role of Dublin’s first ever Commissioner for StartUps and Niamh Bushnell has been rocking it since she landed back from NYC.
  • Right at the end of December, I was appointed as CEO of the DCU Ryan Academy – that was pretty sweet. I’m genuinely very proud to be leading an organisation representing one of Ireland’s top universities as well as one of Ireland’s most entrepreneurial families.

Anything you’d do differently?

I think the DCU Ryan Academy has been doing some great work for a long time but perhaps it wasn’t as connected to other players as what it could have done and we certainly were not boasting enough about the great things happening.

  • We’re now far more engaged with the broader startup ecosystem and it’s been great for us. As well as supporting Dublin’s Commissioner for StartUps, we are supporting StartUp Ireland with the StartUp Gathering which will take place later this year and should be a great event.
  • We will also be unleashing more of the entrepreneurial startup talent that exists in DCU by working more with student entrepreneurs and other super partners like the DCU Innovation Campus “Home of the Hackathon”, IC4 and the Business School.

Plans for 2015 and the future?

  • More great opportunities for Irish startups through the Ryan Academy European projects and partnerships we are involved in, “Welcome” and “StartUp ScaleUp”.
  • More engagement with DCU students through our fantastic UStart student accelerator and another #HackDCU hackathon from the start of the next academic year.
  • More collaborations with other startup ecosystem partners to create more value and coordination for the sector.
  • More fun events like “StartUp Wake” … 😉

How did you find the Growth Hackers event? What were your key takeaways?

  • Full stack marketing involves everything working together, cohesively.
  • It’s being able to understand the customer lifecycle (which includes retention, revenue and referral) and master all the different mediums that will attract them or retain them. Then startups need to realise they can’t do everything but should treat all the tools available as a menu and pick and choose the ones that are most appropriate at a given time.  Lastly, everyone in a startup needs to be involved and incentivized to make growth hacking a success.
  • While Casey Armstrong and Patrick Vlaskovits are brilliant – and super nice guys by the way – we are also fortunate in the Ryan Academy network to have people like Theo Lynn who is the Business Innovation Platform Director at Dublin City University, a Senior Lecturer at DCU Business School and the Principal Investigator of the Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce, but on top of that, he’s also the CEO of a super startup called Rendicity which is currently on the Ryan Academy’s Propeller accelerator programme. Theo is helping other Ryan Academy startups across a number of our programmes be better at digital marketing. It’s great we can access such world-class expertise within our network and share it – this is one of the key strengths of Ryan Academy.

How often do you find yourself telling the startups to focus on the marketing and business side as well as developing and tweaking the product?

  • This is what we really specialize in – building business capability above having any vertical expertise
  • We work with startups from all sectors – we are sector agnostic
  • We are always on about customer acquisition / product-market fit and growing revenues as well as smart product development, but avoiding feature creep and getting out there is critical
  • For us, it’s about being able to make people who enter our programmes know that they are entrepreneurs and whatever about the outcome, to give it a good go.

Overall top tips to starts ups

Trying to get onto the program?

  • Everything starts as nothing.  The earlier you start something, the more time you have to mess up.  There’s no ruling body that says, ‘This is the type of person who can change the world – and you can’t.’ So realizing that anyone can do “it” is the first step. The next step is figuring out how you’re going to do it.  When you do get going, if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not making decisions – so don’t worry about it, learn and move on
  • Every startup should address a real and demonstrated need in the world. If you build a solution to a problem lots of people have, it’s so easy to sell your product to the world.
  • Don’t have to be in your 20’s, ideally serial entrepreneurs or know what it takes to make a startup happen; we expect you to have deep domain expertise of the market you’re getting into; huge scalability potential, evidence of early traction (revenues, endorsements etc) good team, have a big hairy audacious goal

To be successful on the program

  • Put the effort in, all of our training and workshops are there for a purpose so give it a go and you’ll find it will help
  • Leverage the DCU Ryan Academy’s extensive mentor and investor networks, people are more than willing to give you their time and advice if you’re not wasting their time.
  • to be successful afterwards?
  • If you haven’t already, get revenues as early as possible – it’s not just valuable cash it’s proof of concept. Raise as much investment as you need and then assume it’s going to take longer to raise the next round, so you have something to fall back on.  Success comes down to hard work plus passion, over time. If you work really, really hard over a long period of time, it will pay off.  If it turns out to be a failure, enjoy it, learn from it and move on.

Any trends you’re noticing on the startups coming in to the Ryan Academy?

  • We keep hearing from our European partners about startups into their eco-systems wanting to come to Dublin

Anything you’d like to see more, (or less) of?

  • Better tax schemes, entrepreneur supports, investor incentives, access to capital for startup founders so Ireland isn’t left further behind the UK and other startup hotspots – see what Elaine Coughlan from Atlantic Bridge and Ian Lucey have been recently highlighting, it’s needs more discussion.
  • More people publicly coming out of the closet about their past failures
  • More female founders and way more diversity at startup conferences and panels
  • Less of the Irish disease of explaining why we can’t do things and more of a new culture of starting to explain what it takes

You are active on twitter, is this part of how you do business, how has it helped you?

  • Yes
  • Fabulous startup and SME channel for communicating; they support and promote each other, easy to engage people and reach them, faster than email, more viral
  • We find it great to make connections, connecting with other networks
  • The RA has a great team and great personalities; I think twitter allows come of this personality to shine through naturally

Blogging, who do you follow / like what they do; Neil Patel, Blog Tyrant, Ted Rubin, none of the above or others?

  • I don’t have time to follow blogs as I mostly live over on Twitter
  • Tweet me a link to some good blog stuff willya?

For Eoghan and everyone else

How do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?

Life is all about managing your ability to make each moment the best; your health; your sense of humour. I always pass on good advice like that.  It’s the only thing to do with it – it’s never of any use to myself.

Anything else to add / we should have asked you?

“Favourite TV?” and the answer is the HBO series “Silicon Valley”.

And we do get asked quite a lot if we get free Ryanair tickets but (i) we do not and (ii) for anyone who knows Ryanair, that’s a silly question to ask in the first place.

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