Intercom’s Soul

We’re in Berlin at the moment, piggybacking on the Inside Intercom World Tour, to talk about Dublin and the events we’re bringing to the Tech Open Air festival here in July.

Our guests at dinner - a mix of Intercom clients, local VCs and serial founders - are impressed with our pitch about Dublin, but noone tells a city’s story better than a great startup. And when it comes to Dublin, Intercom is happy to oblige.

Intercom has 10K+ customers, 10’s of millions in revenue, and a whopping $116M in funding, but it’s their products that are the stuff of legend.

Product is the reason why there's a full house tonight in Berlin. And another full house awaits them on Tuesday back in Dublin - 1,200 people full.

People want access to the magic fairy dust that is Intercom and a good chunk of that magic comes from the company's deep roots in Dublin.

Intercom was started in San Francisco, by 4 lads from Dublin. Intercom's soul is a Dublin soul.

R&D is run out of Dublin where all 4 products are built from the ground up. Intercom's talent is global, out of Dublin.

Intercom has taken over a former distressed Bank HQ in the center of Dublin. Call it karma or chicken soup for the soul, it’s the new narrative of Dublin.

Intercom is a great company that celebrates Dublin. But watch this space, they’re not alone by a long shot.

Niamh Bushnell

This Startup/Multinational Hub

In Dublin we talk a lot about the startup/multinational relationship and how we can encourage these companies, who already work side by side in their hundreds, to collaborate more closely, and ultimately do business with each other.

The potential for business becomes even more tangible when you realize that many of these global companies have R&D centers here, design and build products for global markets here, and employ key global talent right here too. I’m talking about companies like Facebook, Hubspot, Workday, Etsy, Google, Zalando, TripAdvisor, Mastercard, Amazon, Intel, Groupon and scores of other well known names.

You can sense the depth of their presence in Dublin as you walk around Silicon Docks, and many other parts of the city.

So, it would seem like a no brainer then - and an obvious mission for this office - to make Dublin the tech hub with the most valuable Startup/Multinational engagement programs in the world.

And with the enthusiastic support of our multinational partners, we’re at the early stages of figuring out just how to make this happen.

A recent conversation with Norma O’ Callaghan, a VP and EMEA Director at global security tech firm Trend Micro, shed light on an approach to startup engagement that's both practical and compelling.

Trend Micro's EMEA HQ in Cork gives Functional Directors the opportunity to get involved with startups by creating cross functional teams (say a mix of tech, finance and marketing) who participate in DealBroker, an annual IT@Cork event, that introduces startups to multinationals.

If the team identifies a startup they’d like to learn more about, they secure executive-level sponsorship internally for the project before diving into an assessment of product and business model. As a result, Trend Micro has become a customer to a number of local startups.

Norma says this approach encourages teamwork, risk taking, and diverse perspectives on innovation and creating new solutions on the fly. It also prompts the team to have a respect and more open mindset towards startups, a mindset they're a lot less likely to encounter if they come in cold to pitch to a senior executive.

Back here in Dublin, about 40 multinationals have already signed up for our Evangelist programme, to provide startups with special offers, events and access to technical mentors (multinationals: to sign up email Cathal - Cathal@StartupDublin.com).

Soon though we’ll want to move beyond this CSR type activity and the Dealbroker/Trend Micro model might be one way to partner with our many multinational supporters.

Dublin Business Innovation Center are also exploring ways to engage in this area and we’ll hear more about their plans at the FutureScope Conference on May 31st.

I expect it to be swarming - in the nicest way possible - with multinational and startup enthusiasts looking to learn from and do business with each other.

Niamh Bushnell

Lady Boss

Rhona Togher knows how to tell a good story and that’s exactly what she did at last Friday's May Brekkie.

 

Her company Restored Hearing are raising money at the moment and Rhona is at the coal face of it all.

Too young, too female, too ambitious, sums up a lot of the feedback she’s receiving from VCs here in Ireland and internationally. She thinks the environment is improving for female entrepreneurs, but prejudice is obviously still pervasive.

And some of that prejudice is unconscious to the investors themselves.

A prolific angel investor here in Dublin, of whom I’m a fan, told me recently that he hadn't invested in a female founder because he never met any. Are you blind? I asked him in disbelief. You're surrounded by them!

But maybe we are invisible. We're certainly too silent. Rhona told her rapt audience on Friday that she wished she had shouted from the rooftops when she secured her first $500K of funding. Back then she didn't know why to shout. Now, she wants to join forces with other female founders so that they can raise their voices together.

Rhona didn’t just talk about the challenges of being a female entrepreneur. She shared her wonderful story, from growing up in Sligo, to the BT Young Scientist exhibition, to briefly studying physics, to winning awards and patents, to growing a thick skin in business.

She talked about creating disruption, about running a company that is reengineering acoustic materials and inventing new ones. Disruption is an exciting place to be, but when you’re sitting in front of a VC, the burden of proof is all in your hands.

"We have global clients in the aviation, automotive and construction industries who see what we’re doing and know the market is worth billions" Rhona said. But, finding a truly venture driven VC to translate that into funding is a very different challenge. And, likely, even harder for a woman.

Suffering from Tinnitus set Rhona and her co-founder Eimear on a mission to mitigate sound. A mission of global proportions that they started 7 years ago at the age of 15.

Their deep bond and friendship has strengthened their business and I’m guessing seen them through many tough times.

It's pretty inspiring stuff. As is Rhona, the lady boss herself.

Niamh Bushnell

Hype and Substance

There’s been some recent discussion in the Irish media about startups and whether the government should be run like one. Governments are not businesses and probably shouldn’t be run like a business. That said, it excites me to read about citizens being treated more like customers, and how lean methodologies could be used to guide the development of the products, services and delivery mechanisms the government employs. Business is always trying new approaches to get ahead and the government should be too.

What concerns me though is how startups and the startup industry are sometimes characterized in the Irish media.

Startups are not a rarified animal, a passing fad, or a hyperbole with no substance. They’re simply businesses that employ technology to deliver products and services. Try to think of any public (or private) service or product that’s not currently being impacted, in small or large ways, by the use of technology. Maybe your smartphone can help you with the research...

There can be a lot of hype and nonsense within the startup industry. Believe me, I get it.  

I sometimes worry that like other international cities, we’re building a startup industrial complex in Dublin, where a never-ending stream of networking events and competitions get priority over solid supports focused on customers and revenue. Then again, it’s early days in the new digital economy and every one of us in business has something to learn from the wantapreneurs, crazy ideas and fake-it-till-you-make-it philosophies.

It’s much easier to hear the hype than the substance in the Irish startup industry but rest assured people, the substance is here. Every month in this country we have a dozen more Irish companies delivering true innovation to the market, making real money and creating well paid jobs.

And the sooner we as a government, and a community of industries realize the potential of our startup industry, the quicker we’ll become a successful digital economy with our own global players, instead of a small island market dominated by international ones.  

Irish startups are Irish businesses. Support them, and spread the word.

Niamh Bushnell

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