With Dublin’s entrepreneurial activity set to kick into full gear this month, Elaine Burke has some recommendations for early-stage start-ups.
Startup Week Dublin returns later this month to offer advice, resources, networking and mentorship for both new and veteran entrepreneurs and start-ups.
A centre for entrepreneurial activity, Dublin alone saw 10,313 new companies established last year – making it home to 46pc of the new companies in Ireland.
Having spent years observing all this entrepreneurial activity in the capital, here are some pointers I’ve picked up for anyone thinking of starting a new venture.
1. Consider your name carefully
Like any news team dealing with start-ups, we at Siliconrepublic.com constantly receive pitches from early-stage businesses. When something catches our eye, the first thing we are going to do is look that business up. And that’s where the inexperience can start showing.
Some start-ups give themselves a name that’s an everyday word or term, perhaps under the impression that this could be what people looking for their services are likely to type into Google. A valid point, but those people could also be looking for a number of things unrelated to your start-up.
This is common with industry terms too, which hampers a new player in the game by linking their name directly to a competitive search keyword. A new business establishing an online presence will have enough of a hard time performing search engine optimisation on the keywords pertaining to its products and services. Why make that even harder by tying those words into your brand name too? A unique name means that even as a brand new business you will be searchable and, more importantly, findable.
The same goes for names that include words with modified spelling. Overcomplicate this and anyone who hears your name instead of reading it could struggle to look you up.
A real bugbear of mine is numbers in names where they don’t make sense. Sure, if the number is read as part of the name – such as in the TV show Sense8 – it works. But supplanting random letters with numbers in an illegible sequence is asking for constant misspelling and mispronunciation. You’re creating a brand name, not a password.
2. Get professional branding advice (and be willing to take it)
This leads nicely to my next point. We’ve seen many very early-stage start-ups make significant changes once they hit their first brand workshop or consultancy, and the earlier they do this the better. You don’t want to find out too late that your branding is off and have to rebuild a website or remake packaging to address the problem.
Many start-up accelerators and incubators include branding advice in the early days, so get ready to enter these with an open mind, ready to receive advice from the experts – don’t have a fixed idea that can’t be amended because you already paid for the branded backpacks.
3. Avoid insincere language
There’s a distinct style emerging in the way start-ups and other businesses explain what they do and, while he’s certainly not the originator, I’m going to call this ‘the Zuckerberg effect’.
When talking about Facebook’s products and services, Mark Zuckerberg does not talk about a powerful advertising engine that mines data input from users and enables mass manipulation by high-paying marketers, because that doesn’t sound ‘friendly’. No, Zuckerberg talks about “solutions” that “empower” users and can “help change the world”.
As a journalist, I prefer to deal in facts, not fluffy language that dances around the details. Yes, it’s great to see brands embed their values in a company description, but I also want to know what your business actually does. If you have “solutions”, I want to understand the problem (actual problems preferred, not invented problems such as a lack of robot baristas).
And if you make grand claims, be prepared to be challenged on them. Does your user “empowerment” paper over exploitation? Are you really changing the world or are you ploughing the same furrow as every major business before you?
4. Sustainability over scale
This brings me to my unpopular opinion. It has been made pretty clear to me that the critical issues of our time require system change to correct. The destruction of ecosystems, rampant inequality – these global issues are symptomatic of the way we do business. Yet, for early stage start-ups setting out their stall, it’s still business as usual.
Surely, now is the time to quit perpetuating the myth of infinite scale and wise up to the realities of sustainable business. The next generation of business could be truly disruptive with new models, instead of following the fabled growth trajectories that, if they are among the few successes, will eventually grow big enough to exasperate problems already in play.
Now, there’s a world-changing idea.
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