Our tech start-up of the week is Axonista, a Dublin-based company that is already making waves in the connected and social TV space, as it’s developing cloud-based TV scheduling middleware for broadcasters such as MTV and TV3.
Set up in 2010 by Claire McHugh and Daragh Ward, the co-founders say the name Axonista reflects the meaning ‘revolutionary thinking’.
The Dublin-based company has developed SaaS-based TV scheduling middleware. Employing six people full-time at the moment – including McHugh and Ward – Axonista’s aim is to scale up to employ 10 people by the end of 2012.
McHugh’s and Ward’s paths first crossed when they were both working for the company Nebula. Before setting up Axonista, Ward was chief technology officer at Nebula, while McHugh was working as programme manager at Setanta.
"Having worked in the broadcast and Internet industries, I developed an interest in the future of connected and social TV. I could see that it was an industry undergoing massive change with huge opportunity, and I wanted to be a part of that," explained McHugh.
She said that because of Ward’s experience in mobile and enterprise software development and with her own broadcasting experience, the duo felt they had the complementary skillsets to start their own company in the area of connected TV.
Axonista’s flagship product is Ediflo, a cloud-based software for sports broadcasters.
Referring to how broadcasting live sports presents many complexities such as late rights acquisitions and extended broadcasts, McHugh said Ediflo can help sports broadcasters manage such complexities quickly across multiple platforms and timezones.
"It cuts out a huge amount of time-consuming manual work, by automating a lot of processes. It frees staff up to do other things, and produces reports, including social TV metrics.
Ediflo also directly integrates with major platforms such as Sky.
"We took a decision to focus on bringing Ediflo to the international market early last year. We already have some great clients including Setanta and ESPN," she said.
Initial phase – apps
But Axonista’s first forae into the broadcasting space was to develop TV companion apps for shows on TV3 and RTÉ. For instance Axonista was behind first Irish TV companion app for the reality shows Celebrity Salon and Fade Street.
"With that body of work and Daragh’s contacts in New York, we won some contracts to develop mobile apps for MTV. We also won our second Appy last year for TV3’s catch-up app."
So what, if any were the challenges to setting up the company from scratch? "We have all the usual challenges of a setting up a small company, and developing a product, such as balancing cash flow, getting the right team in place, staying focused. Sometimes, you have to be very strict with the type of work that you take on, in order to stay on track," explained McHugh.
Claire McHugh, CEO of Axonista; Daragh Ward (seated);Maebh Conaghan from Enterprise Ireland (top right) and Karen O’Regan from PA Consulting (top left), pictured at an Enterprise Ireland Propel programme event
The company is also part of the Enterprise Ireland Propel programme, which McHugh says has been a "huge learning experience".
"We have found the Propel programme really beneficial. Sometimes the journey of an entrepreneur can be a lonely one, it’s great to have a group of people that you can talk freely with, and who are experiencing the same issues."
She said the creative atmosphere created by the Propel programme has given Axonista access to a team of helpful consultants.
"They were able to introduce us to investors and successful entrepreneurs whose feedback on our product we found very constructive."
McHugh and Ward have just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where they said there was a lot of interest in Ediflo from US broadcasters and platforms.
So what’s the plan then in terms of scaling up? "We’re concentrating on selling Ediflo in the UK and US and we’ve made a lot of interesting developments in the area of social TV. This year we are looking to really grow and are seeking investment in order to scale quickly to take advantage of the market opportunity we’ve identified," said McHugh.
Advice for other self-starters
As for new tech ventures, McHugh believes Ireland is a great place to start a business right now.
"I would advise anyone thinking of starting a new venture to be vocal about their business idea. Bounce it off as many people as possible," she said.
And her final words are to do lots of market research and be prepared to tweak your goals. "Really spend time looking at the market research and see if the idea has legs. Then get out there and start doing things and talking to people. Get really good at explaining your idea in one or two sentences. Have goals that you can focus on, but be prepared to make changes, if it’s not working. And, most of all, make sure it’s something you enjoy, because you’re going to spend all your time on it!"