Boole start-up of the week:

12 Oct 2015

Pictured: Birdleaf co-founders Scott Kennedy and Cian Brassil

Our start-up of the week this week is, a pivot by former start-up of the week CloudDock founders Cian Brassil and Scott Kennedy that allows businesses to turn email into vital business intelligence and sales leads.

“These days when a business acquires a new customer they often get little more than an email address to identify them by,” says Brassil, CEO of

“For most businesses, the cost and effort of acquiring that email gives little to no insight on who that customer really is.

‘We’re accelerating the abilities of sales and marketing teams by giving them actionable insights on their existing customer base’

“This lack of insight leads to an inability to optimise who they’re targeting, resulting in ineffective marketing spend and lower conversion rates. Birdleaf solves this problem by turning customer email addresses into actionable insights. By adding their emails to Birdleaf, businesses can clearly see and compare actual customer types, identify key people within their email lists and segment their email lists, for effective marketing.

“Ultimately we’re enabling higher return on investment on marketing spend. We’re accelerating the abilities of sales and marketing teams by giving them actionable insights on their existing customer base.”

The market

Birdleaf is targeting sales and marketing teams internationally.

Worldwide spend for marketing software will be US$22.6bn this year and is set to grow to over US$32bn by 2018.

“To date we have seen the strongest traction in e-commerce sites, and largely from the US. In the US alone there are over 110,000 e-commerce sites generating significant revenue. Companies like Lyst are using the platform to get a clear picture of different customer demographics, and find VIP customers who they may want to reach out to directly.

“But our customer base spreads beyond just e-commerce — companies like Qualtrics are using Birdleaf to gather data on sales leads and target messaging more effectively at existing customers. This is a growing use case that we see as a big opportunity going forward.”

Birdleaf’s focus from the beginning has been on building a product that’s extremely easy to use — one that marketing teams can adopt easily without the need for IT integrations or assistance.

“We have also have a solution which scales well for companies with very large volumes of emails, while still getting some of the best data in the industry. This has set us apart and allowed a wide range of companies to adopt Birdleaf quite quickly.”

The founders

Brassil and co-founder Scott Kennedy previously co-founded CloudDock together.

“I have a mix of business and technical experience, and have a degree in computer science from NUIG, while Scott has a degree in commerce and strong marketing experience — so we’re a well-rounded team,” Brassil says.

“We’re joined by lead developer Amil Osmanli — he previously worked on the Amazons AWS team.

“Every Birdleaf team member, including our advisers, has founded another company previously, and has a different set of skills and lessons learned to bring to the table. These lessons learned cover almost all aspects of our business and we constantly refer to past experience as a team to help guide the company.”

The technology

“Our customers upload large lists of emails to Birdleaf, and our system automatically finds and analyses publically available information on each email.

“For each email, we provide our customers with demographic information such as names, ages and gender, as well as professional information like jobs, company sizes and sectors, and social profiles.

“Our machine learning system then automatically analyses the information gathered to group emails into customer and company types, to make it easy for sales and marketing teams to put the data to use.”

Brassil says the goal is to make customers more profitable by providing them with the best possible insights on their emails, and enabling them to use that data to improve their business.

Don’t be afraid to pivot

Since leaving Wayra and focusing on Birdleaf, Brassil says things have been moving quickly.

“We’ve secured some brilliant early customers such as Lyst, CurrencyFair, Simply Dresses and Qualtrics. We’ve been able to work closely with many of our customers to quickly improve the product to fit their use cases best. We’ve processed about half a million emails in the last couple of weeks.

‘We’ve taken the lessons learned after the closure of our last company very seriously, and this has allowed us to move quickly and avoid repeating mistakes as much as possible’

“We’ve taken the lessons learned after the closure of our last company very seriously, and this has allowed us to move quickly and avoid repeating mistakes as much as possible. We have been strongly focused on generating revenue from day one, and we’ve grown that revenue consistently since.

“We’re not raising investment right now, but I’m always eager to chat to people who are interested in what we do to discuss our plans going forward and future financing.”

Despite the challenges of pivoting in a new direction, Brassil and Kennedy are powering ahead.

“We had the fantastic support from Wayra Ireland who gave us our initial round of financing to get us off the ground, and we’ve been surviving on our own revenue since.

“Bootstrapping has the added advantage of forcing you to focus on revenue, but also brings plenty of financial constraints. Alongside money challenges, we’ve had a few late nights where customers added 200,000-plus emails just after a major update while we scrambled to make sure things held together.”

Open community

Brassil describes the start-up scene in Ireland as a thriving community of experienced entrepreneurs open to helping other start-ups.

“A strong culture of supporting each other has developed nationwide within Ireland’s start-up community and this has been invaluable to us – the amount of experienced advice available is impressive. I think the size of the country has helped create a very open community, where it’s easier get the support and advice needed.

“Strong start-up hubs are developing around the country, which is great to see – we have a base in Galway and Dublin, and it’s a lot cheaper to keep a company growing in Galway than San Francisco or London, but it’s less than an hour flight to the latter, which is another benefit.

“I think there’s definitely still some distance to go before the Irish start-up scene takes full advantage of the wide list of large tech companies in the country, like Facebook, Microsoft etc, but this is a growing benefit. For B2B companies like Birdleaf, it’s easier to make contact with larger potential customers when they have a team sitting three doors down, and chances are at least one person you know can introduce you.”

Brassil’s advice to other start-ups is to take advantage of what Ireland can offer your company – a thriving network of mentoring, support and events, great supports from groups like Enterprise Ireland to get you off the ground, and more.

“But also remember to think large, well beyond Ireland. We’re a tiny country that’s easy to leave, and the majority of your customers won’t be here if you’re looking to build something big – take a flight if you need to, get international customer feedback early, and go experience the start-up scene in San Francisco and other cities to get a fresh perspective on your business.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years