As Delta looks to back 30 ‘innovative and exciting’ Irish tech start-ups, general partner Amy Neale gives her advice for entrepreneurs and explains what she’s looking for in a great founder.
Amy Neale is a general partner with Delta Partners, the Dublin-based VC firm that is looking to back 30 early-stage Irish tech businesses the tune of €70m over the next few years. Neale is focused on seed investments, drawing on her experience of working with hundreds of global start-ups.
She has 20 years’ experience working in the tech sector and a track record in venture investing, business development, strategic partnerships and corporate innovation. Prior to joining Delta earlier this year, she was a senior VP at Mastercard, responsible for the Start Path programme for start-ups operating across Europe, Middle East, Africa, US and Singapore.
This involved supporting around 300 start-ups across financial services, cybersecurity, data analytics and commerce. “From that front-row seat I’ve seen all flavours of entrepreneurship and what it takes to grow and scale a company,” she told SiliconRepublic.com.
Neale also holds a PhD in computational linguistics. While she grew up in the UK, she now lives in Dublin with her family.
‘Build relationships with investors early on. Let them know what you’re working on, provide them with updates, and seek their advice’
– AMY NEALE
In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?
Science and technology are amazing but can only get us so far. There is as much depth of skill in product development, go-to-market strategy and business model design as there is in technological advancement.
Take fintech. Despite recent hype, I’m bullish on the opportunities for start-ups. It’s a vast space that touches everyone and there’s still so much to be done. Novel technology will undoubtedly play a part, but the winners will also take advantage of new regulatory regimes, devise disruptive business models and build beautiful, scalable products.
Having started my career in computational linguistics, I’m excited about the products that will be built on top of the latest advances in AI and NLP. As a researcher, we focused on the tech and struggled to identify commercial use cases. The opportunity to develop commercial products based on the most recent language models is mind-blowing to think about.
And of course, innovation in sustainability and climate will likely be achieved through the confluence of different approaches rather than a singular scientific advancement.
What are the qualities of a good founder? Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?
A good founder needs to have a bold vision, tenacity and the ability to build and motivate a team who can execute in the face of uncertainty.
Good entrepreneurs can absolutely be made. Most successful founders build their businesses because of their experiences, personal and professional. It’s not genetic; it’s a combination of identifying a solvable problem, corralling resources and leading others to create value.
What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day? What tools and resources are a must?
Lean on your board and investors to help shine a light on your blind spots and provide insights into your industry.
Build a supportive network. Every entrepreneur should surround themselves with a ‘council’ of supporters that can act as a sounding board for all the different parts of the business.
As for tools, you can easily see your budgets eaten away by a roster of SaaS tools aimed at making you more efficient. Having said that, you should think carefully about your infrastructure early on. Once you start to scale, it can be costly and painful to rip out systems and tools.
What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?
There is no magic bullet, but one thing that really increases your chances of success is a leadership team that’s open to learning.
Building a company is a journey, and a team of committed learners with the drive to unpack things and a constant desire to get better are likely to be more data driven, more agile and more resilient.
How can founders assemble a good team?
Make sure you have diversity within the team – diversity of thought and experiences is proven to deliver greater returns.
Hire for potential. Hire people who believe in what you’re building and can execute your playbook.
Build a team of people who can influence others. This isn’t just about sales – an introverted engineer in your organisation can be incredibly influential too.
Take the time to build a culture. Bring everyone into the conversation and learn to really listen, but create an environment where it’s easy to move from talking to execution.
What advice do you have for founders who are starting to look for investment?
Build relationships with investors early on. Let them know what you’re working on, provide them with updates, and seek their advice. At Delta, we are proud of our ‘open diary’ policy – anyone can book time with any of our four partners directly through our website, precisely because we want to talk early.
When you’re ready to formally pitch for investment, make sure you have a simple, compelling story. Have your materials ready – an investor deck, financial projections, articles that validate your market, CVs of the founders – and be ready to make introductions to early customers or trial partners, etc.
What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?
When it comes to your investors and key stakeholders, the biggest mistake you can make is to stay quiet.
Your investor doesn’t want to hear from you daily, but we do want to stay in the loop. We want to celebrate and promote your successes and we also want to know about your challenges early. We want you to ask questions, look for introductions and seek opinions.
Once we’re in, we’re in, and we will work with you to the end.
What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?
Having someone outside the business provide perspective, work on specific topics relating to leadership, growth and personal development can be a game changer. And the transactional nature of this kind of formal, defined relationship is so valuable, particularly when everyone else you talk to likely has a vested interest in your business.
I’m also a big believer in peer mentors. Being a start-up CEO can be a pretty lonely place, so it helps to have a community of peers going through the same experience.
What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?
Speak to us at Delta Partners! We’re a partner-led fund with deep experience in the start-up space. We’re focused on seed stage investments from very early to late seed and our current fund, which is backed by Bank of Ireland, aims to invest in 30 of Ireland’s most innovative and exciting tech start-ups.
And (did I say this already?!) our calendars are open, so feel free to book a slot even if you’re not raising and are simply looking for advice.
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