Menno Axt of Dogpatch Labs gives his advice for founders, from the importance of getting outside your own circle to being clear about what you plan to achieve with investment.
Menno Axt is the head of platform at Dogpatch Labs, one of Ireland’s leading start-up hubs based in Dublin city centre.
Dogpatch Labs now runs Ireland’s national NDRC start-up accelerator programme in partnership with key regional start-up hubs across the country. This includes an accelerator programme, pre-accelerators and various ecosystem-building activities.
In his role, Axt focuses on connecting start-ups with investors, corporates and mentors. He also helps recruit start-ups for programmes such as the NDRC accelerator, which is closing for the next round of applications on 21 November.
‘Ireland is the perfect breeding ground for new types of start-ups to grow out of alumni of the larger multinational corporations’
– MENNO AXT
What experience do you have with start-ups and entrepreneurship?
I’ve had a love for start-ups since I was young. I started my first company when I was 13 years old – a travel managing business – and never stopped.
Over the past five years at Dogpatch Labs, I have had the opportunity to work with lots of start-ups and entrepreneurs, first as membership manager and then as programme manager for the Pearse Lyons Accelerator, a late-stage global agtech accelerator. That was really interesting, as it gave me the opportunity to work intensely with start-ups from all across the world.
In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?
In Ireland we have really strong capabilities in B2B SaaS, biomedical sciences and agriculture. I believe Ireland can be a leader in these spaces when we combine these strengths with the great knowledge and talented workforce that FDI companies have helped to cultivate.
The potential among the existing skilled workforce in these strongly rooted industries makes Ireland the perfect breeding ground for new types of start-ups to grow out of alumni of the larger multinational corporations.
What are the qualities of a good founder? Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?
Coachability and focus. If a founder isn’t coachable, no one can give them advice or feedback, and therefore they’ll never improve. If a founder doesn’t have enough focus, they’ll often try and accomplish too many things at once, and therefore will not actually accomplish anything.
As a result, in the NDRC accelerator, a lot of the programme is laser-focused on coaching entrepreneurs and helping them achieve their next big milestones, whether hiring or fundraising. Feedback and mentorship is a huge part of that – they speak to over 50 mentors and have weekly sessions with entrepreneurs in residence who have built and scaled global businesses.
I believe that good entrepreneurs can be made, but that they are born with a certain risk appetite that you need to love and embrace as a founder.
What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?
I think it’s really easy to get distracted as an entrepreneur, because there are so many potential distractions. For example, corporates that want to talk to you, publicity, speaking at events, etc. But try and stay laser-focused and make sure that everything you do helps you get closer towards the goal that you are trying to achieve.
I would recommend founders do a weekly or monthly audit of their calendars and make sure that their calendar is aligned with the tasks that they need to accomplish.
What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?
Besides coachability and focus, I think that execution and timing play a really big role in the success of a start-up. If you look at many of the success stories over the past 10 years, it’s often not necessarily the first time that something gets developed, but it’s often better executed and better timed.
How can founders assemble a good team?
Go to meet-ups, attend events, talk to people about what you’re building and try to get out of your own circles. When you meet someone that you’re impressed with, ask them for two other people that they think you should talk to. This way you are quickly expanding your network.
What advice do you have for founders who are starting to look for investment?
Make sure that you are really clear on what you are going to achieve with your investment. Investors don’t invest in your company to give you cashflow for a certain length of time, they invest because with X money, you are going to achieve Y goal.
So an example of this could be: “We want to test our MVP with 100 customers, therefore we need to hire three engineers and one business development person – so we need €1m to achieve this goal.”
What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?
Trying to build a technology start-up without having technical expertise at the core of the team. It’s so essential that you have this, as a technologist should help you with guiding your thoughts around the product that you are building.
What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?
As a mentee/founder, make sure to go and read the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, co-authored by David Cohen, Brad Feld and Jon Bradord. If you feel like a mentor doesn’t adhere to one of these principles, run away, you probably got yourself a bad mentor!
What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?
Try to find and surround yourself with inspiring mentors who challenge you every day, and learn how to build with laser focus. And if you don’t know how to start with those things, join a community or find an accelerator like the NDRC that can help you grow faster, better.
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