Start-up of the week: Effy

21 Mar 2016

Effy, which was co-founded by Norma O’Mahony and Owen McCabe, aims to make scheduling for retailers smarter and effortless

Our start-up of the week is Effy, a new tool for businesses that makes smart scheduling simpler – effortless, even.

Effy, which was co-founded by Norma O’Mahony and Owen McCabe, uses existing in-store data to ensure retailers have the right staff, in the right place, at the right time

“This allows lean retailing, sales optimisation, and ultimately gives control back to the manager over their resources. Effy does all this in a manner that is effective, efficient and effortless – all in the name,” says O’Mahony.

The market

Effy is targeted towards those in retail, predominantly fashion and footwear multiples that have more than 10 employees.

“The reason for retail is due to the impact that improving the conversion rate can have on the bottom line,” says McCabe.

‘When we had made scheduling simpler, we decided to make it smarter’

“The fact that Effy has the ability to increase conversion rates while lowering labour costs makes Effy a compelling solution for retailers where we can add significant value.

“We are addressing a global problem with a global solution and thus the opportunity is truly global.”

McCabe said that the retail analytics market is due to be worth $5.1bn by 2020.

“This is up from $2.2bn in 2015, showing a growing need and want for retail analytics.”

The founders

O’Mahony and McCabe met while studying Business and Law in UCD and they both graduated in 2014.

After graduating, McCabe went on to work with Enterprise Ireland over in London, developing market-entry strategies for the HPSU division.

O’Mahony went on and continued her studies in UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, where she completed a master’s in Supply Chain Management.

The technology

“Effy started life trying to make scheduling simpler,” O’Mahony explains.

“To do this we developed a scheduling software that boasts features such as scheduling templates, clock-in/out, as well as using constraint-based software. This software can create a schedule in minutes that meets all the staffing needs of the business, as well as taking into account when the staff is available.

“When we had made scheduling simpler, we decided to make it smarter. There is loads of really cool technology in retail stores collecting useful data, but the data is no good unless it can be used by the decision makers, not just at the head office level, but at the store level.

‘We want to be the globally-recognised name in retail analytics that leads and paves the pathway of future innovation in operational efficiency’

“Effy takes this in-store data and mines it. Effy enables the store manager to now make better operational decisions. These decisions allow managers to maximise their sales while minimising their costs. We’re not there just yet but in the near future Effy will give managers real-time information about how their store is performing at any given time, with the ability to adjust accordingly. Using the technology we effectively give managers a helicopter view of their store.”

McCabe says that the ultimate goal is to be the most effective, efficient and effortless operational tool for retail stores.

“We want to be the globally-recognised name in retail analytics that leads and paves the pathway of future innovation in operational efficiency.

“We understand that the retail market is a difficult market to break into and a market that often questions innovation. We are targeting large multiples within this retail market. We want to bring innovation to a typically traditional market. Innovation that will transform and invigorate. We are in an era of technological dominance and we want to ensure everyone is adapting and capitalising on the capabilities of this technology.

“We want retail stores to run as effectively, efficiently and effortlessly as possible and we want customers to get the best out of their retail store in terms of accessibility, attention and engagement,” he said.

Expanding beyond new frontiers

O’Mahony says the start-up is doing well since they began working on it full-time in October 2015.

Since then, they’ve taken up a place on the New Frontiers phase one and phase two programme run by Enterprise Ireland.

“We also took part in Startup Next, which is a Techstars programme supported by Google for Entrepreneurs and Bank of Ireland and is the world’s No 1 pre-accelerator. We were awarded the Enterprise Ireland Competitive Start-up Fund in January of this year also.

“We have been working closely with a handful of beta users. Some small ones and then some large ones to show the scope of the product and its applicability in different scenarios. We have chosen to work with a few clients in the beginning because we want to ensure the product is built to achieve maximum effect and learn as much about the on boarding procedure as possible before going out to the mass market.

“With targeting retail multiples, unfortunately, you often only get one chance, so best to make it count. We’ve been also learning as much about the global retail environment as possible through research and by talking to as many people as possible.

“We are off to Paris now for a week to take part on a Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange. We were fortunate enough to be one of eight global retail start-ups chosen to come together in Paris to talk and work with some large French retailers and get to grips with the retail industry, both globally and in France.

“We’re hoping to raise a seed round by the end of 2016 that will see us grow internationally and begin expansion into either the US or UK, this depends on where we can get most appetite in the meantime,” O’Mahony said.

Steely grit behind youthful visage

“We guess it wouldn’t be a start-up if there wasn’t a fair share of challenges along the way,” admits McCabe.

“We’re not techies. While we now have a very talented coder, in the beginning, it was difficult to be taken serious as a tech start-up without us coding. Being young has inevitably been a challenge at times, a fortunate one at that, I guess.

“People think because we are young and inexperienced we don’t have a lot to offer. We feel like our youth works in our favour as we are able to see things from a different viewpoint.

“Granted, sometimes this viewpoint has not been the right one, but from feedback we are getting from industry experts, smart scheduling is the way forward!

“As this is our first start-up, it is a steep learning curve. We have combatted this by filling any gaps in our knowledge through a strong advisory board of people that are very open and responsive to us.

“There’s plenty more challenges we could talk about but they’ve all been overcome, they had to be. With start-ups, a lot of doors get closed but there’s always backdoors, you just have to find them and get creative with finding them too. Challenges are there to test your belief in your product and yourself, they’re there to be overcome,” McCabe said.

Leaders of tomorrow

O’Mahony believes the Irish start-up scene is growing month-on-month.

“When we started working full time in October it was the midst of Start-up Week and the place was alive.

‘There’s a lot going on and the great thing about Dublin being small is you can build lasting connections as opposed to fleeting ones in bigger start-up cities’

“Bank of Ireland and Gene Murphy have been fantastic in growing the ecosystem, from setting up the workbench where we often work, to bringing Startup Next to Ireland.

“There’s a lot going on and the great thing about Dublin being small is you can build lasting connections as opposed to fleeting ones in bigger start-up cities.

“It’s great to see, also, the large corporates such as Accenture getting behind start-ups with their Leaders of Tomorrow Award. It’s an award we did while at university that pretty much launched our entrepreneurial journey!”

Just do it

McCabe says there’s probably a lot more reasons to not launch a start-up than to launch one.

“But to those who are considering it, we’d say just do it. You won’t know until you try, and there’s nothing worse than living with a ‘what if’ over your head. There’s a lot of supports out there, from your Local Enterprise Office, Enterprise Ireland, Startup Next and programmes such as LaunchPad and New Frontiers.

“There’s ample amounts of safe space, both in terms of office space and supportive environments, to get up and running and validate the idea. Build a solid founding team and make sure you like the people you’re working with. You’re in for a long and uncertain road, so it may as well be people you can have a laugh with, disagree with, worry with and, of course, celebrate with!”

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