Susan O’Brien outlines the 7 basic survival skills of the entrepreneur

13 Nov 2017

Susan O’Brien on stage at Inspirefest 2017 during the summer. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Make belief your currency, Smigin founder tells Inspirefest 2017.

Entrepreneurship can be a tough and often very lonely journey for founders. For Susan O’Brien, the key to success lies in quieting the demons of doubt but also by imposing iron self-discipline.

O’Brien is CEO of New York and California-based Smigin, a service used in more than 175 countries worldwide that offers travellers a suite of translation apps. She was a speaker at Inspirefest 2017 in Dublin during the summer.

She is also co-founder of The Founder Guide, a resource for entrepreneurs, along with former Enterprise Ireland executive Simone Boswell.

“To focus, you need to quieten the noise inside your head,” she explained.

“There is a very overwhelming, constant battle for your attention.”

O’Brien outlined the key decisions that founders need to make to deliver on product and wow investors.

She called them her basic rules for survival.

1. Your passion is your purpose

“Without passion and conviction, you are wasting your time. As a start-up founder, nobody else will be as passionate about what you are building as you are. If you can leverage that passion, your purpose becomes your passion,” said O’Brien, whose first love was languages.

2. Be authentic

“Sales jargon is crass, honesty is jarring, and, if you are solving your own problems as a founder, then you know it is a real problem. It’s important to know you are building an authentic solution,” she said. Recalling the creation of Smigin, she said: “I thought I could build a better way for people to learn conversational languages.”

3. Put yourself out there

“You have to make those networks and connections,” O’Brien urged. “As you work away on the long start-up journey, it is a fact that you will make mistakes. Build a real network with real people and then you will find every mistake you made has also been made by somebody else.”

4. Explain it in one line

O’Brien said you need to be able to explain the purpose of your venture in a concise, single line. “Learn a few lines off by heart, ease into the rest of it. As a founder, you have to get your pitch down to one line. The elevator pitch was coined a long time ago; you don’t have three minutes. You have to do it in one line.”

5. Play to your strengths

“Know what you are good at and then focus on that, but not to the exclusion of everything else. I had to learn, as a first-time female founder, how to speak tech.”

6. Know your numbers

“This is not optional. It is critical, and women are the worst offenders. We don’t like to talk about money and figures. You have got to learn how to speak the language. If you can talk numbers, you can inspire a ton of confidence.”

7. Harness the power of your belief

O’Brien said there is real power in belief. “You decided to go on this mad journey for a reason. You believed in what you were doing. Don’t underestimate the power of your belief, it is your vision. Belief is what aligns your team and fuels your vision.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Super Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2018 are on sale now!

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