‘The best entrepreneurs see good in failures and opportunities in setbacks’

11 Feb 2020

Paddy Flynn. Image: Shane O'Neill, SON Photographic

Google’s Paddy Flynn gives his advice for start-ups, from the areas of tech that hold the biggest opportunities to the importance of building a support system.

Paddy Flynn joined Google in 2009 as the EMEA lead of its search quality evaluation team, and subsequently lead the trust and safety teams for EMEA and APAC. He is now director of Geo data operations at Google, and also leads the company’s Adopt a Startup programme in Ireland.

Flynn studied electrical engineering at University College Cork. Prior to joining Google, he gained experience in IT and management across a wide range of industries and businesses, and worked as a consultant for a number of years.

‘Every entrepreneur and founder has an idea that they believe in – it’s the ones that build strong teams and seek advice that are most likely to succeed’

Describe your role and what you do.

I help Geo collect and process data for Google Maps, which includes diverse sets of data from places of interests and Street View, and involves working globally from Dublin.

As a member of the Dublin site, I also help run Google’s start-up efforts with the community, Google volunteers and Dogpatch Labs – Google’s local start-up partner.

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

Today everybody talks about AI and machine learning. The potential use of technologies in these areas is significant and will have a great impact in most fields from medical diagnoses to customer service efficiency improvements.

The power of computing and the availability of data at scale enables the use of AI/ML in broader applications. I think a key tipping point will be the ability of non-technical practitioners to use the capabilities in their areas of expertise. We are only at the beginning of that journey.

Another technology that is in its very early infancy is quantum computing. It has the potential to take computer processing to new levels for specific problems.

In Ireland, I think our opportunities remain to blend innovative technology with the areas that we have traditionally been good at, including food, agritech, pharma, security and medtech.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

Both – there is an entrepreneurial instinct that a lot of founders are born with, but the skills and traits of a good entrepreneur and founder can be learned. The best entrepreneurs see the good in failures and the opportunities in setbacks, and push themselves to challenge boundaries. These characteristics are universal to successful people – founders or not.

It’s often that we see entrepreneurs join our Adopt a Startup programme that are more comfortable working in a stable, established business, but they’ve had an idea that they truly believe in, and it’s this belief that pushes them into the start-up world.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

Perseverance. The success of a start-up is rarely dependent on an idea and always dependent on the hard work and perseverance of the founder and the team.

Working with start-ups with Google has given me great opportunities to meet some of Ireland’s most successful founders. Over the years, I have noticed that the most successful founders are the ones who want to apply themselves and be all in, but also recognise that they can’t do it all and, as soon as possible, surround themselves with a good team and seek good mentors.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Network! Ireland has a vibrant start-up community and successful entrepreneurs take advantage of it. Multinationals, large companies, universities and public-sector bodies all recognise the value that start-ups bring to our economy and to local communities around the country. There are a multitude of supports in place for founders to lean on.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?
  • Good advisors/mentors – pick your advisers carefully and cast a wide net
  • A strong network – people have gone through what you have gone through so having a strong network provides access to great experience
  • Make use of all and every tool available from Government, multinationals or eco-system partners – for example Google, like other large companies, has tools and programmes like Adopt a Startup to support start-ups in the community, and Dogpatch Labs are also a key partner who run many cross-community events and are a fountain of knowledge and support
How do you assemble a good team?

Irish start-ups are known as hubs of creativity and innovation – a good team and a good leader are reflective of this. Crucially, founders should make sure that they haven’t built a team of like-minded thinkers as this hinders progression and success. A team that inherently challenges each other and is made up of people of diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking, in my opinion, is a good team that will drive growth and success.

When building a team, it’s important to leverage the needs and wants of the current workforce. We know that ethics and values like diversity and inclusion and sustainability are important to workers, so make sure these values are presented as incentives when hiring.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

There isn’t one critical ingredient that is going to make a start-up successful, it takes a blend of a number of ingredients: passion, grit and perseverance, connections and networking, and a good team.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Going it alone and not sharing the burden. Every entrepreneur and founder has an idea that they believe in; it’s the ones that build strong teams and seek advice from mentors and specific mentoring programmes for start-ups that I believe are most likely to succeed.

What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

Mentorship is a critical component of success. Whether it’s through a scheduled programme or initiative, an old colleague or personal connection, mentoring can help us see challenges from a different perspective and push us to think outside our comfort zone. It’s really important for entrepreneurs to remember that they don’t have to like what their mentor has to say, but listening to someone you respect in business and being open to another point of view is invaluable.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

There is support out there, use it! Lean into your network, sign up for free mentoring events, meet people for coffees and build your support system.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.