‘The best founders are those who aren’t afraid of picking up the phone’

17 Sep 2019

Aislinn Mahon. Image: Huckletree

Huckletree’s Aislinn Mahon talks about her experience working with start-ups, the biggest mistakes that founders make, and the importance of taking time for yourself.

Aislinn Mahon’s career to date has centred on the start-up world, helping early-stage tech businesses enter new geographical markets and establish profitable business models, while working in cities such as Paris and Hong Kong.

She previously worked with Enterprise Ireland, Web Summit and Brandtone, and until recently was a chapter director at Startup Grind. Mahon is now based in Dublin where she leads the Huckletree business in Ireland.

‘Sectors that are still relatively untouched by technology hold the greatest scope for opportunity’

Describe your role and what you do.

As general manager of co-working hub Huckletree Dublin, I am responsible for our business objectives in Ireland. It’s a multifaceted role encompassing everything from team management to budget planning, and no two days are the same! I can honestly say that I love my job and I am really proud of what we have achieved as a close-knit team.

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

Sectors that are still relatively untouched by technology hold the greatest scope for opportunity because competition is limited. For example, one of our member companies, Kontainers, works with global shipping brands to help them go digital within 12 weeks. Freight management is a multibillion-dollar global industry that still runs largely off fax messages and excel sheets!

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I do believe that entrepreneurs have that desire or itch to start their own gig from an early age. Having the tenacity and vision to start and grow your own company requires more than the ability to put a business plan together.

What are the qualities of a good founder?
  1. A strong founder is humble, and has the ability to take feedback on board and listen to others without taking things personally. They can absorb facts objectively. They are able to delegate and enjoy sharing success with others.
  2. A strong founder has the ability to keep going even when things get tough. They will always have a Plan B in their back pocket and will keep the end goal in mind.
  3. A born salesperson. If a founder can’t sell their own product, they may struggle. The best founders, in my experience, are those that have solid sales experience and who aren’t afraid of picking up the phone.
What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Take time for themselves. As a yoga teacher, I love teaching people to connect with their bodies and their breath to alleviate stress and improve overall mental health. We put far too much pressure on ourselves to conform these days and it’s causing people to burn out.

Huckletree Dublin. Image: Huckletree

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

Good calendar management and the ability to prioritise time is an absolute must! Modern communication platforms are great but need to be managed. For example, we use Slack as a team for instant, urgent communication, and email for anything that takes longer than 30 seconds to respond to.

How do you assemble a good team?

Once you understand the vision for your company, and the strategic goals for the next 12 to 24 months, you can start to work on the different roles and areas of responsibilities that are required for sustainable growth.

Assigning clear targets from day one, and giving your people the freedom to work out how they will reach those targets, means that you are assigning ownership and expecting accountability.

Regular communication is key to ensure that your team stays on track and keeps the end goal in mind. Good people can be hard to find so once you find them you’ll need to focus on keeping them too.

What are the critical ingredients to start-up success?
  1. A product that people will pay money for on a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly)
  2. A leader that has the vision and tenacity to scale a business globally
  3. A culture that treats people with respect and demands accountability
What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?
  1. Raising capital too early. In many cases it makes far more sense to build a business organically (ie from sales) than turning to investors from day one
  2. Being fooled by ‘the long no’
  3. Letting ego get in the way
What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

You should look for someone who will give you honest and direct feedback, rather than constant praise. Constant praise is like a sugar rush – it feels great for the first few seconds and then disappears. Ideally you will look for someone who can open doors for you and create commercial opportunities.

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

Prioritise your time and start from today. Focus 90pc of your energy on areas that will contribute directly to business growth. Delegate more and accept that you cannot do everything.

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