Our Tech Start-Up of the Week is Memods, a very unique Irish start-up that’s bringing art to the gaming console space.
Memods was set up by Dave Pepper and is based at the Guinness Enterprise Centre, Dublin.
Pepper is emblematic of your typical young graduate in Ireland right now – talented, with buckets of ideas and ready to share them, and growth with an enterprise. But Ireland’s economic climate has prevented Pepper from obtaining the job he wanted and deserved, like many others.
So he opted to go down the entrepreneurial route.
Faced with unemployment, Pepper converted his kitchen into a workshop over the summer of 2010 and produced some of the most unique consoles you will see around at the minute
Having spent all of his unemployment benefit on supplies, Pepper uploaded some of his work to YouTube before trying to figure out how to make a business out of creating custom consoles.
Fast forward … eight hours later, and more than 100,000 hits on the YouTube video, it was clear there were others out there who shared his passion for custom consoles.
Now, 12 months afterwards, and Memods’ first consumer product is Console Armour. Console Armour is a clip-on cover for the Xbox 360s, and Pepper has plans for a PS3 version in the pipeline for 2012.
So, what did it take to build a global business that straddles two of the largest industries in the world, gaming and toys?
According to Pepper, who claims the job is not nearly finished but rather a constant work in progress, it took a mix of blind and relentless determination, vision, and most importantly, help and support from great people.
With the help of Dublin Business Innovation Centre (DBIC), Pepper was able to successfully secure funding to get the venture off the ground. Enterprise Ireland (EI) is also at the table and has been a "fantastic" resource for Memods, he says.
The company employs two other people, as well as Pepper. Working as operations director is Paul Abbott, while Sarah Grogan has joined Memods on a three-month graphic design internship.
Console Armour for the Xbox 360s is available to buy from Memods.com, with additional frames and light sheets coming soon. Memods has also started talks with major global retailers to pursue its plans for its product range to appear on shelves of partner retailers around the world.
According to Pepper, trying to scale a hobby into a business was the difficult part.
“You know where you want to get to but there’s no path to follow, for us we are setting up a new product in a new product category, too.
"Defining the product and raising capital were the biggest of the challenges. Having to concept the idea while pitching to potential investors was a hugely rewarding challenge, thinking on your feet and under pressure forces you to get to the point quicker. I knew what I wanted to achieve having already gained traction with my initial designs online but there is a stark contrast between what you have in your head and what can be converted into reality.”
While the team currently comprises three people, Pepper says they are also working with other companies from a variety of fields, with areas ranging from tool making and design, to text content and T-shirt designers.
Entities that have helped
Entities that have helped Memods get up and running have included Dublin City Enterprise Board (DCEB).
“They were there from the start for me. I came into the Guinness Enterprise Centre for a sales seminar and was offered to be the first business into their feasibility cluster. I joined in January for a few months of free desk space/internet and was assigned a mentor (Gary). He helped me nail down the direction of things and get ready to pitch for funding.”
Next was the Halo Business Angel Network.
“I pitched to a room. Eventually, I had a one-to-one meeting with my future investors sealing the first round of funding for Memods. We are currently working closely with James Croke from Enterprise Ireland as a high-potential start-up (HPSU)," says Pepper.
“They’re working with us on our next round of funding and also getting us ready for exporting worldwide. It’s really great to be working with these guys – they’ve made a big diffidence to our growth.”
A global eye
And the ultimate plan for Memods is to scale up.
Explains Pepper: “Exporting is key for us. Establishing our message for the product and gaining initial traction will allow us to scale. We will also be manufacturing in Ireland.”
“Being based on the net you get hits from all manner of places but about 70pc of the attention we’ve gotten has been from the US. Consoles in the US are in the tens of millions so a substantial install base is there for us to target. Customised products are ubiquitous these days, so it’s an exciting time to be in a creative business.”
And Pepper’s advice for new ventures in Ireland right now?
“Ask for help early and often. Don’t compromise getting your idea out there based on thoughts someone might steal it from you. Communicate with people and maintain relationships. For me, this has been a huge challenge as I had worked on my own for so long. Keeping everyone in the loop is an absolute necessity. Things can change in a start-up on the hour, you have to be adaptable to change and react fast.”