Is world domination the new mantra for Irish-based start-ups?

27 Oct 2017

Trezeo co-founder and CTO Flavien Charlon. Image: Luke Maxwell

Investors at NDRC’s Investor Day were inspired by diverse ideas that can scale globally.

Real products that meet real market needs and that can scale globally were the hallmark of the latest tranche of NDRC start-ups.

That was the view of the various investors on Investor Day when Trezeo – creators of a platform that can provide income stability for the legions of gig economy workers out there – was selected as the overall winner. The audience vote went to Izzy Wheels, headed by sisters Izzy and Ailbhe Keane from Galway.

‘The potential for world domination is there’

Headed by CEO Garrett Cassidy and CTO Flavien Charlon, Trezeo’s platform ensures reliable and regular payments for workers. It is launching a pilot in the UK in November and is raising funding to launch globally in 2019. The technology recently won the Payments Dragons’ Den competition at PayExpo Europe in London.

Income smoothing for the gig economy

Charlon said that the company is trying to address the issue of income volatility for self-employed people in the gig economy.

“The UK is going to be our first step. The UK is one of the biggest countries in terms of the number of self-employed people in Europe and, from our research, 44pc of those people cite income volatility as one of their top three business problems and we are addressing that.”

So, how does it work? “Essentially, it is a business account and what they do is, they redirect income to that account and we smooth the income that they receive every week so that they receive a fixed amount based on their average income.

“It is based on savings and lending so that we can give them top-up when they need lending, but this is interest-free, unlike overdrafts, which can be very expensive. Our product is interest-free and based on a subscription fee.

“Technically we are not a bank, but we are working with regulated partners. Essentially, we are a cashflow management tool that is selling peace of mind for customers in the gig economy who don’t have to worry as much about income going up and down.”

The world awaits

“The potential for world domination is there,” said David Bowles from Delta Partners.

“Our view was that this is a company that could really scale. For people in the gig economy, being able to manage a varying salary every month is a need that is only going to increase. Trezeo will solve that. They are smart guys and they are experienced and have the right connections. There are no barriers to their growth. World domination is definitely within its reach.”

The other judges were unanimous.

“For us, Trezeo was quite a clear winner in terms of the opportunity to build a global scale technology business,” explained Draper Esprit’s Nicola McClafferty.

McClafferty said that all 11 start-ups that presented earlier this week showed originality and focus. “Often [as investors], we find ourselves looking at really interesting products that are searching for a market. The companies were also coming at it from a commercial standpoint and solving a very real need.”

Seasoned tech entrepreneur and investor Steve Collins, who co-founded Havok and who has an interesting dual existence as chief scientist at Swrve and as a venture partner at Frontline Ventures, echoed McClafferty’s point.

“Primarily, it was the diversity of the different teams. There was a huge variety of different teams and different approaches. Secondly, we saw great domain expertise on the teams. These were teams that had problems identified and produced real working solutions.”

But when it came to Trezeo, the global opportunity was key. “It’s a huge market,” said Collins. “The world is changing and the nature of work is changing. The gig economy is changing how people work, how they get paid and manage their finances.”

In terms of the start-up landscape, Collins said that perceptions of founders and entrepreneurs as a valid career choice have changed. “This has permeated all the way through the education system. In particular, the university sector is doing very well in promoting the entrepreneurial career. Every university in Ireland now has some programme to help people on their journey.

“What has not changed is the overall problem in looking for customers, identifying customer needs and identifying solutions to existing problems rather than starting from being an idea or technology looking for a problem to solve.”

Product diversity

For NDRC CEO Ben Hurley, the diversity of the companies that pitched on Investor Day speaks to the interesting blend of domain experience of the various founders.

“They already had customer engagement and validation of problems.

“They had a ready solution and technology and they were coming at the problem with deep insight and understanding.”

When it came to Trezeo winning, Hurley said that the company is tapping into a global problem with an elegant and robust solution.

“This is a solution that when you provide it, [it] will start to grow to significant scale with the potential for thousands of users.”

David Tighe, head of enterprise and innovation at Bank of Ireland, sponsors of the Investor Day at NDRC, remarked on the global ambition behind Trezeo and other start-ups to emerge from Ireland.

“When you look at companies like Plynk and others that have emerged in the last decade, they are saying, ‘We are Irish, but we are taking on the world and we stand out.’”

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