Useful rules to live by for start-up success

2 Aug 2018

Niamh Given, chief growth officer, Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Niamh Given from revealed proven rules for success in entrepreneurship at Inspirefest 2018.

One of Ireland’s most accomplished overseas entrepreneurs and investors, Niamh Given, told Inspirefest 2018 that start-up life is hard, but there are rules to live by that make it doable.

“One, question everything. Two, embrace uncertainty. Three, show up. And if you live by these rules and this attitude to life, you will unlock amazing potential.”

‘You really have got to show up, live in the moment, be active and not passive’

Given, who is based in New Zealand, has enjoyed a stellar career in Asia alongside ‘Mr China’, Liam Casey, at PCH International and helped him grow a global supply chain business to more than $1bn in revenues.

Today, she is chief growth officer at, an innovation platform that is enabling start-ups to achieve the extraordinary through access to investment, partnerships and community engagement across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

With more than eight years’ experience working in product development in China as well as co-founding her own online wine start-up, Given has worked extensively with both Fortune 500 companies and start-ups to bring their products to the global marketplace.

At PCH, she led the team that enabled hardware start-ups to navigate the complexities of manufacturing product at scale, reducing time to market and minimising risk. She was also a pivotal founding member of Highway 1, a premier hardware accelerator based in San Francisco that has brought more than 60 hardware start-ups through a four-month accelerator programme and raised more than $80m in funding.

Given said she lived in Shenzhen in China for 10 years and Hong Kong for five years before moving to New Zealand, where she runs a global entrepreneurship community.

“Live by these rules,” she told Inspirefest. “For investors here today, if you want to see Irish start-ups go big on the global stage; for people in education, if you want the youth of Ireland to grow and excel on the global stage; and entrepreneurs here today, if you want to take your businesses and organisations to the next level, live by these rules.”

Question everything

Given cited the example of Patrick Lynch, co-founder and CEO of First Circle, a company that is enabling SMEs in developing markets to scale up.

“50pc of the GDP in emerging markets is made up of small businesses. If they can’t access finance, they can’t grow and they can’t make an impact.

“I’ve seen Patrick in action, I’ve seen him sit opposite bank executives and question: ‘Why can’t you give these guys access to capital? What’s stopping you?’

She continued: “He questions and he questions and I have seen the penny drop in those bank executives’ minds and they start questioning themselves and if they start wondering why, ‘Maybe if we do it this way’, there might be a way.

“Patrick’s constant persistence, his questioning, is how he has managed to change how small businesses in emerging markets gain access to capital. First Circle is firmly established in the Philippines and is expanding to Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.”

Embrace uncertainty

Next, Given cited Hillary Yip, the 13-year-old founder and CEO of MinorMynas who established her company when she was 10 years old to help kids to learn languages through video chat.

After learning Mandarin in Taiwan, Yip wondered why it was taught a certain way in Hong Kong and so she created her digital platform as a community for kids to bridge cultures and inspire one another.

Given said Yip embraced uncertainty. “Who was going to take a 10-year-old at that time seriously? How was she going to develop technology and run a business?”

Yip entered a challenge for emerging entrepreneurs and won, which enabled her to build her product and put it on the Apple App Store.

“Today, she has 30,000 users across 50 countries, which is pretty impressive for a 13-year-old girl. But, in the middle of that, there were even more reasons for her not to embrace the unknown. She was being bullied at school for being a nerd. She was being bullied for starting her own start-up, but she chose to rise above that, embrace the unknown and built MinorMynas.”

Always show up

“To me, the most important rule of all is, you have to show up,” Given told Inspirefest.

“What do I mean by showing up? You really have got to show up, live in the moment, be active and not passive.”

She said that after graduating from university, she got the opportunity to work with Casey.

“Liam is a Cork man, he came from the rag trade and saw an opportunity sourcing components from China and he set up PCH International. I joined in 2004 and had seen the business grow from 70 people to 2,000 people and revenues grow from $70m to $1bn.

“And my biggest takeaway from all of that was to show up. Liam Casey makes every second count, literally. We didn’t think he slept.

“He was there in the moment, seeing opportunities, connecting the dots and seeing how this would impact the future. It was pretty intense, but inspiring.”

Given’s experience at PCH saw her work with factories all over China in all sorts of industries, attend meetings with Apple’s Jony Ive in Cupertino, travel through Italy to find the most perfect leather or to Jaipur in India to source precious gemstones.

“But the biggest thing is that we never let any moment slip away and it opened up so many opportunities.

“And the thing with showing up is, you never know which moments will open up the biggest opportunities. And so, you need to be there every day and show up, and it will be the most unexpected moments that will lead to the biggest opportunities.”

Given learned these lessons at the age of 11 when she used the intimidating rival basketball team as an opportunity to practise and up her game. She practised and practised and began to stand out. This eventually led to her scoring ability increasing, and she went on to represent Dublin and then Ireland internationally.

“So, take this away from today: question everything, embrace uncertainty and show up.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

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