Start-up Advice: Keith Bohanna, Near Future

16 Sep 2015

Keith Bohanna is an entrepreneur and digital strategist who is currently Principal at boutique digital strategy consultancy Near Future, which he co-founded in January 2014.

He has worked on digital strategy with companies including Eircom, Met Éireann and Bord Gais Networks, and he has also been a board member and chair of the Irish Internet Association.

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

The seamless flow of contextual and personally relevant information across software services and apps. There is still a lot of unnecessary manual intervention to usefully combine data and information today, especially in mobile use.

As a simple example, try extracting the calendar data from a Google email using Google Calendar when on Mail and iCal in IOS. And that is way before you get into complex silos within large enterprises, which is where Near Future spends a lot of time with clients.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I’m on the fence here. I believe that most of us have a spark of enterprise within us and then nurturing and environmental factors kick in to shape the person.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

Rigid focus, absolute self-confidence, humanity.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Nurture themselves and their team. Stay focused on ‘true north’ for their business so that the energy and talent in their team does not dissipate.

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

A lightweight, cross-platform communications tool; Slack is the sexy one right now. We use it in Near Future and it works but personally I think there are others out there whose UX is more suitable for normal humans (and not tech teams!)

A mature project management tool. The Irish service is our choice in Near Future. The only integrated element missing is something to run the detail of agile software development – the JIRA piece.

Knowledge management within the team is probably managed nicely using Evernote. It is easy to implement and finally (in the last two years) has a UX that doesn’t suck!

How do you assemble a good team?

Extend your networks – both physical and digital. Use very trusted primary contacts to filter. Friend-of-a-friend is too diluted.

You are looking for tight fit with the existing team culture as a rogue person could do serious damage early on when every person is critical.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

The traditional ‘cash is king’ translates to ‘turnover is king’ in a start-up. Everything else (including investment cash) is a game. Turnover equals business success.

The sooner a founder and team realise that and makes it their primary goal the sooner the business’ chances of survival are increased hundred-fold.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Being distracted by the incessant flim-flam of start-up life – PR, events and conferences, funding announcements. See previous answer [for what they should really be doing]!

Who is your business hero and why?

This one is personal to me, obviously, and it would be someone like Safia Minney, the founder of Fairtrade label People Tree, who has started a commercially successful business with a strong underlying social goal. Business with a social purpose can be a very powerful change agent.

Whats the No 1 piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

You cannot survive personally without cash. It is absolutely not achievable. Forget the people around you who appear to be doing that.

They are either completely without responsibilities (i.e. 22 and can live on a friend’s floor), have a hidden source of income (a partner who is working or supporting them) or they are under serious personal stress and digging a hole for themselves.

So don’t start a business without a six-month to two-year personal reserve or someone who can support you for that time.