Start-up Advice: Mary Carty, Outbox Incubator

15 Oct 2015

Mary Carty

Mary Carty is the co-founder of Outbox Incubator, the world’s first incubator programme for girls under 22 who are innovating in STEM, which took place in London over six weeks this summer. ran weekly reports from the Irish participants in the programme, who all reported back on it being a universally positive experience.

Carty co-founded Outbox Incubator with Stemettes founder and Inspirefest 2015 speaker Anne-Marie Imafidon after the pair met through Twitter.

Carty herself will speak at Inspirefest 2016, where she will be joined onstage by some of the participants from the inaugural Outbox Incubator programme.


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

I’m hugely excited about VR, its potential and impact on medicine, science, education and entertainment. We are seeing more sophisticated headsets coming to market at a more affordable price point. What I’m excited about are the collaborations that will happen between scientists, artists and engineers.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I think most entrepreneurs develop over time, with hard work, commitment to their goals and a passion for their vision. Natural business savvy is a bonus. As my dad always says, “there’s no free education”. Constantly learning and consistently applying that learning builds confidence. Nothing you ever do is a waste; it helps build character and focuses your priorities. Being an entrepreneur is a long-term strategy. Great entrepreneurs know their strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with strong teams who complement them. This is one of the most valuable skills you can learn; what you do best and how and when to delegate the rest.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

An ability to listen is crucial, not just to your users but to your team and your advisers. It is easy to get carried away with your vision and forget to come up for air. Being able to critically examine what is happening right now and leaving your ego at the door is no mean feat. Fostering a culture of collaboration, of listening respectfully and giving honest feedback are the marks of a great founder.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Getting hit by a Mount Everest sized to-do list every day is overwhelming and disheartening. Begin the day with a list of all the things you are proud of, the things you got done yesterday, the frog you ate before breakfast! List the things and people who inspire you. Hang it where you can see it during the day. Somehow, reflecting on the things you have achieved builds confidence that you have the skills, tenacity and know-how to achieve your goals, right now. I’m a visual person so drawing my list really helps me focus.

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

Twitter: I’m addicted to Twitter. I find the most interesting people, ideas and events there. It helps to keep me up-to-date. As a very curious person, that’s very satisfying. Outbox Incubator would not have happened were it not for Twitter. I met Stemettes founder Anne-Marie Imafidon through a tweet. I love how random occurrences can have a lasting impact and you never quite know what will happen next. Of course, Twitter hits the mark for reach, interaction, awareness and community building too.

Slack: I’m a huge fan of Slack as I work with distributed teams. It makes team working and collaboration really simple.

Campaign Monitor: I have used Campaign Monitor for years, I love how easy it is to use, to set up and send campaigns and track them. After 10 years, it’s still my No 1 go-to email marketing provider.

Old school tools like a whiteboard, stacks of post-its and notebooks: My best ideas come from drawing and sketching things out. It helps me understand the problems and communicate clearly. In the same way, I love mind maps.

How do you assemble a good team?

Passion and purpose are the key ingredients to hiring a great team. Finding people who care about your vision, who feel they can contribute positively and make a real impact. Attitude and aptitude too; always go with the person who is willing to learn and contribute to the team’s efforts. Be vigilant when hiring and be sure your team does not consist of people just like you. Get an outside perspective on your potential hires. Make sure to hire for diversity and difference. The best places to work embrace and celebrate difference. Don’t be afraid to have a dissenter on your team. These folks have the courage of their convictions and often voice the concerns of the wider team. Difference is healthy and necessary.

‘Make sure to hire for diversity and difference. The best places to work embrace and celebrate difference’

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Basic business sense is critical; a keen eye for operations and a thorough understanding of money: I can sell X for Y and my running costs are Z. On the operations side, making sure you have a decent business process in place — from lead generation to sales and invoicing. This takes time and effort but if done correctly will save you money in the long run.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

It is too easy to get blown off-course as there is so much to do. Your time is spent fighting fires and not being productive. It’s important to set time aside for goal setting and planning and to review your goals regularly. Having a report structure you update weekly is invaluable; be it the number of prospects in the pipeline, the number of sales made or how your online marketing is performing. Planning and reporting need to be part of the process from the very beginning.

Who is your business hero and why?

My business hero is, without a doubt, Steve Shirley. She came to the UK unaccompanied, aged just 5 as a Kindertransport  refugee. At 29, she founded Freelance Programmers, employing only women software specialists who worked from home. This was a groundbreaking initiative at the time, a completely shocking idea. These freelance programmers wrote software for the leading FTSE 100 companies in the UK and programmed Concorde’s black box flight recorder.

Shirley went on to create a multi-billion-pound IT software consultancy, the F1 Group; floating it in 1996 and making 70 of her employees millionaires in the process. Since retirement, she has focused on philanthropy, particularly autism research.

I admire her tenacity and fearlessness; for going after the things that were important to her and breaking moulds everywhere. We can learn so much from her life and work. She is a true inspiration.

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

Being a founder can be lonely, so it’s crucial to surround yourself with the best minds in the business. Develop your personal boardroom: six to 12 people who can help you develop your leadership and business. On a personal note, it’s important to keep friends and family close and save time for fun activities and being with those you love. Burnout is too often the flip side of working too hard. Realise that working hard has its rewards but be mindful of the cost. Give yourself permission to take a break now and then.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republics international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Buy your Ultra Early Bird tickets now!

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Open Eir (formerly Eircom Wholesale), Fidelity Investments, Accenture and CoderDojo.