The Interview: Andy McCartney, CEO-in-residence, Microsoft Ventures (video)

18 Jun 2014

Andy McCartney, CEO-in-residence at Microsoft Ventures

Quintessential entrepreneur Andy McCartney from Belfast has gone the full journey from bedroom coder to start-up and he is now CEO-in-residence at Microsoft Ventures, the software giant’s one-year-old foray into supporting start-ups.

Earlier today, we reported that Microsoft Ventures has forged an exclusive partnership in Ireland with Dublin accelerator NDRC to provide digital start-ups with expertise and resources to make their idea go global.

The partnership with Microsoft Ventures will provide NDRC’s start-up ventures with mentors, support and access to top technical and business talent, as well as potential access to a global investor network.

The NDRC is Ireland’s top performing accelerator and NDRC portfolio ventures have created more than 300 direct jobs, with a consequent jobs impact of about 1,250 jobs. The accelerator’s portfolio of start-up ventures has cumulatively secured €40m in follow-on investment from commercial investors, and these ventures have a combined market capitalisation of about €120m.

Microsoft, which McCartney describes as the “original software start-up”, has had a long-term interest in supporting start-ups.

The company is credited with being an early investor in Facebook and was actually an early investor in Waze, which Google recently bought for US$1.3bn. Last year, Microsoft bought enterprise social network player Yammer for US$1.2bn.

From Belfast to Whitechapel, London

McCartney is no stranger to the world of entrepreneurialism, having founded and acted as CTO for his fair share of tech start-ups, including the award-winning JamPot Technologies.

He has been recognised by some of the industry’s biggest players and has been welcomed into the fold by Microsoft Ventures, where he plays a leading role in the MSV Accelerator launched in London, helping teams build successful start-ups.

He emphasised that the partnership forged today with the NDRC is exclusive. “This is the only relationship we have in Ireland at the minute and what is important for us is that Microsoft Ventures is a global programme. We are looking for a global reach. So by working with the likes of the NDRC in Ireland we can take top talent, bring them across to one of our accelerators in the UK and then take them beyond into San Francisco or wherever they want to go.”

The company has already tested the waters with e-commerce firm Von Bismark, an NDRC graduate start-up.

“Six months ago they came through the NDRC here in Dublin with a pilot product – we spotted it at the Dublin Web Summit – and we brought them over to our accelerator in the UK, where we exposed them to VCs, engineers, partners like ASUS and just yesterday they were one of the top 10 companies picked globally to pitch in (San Francisco, California) in front of 100 of the world’s best VCs, including Google Ventures, Microsoft Ventures and Peter Thiel.”

In terms of what Microsoft Ventures is looking for in start-ups, McCartney says it begins with having a “kick-ass” team with a good technology that people would want to invest in.

“We would want to work with start-ups by bringing them into one of our programmes, give them access to our engineers, our technology stack, and as well as that look at other technology stacks and then the one thing we do very well, and I think Microsoft does above everybody else, it has the black book to die for.

“So we will actually introduce them to real, tangible customers who really want to buy their product.”

Microsoft’s nimble thinking

With a new CEO on board in the form of the energetic and enigmatic Satya Nadella and a new culture of openness and mobility, Microsoft is keen to not only embrace start-ups but very much be part of their community.

McCartney explains: “First of all, Microsoft Ventures is a very new brand, it is one year old. This is a new space; so there is a lot of corporate stepping into this and working out as they go along.

“But Microsoft is the original tech start-up. It needs to be in this space, it deserves to be in this space.”

McCartney says large companies, especially utility companies, are looking to small start-ups to solve their problems.

“They want to build apps, deploy cloud services and we want Microsoft to be their first choice.”

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