Work and life not in competition — start-up advice for all

13 Oct 2015

A panel of leading lights in the Irish technology scene met up recently to discuss the trials and tribulations of starting a business, with valuable life lessons for all.

Touching on topics across things like workforce break down, funding, and even the Irish web-enabled landscape, Ireland was spoken of as an ideal hub for early-stage companies.

But, argued Joan Mulvihill, CEO of the Irish Internet Association (IIA), business owners should never forget what they’re there to do.

“We need to go back to the core principles of running businesses,” she said, before lamenting the fact that far too many start-ups focus solely on funding.

“Graduation day from incubators is called ‘Investor Day’, but you don’t celebrate ‘First Customer Day’.

“You need to stick to what is core. How am I delivering real value to my customers. If you get that, you are infinitely more attractive to investors.”

Good people mean good business

Chaired by Ann O’Dea, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Republic, the panel moved on to what they felt was the lifeblood of an early-stage business: good staff.

Acquiring them, said Michael Crean, founder, CIO and CTO of, is the hardest part.

“Getting good people is extremely difficult,” he said. “But when you get them into a small company it’s easy enough to keep them because they are doing so much varied work.

“Nothing is wasted,” he said, agreeing with Mulvihill that seeing the first order go out the door is one of the most satisfying things about setting up a business.

“There is plenty of money out there to get investment, but always look at the head behind the money. You really need good people behind that.”

Start-up Gathering, no time to Slack

The panel – hosted in the Digital Hub with Bank of Ireland as a part of Start-up Gathering 2015 – shifted topic towards workforces as Slack, with its Dublin regional manager Hanni Ross ready to speak, sports a fairly remarkable 39pc of women employees.

“Every decision we make across hiring, promotion, management, access to training etc, we make sure we don’t exclude anyone,” said Ross.

“We also look at retention to make sure there are no patterns there, as well as pipelines.”

Mulvihill highlighted Inspirefest, a science and technology conference founded by Ann O’Dea, as something that helps the industry in this regard, with Mulvihill pointing out that the option of hiring just men cuts out 50pc of your available workforce “from the get go”.

Know your limits, know your health

Finally, the trio discussed the key tips they wish they had when starting out in business.

Mulvihill, for example, noted that for the “first couple of years” she didn’t take annual leave as she tried to get her operation off the ground.

“People talk about the work-life balance but they shouldn’t be in competition. It’s about keeping it all in context.”

“Having a partner that thought the internet was Google was helpful, too,” added Ross, who sagely said “you never get your health back”.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s 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 ticket now!

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic