Jamie's Blog

Ruby developer. CTO. Swimmer. Always trying to write more

Startup Pubbish-ness

I might be about to commit professional hari-kiri here but I wanted to push back on all the startup love I’ve been hearing. I attended the Cork Pub Summit event yesterday evening, organised like a local mini-Web Summit to provide a place the tech community to meet and local startups to pitch their ideas. It was good fun.

First, let’s get this out of the way: total respect to everyone who pitched last night. It takes guts to get up in front of 300 people and talk about your baby. Not everyone can do it.

But. We have to stop cheering every pitch without even a modicum of criticism. We’re not headless startup cheerleaders, rar-rar'ing each pitch onwards without expressing our own opinions. As a professional consultant, I have more than my fair share of opinions, and I need them: I only want to work with businesses where I know I can help them succeed. I hate seeing people wasting their time on a doomed startup. These people have passed up other opportunities to work on their idea and it’s our duty to ask some searching questions, not for the sake of being mean but because we want them to succeed (though, perhaps not with this idea).

So, here are some of my (rough) notes…


Social media analytics (AGAIN! — sorry, saw too many in this space at Web Summit). Major problems: convincing a company to convince their customers to download your app with the Popdeem branding. And then to get those customers to post to Facebook. And after all that you can’t even tell what the effect was on the business. That’s never going to fly. We need much better proof that this sort of paid-social-media-postings really drives sustainable revenue for the businesses. I would trust a real, enthusiastic Instagram over a rewarded-by-free-burrito Facebook posting.


Yearbooks. I didn’t realise that they were a thing outside of U.S. high schools (or, at least, the TV dramatisation of same). Yearbooks are annual, so what will you live off for the other 11months? Also, your target market are cheap (but as a once-off special thing perhaps they will stump up enough). Who does the curation? Social media volumes would be too great to capture it all in the yearbook. And how do you know what’s relevant to the class? It actually sounds like a nice small business but very very seasonal. Perhaps you could licence directly to online printers? Also, be careful with the digital version. Don’t give this away for free or a lower price point. It will decimate sales of the physical book (unless you can price it to make as much/more profit than the physical version).


WTF. He wants 100k to go to SF and complete this accelerator program?! It also seems like he’s heading away from his target market (Asia?) and it wasn’t entirely clear who his customers would be. Initially he talked about monitising sports communities/forums but now it seems like it’s a licensable technology for other games companies? I found the pitch confusing.


Two-sided market problem. Must convince both class providers and students to use the site. Furthermore, it’s not good for businesses to be listed like this. Where’s the opportunity to stand out, for brand recognition or word-of-mouth recommendation? It also introduces an admin headache for class providers if only some of their student paid through the site.


This is only guy who knew how to pitch. There were strong visuals about carrying around electoral registers, in the rain, with a clipboard and then trying to compile together all the reactions etc. I can see some real pain there. Furthermore, the target market are rich (politicians!), easily found (public information) and reachable (public emails, office hours etc). They’re also desperate to have more information at election time when they feel very vulnerable. Only downside: elections are usually only every 4-5 years but I think there would be enough local/council/city/mayoral/by- elections each year that the service would be well-used. And that’s without considering general activism campaigning. There should also be a natural pricing tier based on area (local councillors canvasing a small town would pay less than a senator canvasing a state who would pay less again that a national political party). I see easy six figure revenues here. The data analytics alone would be worth it to many parties. One word of caution: that Romney app crashed when they most needed it — the infrastructure needs to be reliable and able to cope with large surges in activity.

One other annoyance was that every pitch & question time seemed to overrun, which led the crowd to become noisy, which led to other people shushing the crowd like naughty school-children. To be honest, you’re going to lose the crowd if your pitch is over 4mins to a room full of smart, interested, beer-drinking people — at that stage we’ve heard enough to form an opinion which we want to discuss with our neighbours. Instead of shushing us, perhaps the Pub Summit should have involved the crowd? Give us tokens to “invest” in the best pitch. Or take questions from the floor instead of the panel (trust me: everyone in the audience had an opinion!). I think the Pub Summit format should encourage the informal, rowdy, “pubbish-ness”

I throughly enjoyed the Pub Summit last night. Thanks to Donal Cahalane for doing the heavy lifting in bringing this to Cork. I chatted to friends I hadn’t seen in years, met some new people and generally enjoyed myself.

Addendum: I met the guys behind Click4Classes at a Selr8r event recently and got to put some of my points to them. I still maintain that these are potential problems with the business but it was great to hear that they have considered them and are planning some features to help good businesses stand out (themes, student ratings etc). If anything, it just reinforces that a good pitch event shouldn’t leave these questions unanswered in anyone’s mind.