Bottoms up in the Den

esb spark copy

This morning I had the great pleasure of representing our company GameSparks ( as one of the finalists of ESB’s Spark of Genius, which takes place at the Dublin Web Summit.  For those of you who don’t know, this competition shortlists 30 of Ireland’s most interesting start ups and gets them to present their companies to a panel of judges. A final group of three is then selected from which the winner eventually emerges.  What an experience!  I have always enjoyed the popular TV Show but this was a Dragon’s Den with a difference.  It was being ‘filmed’ in front of a live audience and, what’s more, we were all competing against each other for the much coveted winners spot.  This was a daunting affair but I guess part and parcel of doing a start up anywhere, including Ireland.

Needless to say, we did not win.  I don’t, however, feel too bad about that for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, Ireland’s start up community is clearly in very good shape.  There were some really great companies pitching and, were I a more wealthy individual (or even just a wealthy one), I would certainly have written some cheques of my own in order to participate in their very likely future success.  There were great ideas backed by great people with some really strong pitches.  The slide flicker gadget did not work and I noticed that did not seem to get to the judges at all and concluded that they were taking some dastardly delight as several of the presenters, including myself, had to go off deck and ad lib more that we were aiming to do when we woke up this morning. The point is the competition was tough and Ireland’s future is in good hands if the sample of great companies we saw today is anything to go by.

The second reason I am not too dis-heartened is really the reason I am writing this post.  I spoke to one of the judges after my presentation and they very kindly gave me some very good advice that I feel compelled to pass on.  Whilst they felt that my pitch was strong and the company clearly exciting I made a common mistake.  I approached the presentation from a top down perspective where I spent perhaps too much time explaining why this could be a huge opportunity.  Too much time on the big picture.  This particular Dragon’s advice to me was that we really need to do the opposite in these situations, the opposite being bottom up.  A bottom up style focuses more on who we are, what we have done or built, who is using it and why and only after these basic assertions have been made should we then build the case as to why this is a good investment opportunity by extrapolating out based on the potential addressable market size.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and this now seems really obvious to me.  Although I have been around the block before, this is really my first startup and so some of these things only become obvious after you have done it wrong and someone has been kind enough to point that out.  Thank you to that Dragon – you know who you are. For all those great Irish start ups out there, remember – bottom up.

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