There’s currently a discussion on Twitter about the Northern Ireland Software Strategy.
David Kirk writes:
#NISW ‘s your input. What’s stopping NI creating the next Google or Twitter. Leadership? Imagination? Funding?
David writes elsewhere:
NI is in an interesting catch-22. The technology investment funds are small and conservative, so companies seeking funding scale back ambitions and ask for less, so there no pressure for big, aggressive funds.
What is needed is a entrepreneur machine.
We need to take people with good ideas and put them in rooms with people who can help them distil great ideas. Those people then need to be joined with funders – public or private as applicable – and match up the money to do this. We need special facilitators for this – they need to have the balls and the experience to tell whether an idea is killer or filler.
We can wax lyrical about how ingenious NI is, how educated we are, how smart our people are but the facts do not hold out. We have allowed this nation to evolve into a nation of administrators and hairdressers. The very idea of entrepreneurship is considered to be laughable – not a career move, something to be ridiculed. The very idea of having dreams and wanting something more is considered by many to be above our station. Even in my own household, the idea of wanting more than a 9-5 is balked at (which, if you know me at all, leads to a lot of silences because I am impatient, I want more, I’m not happy with my lot and I want to be part of the force that brings the rising tide which buoys up all the other boats.
I cannot stress this more vehemently, where we are told to be patient, not to want more?
“Balls to that!”
I’m coming down with ideas but have two limitations.
1) the first handshake. I need to talk to no-nonsense people who want a stake in the idea and have belief in the vision. No-nonsense people not afraid to tell me if they think an idea has no legs and should just be shot.
2) the day job. On two levels – the first being that I need to pay a mortgage and be a responsible dad. The second being that in that position I need to help others reach their dreams and in that I have been berated before about stepping beyond my remit. So, to a degree, my hands are tied.
The fact that most people in NI are ‘poor‘ doesn’t help matters. A friend of mine explained to me that his savings are such that if he stopped doing his day job, he has enough funds to see him through to October. That’s very much the exception. I have enough funds to see me through to Tuesday next week. Therefore I can’t give up the day job and chase the dream (and besides, I did it once before, got fuck all help from anyone and still succeeded.) I think a lot of people in Northern Ireland are very realistic about the costs of chasing the dream. I’m not alone in working for a startup which failed as much as I’m not alone in having learned from that and built up my own, still functioning, startup. My second startup – well – it’s working slowly, has cost me money, has earned me nothing but it’s a long play I guess. I bootstrapped both times and it was hard work both times.
In May, David did a briefing after a week long ‘entrepreneur-hardening’ course where he and others roasted some would-be entrepreneurs over an open fire, filed off the charcoaled fatty bits and then roasted them a little more. The result was a lean and hopefully fierce investor-ready entrepreneur.
During the briefing, a representative from one of the local VC firms asked:
“Are you saying you and others (foreign investors) will be investing in companies in Northern Ireland?”
David’s answer was a simple, “Yes”.
The VC in question was visibly shocked and discussed exactly this revelation with two colleagues outside the briefing room.
Why was the VC so shocked? We’ve had a market of entirely sessile voyeur capitalists and they’re concerned that they’re going to lose out to a group of nomadic vulture capitalists. They don’t return calls, they don’t seek out new opportunities and they also don’t have the balls to tell you if they don’t like the idea. Instead you end up courting them, treating them like a first date and then wonder why you didn’t get the call back. You might think your idea was bad or maybe you had brocolli in your teeth but the truth is that they’re much too conservative to start off something like this alone.
So where am I right now?
Coming down with ideas, zero capital and unsure where to go to get something built. I’ve shared my ideas with others, told them what is essentially the crown jewels. I’ve even taken ten of my ideas, of varying quality I admit, and given them to a group of developers to see what they can do with them.
I admit, I don’t need to drop the day job – I need funding to pay folk to build my ideas. I need some experienced adults to tell me whether this idea, these ideas – which I love – are actually shit or not.
I need the first handshake.