Author: mmarymckenna

I'm a technology entrepreneur & these days angel investor. I co-founded wildly successful online learning company Learning Pool in 2006 on the back of a long local government career and a spell as a Silicon Valley dotcommer. I exited the company in May 2014 in order to get back into startup land. I'm interested in helping start & grow indigenous Irish & British tech companies and especially in working with young and female entrepreneurs. I'm one of Said Business School's (University of Oxford) Resident Experts, an Entrepreneur in Residence at Catalyst Inc (formerly the Northern Ireland Science Park) and a trustee of CAST (the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology). I love the arts and have been a non executive director on the board of Derry’s Millennium Forum & Theatre for many years. I'm also a trustee of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). I sit on the London board of the Irish International Business Network and I'm proud to be a member of the Global Irish Network. In the 2014 New Year’s Honours I was awarded the MBE by HM the Queen for services to digital technology, innovation and learning - which you have to admit is pretty darned cool. Right now I'm interested in talking to people about non exec positions in tech startups or scaleups and I'm happy to speak at relevant events or write articles for publication on any of my specialist topics - how to build a kick ass network, how to scale your startup, how to build a digital business, how to build a company with a great culture ... I blog mainly about startup business and being an entrepreneur but also other things that I encounter in my travels that interest me. I've sat at Buzz Aldrin's feet & listened to his stories, I've disco danced with Leonard Cohen at Coachella and I've joined Robert Plant in singing gospel songs with Wanda Jackson at Pappy & Harriet's in the Californian desert. You can follow me on Twitter at @mmarymckenna

Hints and tips for founders getting started with angel investment

awaken-angels-1

I’ve spoken on this theme a few times lately.  First for the GMIT Empower conference back in September & more recently for Republic of Work in Cork at their weekly lunch and learn.  It’s an interesting topic because raising investment really is one of those lessons that isn’t easy to learn from a text book.  Of course there’s loads written about the process and how to go about it … but in truth the hardest part of all is finding the right investors in the first place, right at the very beginning.  And this can be a bit of a dark art.  Why?  Well because a lot of it is about people, and as everyone knows, that’s always the trickiest part of any business transaction.

Angel investors themselves tend to be either very well known or completely hidden away.  You’ll all know the famous ones who are prominent in whichever city or county you happen to live in.  Some of them are full time & professional angel investment is all they do and they approach it very much like a job.  They’re active in the angel networks (like HBAN here in Ireland) or they’re members of the UKBAA or EBAN or the like.  They welcome approaches from founders & may well advertise or promote how they want you to engage with them.  Maybe they’re connected with one of the accelerator groups and you can access them via that route.  They’re clear about what sorts of companies they’re interested in investing in and may even publicise that information.  If you fit their profile then you’re golden and Bob’s your uncle – it’s a fairly clear path & they’ll either like your proposition or they won’t.  If they like it you’ll either agree on a valuation and investment terms or you won’t.  If you like them and what they bring you’ll either take their money or you won’t.  Job done.

In truth many of those well known angels tend to invest in the same types of companies that are already in the accelerators and on the government programmes and marked out early doors as companies with high potential for rapid growth and on a pre-defined trajectory to investment.  They tend to move in the same circles as the VC firms and they all know the same people.  It de-risks everything for them as the companies have already been through the mill in terms of copious amounts of expert due diligence performed and money is being thrown at them from all angles.  Often it’s a lot about tax breaks and managing their portfolios. 

But what if you aren’t one of those companies?  What if you don’t move in those circles?  What if you’re very early stage?  Then where do you start.

Again, like most things in life you start with your network.  (As an aside, if you’re an entrepreneur or a startup founder and you’re reading this and realising that you don’t have a network, you’re in serious trouble and you need to take speedy affirmative action.  That’s a blog topic for another day.  As a quick fix, buy Kelly Hoey’s book “Build Your Dream Network” and read it immediately).

As a founder or entrepreneur you will probably be part of a number of networks with other similar founders.  I would start there.  But before you do that, pause and have a long hard think about the sort of investor you’re looking for.  Do you want dumb or smart money?  Do you want to use this as an opportunity to bring expertise onto your Board and into your company?  Are you looking for someone that’s well connected into the investor community who will be able to bring in your next level of investment when you’re ready for the big cheque?  Do you want someone who has successfully sold their own company and might be able to help you do the same?

Remember that angel investing is a team sport and you only really need to find the first appropriate investor & convince them that you & your company are interesting & a good bet.  If you can do that, they will likely bring their friends.  When I look at my own investment portfolio, in 7 of the 10 companies I’ve invested in I’ve brought other investors in with me who didn’t know anything about those companies.

Once you’ve identified your ideal investor or investors, draw up your long list … and then make a start on your homework.  Against the names on your list you will need to research the following as a minimum:

  • Is the angel actively investing currently?
  • If so are they looking at new investments or focusing only on existing portfolio?
  • Do I meet their investment criteria? (For example, I have 3 criteria before I’ll usually even look at an opportunity – has to be female founders, tech for good & something I can add value to)
  • What size of investments do they usually make?
  • Do they invest alone or as part of an angel network?
  • What other investments have they made in businesses similar to mine?
  • Does the person welcome cold approaches?
  • If not, who do I know who knows them?

You can avoid this step by pitching to the angel networks.  This may save you time.  It may also result in you missing out on some of the more niche (and maybe appropriate) angels who aren’t part of the networks.  You will also be at the mercy of the angel network’s timetable in terms of pitch dates, pitch format and so on.  It’s perhaps worth mentioning that whichever of these paths you start with, there’s a good likelihood you’ll end up doing a bit of both routes.

Pitching to the formal networks saves founders a lot of time and legwork.  The organisers are super-experienced and may well help you get investor ready, explain the enormous amount of jargon that surrounds business investment, finesse your pitch & business plan, guide you in terms of the forms of investment itself that are open to you (it’s not all straight equity any more), narrow down your valuation range … some of them even do all the paperwork.  However, for some types of business they may not have many of the right types of investor in the network and this can lead to founder disappointment when no tangible interest materialises and a feeling that time has been wasted.  Weigh it up and have the conversation with the organisers of the angel network.  They’ll be keen not to waste their own time either.  Final point on this – there’s no guarantee or obligation on them to even allow you to pitch so this route may simply not be available to you for any number of reasons.

I’m going to pause here for a moment to cover off how I believe you should go about contacting angel investors for an initial conversation.  This is completely & utterly my own opinion.  I mentioned earlier that many angels welcome cold approaches.  I don’t and these are just a few of the more common ways that people I’ve never met or spoken with contact me:

  • They email me cold & include their pitch decks (& often bizarrely add a note to say if I’m not interested can I forward their deck onto others in my network who may be … WTF … dream on)
  • They send me Twitter DMs with a link to their pitch deck
  • They include me in desperate scattergun cold approaches via LinkedIn
  • They corner me at in-person events and try to pitch to me

When this happens my response ranges from deleting the email & ignoring the person to offering constructive advice to just plain being blunt or rude, which I don’t like to be.  None of these methods will ever result in me investing in that founder’s business and I say that with 100% certainty. 

I generally only have initial conversations if the founder comes to me via a structured introduction from a mutual respected & trusted contact.

I’ll leave you today with three pieces of advice and 3 pitfall areas for anyone who’s fundraising or about to start.  Advice first:

  1. Start looking early.  Start the process way before you think you need to.  There’s a lot you can do to get ready but the main activity will be building your network, starting to make connections and having early conversations.  Your first fundraise will likely take 6-9 months but it often takes longer and false starts are fairly common.
  2. Do your homework.  On investors as mentioned above but also in terms of your own prep.  Decide on the sort of investment you are seeking.  Go online & watch as many others pitching as you can.  Learn the jargon.  If you’re not an accountant, learn about balance sheets and cap tables at least so that you understand why investors are interested in them.  Think about your valuation and how much equity you’re prepared to part with.  On this, expect valuations to be under further pressure as the Covid period extends again (I’ve heard of term sheets again being rescinded in the last few days since more national lockdowns have been announced).  Start working on your pitch deck early as it will go through a lot of iterations.  Before we leave this point, make sure you’ve accessed all the free money (i.e. grants) that you can.
  3. Raise enough.  Especially now.  The process of raising in itself is extremely time consuming and a serious distraction to business as usual.  And who knows what the world will look like in 12 or 18 or 24 months time.  Watch out for tyre kickers who will talk to you until the cows come home but never get any closer to investing.  One of you needs to pop the question during this type of long courtship.  I heard last week that a number of funds are no longer doing smaller investments of less than £1m.  This trend is likely to spread & really early stage money is likely to get more & more scarce … so if you’re thinking about fundraising real urgency does exist.

And now some pitfalls:

  1. Don’t let the process go slowly because you aren’t prepared.  Get your due diligence documentation completed early and in order.  Business plan in the correct format and split into chapters, labelled & ready to send out to anyone who asks.  Share register clear & up to date with no anomalies.  Customer contracts in order & available, financial information up to date and company filings done.  Forecasts available in detail and ready to answer any questions on the underlying assumptions.  Board minutes written up.  No last minute surprises.
  2. Giving away too much equity too early or to the wrong investor/investors.  This will either put future investors off or maybe cause you a lot of heartache/embarrassment getting those shares back off a friend or family member who helped you out early days but doesn’t add much going forward.  Really do your homework on investors, and not only angels but VCs too.  Talk (as in speak, not email with) to the founders of other businesses they have invested in & ask if they delivered what they promised and find out what they’ve been like to work with.
  3. Not being prepared for the change that will occur post investment.  You may still be the figurehead but the company is no longer all yours.  Maybe things were very informal previously but now have to be more structured as you have investors that you’re accountable to.  Over time they may even decide to replace you although you will still own shares and make money when they company is sold.  You may decide to replace yourself.  There are many examples of both of those events happening.  This links back to your reasons for starting a company in the first place and is a little reminder from me that investment shouldn’t be rushed into or taken lightly.  Sometimes it’s better not to take it at all.

That’s all for today folks.  If you’re raising & would like a slightly different perspective from a founder who’s raised recently, then I recommend watching this video from Cerebreon’s co-founder Gillian Doyle recorded at August’s AwakenHub event.  20 minutes long and more useful than most MBAs.

Please do post any questions in the comments and I will attempt to answer them all & thank you for reading.  If you enjoyed this blog then please do share with your own networks.

Mentoring – it’s maybe where the hardest work gets done

Mentoring pic

I’ve had these scribbles lying about on my makeshift desk since early lockdown.  Back in March I was asked by my neighbour Karen McCormick to speak at a webinar for the Inishowen Development Partnership‘s group of community mentors.  Karen & I go way back.  Over 15 years ago when she worked for Business in the Community in Derry I was part of her pool of business mentors.  Fast forward to today & mentoring is a lot more common.  Everyone knows that the trick is to have a mentor but be a mentor too because guess what – mentoring is one of the best learning and personal development opportunities out there and everyone has something to offer to someone else.

Anyway, the push to finally do something with the scribbles came yesterday when I heard Marcella Rudden from Cavan LEO talking about mentoring & coaching on yesterday’s RTE ReIgnite show with Aine Kerr.  So let’s start with the definition of a mentor.  The dictionary says “a trusted counsellor or guide” but in reality it’s usually so much more than this and in a business mentoring relationship, I’d argue that there’s a healthy dollop of networking thrown in.  (I saw an awful new word when I was researching – mentworking – ugh).  And before we start, let’s deal with the constant confusion between coaching and mentoring.  Coaching tends to be more specific and task/goal oriented e.g. teaching someone quite specifically how best to, say, manage a team or learn how to produce a budget.  Coaches are often paid and it’s usually a teacher/student type relationship where the coach knows about the specific topic, is teaching a certain skill and is in charge.

Mentoring is more relationship based, wider in scope and often lasts longer than coaching, although when I think about my own mentoring interactions, some have been as short as a coffee date and others have lasted for decades and still continue on.  Sometimes the relationship stalls but then is reignited again by the mentee at a future date, and for the mentor that can be an interesting experience if they’re open to it and have the availability.  For the longer relationships it takes a while to build up trust at the start because the mentee may feel vulnerable and nervous about sharing their problems and challenges.

It’s also about continous development – so there’s an element of helping the mentee prepare for the future (their future rather than the future of the organisation they may happen to work for at that time) as well as deal better with their current situation.

So these are the things that mentoring isn’t:

  • as we’ve already said, it isn’t coaching or training
  • it isn’t passive & it isn’t a one-way street; it requires both parties to engage, communicate and learn
  • it most certainly isn’t therapy and where it strays over into this territory, it can be hard for the mentor to get the discussions back on track.  It’s ok to touch on personal issues briefly in the overall context of the relationship but you must avoid getting bogged down and this becoming the focus of all you cover or talk about.  If that happens, you should gently steer the mentee towards accessing a different type of more personal support.
  • it isn’t a cure-all – it’s just one of the components of a mix of supports that people need in order to progress and to have more chance of personal and organisational success.

Top 10 Tips for becoming a great Mentor

It wouldn’t be my blog unless there was a top tips section folks!  Here we go:

  1. As you would expect with any (even informal) contractual relationship, set and agree the expectations at the very beginning.  Skip this step at your peril.
  2. Take some time to get to know the person if you don’t already know them and figure out what makes them tick.  Incidentally, this applies both ways.  If you’ve read any of my recent blogs you’ll know I wrote recently about people contacting others for help without ever bothering to find out anything about them except to know that they might be useful.
  3. Realise that each of your mentoring assignments are likely to be different and approach them as such.  Everyone has different styles and ways, different standards, different levels of ambition, different amounts of energy, different regard for timescales and deadlines.  I just counted up the number of people or teams that I’m in mentoring relationships with right now & it’s six with another looser circle further out of probably another ten or maybe more.  The deal is never the same.  Embrace the variety and don’t try to force every interaction to be the same.
  4. Linked to this last point, don’t make assumptions based on other mentoring relationships.  Also don’t make it about you.  Don’t immediately relate situations back to something that has previously happened to you.  Instead ask more questions and dig deeper.
  5. Learn the art of active listening.  There’s loads written about this so go & have a browse and start putting it into practice.
  6. And don’t feel you have to immediately respond or give instant advice or feedback.  It’s ok for you to go off & check something and then come back.
  7. Good mentors are willing to share, when appropriate, mistakes they have made or situations that have tripped them up.
  8. Look for opportunities to share with your mentee.  It could be making introductions for them or including them in an event where they’ve expressed an interest in getting to know more about an area.
  9. Lead by example of course.  This one goes without saying.
  10. Approach each mentoring relationship as though it will last forever.  This is what I do.  The honest truth is that you’ll give better long term guidance if you start off with that mindset.  As you can imagine, this advice is unpopular with anyone who is getting paid for mentoring as their approach has different drivers from people who are doing it for altruistic or personal development interest.

In my working life I’ve had two key mentors.  One I’ve known for 20 years and one for 30 years.  I stay closely in touch with them both still although it’s more of a social thing these days.  Occasionally I will run something past one of them and I’m likely to do that if I have an important decision to make & I want a trusted ear who will appraise the siituation in a less emotional way than I might.

Outside of situations where mentors are allocated to you, finding the right mentor and persuading them to engage with you isn’t always easy.  People will say no because they don’t have the bandwidth or because they don’t think the fit is right.  Take your time choosing and maybe draw up a short list before you start asking and try not to take it personally if they say no.  Strangely it doesn’t have to be someone who works in the same industry as you & often it’s better if they don’t.  As long as they’ve been where you are and can offer the appropriate level of steer & guidance.  I don’t really understand people who mentor others for payment but if you’re going down that route as a mentee then be even more careful who you dance with.  The business world is full of people who aren’t who or what they say they are but the process of finding that out for yourself can be a painful one.

I’ll leave you today with a rather splendid quote from Rosalynn Carter, wife of former US President Jimmy Carter.  “A leader takes people where they want to go; a great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be”.  She’s 93 & he’s almost 96 so they must be doing something right.

 

10 sources of joy this working week

Office view

Today’s view from my desk

It’s 21 weeks tomorrow since we cut short our long awaited trip to SXSW & dashed back to Donegal in a hurry from New York City.  Since Monday 16 March I’ve been working in a makeshift office in the porch of our house in Co Donegal.  Ok – it isn’t really an office – it’s a table and a garden chair with a couple of cushions but there’s glass on 3 sides and all day long (since early April when they returned) the house martins swirl around me and I listen to their babies (we’re onto the 3rd batch in all our nests) burbling with delight when the food arrives in.  It’s getting greener in here too as the seeds we planted one desperate weekend in April are now fine big plants.

Map of Greencastle

Where we live

We’re right up near the top of Ireland (yes – some parts of southern Ireland are actually further north than Northern Ireland) on the shores of Lough Foyle near the start of the Wild Atlantic Way.  Anyone who’s been on a zoom call with me since March has probably seen the view from my desk as I always show off the beauty of Donegal when I can, even when it’s raining.

Apart from 3 brief trips across the border to NI we haven’t been anywhere in that time.  I didn’t even have my car for the first 3 months.  It sat in Quigley’s Point where I’d left it in for a service early March.  My old life included a lot of travel.  A lot.

EIC Feb 2020 Jury

EIC Jury Feb 2020

Already in 2020 I’d been in Scotland twice, London many times, Budapest, Vienna, Brussels in February for work at the EU, Ghent (for the magnificent Jan van Eyck 600th year exhibition), Oxford, Galway & the Portershed in the snow in early March, running an Enterprise Week event with Sharon O’Dea, Belfast with Susan Hayes for IoD NI’s annual unmissable International Women’s Day event, on to NYC on 9 March and a whirl of events and parties with Mary Ann Pierce.  Always busy.  Always on the move.  Always with people.Van Eyck

When everything stopped I wondered what I would do.  I wondered if I’d be able to work.  I really didn’t know how to figure anything out.  The basis of all that I do had shifted.  Other people have written about lockdown far more eloquently than I ever could so I won’t go on.

Sharon and me Galway

Sharon O’Dea & me in Galway 2 March

But this morning, almost 5 months on, I spent a few minutes reflecting on what an enjoyable and productive working week I’ve just had.  These are the 10 work related things that have brought me joy in the past week:

  1. I started mentoring a new team through the Oxford Foundry. I’ve done loads of zoom mentoring right through lockdown.  I started off by offering my time back in March via Pauline Logan at the Dublin City Women in Business Network to women whose businesses had disappeared overnight and who were trying to figure out what their pivot was and it’s grown from there.  Mentoring is such an enriching two-way process and zoom makes it so easy and efficient.  Jump in & give it a go if you haven’t already.  Everyone has something to offer and something to learn.
  2. I caught up with 4 of my American friends and colleagues in this past week (Brian McMahon, Kelly Hoey, Marc Ventresca and Mary Ann Pierce). I set aside time for a proper chat with each of them and was grateful for the time they spent with me and the news and ideas we exchanged.  From time to time I think back over the conversations we had and it makes me happy.  Friendship and time spent with friends is precious.
  3. I reconnected with Limerick sisters Perry and Jacqui Meskell, Huggnote co-founders

    Limerick Fireside Chat

    Fireside chat in May 2017 with Pat Carroll in the Bank of Ireland

    and we had a great call. Thanks John Collins for the nudge.  Perry and Jacqui’s energy and enthusiasm for their startup is completely infectious and I’ve been sending people Huggs ever since.  Try it – you’ll love it too.  It’s great to circle back & reconnect with people.

  4. I joined Northwell Health’s amazing star studded Constellation Forum event in New York City #TCF20 (thanks to Mary Rodgers for the invite) and was blown away by listening to Stryker CEO Kevin Lobo. He talked first about some of the benefits that have accrued to his company’s teams as a result of lockdown but what really impressed me was what Kevin said about Stryker’s approach to Diversity and Inclusion.  I am paraphrasing but the basic premise is that diversity focused recruitment campaigns attract great people but when they find there’s no real inclusion in place in the organisation they quite rightly become disillusioned and move on.  At Stryker they’ve developed an internal grass roots initiative called “Think Twice”.  You can’t be responsible for your first thought but you can be responsible for your second thought and your first action.  You can consider and make your first action more thoughtful and inclusive.  I was on a panel with Sheree Atcheson earlier this year where I heard her refer to unconscious bias as unchecked bias and this ties in well with that train of thought.  Go Kevin.  There aren’t many people these days that I would willingly work for but I would come & work for you!

    Imperial Enterprise Lab

    Imperial Summer Accelerator

  5. I participated in Imperial Enterprise Lab’s Summer Accelerator as a mentor. This week we saw the progress our 7 teams had made in the 4 weeks since we last met and it was inspiring to be part of.  Thanks to Euan Bell for organising.
  6. The new venture Awaken Hub that a few of us started during lockdown is really gaining momentum. We already have lots of people engaging with us and our next event which is happening Mon 10 August is more or less sold out.  Looking forward to the conversation on Monday evening and can’t wait to hear from our speakers.  Thanks to Mary Carty, Sinead Crowley and Clare McGee for being co-founders with me.  We think this is the start of something amazing for women founders in Ireland north and south and beyond.  Join us awakenhub.com
  7. I got a call from a friend asking me if I would be interested in joining his newco Board as a non exec. I’ve been appraising my various Board roles over the summer and have decided to step down and move on from a few and make room for new blood but also give myself something new to get involved with.  This call came as a nice surprise because I hadn’t actually announced that I was looking for new challenges.  Shout me if you’re in the market for new non execs.
  8. I was on the panel at this week’s Derry Chamber webinar. Our topic was Building

    Chamber webinar

    Derry Chamber webinar

    Your Digital Business.  It was a lot of fun and the audience posed us some lively questions.  Great to meet the new Chamber team and to have a chance to catch up with Sharron McCormick of With Love Recipes and to hear how she’s getting on.

  9. I conducted an experiment and introduced two of the founding teams I’m mentoring to each other. One team has bags of experience & is working on a new innovation, one team is newish graduates with tons of ideas.  It was like lighting a fuse.  Now I am waiting to see what emerges.  Professor Ventresca that I mentioned earlier in this blog once observed that I’m building a guild with my investee portfolio.  I find it’s good to have collaboration at the heart of most of the things that I do.
  10. Last but not least I had a brand new investment close this week as part of an angel syndicate. Angel investing is certainly not dead.  I have a couple of others in the pipeline too.  I’m sure that the founding team will be having a great weekend as it’s been a stressful enough time to raise money.

There.  They were my 10 sources of joy.  Writing them down has reminded me what a varied, privileged and interesting life I’m lucky enough to have in this very uncertain world we live in.

 

How to avoid the “waste of time” introductions … do your homework

NetworkingLast week I gave an in depth interview to a couple of guys who are writing a book about entrepreneurship and investment.  They asked me a lot of questions about my own angel investment process and especially how I go about first identifying and then deciding which companies I am going to invest in.

This got me thinking about the sorts of interactions I have with founders and entrepreneurs generally and the ways in which people end up at my (these days) virtual door.

Anyone who knows me well will have heard my own views about LinkedIn.  I used to use it exclusively for people that I had actually met in real life and had a conversation with.  In a nutshell I would describe my LinkedIn network as being people I could lift the phone to and ring if I needed something or people I would answer the phone to if they rang me.  I’ve relaxed the rules somewhat during COVID to include people that I’ve had meaningful online video conversations with.  I just counted them up there.  Since returning from New York City in a terrible hurry on 14/15 March I’ve added 154 people to my LinkedIn network.  Between 7 & 8 new contacts a week.  I’d be interested to hear how that level of connections growth compares to other people in my network?  Like everyone else I get loads of connection requests every day from people I don’t know or haven’t met and I ignore these 99% of the time.  Occasionally someone writes a covering note that’s interesting or engaging enough to catch my attention and when that happens I may reply … but I still don’t connect.  My reason is quite simple.  I’m not selling anything and therefore having 10k LinkedIn connections that I don’t know isn’t of any interest or value to me personally.  I understand why other people build those types of networks but it isn’t for me.  That’s what I use Twitter for.

So when I look at that list of 154 “new” people they are an eclectic mix of other entrepreneurs and founders, investors, civil servants and people who work in some capacity for the EU, academics and postdocs plus a few random interesting people.  The lion’s share of them have come to me by way of introduction from a mutual 3rd party.  Again, I’d be fascinated to hear how this compares to other people in my network in terms of how their networks grows.  In more depth, when I look at this week’s 8 people, 4 were introduced to me by people in my close network, 3 were people I met at online events this week (one at University of Oxford, one at Imperial Ventures and one at my local Chamber of Commerce) and one is indeed one of those rare randomers – someone who attended an event I had hosted a few weeks ago and then wrote to me cold and I liked her enough to have a call with her and then we connected.

I’m getting to the point of this blog in my own roundabout way.

About half of the 154 people I’ve connected with since March I would class as people that I have met and liked who are interesting to be linked with and we will enjoy reading about each others progress and content but we have no immediate identified need from each other.  We connected because it’s just part of collecting people and who knows – maybe something will come up in the future.  But the other half … they are people that someone has connected me to with a specific purpose and it’s these people that I’d like to discuss today.

Specific introductions come to me in several ways.  Some come from my own close network and happen without the need to do that double intro dance.  Someone has asked a person in my network for an introduction to me for a specific reason and my contact has qualified that person’s interest and then either made the introduction or said no.  They haven’t asked me first if it’s ok because we know each other well enough that we don’t need to do that.  You will all recognise this in your own networks.  The people you know well and who know you well and know what you’re interested in and how much time you have available to have conversations with strangers and also your own appetite for doing that.  These introductions are always super interesting.  Similarly I will sometimes ask people in that same close network to introduce me to one of their contacts as there’s something specific I want to ask them about or an idea I have that I’d like to float past them.

Other introductions come from people in the next circle outside that close network.  They usually ask first if it’s ok to make an intro for X and they sometimes give me brief background as to what it’s about and what X wants or needs.  I also frequently do this for other people who ask for introductions to people in my network.

This is the introduction that can go spectacularly wrong and I have a great example of that from last month and that’s what this blog today is about.  The waste of time introductions.  Someone had asked me if it would be ok to introduce her friend to me.  Her friend is starting a tech platform business as a first time and solo entrepreneur and she needs help on many different fronts including but not limited to access to talent, access to finance, advice about outsourcing tech development, hints and tips about what her immediate priorities are and a lot more besides.  All of which I could have given her pointers on and would have been happy to do.  She even needs to create a significant amount of online elearning content.  Something that I know more about than I care to.

Unfortunately she did no homework in advance of our call and had not thought about the purpose of our 30 minutes.  Instead she used it as a one way diatribe opportunity to ramble to me about her plans, name drop people I’ve never heard of and she asked me no questions.  I’m guessing she followed up on the introduction to me because her friend had gone out of her way to make it but she used our time together very badly and I quickly realised she didn’t know anything about me or what I do or have done.  I stopped her 15 minutes in and asked her what she needed from me or what the purpose of the call was.  She didn’t know.  She didn’t know that I’m an investor who specifically invests in women leading early stage tech startups and she didn’t know that I’d built and sold an online learning business.  But this blog isn’t about blowing my own trumpet.  At the end of the day this doesn’t matter that much to me.  Sure – I was a bit put out by having 30 minutes of my morning wasted … and I’ll ask a lot more questions the next time that particular person tries to have me take a call from someone she knows again.

The person who really missed out here was the wannabe entrepreneur.  All the people in that chain wanted to help her but through her own lack of preparation she has ended up no further ahead.  She has destroyed her friend’s reputational capital and alerted me for what it’s worth to the fact that she’s a scatterbrain.  I did gently say to her that she would get more out of calls with people if she had done some preparation but she told me … wait for it … that she hadn’t had time !!!  Oh my.  I’m not even going there.

So this is what I do on the odd occasion when I ask for an introduction to someone.  I’ve already done my homework on the person before I ask for an intro.  If it’s more oblique and someone initiates a connection by suggesting they will intro me to so and so, then I usually say let me come back to you & I go and do some homework on the person.  I tell the intermediary what it’s about & they either ask the person if they’ll take the intro or they go ahead and introduce us by email.  I then send the person a brief note in advance to tell them what I’d like to talk to them about.  I do this so that they can think about it in advance.  If I’ve never met you but we have a call next week & you’ve already told me what it’s about then I can be thinking about that from time to time between now & then.  Otherwise our time goes on you telling me what you want to talk about.  I then have the call.  I join promptly and am very mindful of not taking up more than the allotted time.  I follow up straight away and I am grateful for anything that the person does for me.  At the end of the call I ask them if there’s anything I can do for them.

The no prep or badly prepped scenario applies in so many instances from sales calls right through to investment pitches.  Don’t be that person.

New Year #Twinterview with Denise McQuaid

Denise and MaryI haven’t made any resolutions again this New Year but I do always start the fresh year by taking a good look at my own network & figuring out who I haven’t seen for a while & who I need to see over the next 12 months.  See my #100people blog on this topic here.

I’m conscious that I need to write more than I have been doing recently.  2019 was a very busy year for me (and I’m now making excuses … ).  I had a few new important pieces of work kick off early in the year & in addition I calculate that I spent altogether 10 weeks of 2019 in the US & a further 12 weeks in Brussels & Europe.

Twinterviews are such fun that I’ve decided to run a new series of them featuring people from my own business network.  My first of the New Year happened on 8 Jan 2020 & was with my good friend Denise McQuaid.  I met Denise in 2012 when I moved to London for the 3rd time.  Remember that time I went to London for 6 months & stayed for 5 years … Denise and I quickly became firm friends as we share many similar interests.  Anyway, here’s the transcript of what we were musing upon this week:

MM OK everyone (& Denise) – ready to go here with Q1 – This is the first of my new series of 2020 Twinterviews with @DeniseMcQuaid – Denise – do tell us what’s top of your agenda for 2020? #Twinterview

DM Travel! Having bought a house in London in 2019 my travel plans slightly got put on hold. Travel feeds my soul & I have been living vicariously through you, @SusanHayes_ @GimmeACamera – Sri Lanka, Slovenia & Nuremberg on are my hit list! What city would you add to my list Mary?

MM Well – I was in #Nuremberg in 2019 & really loved it so that’s a great choice – Q2 You’ve had a very interesting & global career to date Denise but what’s been your favourite job & what do you hope to be doing 5 years from now?

DM Good question! All my roles have given me something different, but my early publishing days in Boston were by far my most exciting. I love multidisciplinary teams, from sales to creatives, I love joining the dots, people, process & technology that is what really makes me tick.

5 years from now, a question my Dad would ask over Christmas dinner! I think having another global role, using all my international experience & network. Over the past number of years not using my Asian network & experience has made me a little sad given how hard earned it was!

MM I can truly see how that is important – recruiters – take immediate note now!! Q3 Following on from that last question, if you could live and work anywhere in the world Denise, where on earth would you choose?

DM My career is now in its fourth country, but I think the one city that still holds massive appeal is New York. I have a strong network there & I think the speed of NYC would suit me. It’s a city that feeds my curiosity so working there would be a great challenge and opportunity.

MM I like that answer … #NYC would suit me fine too & I’ll be there for a week early March prior to #SXSW20 – Right – Q4 You’re a legendary networker Denise – any top tips for experienced networkers wanting to improve the quality of their own network?

DM For me improving the quality of your network is about making a difference, make sure your network knows it’s we, we, we not me, me, me! And if the answer is no then say no! Don’t compromise your network or yourself & always do what you say you will. And never send blank LinkedIn requests!

MM I hear you on those awful blank #LinkedIn requests Denise – I always ignore those too – Q5 Your article about choosing to remain #childless went viral & created quite a stir a couple of years back.  Was there any fallout – good & bad?

DM The reaction to the article was staggering, it has presented me with some amazing opportunities, to speak more publicly about the topic & to help remove the stigma. The bad side, it highlighted further people who have a very strong unconscious bias about my & others decision.

It made me realise that as we fight for equal rights for women, for education, for a place in the boardroom that against the background of these ‘acceptable’ causes, a woman’s right to choose whether to procreate, or more specifically to choose not to procreate, is questioned.

MM Yeah – that is indeed a challenge that all of us as #womeninbusiness have to bear – Q6 You’re a champion of #diversity … How can others move beyond paying lip service to this important challenge Denise and take small steps to making a real impact?

DM I struggle that we put people into pots & label them, for me the Diversity & Inclusion agenda should focus on divergent perspectives not the label & the one step an organisation can take is to enable different perspectives to be heard to create a safe space where everybody can be themselves.

If you want to have a truly diverse company, you can’t remove the right to offend. We have to be tolerant of all views – the only thing we shouldn’t be tolerant of is people enforcing their views on others.

MM Very true – ok – onto something I was asked myself at a recent @winwomenuk event – Q7 – When you’re recruiting, what are the key qualities that you look for in a person?

DM I always look for curiosity, humility & through the interview I like to understand if the person is teachable and if they are willing to share their skills & knowledge with others. A good sense of humour helps too! A bad hire can destroy a team so easily.

MM Love it Denise – although my answer was different – I look for #kindness as I think delivering that takes a person a long way – curiosity, humility, a sense of humour & teachable are good too – onto Q8 What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever avoided (or ever made)?

DM Not sure I could pick just one! I have made many mistakes and avoided many. The mistakes I have made are when I don’t trust my gut, overthink and in some cases when I am worried about other people and the impact of my choice on them. But my gut is never wrong.

MM Yep – I think a lot (me included) will relate to that answer – it’s sickening when you have that feeling & somehow let something else rule you – onto Q9 – As an Irish person living in London, have you noticed any changes since #EURef & also the recent General Election?

DM YES, very much so. I have spent a lot of time explaining the Irish Border. I felt awkward/grateful I could vote in the referendum & election. I have been subjected to being told to go back to Ireland, that the Irish are no longer welcome. I am hopeful that things will improve.

MM Very sad for the many #irishinbritain – ok – onto something I really struggle with myself – Q10 – How do you choose what to say Yes to & what to say No to?

DM I always think of @TheSineadBurke’s excellent questions from her podcast with the amazing @rizmc.

  1. What’s the purpose?
  2. Does this fill my goals and ambitions?
  3. Does this pay the rent?
  4. Does this give back?
  5. Does this bring other people with me?

This is a real challenge as time is precious. I say yes to time with family & friends as a priority. Then I work on the basis will it feed my soul, will it help someone, what would my dad do! I throw my Dad into my decision making as he always asked the right questions before reacting.

MM I love that Denise – my dad’s been gone for 32 yrs but I can still hear his voice when I “ask” him important questions & need an answer – last one folks for tonight’s #Twinterview – Q11 If I could grant you one single wish to be used on Christmas morning 2020, what would it be?

DM Heard a great quote on a podcast with Heston Blumenthal recently that he saw on a pub wall ‘Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.’ My wish for Christmas 2020 is that I can say I was behind the door & I faced any fear, challenge or opportunity head on.

MM Wow – well that’s a great quote to finish with this evening Denise – thank you for being my first #Twinterview guest of the New Year & thanks to everyone for joining us this evening – @DeniseMcQuaid & I will now turn our attention to any questions you’ve sent us on the hashtag.

DM Thank you for having me Mary, your questions really made me think and it was a great start to the New Year!

Do you love gin? Do you love Donegal? Do you love to support entrepreneurs? Then this one is for YOU!

Muff 3

Laura Bonner, founder & CEO of the Muff Liquor Co

If you answered yes to all (or indeed any!) of the above questions then this blog is for you.

Laura Bonner is one of my neighbours in rural Inishowen, Co Donegal and she’s about to go live with her crowdfunding investment campaign via the Crowdcube platform on Tuesday 24 September.  If you’ve ever fancied owning a piece of an Irish craft gin company then read on.

I knew Laura’s father long before I knew Laura as the Bonner family company installed our new windows way back when we bought our house in Greencastle 15 years ago.  I then spotted the Muff Liquor Company gin bottles creeping in behind the till in my local Centra in Moville & thought to myself – how on earth are they going to make a cheeky name like that work for their product?!!  Time passed & I was really delighted to find that Laura was joining my Back for Business group in January of this year.  Back for Business is a programme sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland that offers support to people who’ve come home to Ireland from other parts of the world & started a business (check it out if you’re thinking about coming home & have a burning desire to start something – I’ve included the link).

Since January we’ve become firm friends.  I love Laura’s hustle & her generally sunny outlook on life.  She faces every challenge she encounters in business head on & with an air of optimism.  Earlier this week I called up at her Moville HQ to conduct this interview & if I’m honest – to coat-tail (is that even a word? – but if it isn’t you know exactly what I mean don’t you?) on some of the excitement fizzing in the Muff Liquor team around the impending Crowdcube campaign.

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Laura & me at the “bar” in Moville

This is my interview with Laura.  I hope you enjoy the read & even more I hope you’ll believe in & invest in her fabulous company.  You’ll be sorry if you don’t … (By the way, I can confidently predict glorious success this week as when I was in London on Thursday & casually mentioned Muff Gin to a friend of mine, he quickly opened up his What’s App to show me a photo of a bottle of Muff Gin … taken last week at Exeter Rugby Club by the Muff Lickers he’s friendly with 🙂  )

(MM) Tell us briefly your reasons for starting The Muff Liquor Company Laura & give us a bit of background.

(LB) I’ve known since I was 19 that I was going to own The Muff Liquor Company and produce potato vodka. That was always my dream. My Grandad Philip McClenaghan was a potato farmer and he used to make poitin ((MM) if you aren’t Irish & don’t know what this is, follow the link… ) in his barn and I thought there must be a business in this. I went to college and had a solid career which I loved but the feeling in my stomach wouldn’t leave so in 2017 I made the move home and in February 2018 we launched the business with our premium potato based Muff Gin followed by our premium Muff Vodka.

(MM) Do you think it helps to come from a family of entrepreneurs?

(LB) Yes absolutely. I admire my Dad, my brothers and my sister so much. Their determination and work ethic has given me the drive that I have and taught me life

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A bit about Granda McClenaghan

values not only directed at work but that I believe you need in order to succeed.

(MM) Like me you’ve always worked as a woman in a man’s world – do you see that as a drawback or an advantage & tell me why.

(LB) I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t experience certain comments or backlash from a few male peers back in the day but I knew my worth and I always knew their comments were related to their own insecurities. The roles I have had and now have are predominantly male roles but women are being recognised throughout the world as empowering leaders and I predict that trend will continue.

(MM) I’ve met some of your wonderful international team & I know you’re very proud of them.  Why do you think the team & culture is important to get right in a startup?

(LB) I’m an extremely positive person, some say a little too positive but I have to work on that daily. I attract like-minded people and I believe it’s important for everyone in a startup to be on the same page otherwise it won’t work. Starting a business and running a business is difficult but having an amazing team around you helps and I have that. No one got anywhere in life on their own.

(MM) Have you found it difficult to find people for your team and do you place a lot of importance on networking?

Muff 1(LB) No, I’ve been quite lucky. I know in seconds from meeting people if they are for me in work and in my personal life. There have been two occasions where I went against my gut in the last two years and both failed so these days I’ll always listen to myself. I love networking, I love meeting people and I love hearing their stories plus I like to help people so if I can, I will.

(MM) You’ve been quite vocal about how difficult it’s been for you to borrow money from the Irish banks as a new startup.  There’s a bit of a fashion in Ireland (north & south) for banks to position themselves as “friends” to startups.  Do you think they should be more transparent about what they’re really offering?

(LB) Yes, I’ve found it extremely difficult and frustrating. Very disappointing to have institutes that don’t understand our business’s potential as they see us as high risk but if they did their research they would know that the global market has grown rapidly in recent years with the craft spirit market expected to reach USD 80.43 billion globally by 2025 according to the latest report from Grand View Research Inc. It would be great to have Ireland leading this charge as the spirits we as a country are producing are phenomenal.

(MM) Related to that last question, as a Donegal based startup you’re very familiar with the support currently offered by the Irish government.  What more could the government do for rural businesses & especially for Donegal based startups?

(LB) Every new business once established should be contacted by their LEO as by the time I contacted them I was too late to access many of the grants available to Irish startups.

(MM) What advice would you give to anyone else thinking about starting a business in

Muff 5

This sign in the Muff Liquor HQ made me laugh … a lot!

Donegal?

(LB) I love Donegal, it’s my home. I want to create jobs locally and grow my business here. It’s harder for sure but like anything – if you care enough you’ll make it work. My only advice would be to contact the LEO office before you start and get the startup help offered from the very beginning.

(MM) You’re raising money via the crowdfunding based platform Crowdcube.  Any advice for anyone else going down this route?

(LB) I didn’t want to do it, I felt I should have been supported by our Bank and to have to part with equity at this stage is a hard pill to swallow.  However, it was our only option and so far it’s been great.  I’m looking forward to welcoming our new investors, fans and ambassadors. We’re really enjoying the campaign and the response has been incredible. It’s great to have interest from people who can see our potential and believe in us and know that we’re going to do it!

(MM) How can anyone reading this blog get involved in supporting you via your Crowdcube campaign?

(LB) Our investment opens officially at 9am Tuesday 24 September.  Anyone who’s interested in grabbing a piece of the action & becoming another fan of Muff can pre-register via our website at https://www.themuffliquorcompany.com/invest

(MM) Last one Laura – back to that company name – how did you come up with it & have you had any negative reactions?

Donegal people are used to hearing about Muff village.  Since we started using it for our spirits, the name & its connotations are already raising eyebrows across social media.  I’m confident all that will change after everyone gets a taste of our Muff Gin & becomes a Muff Licker themselves.  The name represents the cheeky identity I wanted for the company but I’m sure it’s the taste of our products that everyone will remember; not the name.

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Laura at her desk – both phones never far away!

Are you on my 2019 #100People list?

eu jury

In the middle of my EU Expert Jury colleagues, Brussels Feb 2018

I thought this might be a good topic with which to kick off my 2019 blogging effort.  I haven’t made any New Year resolutions but I am trying #100People again for what will be my third year.

A few people have seen the hashtag & asked me about it.  It’s an idea that started out as one of my social experiments.  I moved back to Ireland in May 2016 after 5 busy years in London.  After about 15 months of being in Ireland I realised that despite spending a day or two in London most weeks there were loads of people that I no longer saw regularly or even at all … so I made a list.  In that first 2017 list I included for good measure a couple of people I’d never met in real life but thought I would like to meet.  (For completeness they were Ken Perry, Pat Phelan & Sir Tim Smit & the only one I’ve actually met, so far anyway, is Tim Smit).

That was the start of September 2017 & that first list had 36 names on it.  By 31 December 2017 I’d seen 10 of my 36.  Not a great result but nevertheless 10 more people than I’d’ve seen if I hadn’t made the list – back to that old adage about what gets measured is what gets done.

During the Christmas 2017 holidays I made my 2018 #100People list.  My 31 December tally for 2018 was 23/100.  Again not great.  It’s a stretch target I guess!  I’m hoping to do a lot better in 2019.  This year’s list includes 10 people who were on my 2017 and 2018 lists.  These 10 I must see in 2019 and that’s the closest I’ll come to a New Year’s Resolution this year.  (In case anyone’s interested they are Charles Jennings, Donald Clark, Janet Harkin, Alexander Stevenson, Dee Forbes, Shirley Ayres, Paul Clarke, Kersten England and the two people mentioned above that I’ve still never met – Pat Phelan and Ken Perry).

So – for clarity – the people on my list are nearly all business associates; some are friends too but that’s a happy bonus.  They’re all people that I genuinely like and enjoy seeing.  My rationale is that a business network is essentially a live asset that needs to be cared for and given some attention, even fed and watered occasionally.  Sure, you can keep up on LinkedIn and Skype and via social media but that isn’t the same as sitting down for an hour or two for a coffee and a catch up chat.   I always say that everything good that comes my way in my working life comes to me from my network.  I’ve only ever applied formally for one job in a career that’s so far lasted 38 years.  Every single week someone rings me out of the blue to float an idea or a fascinating new opportunity arrives unannounced into my inbox and I believe that’s because I make an effort to stay in touch.  The magic won’t happen unless you’re prepared to put in some time and see people in person, at least occasionally.

Next – over 90% of the people on my 2019 list I didn’t see at all in 2018 and seven of the people on this year’s list I’ve never yet met.  There are a large number of people that I see frequently and none of them are listed.  This list is about people I have to do a little bit extra to see.

A few other friends have so far tried it too.  In 2018 Sinead Crowley, Sharon O’Dea and Amanda Smith all ran a list.  This year it seems to be gaining a bit of momentum (probably down to Sharon O’Dea talking about it on her blog and on Twitter) and I’ve seen a number of people toying with the idea – Giuseppe Sollazzo, Dan Slee, Rachel Murphy, Sarah Lay, Matt Jukes and others.  I’d suggest it’s worth a try if you find the years drift by and there are people you’ve met through work and liked but somehow don’t see anymore.  100 is perhaps ambitious (terrifying? – someone asked me recently if it had to be 100 new people!) so maybe scale back accordingly and don’t forget to include a few people you know online but haven’t actually met in real life.  You can set your own protocols for your list.  On my list this year, in addition to the two “unmets” above I also have Jonathan Huish, Emer Hinphey, Jo Cruse, Allyson Kapin and Deirdre McGlone.  Wish me luck.  Incidentally, I haven’t yet not liked a person in real life that I’ve already known online and I’m hoping to preserve that record.

My 2019 list currently has around 80 names.  I like to leave a few slots for people who “emerge” as the year progresses (mostly people I forgot to include in the first place!) or for people I don’t know about yet.  I’ll post my #100People to Twitter as I see them.  If you decide to give it a try in 2019 I’d love to hear about your own #100People progress.

UPDATE 8 Jan 2019 The blog has started a bit of Twitter interest this week with lots of people saying they’re going to try their own version of #100People in 2019.  One person is starting off with a target of 12 2019 meetings & Rachel Murphy is going to go with her age (40 – how can you even be 40 yet Rachel!!!).  Good luck if you’re giving it a try … although we’ll all struggle to keep up with superwoman Sharon O’Dea who bagged her first in Thailand on 2 Jan …

Twin Twinterviews

The Twinterview is nothing new.  I did my first one for the @IoDNI back in 2013.  Having a limited number of characters in which to answer a sometimes quite complex question is good discipline.  Many of my readers will already know Susan Hayes Culleton – the Positive Economist.  Susan is a Dublin based entrepreneur, a published author, an accomplished speaker & legendary MC & like me a constant traveller, an investor in teenagers and young people, a fellow IIBN board member and a firm supporter of everything #GlobalIrish

Susan and me 1

Susan Hayes & Mary McKenna at the IoD NI conference in March 2018

Susan & I know many of the same people & over the years have made numerous introductions for each other across the globe BUT apart from occasionally speaking at the same events, we’ve never actually worked on anything together.  I was therefore delighted (and I must admit a tad nervous) when Susan contacted me about being the subject of her September Twinterview.  A lot of people enjoyed this live on Twitter but others have mentioned to us since that they missed it – so here’s the text below where we cover startups, collaboration, business failure, career paths, business mistakes, travel & much more.

SUSAN’s TWINTERVIEW WITH MARY:

SH Q1 – What separates startups from scaleups?

MM A1 #Startups in my eyes are still finding their way, seeking their niche, pivoting, testing the water; #scaleups know where they’re going & have the pedal to the floor. Need different animals at the helm as you move from chaos (fun) into order (boredom?)

SH Q2 – What characteristic(s) do you look for in a business collaborator (in the broadest sense of the word)?

MM A2 Collaboration is always where the magic happens, as many big cos are finding in working now with #startups – BUT – identifying collaborators & partners can be one of the trickiest parts of business & can take you from top of the pile straight into court – honesty is a good start

SH Q3 – What connotations do you associate with the term “business failure”?

MM A3 Many, many good people fail in business; the really good ones see that experience as a stepping stone & have another go better equipped next time around. In Ireland failure is seen as negative; not so much in the US. Success in life is more important

SH Q4 – What did you do differently in your 30s in comparison to your 20s when it came to your career?

MM A4 My career path is straightforward but weird – partied right through my 20s (networking?), went back to school in my 30s & qualified as an accountant (shhh – don’t tell anyone), then started my first business at the age of 43 – have never looked back since

Susan and me palace of west

Networking together in 2016 in the Palace of Westminster with people we met in the queue!

SH Q5 – Tell us about one mistake you avoided.

MM A5 It would be easier to tell you about the hundreds of mistakes I’ve made! The one I’ve chosen might be controversial but it’s electing to #bootstrap as a #startup rather than take investment – getting to your own revenue at lightning speed trumps finance (handouts?) every time

SH Q6 – How can hunger for business success turn from aimless energy to a strategic vision?

MM A6 If you’re serious about starting a business you’ll have measurable goals & one day the talking stops & action starts … you have to pee or get off the pot. Never forget that once you’ve thrown that dice it’s v hard to turn back – weigh up if the #entrepreneur life is really for you

SH Q7 – How do you always maintain relevance?

MM A7 Curiosity helps. The tech world moves at pace. I work hard. I network & read constantly. I’m out & about a lot & meet a lot of people – like a shark – always moving & looking for the next interesting snippet – lol. I can’t imagine being behind the times – it’s what I fear most

SH Q8 – Many people would agree (I’m first on that bus!) that you’re a role model. What’s your gut reaction when you hear that?

MM A8 My shyness makes me squirm but then I remember the importance of women & girls having tangible, real, touchable, available role models – especially in #tech & #STEM – & I carry on doing stuff way outside my comfort zone because we are still few – though our numbers are growing

SH Q9 – You travel LOTS and LOTS and LOTS! How do you keep it interesting?

MM A9 I lead a blessed life with lots of variety. Living on Ireland’s #WildAtlanticWay in #Donegal means everywhere involves travel. People are what interest me – people & opportunities. I only wish someone would invent healthy packed lunches for travelling businesswomen. Travel = writing

SH Q10 I agree with you about the healthy lunches! Salad bars, frozen yogurt shops and artisan producers certainly have improved the situation but yes, it’s difficult to be always good!

Complete this sentence: Work Life Balance is….

MM A10 “Work life balance is … sensible & necessary but grossly overrated. Life is life. If you don’t love your work enough then do us all a favour & do something else” And that’s a wrap for today’s Twinterview folks – I hope you enjoyed it as much as @SusanHayes_ & me 🙂

Susan and me 2

At the IIBN conference in Dublin in November 2017

Anyway – we enjoyed that first one so much that we decided a rematch was in order, this time with me posing the questions to Susan.  We were more in the swing of things second time around & had learned from our mistakes – so for the second one we did a bit of advance advertising and we kept all the questions & answers in a single Twitter thread – which made it a lot easier for latecomers to find & read.  In this second Twinterview we cover when you should say yes or no to offers, the place networking plays in business, how to become a published author, how to be an excellent event MC and what it’s really like to work with your husband.  Here we go.

MARY’S TWINTERVIEW WITH SUSAN:

MM Q1 OK – ready to go – You have a lot of plates spinning Susan – author, entrepreneur, pundit, expert MC & more. What’s your personal elevator pitch in your own words?

SH A1 I’m the “Positive Economist”, a speaker that always focuses on what you CAN do, CEO of @becksearch, our evolving knowledge management business that we started this year and co-founder of @savvyteens focusing on careers, communications and confidence in teenagers.

MM Q2 – With such a varied portfolio & skillset, how do you decide what to say Yes to & what to say No to?

SH A2 Starting off, I said yes to everything (like #SavvyWomen) and that was the right thing to do. Today, I say yes to what I feel that we can do really well. I also say yes to what we can learn a lot from or what can be a great experience for our teams. That’s a #GlobalIrish mindset.

MM Q3 Love it Susan – I say Yes to far too much – next question will be interesting for many of our readers – You sometimes work closely with your husband. What are the pros & cons of doing that?

SH A3 Sincerely, it’s all a pro. I’ve always worked with @ArdleCulleton, even before we were going out together. We can share the highs, the lows, the lessons, the achievements. He is my mentor and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our Friday board meetings are my fave time of the week.

MM Q4 Ha! I’ve heard tell of the Fri board meetings with @ArdleCulleton manys a time – Some people say they can see the value of #networking but they don’t have time for it. What’s your view on this? (looking forward to this answer!)

SH A4 There is no such thing as “having time” for it. Networking is building relationships, with your clients, stakeholders, staff, influencers, leads etc. It’s what we do as business people all day every day. It’s not just power breakfasts! I’ve learned a lot from how you’ve done it.

MM Q5 And a related #networking question – Do you have any stories about specific amazing things that have come to you from your network that you can share with us?

SH A5 So, SO many! I will never forget my first @IIBN conference where I met you Mary. That one day launched everything we’ve done in the UK, the work I’ve been privileged to do with @dfat and the #GlobalIrish and the #Brexit event I did in #NY with @maryannpierce. It was lifechanging.

MM Q6 The @IIBN conferences are completely unmissable – the next one is 8/9 Nov in Dublin folks (tickets here) – Susan – a lot of people will be wondering about this – How did your first book deal come about?

SH A6 #PositiveEconomics – the economics textbook was a fellow author’s idea and we rang the four publishers about how to get started. We wrote the “Money & Banking” chapter and by that Christmas, we had a contract! Our next one will be out in 2019. (My experience of #blogging helped).

MM Q7 So pleased you mentioned how #blogging benefited you Susan – here’s a related question that will be of interest to anyone out there who’s thinking about trying to get published – Is it worth the time & pain of becoming a bona fide published author?

SH A7 Absolutely. AB-SO-LUTE-LY. In the case of “The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom”, I wrote it as if I was having a good chat with friends and giving #SavvyWomen some advice. Lots of people have commented since that their reading experience has felt like that #DreamComeTrue

MM Q8 I heard @tulster speak about women’s freedom & knowledge of personal finance at 2017’s #Inspirefest – You’re the best all day conference MC I’ve ever seen Susan. Anyone who attends the @IoDNI conf in Belfast will agree. What are your tips for others hoping to improve?

SH A8 Thank you so much Mary! Be interested … in everybody’s story. Listen hard. Your job as an MC is to be the glue that binds the event together, to be a problem solver and to manage the energy in the room. Put those things right at the centre of your focus.

Susan cartoon

Susan caricatured in March 2018 – it’s pretty good!

MM Q9 And no requirement to be able to compose poetry on the spot! Yes – there’s no doubt prep is everything in business & probably life – here’s the next one – Be the best or it’ll do/it’s good enough – which of these approaches are you most a fan of & why?

SH A9 The latter and then the former. You have to learn, test and tweak by trying a product or service out with real people. No hiding behind useless perfection.  You have to get market research and sometimes that comes in the form of rejection.  After that, it HAS to “be the best”.

MM Q10 Hell yeah – also great advice for software developers – I love your practice mentioned in your #TEDx talk of writing down the biggest achievement of your day so that you can easily look back at progress. Where did you come up with the idea & do you still do it yourself?

SH A10 It’s a variation of something I’ve learned from @brianbuffini. Most progress is incremental and unless we enjoy the small things along the way, our levels of resilience to absorb the tough stuff may not last. I always reflect on serendipity and the actions that really mattered.

MM Q11 Ooh – must check out @brianbuffini – I can’t wait to see your answer to this next one – Do you ever procrastinate & if you do, how do you combat it … or if you don’t, what advice would you give to those that do?

SH A11 I used to until I learned about “tagging”. Tag something that you procrastinate about with something you never question. For example, I have a call with @vveurope every Monday at 4pm and then I started tagging that with going to @DCUSportsWellbe . An exercise habit was formed!

MM Q12 No doubt it’s worth investing time in creating good habits! OK Susan – we’re getting thru these well – You’ve achieved an incredible amount for someone who’s still in their early 30s. But do you have any advice that you’d give to the you of 10 years ago?

SH A12 Expect GREAT things to happen. We often worry about what could go wrong, but my Mam responds to this often with “what if it goes right?”. Synchronicity often has wonderful surprises in store. Work on the small steps and be open to the big ones.

MM Q13 Paying attention & being open will always generate rewards – 3 more questions left – What would you like to be doing in 10 years time?

SH A13 I want my mind to be so much further open, my portfolio of business ideas to be so much further advanced, and my network to be so much more diversified than I could possibly have imagined or dreamed today. The hashtags #SavvyWomen #GlobalIrish should mean so much more by then.

MM Q14 I’m glad you mentioned business expansion – would you like to tell us more about your new venture @BeckSearch

Susan Sinead me

Breakfast in the Westbury Dublin last year with Sinead Crowley

SH A14 I’ve been so fortunate to have had breakfast with you and @Scrowley88, chats with @denisemcquaid, invaluable insights from @irelandinnz and the connectivity of @gaaasia. Person-to-person #km accelerates careers & businesses. I’m passionate about making that happen #WatchThisSpace

MM Q15 Watch this Spaces are my favourite! Last question for you is this Susan & I’m sure anyone who knows you will be wondering the same – Do you ever relax & if so what do you choose to do with your free time (business planning doesn’t count – lol)?

SH A15 I do. I really do because “being kind to yourself” is a true competitive advantage. I love spending time with family and friends. I love to read and immerse myself in international cultures. I love simply being alive and being aware and sharing it with @ArdleCulleton!

MM Exactly the answer I expected to receive from you @SusanHayes_ & I knew that @ArdleCulleton would be the recipient of the last words!

Phew – we covered a lot of ground in those 25 questions.  Some priceless little nuggets in that exchange, even if I do say so myself.

I hope you enjoyed participating in our Twinterviews or reading the transcript if you missed them.  If you’d like Susan or I to help you with anything you know where to find us.  Any questions you have – as usual post them up in the comments & we will do our best to answer.  Thanks everyone!

A Tale of Three Networkers – everything in life & business is about people

all_three

(L-R Rachel Rath, Draven McConville (& Winston), Denise McQuaid)

In this longish read I ask three awesome networkers from my own inner circle to share some of their secrets and to give their opinions on a few of the more controversial aspects of what makes a good networker.

The three are independent film maker and producer Rachel Rath, tech entrepreneur and Klipboard founder/CEO Draven McConville and serial CEO & business strategist Denise McQuaid. All three just happen to be Irish.

Read on if you want to start building your own network or if you just need a bit of validation that the time & effort you’re already putting into networking is going to generate a worthwhile long term return. You may wonder why I chose entrepreneurs and self starters & my rationale is that they’re more likely than most to recognise early doors that there’s no alternative to building a network. There are just too many moving parts involved in creating a successful business to do everything yourself and you just never know when you (or someone else) is going to need a bit of help.

We’ll start with Rachel Rath who has recently returned to Ireland after many years living in Los Angeles. Rachel is an actress, film maker, performance artist, screenwriter, director and comedian.

As a film maker you operate internationally.  How do you go about building a network from scratch when you relocate to a brand new location? 

I’ve lived in Dublin, London, Los Angeles and New York and every move feels like starting over. I find it best to hit the ground running by having coffees with anyone and everyone who will meet me. These contacts usually come recommended by my current network. It’s relatively easy to meet film industry people. I concentrate on attending film markets, festivals, arthouse cinemas and seminars. Sometimes it can be difficult in a new city to hear about good networking opportunities so I create Google Alerts for my niche in each city. If I read in the trades that I’ve missed out on an event that might have been good to attend, I’ll make a calendar entry to make sure that I’m there next year. If I have a dry spell and feel a bit out of touch I search for “film” on the local invite sites, such as Eventbrite or Facebook, and scroll through until I find what looks like a quality opportunity. Before attending a market/festival I will search tags on my social media feeds, e.g. #Sundance, to see if I’m linked with anyone attending and connect with them. I post on social media in advance that I’m going to be attending and that usually spurs connections introducing me to others going too. I also like to get involved in my local community – I sat on the international committee of Women In Film Los Angeles, the board of Irish Equity, founded The Attic Studio, an arts organisation in Dublin, and I currently work with Irish Screen America New York and Los Angeles, so I’m not afraid of hard work and getting stuck in to rallying people together. Each of these networks has kept me inspired and kept bread on my table.

A lot of people choose to make most of their networking effort with other people in the same line of business. Good or bad idea?

It’s easy to get caught up in the comfort of your own circles but variety is certainly best. It’s great to meet people from all walks of life to inspire you and align you with your target markets. You get to hear about projects from their point of view. I really believe in the idea that in life you look for your family, people that are great fun around the barbecue and that you may one day collaborate with. I find art gallery openings great. They are more relaxed and most people are there to appreciate fine surroundings and are more willing to chat. This year I met the most interesting person at an airport – he’s from Belfast and works for Tesco, but is an amateur local historian and was able to give me insight into a project that I’m working on that other official sources didn’t list.

I’ve heard even very sensible people say networking takes up too much time & effort. Is it worth it?

I understand this viewpoint – networking can be exhausting and not all rooms are equal. In any business it takes a collaboration of experts in various fields. If I didn’t get out there and meet people I’d never have met the expert entertainment attorneys, sales agents etc. that are so important to the success of my business. I very much believe in the adage “Just show up.” I met my closest friend at an event I almost didn’t turn up to. For me it’s important that I don’t go to these events with the thought “Tonight I’m going to get that deal.” This causes too much pressure. Yes, it’s important to know what it is that you need and have that short intro pitch ready for the “So what do you do?” question, but, when you attend with a more relaxed attitude you will undoubtedly be easier to talk with and you won’t be seen to be suffering from the rubber neck syndrome – looking around to see if there is someone more important to connect with. I’m choosy about the events I attend though. I will research speakers, the venue, or, check out the attendee list if possible, only because it is easy to suffer burnout in this game. Sometimes it’s OK to allow yourself to take a night off every now and again!

What are your top 3 “rules” or tips to pass on to others Rachel?

  1. Look out for the brave soul who’s at the event on their own – you’ll recognise them as they’re the ones lit by the glow of their mobile phone screen. They are there to network too. Assuming they don’t look like a crazy person, say “Hi”.
  2. Have a business card that can be written on so your new contacts can make notes about meeting you.
  3. Be a gracious networker. If someone gives you their pitch and then another person joins you, pitch the first person you met to the new person. They will love you forever for it.

My next interviewee is Draven McConville, founder & CEO of London based software company Klipboard, a job he says is a privilege to have the opportunity to do.  Draven originally comes from Northern Ireland but these days lives in London. He loves art, travel, architecture & anything design & is a total car & motorcycle fanatic – he rides a Harley to work every day with a Miniature Dachshund called Winston in a backpack! (see the photo above – well – what did you expect from my friends).

We first met when you were thinking about moving from Northern Ireland to London.  What are your top tips for anyone else in the same situation?

Moving to London was always on my radar and eventually my business presented the opportunity to allow me to do so. The biggest challenge for me was arriving in a city where I didn’t know anyone. I put this down to not having gone to university where I would have begun the basis of a network with people that may also have ventured to London for their career. That said, I think anybody moving from Northern Ireland is going to find it difficult settling in London even if they know a few people, so building a network for support is important. With that in mind I had to begin grass roots networking again and what I mean by that is starting at the bottom and working your way through. My top tips are:

  1. The day does not end at 5.30pm. This is London and there is always an event to go to, get out there and go to them. Don’t be picky about the event, just make sure it is of some interest to you as that increases your possibility of meeting like-minded people. It doesn’t have to be business related. I don’t build business connections, I build friendships with my network.
  2. Be prepared to work hard, I had 23 meetings in my first week of living in London.
  3. You need to build trust, don’t expect people to make connections with you instantly. Be visible, reliable and importantly add value, no matter how small or big it may be.  This is a big city and it’s fast moving with a transient population so people typically lack time which therefore means building connections is not as easy as in Northern Ireland.

You’re an entrepreneur Draven.  Has networking helped you find investors for your business & if so how?

Great question! Simple answer is YES, with doubt networking helped me find investors for my business. I have 7 angels and a Private Equity fund based in Seattle that have invested $2 million to date into my business. There is no way that I would have had the opportunity to have these investors in my business if I had not networked. Investors really do work on a “referral” basis and not on a cold approach. My network helped me to get that warm referral approach. How? you ask.  I can give you the exact story and moment it happened for me.

I was at Somerset House meeting with some executives from Channel 4. After the meeting finished I was exhausted but instead of going home I went to a book launch across the courtyard in Somerset House. Within two minutes of arriving (and bumping into yourself and saying hello!) I got chatting to a guy. The conversation was fairly general and lasted no longer than 20 minutes. At the end of it he gave me his business card and at that point I noticed his surname. It was the same surname as another gentleman who’d been in my office a few weeks prior, so I said to him and he laughed and said it was a family relative. What was more amazing was that this tweaked his memory and he then told me his family relative had actually mentioned me to him – it helps having a strange first name!

We both went off on our separate paths but then later in the evening he came back and asked for his business card back. I joked by asking had we fallen out already! He wrote two names and email addresses on the card and told me to contact them. I didn’t ask why, I just did it the next day. I met those people and also continued to meet him over the course of 6 months for coffee and catch-ups. There were many more moments in this growing relationship but long story short, the day I told him I had a software product to release he sat up intently, listened and within an hour he had formulated a group of people I “must” meet. Those people are now my Chairman and group of investors.

Moral of the story…. be curious, explore opportunities.

Is it about quantity or quality of people?

Quality 100% for me. My network is expansive and not limited to entrepreneurs or high flying corporate executives, that’s not what is important to me. What is important is that I have conversations with my network that inspire, encourage and challenge my mind; those conversations only happen if you have good quality and like minded individuals in your network. I have high net worth individuals and a couple of billionaires in my network but I have just as interesting a conversation with the guy that serves me my coffee every morning.

He shares some fascinating stories and insight with me daily plus most people wouldn’t have the first idea of how well connected he is until they get to know him. One morning I was getting my coffee he told me to come back at lunch to meet his friend, I didn’t ask who, I just turned up. Not naming names, his friend was one of the most important British architects of our time. Why did he do that? He knew I loved architecture so connected us and that connection has not only benefitted me in a business sense but also a personal sense. The guy that serves me coffee knows the art of real networking.

I heard someone say at a recent conference that she goes through her network once a year & carries out a cull.  I’d be far too scared to do that as many of my best opportunities have come to me from my “loose” ties.  What’s your view?

Absolutely not! I’ve connected with the individuals in my network for a reason and engaged in conversations with them, therefore they have value to me and hopefully I have value to them. I think in her case she may just be connecting to everyone and anyone which goes back to the quality versus quantity question. One thing most people forget is that your connections have their own connections. If I was to cull one of my connections I’m potentially culling hundreds more therefore limiting any potential opportunities.

Last but not least we have Denise.  Denise is a close friend of mine & someone I admire immensely.  She describes herself as having a massive sense of curiosity about people, places, culture and technology. She loves networking, meeting new people and is inspired daily by brave and passionate entrepreneurs. She is passionate about the emerging technologies that affect us all whether we like it or not! and is fervent about women having the right to an education, a place at the board room table, diverse and inclusive workplaces and female founders gaining investment. Denise has worked and lived in the US, Ireland, China and she now calls London home.

You’re a legendary networker Denise with an international black book to die for.  I’ve lost count of the number of people we’ve introduced each other to but I bet you know the number as I know you have your own networking methodology.  Are you willing to share it with us?

Only for you Mary!

I’ve lived in the US, Ireland, China and now London and as my network grew I initially used LinkedIn. At the start I could nurture my relationships with this tool alone but as my relationships with my network developed I felt LinkedIn wasn’t enough, I felt I needed to add another layer.

As I was building my network across geographies, industries, personal interest areas through to areas that feed my curiosity I couldn’t manage it efficiently with LinkedIn alone. One thing that I felt very strongly about was remembering who introduced me, where the connection came from, was it a direct introduction, was the connection made at an event or through a network, if they were nurtured online or if I found them on LinkedIn and reached out.

I’m not sure what exactly drove me to do this but I was curious to know how my network was building. Knowing where the relationship started helped me to add more value, people also appreciate when I remember where we met and it also allows me to understand my networking habits, what was working for me and areas that I needed to develop.

As my network continued to grow, I added areas of interest to those connections, what drives them, what they’re passionate about not only in a work capacity but in their personal lives too which leads to more fruitful connections and my ability to add support and value to those connections on more than one level.

I now have a little personal CRM system which I review continuously, who’s moved job, who has added to their interests, who I haven’t seen for a coffee and a catch up and ultimately it allows me to understand how I can support my network further.

Doing this has given me a stronger network, unbelievable friendships, amazing opportunities and overall it’s given me the ability to give back, push forward and continue to build my network.

Random Linkedin requests – accept or delete?

My answer to accept or delete is that it depends! Mutual benefit is what I underpin my decision with.

But what I would state to anyone starting to develop their network online is don’t send blank requests, stop now if you do! It’s extremely lazy.

My working practice is as follows:

If I receive blank LinkedIn requests and if I don’t see the mutual value, I delete them. I feel very passionately that relationships only work if there is benefit on both sides and I don’t have time to discover what the benefit is if it’s not obvious. You shouldn’t need to be a mind reader or have psychic powers! This may sound harsh but London moves at speed and the volume of requests I receive is extensive and therefore blank requests with no obvious benefit don’t deserve any of my time.

But if I feel there is mutual benefit once I have reviewed the person’s LinkedIn profile and yet the message is blank I write back to them and ask what it was that triggered their request. I give people 48 hours to respond. I do invest the time in responding and this has led to some wonderful conversations, connections and opportunities. If people don’t respond I just delete them!

If people cannot take the time to introduce themselves and explain their reason for linking I don’t believe they will become a valuable connection where there is benefit on both sides.

When you worked at Enterprise Ireland’s London office a few years ago, what were the top mistakes you saw people or companies make when trying to establish themselves in a new city?

I feel very strongly that when entering a new market, you need to look like you are committed to that market, not dropping in and flying out again. My number one piece of advice is not to arrive at a networking event with your trolley case! People will invest time and energy in helping you if they know you are committed to the market. If they feel you are just dropping in and not valuing the time they’re giving you, they’ll turn their attention elsewhere. I appreciate entering a new market is an expensive process and people cannot be here for days but you must look committed and engaged in developing your network.

My second piece of advice would be, be very specific with your ask. Don’t waste people’s time.

Thirdly, if people are generous enough with their network make sure you respect it and follow up. I believe if you’re asking for introductions and connections understand that they didn’t come easily. They have taken many networking events, many late evenings to build and nurture, so respect who is making the introduction and who you have been introduced to. If I don’t believe the person will respect the introduction I don’t make it.

Last but not least, be aware of the colour you wear when networking, I try to wear a bold colour when networking, it makes it easy for people to point at you and say you should speak to Denise across a crowded room! Be seen even if networking doesn’t come easy to you the introductions and approaches will come.

How do you deal with that “Can I buy you a coffee & pick your brain” request?

I must admit I used to be much more generous with my time for these requests until I got burned and stopped! I will only now meet someone for a coffee of this nature if they have been introduced to me from within my network. I don’t take coffee from LinkedIn requests. If people really want to meet you they will find someone to introduce them. This approach has given me a lot of time back!

I feel so passionately about networking, connections and developing relationships, my approach may seem extreme and at times harsh but I am proud to say I can pick up the phone to all my Linkedin connections and have amazing relationships.

So – a few common themes throughout all three sets of answers and a lot of similarities to my own networking approach (including Denise’s answer on the coffee/pick your brain thing).  Be curious, look outside of your usual gang, do your homework in advance, actually go to events, it’s about quality of connections not quantity, put in the time and energy, add value to others, always follow up on introductions others make for you, pay attention, be gracious, be visible, take the odd night off! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog & if you did, please do share it with your own network. As always, I look forward to any comments you may have.

“Success to me is being able to look in the mirror & know I’m OK”

Lemn and Callie

Lemn Sissay with MOMO Ambassador Callie

The quote above was how Lemn Sissay (poet, playwright, author, broadcaster) opened his keynote at the Mind of My Own (MOMO) conference in Birmingham earlier this month.  I’d been looking forward to hearing him speak again.  I first came across Lemn when he spoke at the Houses of Parliament TEDx back in 2013 – worth a listen whatever your interests.  There were a lot of outstanding speakers that day but he was the one I enjoyed the most – authentic, passionate & with a real story that he needed to tell & which deserved to be heard.

Lemn and MaryMOMO is a fast growing tech for good company that makes it easier for children & young people to express their views & feelings to the people that work with them and the conference was a mix of social workers, care leavers, young people still in care, local authority officers and other interested parties.

Lemn describes himself as a black Mancunian care leaver, although he also wears many, many more hats, including being the current elected Chancellor of the University of Manchester for a 7 year stint.  He talked to us on the day about the reality of being a young person in care concentrating mainly on the aspects of family life that young people in care miss out on – the constant reinforcements that happen in every family – and the effect this has on them as adults.  What are you going to do when you grow up? When are you going to get a job? Are you going to university? Where are you going to university? When are you getting married?  All the stuff that the rest of us remember hating being asked every day by our extended families when we were growing up. Through that consistent and constant questioning and power of suggestion we learn to improvise and this is something that’s missing from the lives children lead in care.  His own personal story is a heartbreaking one, but it’s one that we listen to and hear because he has a platform from which to tell it.

Closing the gap

Lemn Sissay keynoteI can’t in this blog replicate the passion & authenticity of Lemn’s keynote, although it was filmed so the link will soon be available on the MOMO website if anyone would like to watch it.  I can however collect some thoughts around his key theme which was how to “close the gap” between children in care & everyone else. When you think about it like this, how can it be beyond the collected brain power of all the people that work in and are connected to the care system to make it better and in doing so improve the adult lives of care leavers. He suggested that we need to find a way to fill the hole that’s created by not having an extended family, because even though all families are dysfunctional, they play an important part in turning us into fully formed adults. He described how on his first day back in care aged 12 having been fostered out since a baby, his social worker told him how he couldn’t get emotionally involved in all his cases or he’d have a nervous breakdown. The foster family he’d spent the previous 11 or 12 years with cut off all contact with him.

He talked about how later when he lived in a children’s home with 15 other adolescents, there were 16 red boxes with glass to be broken in case of an emergency.  If a box was broken, the process kicked off & the institution sprang into action – but there still wasn’t anyone who could give him a hug.  Nobody thanked them for not breaking the glass on a daily basis but everybody understood what to do when the glass was broken – “the keys are jingling, the process is in place, the reviews are done”.  The stark reality is that no-one judges their own children by their behaviour, good or bad, on any given day – but that was how Lemn & the other 15 young people were judged.  They lived in an unemotional structure that operated along the lines of “if you do or don’t do this or that then X will happen to you” and they were constantly reminded of how far they had to fall.

Good news for Lemn personally

Lemn Yvonne Jill Mary

Lemn with MOMO co-founders Yvonne Anderson & Jill Thorburn (photo credit Rob Freeman)

Lemn’s own story is a famous one & one that I won’t cover here but the good news is he now has a fully dysfunctional family of his own, just like more or less everybody else, and whilst he hasn’t yet figured out how to make birthdays better for young people in care he is tackling Christmas day for care leavers and you can find out more about how that works here if you’d like to get involved.  Christmas dinners began in 2012 and last year happened on Christmas day itself in 12 cities. Thanks Lemn for the great work you do and for caring about what happens to other people and speaking out.

I realise this is a topic that many people choose not to think about outside of fiction – Harry Potter, Superman, David Copperfield, James Bond, Spiderman, Lisbeth Salander, Pippi Longstocking – but in 2017 there were over 70,000 children and young people in care in England & Wales alone.  Surely between us we can come up with some creative ways to improve their lives.