Bill Liao

A blog about pride…


Last night I attended the awards evening for SeedComp 2011 – a Digital Derry initiative to uncover the North West of Ireland’s most promising digital business ideas.  The process has been ongoing since late March & has resulted in 30 or so new business ideas emerging.  This type of competition is a fabulous way for any town to encourage & promote some innovation & entrepreneurialism.  The overall prize kitty last night was £10,000 and included a £1,000 prize for the most promising student idea – so it’s a very cost effective way to get some ideas moving in your community & get especially your young people thinking about starting their own businesses.  Most brand new ideas only need a tiny amount of money to get started.  We’re lucky to have our own Digital Champion, Mark Nagurski, in Derry to come up with competitions like this and then put in the hard graft to make them a success.  Definitely worthwhile if your town doesn’t already do something like this.

12 fledgling ideas were shortlisted at the start of May and the new promoters presented yesterday.  The judging panel included some tech industry veterans, one of Facebook’s senior executives, a couple of local entrepreneurs and a (friendly) VC.  A terrifying prospect and indeed one of the competitors shared with me at last night’s event that although he’s presented to both Steven Spielberg and James Cameron in his career so far, he was more nervous going into the room yesterday.

It was therefore with great pride that Paul & I witnessed our very own Breda Doherty pick up a prize as part of her new venture with her business partner Catherine Morris.  An all girl geek team.  What could ever be nicer?  Breda & Catherine met on the Invest NI/Digital Circle funded mission to this year’s SXSW event in Austin, Texas (thanks Matt!) and they’ve wasted no time in coming up with a new business idea & putting together a plan.  Their new idea has elements of the passion of the original Craigslist (Breda interviewed Craig Newmark at SXSW) and it uses Bill Liao’s homespun advice on marketing messages (Breda interviewed Bill in Washington DC); I’m hoping their relentless execution against plan will show that Breda has maybe even learned something from Paul & me along the way (good stuff only Breda!).  She’s certainly a different person today than the one who walked into the Learning Pool office in April 2008 to bring order to the chaos that existed at that time – more self confident, more informed about technology and investment, more assertive, more aware of how to get things done, more experienced, more of an all rounder…but still as sweet, still as stylish and still universally loved by her school chums, the whole of team lovely, our entire customer base and basically anyone who ever meets her.

Go Breda & Catherine – we’re all rooting for you & we can’t wait to see where this takes you.

Addendum to this blog (11 June 2011)

A few people have asked me why Paul & I are so supportive of one of our own star team members thinking about starting her own business…hmm…being a small business owner isn’t just about finding people & extracting your pound of flesh from them over the time they work for you.  It’s also about adding to your local community & giving back where you can, providing careers & challenge for your people and equipping them with the skills they need to go on & do something else.  Learning Pool is 5 years old this summer and we are lucky to have a high performing star team that’s the envy of many other companies.  But after 3 years in a job, people are entitled to try their hand at something else and if they go on to take a stab at being an entrepreneur themselves, Paul & I see that as a perfect 10 scored for ourselves – our work is done & we’ve achieved one of the things we set out to. 

The other day a local entrepreneur I met at a lunch told me how he’d had someone come in to arrange the desks in his company so that everyone could see each others screens – his reason for doing that – so that no-one would be on Facebook during the hours of 9-5.  What did I do – I just sighed a bit to be honest.  He wasn’t interested in what I had to say anyway.  Old fashioned companies with old fashioned opinions – think on.  Your days are probably numbered.


Pitching for investment any time soon? – some dos and don’ts


Yesterday I was part of the IntertradeIreland Seedcorn judging panel chaired by Intertrade’s CEO Liam Nellis – that’s a photo of the two of us taken last week on the steps in Stormont.  Also on the panel were’s Terry Clune, Xing’s Bill Liao & e-synergy’s Fergus McIlduff.  Over the course of the day we watched 6 pitches as if we were an investment panel, then scored the companies & selected winners to go through to the next stage of the competition.

I thought whilst it was in my head – because I know a lot of my friends & associates are entrepreneurs who are no doubt entering these sorts of competitions or pitching for investment – I would scribble out a few dos & don’ts for anyone that’s interested:

·         Work hard to distil your value proposition & get it out there early in your preso – remember that the investment or judging panel will be seeing loads of companies, often in a short space of time

·         If you have a tangible product & have brought samples, pass them round early in your pitch

·         If you turn up with a colleague, which is a good idea, only one of you pitch – it hardly ever works to try & share the pitch between you so let the person who’s best at presenting do it; also do try & behave as if you are a team

·         Don’t ramble & do stick to your allotted time – it’s annoying when people go over time because they either haven’t rehearsed enough or because they spend too long telling you irrelevant stuff

·         Use some pictures or graphics in your presentation to bring it to life

·         Don’t use a video that’s longer than a minute

·         If you’re very early stage, think about your sales and marketing plan – it isn’t enough to state the market opportunity – you need a go-to-market plan that hangs together

·         Don’t argue with the panel – it just makes you look bad

·         Be honest when answering questions

·         Know your numbers back to front and the assumptions behind them – expect to get asked about anything that isn’t self explanatory

·         If you’re referring to high level numbers in your presentation, make sure you have identified what they are – are they £s, people, units

·         Include some innovation – you don’t have to be an inventor – it might just be something unusual about your business model or your presentation that makes you stand out

·         Keep your pitch consistent with any business plan you’ve already submitted

·         Finally – don’t use corny or gimmicky presentation techniques unless you are very certain of your delivery capabilities – they can be excruciating to watch (think Angelcot woman on Dragon’s Den insisting on singing…)

I know there’s a lot out there about this stuff for entrepreneurs but I thought I’d take 5 minutes out to share my take – interested in your comments so keep ‘em coming.