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Dermot Casey – The Daily Kick in the Head

“The daily kick in the head” is what we used to call it back in the Storyful days. It is the singular experience of the earliest stages of any startup. Our first full week working on Storyful was amazing. We had meetings with Nokia who agreed to fund an idea for a project which would enable us to build and test some key pieces of technology. We met with this great tech team who were going to build the core of our technology system for us. We started to refine our business plan and work out options on some fundraising.

Every week after, involved setback, knocks and frustration, and they became so frequent that Storyful Founder Mark Little dubbed them “The Daily Kick in The Head”.

I would describe this as the unique experience of an early stage startup. It is the knowing looks and nods that founders and founding teams give each other when they talk about the experience of being in a startup at that earliest stage. I listened to a wonderful talk the other day from Mary McKenna who told a number of startups “no one can explain to you how hard the first two years of working in a startup are”.

Many years ago when I first got engaged my brother asked me the question “how do you know when someone is THE ONE”. My explanation at that point was very simple “when you know, you know. It’s not something that I can explain” A few years later he quoted me in his wedding speech saying he now knew what I meant. Working in the early stages of a startup is similar. It’s almost impossible to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s also very different because it doesn’t always involve the happy ever after most people dream of.

I can explain lots about the early stage of a startup. I can tell you how the deal we thought we had concluded with Nokia, dragged on and on and on and on. Eventually dragging on from January to August by which point when they finally came back to us and said we’re ready to go we said “We’ve moved on, it’s too late”. And we had moved on. We’d dropped the idea of building MyLittleEye a sort of pre-instagram photo sharing app. But we’d had months of frustration in the meantime, lots of wasted time working with Nokia thinking we were “almost there” (Always remember the deals are not done till the cash is in your hand).

I can tell you how we launched our first beta product over a bank holiday weekend after nearly driving the development team to despair by changing several things at the last minute (especially going from open to closed beta after taking some really bad advice from a potential investor). I can tell you about the “tyre-kicking” investors who drained months of our time and never really had any intention of investing. I can tell you about having to lose the development team we were working with because we didn’t have any more cash to pay them. An amazing and talented bunch of guys they were working on a little side project that has gone on to become one of the best Irish startups of the last 20 years called Intercom.

I could tell you all of these stories and many more, but entertaining as they may be unless you experience them, they are impossible to understand. There is no real way for someone to understand the feeling of pulling your car into the side of the road at 7am on your way to the office to dry heave as you’re trying to figure out how the hell you’re going to cover salary for a dozen people that month if you haven’t gone through it or something similar. You can’t really understand trying not to tell your wife not only haven’t you taken any salary for a few months, you’ve almost maxed out €10,000 on your credit card to cover company debt while waiting for investment, if you haven’t gone through it.

So why do it? Why would anyone be mad enough to do a startup? Why given the daily kick in the head would anyone start a technology company?  Clearly for the money, right?

No. I think anyone who focusses on the pot of gold isn’t cut out for this in the first place. Startups suit pioneers. People who have a creative mind and are pathfinders, people who are happy with experimentation and exploration and using gut experience. People who want to make a dint in the universe and in some way change it and make it better. And while I talked about the daily kick in the head I didn’t talk about the highs, the feeling that happens when you create something out of nothing and you find a customer for it and you build and create on top of it. There are few feelings like it in the world.  And I didn’t talk about the people, the incredible people you meet and work with along the way. And I didn’t talk about the impact on yourself. For better and for worse you’re not the same person afterwards. A mind expanded by new ideas and experiences never returns to its original dimensions.

As well as the daily kick in the head there are lots of very good reasons to startup.


Dermot Casey is a Venture Investment Leader in NDRC and also lectures in the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. He was previously COO and CTO of Storyful.


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