14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E21 – Andrew Mullaney, Ex Co-Founder & CTO NewsWhip – from Darkness springs Opportunity – 1 of 3

Andrew Mullaney on 14 Minutes of SaaS with Stephen Cummins

E21 – Andrew Mullaney, Ex Co-Founder & CTO NewsWhip – from Darkness springs Opportunity – 1 of 3

This is the first of a 3 part mini-series with Andrew Mullaney, former CTO & Co-founder of NewsWhip, a service that tracks how billions of people engage with stories. After chatting at Futurescope in Dublin’s International Convention Centre, Andrew and Stephen Cummins popped over to NewsWhip’s offices to do this interview. Very soon afterwards, Andrew left NewsWhip, and went backpacking around the world to plot a new startup. This episode includes reflections on whether working for a large consultancy helps one as an entrepreneur, why Andrew gave away a startup, as well as the origins of NewsWhip and analysing content engagement. “When it’s dark, that’s just when it’s the greatest opportunity …. I still think somebody who’s been in consultancy, which is a very structured career you must remember … I do think that if they’re able to convert themselves and be okay with the complete mania, I mean not even unstructured – but the sheer mania that is setting up a business, then they can survive very well. And I know some people who have left Accenture and followed a similar path to me and have been extremely successful. But it’s not for everybody.” Andrew is now back in Dublin and launching himself into a new startup.

Transcript

Andrew Mullaney

0:00 You know, when it’s dark, it’s just when it’s the greatest opportunity … when it seems to be nothing  …. because that’s when you’ve been hiking through the desert for two years, you’ve got absolutely nothing – but you don’t realise it … and with NewsWhip from the start we were able to make it happen so much faster … I mean within two months of NewsWhip starting  we were further than Easydeals had ever gotten – in the fact that we had investment and we had media coverage. It just it really can kick into gear then.

Stephen Cummins

 

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

0:51This is the first of a 3 part mini-series with Andrew Mullaney, former CTO and Co-founder of NewsWhip. – service that tracks how billions of people engage with stories, After meeting at Futurescope we made our way over to NewsWhip’s HQ here in Dublin, and not long after we spoke actually Andrew left and went backpacking around the world to plot, a new startup involving the application of AI to the world financial services. This episode includes reflections on whether working for a large consultancy helps one as an entrepreneur, why Andrew gave away a start-up and we’ll talk about NewsWhip of course as well.

1:32 Hey, Andrew great to have you here on 14 Minutes of SaaS.

Andrew Mullaney

1:36 Delighted to be here thank you Stephen.

 

Stephen Cummins

 

1:38 Give us a brief account of your life story up until the founding of this amazing company that we’re in here now, NewsWhip

Andrew Mullaney

1:46 Certainly, yeah. So when I was younger I had quite an international youth. We lived in many countries like America and Saudi Arabia and then I came back to secondary school here – boarding school and Blackrock college – where I was for six years. And then after that I did a degree in electronic engineering. Nice difficult degree, but definitely worth it. I followed it by a Masters in management science. And then I went to get my first job which I got in Accenture. I stayed there for 18 months. I had the bug all along to go out and do something. And then they were actually going into a big recession and they were doing some redundancies and I took the opportunity and set up a start-up called Easydeals which was a locations based deals platform that didn’t succeed. And then moved on to Newswhip afterwards.

 

Stephen Cummins

 

2:44 So, you mentioned that you were in a consultancy, Accenture, one of the biggest in the world … I was just thinking of the Samwer brothers building Rocket Internet in Berlin, a very successful started factory. And they have a formula for building companies where they pull people from Deloitte, McKinsey, Accenture and put them into a start-up. Do you feel that consultancy background that you had stood you well for the entrepreneurial career?

Andrew Mullaney

3:12 I’m one way yes and in one way no. I still think somebody who’s been in consultancy, which is a very structured career you must remember … and some people gravitate towards that …. I do think that if they’re able to convert themselves and be okay with the complete mania, I mean not even unstructured but mania that is setting up a business. Then they can survive very well. And I know some people who have left Accenture and followed a similar path to me and have been extremely successful. But it’s not for everybody and, you know, some people do pick companies for the predictability, for the career structure, for the career ladder. And if that’s why you’re in an organization like that, then a startup is not the place for you. In my case it was all of those things that frustrated me about working in a big company. And that’s what excited me about going. The training and the learning that you get from business and particularly in consultancy, because you can go to different businesses and you’re generally being brought into the problems within businesses … so you can see where there’s problems to be solved, and how to solve them.

Stephen Cummins

 

4:24 Yeah. And going back to first start-up that you had which was the precursor of Easydeals.ie. How was that experience for?

Andrew Mullaney

4:37. Quite funny actually, yeah. I mean, I think I actually gave it away to a guy when I met him at a meeting. The site did quite well – quite a lot of traffic. I think we were getting like 400K uniques a month, which for an Irish site was pretty strong. It was very hard to make money out of it. And it was just a different world back then from the point of view of startups in Ireland. And there was no support structure’s really – we were just navigate blind. I learned to everything. I mean I learned everything and it was tough. So no, it’s not going anymore. I met a guy at a Google meet-up actually and he was in the deals space and I said ‘God you poor thing you’.  And he said ‘But you had a great site’. I said ‘Here … you can have it if you want.’ So I gave it to him. I’m not sure if was the lead balloon or if it was a help … but yeah I think he diverted the traffic onto his site, and hopefully gave him a boost.

Stephen Cummins

5:32 You say you learned everything and it’s interesting you say that. I recently interviewed a guy called Kolton Andrus, the founder of Gremlin. They basically break systems and fix them for big companies to make them stronger … but he talks about having done the operations, the HR, the sales, the customer success …. How widely did you spread yourself?

Andrew Mullaney

5:58Oh, yeah. We were small. I think in Easydeals we had maybe 3 people I think … maybe 4 people at one point. It was a small company. I would say to founders that everyone’s okay with failure until you actually go through it. I was okay with it, but it’s a lot harder to actually go through it. You know you spend 3 years of your life really trying to build something and then you go ‘It’s time to shut down. This thing does not work’. And actually if I learned anything, it’s probably that you need to keep your standards high – apropos what you’re going to continue investing your time into. It’s very easy to become emotionally connected to all the work and… and keep on trying to fight the fight. But        when you step away from a business that isn’t working, you kinda get this massive [sense of] liberation and you get to download all the information. You’ve got a much better network and opportunities present and that’s really …. as I say to friends that I’m advising …’When it’s darkest is when it’s the greatest opportunity ..  like when it seems to be nothing …. because that’s when you’ve been hiking through the desert for 2 years, you’ve got absolutely nothing. You don’t realize it … you’ve built up way more than when you left Accenture say for example, we you’ve nothing because everything was under the guise of your professional career. Whereas when you’re 2 years out in the jungle, you actually started to learn and meet people – you know things and can make things happen. and… and with NewsWhip from the start we were able to make it happen so much faster … I mean within two months of NewsWhip starting  we were further than Easydeals had ever gotten – in the fact that we had investment and we had media coverage. It just it really can kick into gear then.

Stephen Cummins

7:40 Cool. And today NewsWhip is a social discovery and content analytics platform that tracks and predicts engagements in the world news and social feeds. But how did you work out from the start? …how to create something like that and how to understand who might pay for that?

Andrew Mullaney

7:59 Yeah. I mean it’s kind of again a bit like the previous one, you never know what’s going to succeed. And then in NewsWhip, I have been involved in two distinct start-ups but the amount of pivots and mini-pivots and product launches that I’ve been involved in is numerous, because there’s only one way … It’s experimentation, measure, reiterate and from the personal perspective you need to be totally okay with that failure paid – mini-failures, large failures … because actually where you gain the learning. So we started out as a consumer play – we were a website initially, and then we wanted to be an app where people would read news and we had a reasonable amount of success doing that. It kinda looked a bit like Easydeals from the point of view of traffic numbers and growth … and it was kind of like ‘okay, this is great’. But it was global so tha was the main thing I was looking for in that second startup. But, you know, making money off something like that is just tremendously difficult. And the strategy was always to enable the journalists to push our website. That’s what we thought they would do and it kind of works like  .. They used it, but they just didn’t tell anyone else they used it. So we couldn’t get get it into the viral loops we’d set.

But we had quite a lot of nice press coverage. I remember we got some BBC coverage from the technology show – from a from a generous journalist and she was a big fan. And then we just realized wait, this could be our customers and rather than trying to get hundreds of millions of view or impressions every day, lets just get a couple of 100 customers – like a normal business, and lets charge them. And then we pivoted, I think after about two years maybe. A pivot takes about a year. We we’re juggling both for a while and, fortunately the journalists really liked the product and that’s where we started out. We still continue to, you know, alter our offering for different markets. And that’s what you always have to do.

Stephen Cummins

10:01 And would media companies like NewsCore and BBC and Buzzfeed still be the bigger part of your business … or are the Reeboks and the Mastercards now just as big?

Andrew Mullaney

10:13 I mean by volume the bigger market is media still, but that’s probably more because of the history. The growth side is bigger on the brands and the PR side. And, you know, their budgets are bigger and it’s a slightly different use case. So we do have to tailor their product – news is much faster and it’s more high volume …whereas the PR and agencies are a bit more of a step back, so that’s where the analytical viewpoint or strategic viewpoint is. Some product differentiation is there but, you know, very strong customers with the likes of Edelman and Reebok as you mentioned there.

Stephen Cummins

10:47 What’s your vision for NewsWhip over the next 3 to 5 years?

Andrew Mullaney

10:52 So, I mean we’re a content intelligence platform. We want to understand why people engage with content. That’s moved from what used to be a bit of a madman exercise …. probably now it’s billions of people engaging with content across the world and, you know, it’s a very rapidly moving environment. From my perspective what makes it interesting is that it’s a technology game. So yeah, the vision is to really describe what’s the science of content, what’s behind it, what drives people to share it … and provide that to our customers so that we can shape better stories and empowered storytellers.

Stephen Cummins

11:33 Cool. Mark Little has cofounded Neva Labs [now Kinzen] with Aine Kerr. Their mission to empower individuals who want to take control of their news experience to build in some trust metric associated with the sources of the media. What you think of that project.

Andrew Mullaney

11:49 Yeah. I mean it’s great. There’s a problem like … which is a filter bubbles, right? You know, and we all have them as positive reinforcement biases. And they were there before social networks. You know, this is becoming incredibly apparent with social networks. It’s measurable but it’s also kind of somewhat algorithmically reinforced – not by the intention of anyone, but just because people gravitate to people who are similar to them. And so, you know, I hope we all want to be conscientious news reading citizens. Maybe not everybody, but certainly a fair percentage of people are. It’s getting harder to actually find trustworthy content sources. And I think if we can build products and technology that can, you know, somewhat pre-qualify the people involved in news, pre-qualify the people sharing or are involved in creating ecosystems of high quality content. I really think there’s a huge opportunity there.

Stephen Cummins

12:50 And can on the consumer end, can you see people starting to pay for that, if it’s done well?

Andrew Mullaney

12:56  That’s a tough question. You know … I’ve talked to Mark about that. And the only way you’ll answer it is by trying it and, and I’m sure they’ll try it. Then it depends, you know …. a lot of customers are starting to pay for news now that people realize that you don’t get high quality stuff for free, so you gotta pay for stuff. And then there’s the problem that you can only subscribe to one or two because you might not be able to afford it. So I don’t think everybody’s gonna pay for news. I would still think it would be the minority, but I still think a huge amount of people will pay for it and that can make for a very interesting business.

Stephen Cummins

13:39 In the next episode Andrew talks about why his dear old Dublin is a great place to start a business, lets us into a secret – the one question he will always ask an interviewee … and talks about that old chestnut of whether or not we should become comfortable with failure.

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thank you to Ketsu for music provided under a creative commons license. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

14 Minutes of SaaS