Entrepreneurs are not entitled to anything

After leaving a comment on my buddy’s blog (the fantastic Pat Phelan), I thought it was worth posting it here as I feel quite strongly about this subject. In short, the debate is about the lack of support from the Irish Government when it comes to supporting startups’ attendance to industry conferences.

Read Pat’s blog post here

My thoughts

I agree governments (not just the Irish one, but others too as they’re all the same wherever you go) should do more to help small businesses – especially during the troubled times.

However, I think too many entrepreneurs feel ‘entitled’ to hand-outs in the form of grants and conference subsidies. It would be nice to be on the receiving end but there are so many conferences around the world it’s impossible to send everyone to every conference that ‘they’ feel is appropriate. I also think too many of them feel entitled to investment. Out of interest, I’d like to know how many entrepreneurs closed deals on the basis of partnerships and clients that will generate revenue, or investment. Setting aside the usual helpful networking and rubbing shoulders…

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to focus on generating revenue and use that to pay for events such as TC50 if they are that important. Personally I think most conferences are of limited benefit to startups. I’ve been to TC50 on a freebie thanks to the organizers and I really enjoyed hanging out with the usual suspects – but I didn’t close anything that generated more revenue for any of my businesses. That’s not to say it’s the same for everyone – but I bet the percentage of those who really benefited is/will be tiny.

Have you really got value for money from industry conferences?

Comments  Join the discussion

  1. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Michele said...

    I’d agree with you.

    I’d like to see governments and banks etc., being more willing to work with startups, but I don’t see why people should be given a free lunch.

    I’ve been to quite a few conferences both in Ireland, the UK, USA and elsewhere over the last couple of years.

    To start with, the best ones didn’t cost anything to attend.

    I got sales leads at most of them, but not all of them. In many cases the contact network helps make doing business easier, but it might not actually lead to actual sales.

    Of course there are plenty of events that I see of limited benefit.


  2. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Branedy said...

    Interesting that the view of entitlement is the same view as the current banking industry, short term profit, in favor or long term growth. A very narrow, bean counter perspective, sorry. Instance profit isn’t what ‘investment’ is meant to create. That’s the kind of thinking that caused the banking collapse, ‘Betting’ the farm on short term gain. Watching a potential budding business fail without watering is the problem.

    I have often been the ‘presenter’ at such ‘networking and rubbing shoulders’ events, for LARGE companies, and the benefit gained could never be measured in sort term ‘profit’, but was ALWAYS a net gain in the long term. That’s what investment is!

  3. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Jase Bell said...

    I definately agree with this post as I’m going through it myself. All that’s really required is some form of small seed capital to get things on the, a bit of encouragement and some time.

    I don’t really do conferences that much, wasn’t at Bizcamp, am going to cut down on the Open Coffee’s (apart from the one I organise) and no speaking gigs. The reason is simple, those activities get in the way of me selling the product I’m working on.

    I’ve got no problems with funding if it’s on the basis of a loan perhaps (like Invest NI’s Enterprise Loan Fund) but I don’t subscribe to the “don’t worry, we’ll get funding” that’s then pee’d up the wall and never recouped.

    I was totally against taking any form of funding but needed seed capital to get the tools I needed (a MacBook Pro in this case) it was a friend that believed in me (and this is a BIG thing to me) and that the idea would work. I’d already put the plan forward to him that I’d raise capital by sales and then get the Mac and wasn’t asking or begging for funding from them.

    Start small, start in your house, work all the hours you can, release early and often – talk to your customers often…. I’m not saying it’s easy but it is doable.

  4. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Aaron Savage said...

    Interesting question given that the conference season is upon us. I think its possible to do well and walk away from a conference or trade show with lots of orders, but you need to do your homework beforehand and know exactly who you are going to try and hit before you get there. Then remain flexible and nimble so that if anything new presents itself on the horizon be prepared to jump all over it.

    The best conferences that I have been to are ones where I already have one related client and so can network across from that.

    I try not to pay for conferences (or indeed anything) because I have a duty to watch cash flow but if there is a strong enough incentive to attend then I’ll find a way to pay for it whether I have a free route in or not.

    I take your point that if something is free and easy to gain access to then people may not recognise the benefit or be grateful for it, and therefore not take advantage of the opportunity, but surely that kind of person isn’t likely to stay in business in the current climate. At the end of the day, if the right people are there and you can sell, then wherever you are, it should be beneficial.

  5. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Sam Johnston said...


    Some random thoughts about government “handouts”:
    – I’ve been involved in a number of successful startups and have never taken a cent from any government (which is to say they’re not necessary per se)
    – There needs to be an amount of due diligence proportional to the amount “invested”
    – Smaller handouts benefit more entrepreneurs and require less due diligence.
    – Hedging reduces overall risk.
    – Governments should assume the risk but also reap the rewards of success (that is, handouts could/should translate to small shares or repayment with interest)
    – Applicants should bear some administrative load in terms of business plans, proposed budgets, etc. (if you’ve already been selected for TC50 and need the money for the plane ticket then better to spend the money on it than a batch of brochures for example).
    – Conversely, applicants who are well organised will have little to do.
    – All amounts, large and small, are beneficial to a business, but there are “sweet spots” which translate to being able to afford a new service, employ a new employee, acquire technology, etc. I’m guesssing €/£/$ 5k and 50k are good starting points.
    – Sponsored companies should be promoted by the government, for example through creation of an online app store for small businesses.


  6. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Conor Mc Kenna said...

    I am glad you have raised the subject of entrepreneurs attending conferences and importantly if there should be any state funding.

    Firstly, its probably only with the benefit of years of you attending conferences that you know they are not necessarily the most productive hunting ground for actual sales orders. You become more selective as you become more time poor!!

    However for a young entrepreneur starting out, a conference or relevant industry trade show may represent the biggest ‘reality check’ of their business lives!!

    Secondly, if Ireland is serious about becoming a ‘Nation of innovative exporters’, I would suggest that its important to get our entrepreneurs ‘off the Island’ and exposed to the ‘Global marketplace’.

    Moreover, there’s no better environment than a trade show for an entrepreneur to realise that there are lots of other ‘bright’ technology entrepreneurs in the World (often with better access to serious levels of venture funding).

    In summary, I would suggest that its money well invested by the state agencies to fund the founders of a young technology company to attend a relevant trade event, than to (somewhat blindly*) support their initial business plan with any significant level of funding.

    Conor Mc

    *State agencies and their staff cannot be expected to have the most up to date market information on competitors, emerging trends etc…that is the entrepreneurs job!

  7. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  John Handelaar said...

    Whereas I think that you, like half of Pat’s commenters, have completely failed to understand what he said.

    He said nothing about entitlement whatsoever.

    He asked — entirely reasonably — what exactly the bloody point of EI is if they both a) won’t step up in situations like the one he gave as an example and b) can’t bring any of the BigCos they’re chasing into the country either.

    If they can’t land any more Dells or Intels (and they obviously can’t) then they should use the money they have to do something that might assist Irish Enterprise on a lower level, or piss off and shut down.

  8. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    @Branedy I’m not sure I get your point. I too have spoken, chaired and moderated at such conferences. I even run an events company. What I’m saying is specific to being given handouts to attend such conferences for free.

    @Conor – your first paragraph is spot on. So I think it’s important to learn from those who have gained such experience and encourage young/budding entrepreneurs to spend their money wisely. OR, spend a lot of money on the right events. To do that you need to first generate enough… which is my point – don’t expect handouts – work for it. If you get a grant then that’s great, use it wisely.

    @John – I think you’ve misinterpreted my post – I wasn’t disagreeing with Pat. I was referring to the debate on his blog. Like Pat’s blog, this one is more valuable when good people like yourself contribute to the debate instead of just sitting back listening to me dribble on 🙂

  9. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Richard Alvin said...

    I do agree with your comments Paul. I equally personally do not see huge value in attending conferences and events like the ones that you have described although many would argue that they are all about relationship building…

    The point that you picked me up on earlier (a retweet from a friend who is starting a very loose fund to back Irish entrepreneurs with people banding together forming a collective all throwing 50EUR each) is not directly related to this blog that you steered me to, but it is a way of giving some their first break. I have recently invested £1000 in a 17year old kid who has just graduated from Peter Jones’ Academy. He runs a clothing company/line and has worked in supermarkets stacking shelves and a whole host of other places to get together the capital he needed to get his product produced. He has actually now got an order which he has no way of fulfilling without my money and he comes from a background where £1000 is an impossible find. So we have set up a company and i am mentoring him and investing in him.

    Going back to your original point, he is at London Fashion Week this week, not at any events where he has to buy a ticket as i said they weren’t worth it, but wearing his own clothes and handing out postcards, business cards and information.

    The result… Well he (we) have a meeting with a very very exclusive store next week. Where did the meeting take place, outside as the guy was having a fag when John approached him!

  10. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    @Richard – I’m all for helping. In fact, you’ve touched a nerve which is close to a goal for the Startup Marketplace. I think (and I could be wrong) this initiative follows a couple of blog posts and a trip to the Valley for a small handful of Irish people. Each year there’s something to discuss/start. I just hope enough thought has gone into the process and that it works for everyone. I’d love to see it work and not be a knee-jerk reaction. Good luck with it and if there’s anything I can do to help, just shout 🙂

  11. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Strange Attractor » Blog Archive » links for 2009-09-23 said...

    […] Paul Walsh, the Irish Opportunist | » Entrepreneurs are not entitled to anything Kevin: Paul Walsh writes: "I agree governments (not just the Irish one, but others too as they’re all the same wherever you go) should do more to help small businesses – especially during the troubled times. […]

  12. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Priscilla Deegan said...

    I agree with Paul. I’m all for freebies but I have no time for the entitlement attitude. If you really want to do something you’ll find a way even if you don’t get grant aid.

  13. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Stephen Ryan said...

    Stumbled onto your blog via Google Reader.

    I do agree with you and also with Sam Johnston above that the Government should get something back if the company starts making money after the grant.

    For conferences however, the money would be much better spent in some cases with organising events locally. There are very few events for Entrepreneurs that run in Ireland that get a proper bit of advertising.

  14. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Paul Walsh, the Irish Opportunist | » Why do some entrepreneurs feel entitled? said...

    […] Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject – the title says it all Entrepreneurs are not entitled to anything […]

Join the Discussion

We're constantly spammed by people who have as much life as the robots they use. So, we hope you don't mind if we moderate your comment if it's your first time on this blog.