Herding Cats

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Peter Thiel once said “Tell me something you know, that nobody else understands”. What I know, is that Google is an old age pensioner and online advertising is old hat.

You see, 2 years ago I knew I wanted to work in Tech, IoT to be specific, and I knew I wanted to work in Advertising but I hadn’t yet had my lightbulb moment. Looking for change and a way to open doors or create options, I started an MBA. I was full of enthusiasm about the future but with a healthy dose of nervous anticipation. So what does this have to do with herding cats? I’ll get to that.

Year 1 passed in a busy blur of challenging learning and making good friends. If you have a natural curiosity and passion for learning, the MBA doesn’t fail to disappoint. But be prepared to work, and work hard. It’s certainly not easy, but it is extremely fulfilling. The quality of the lecturing is far beyond what I experienced previously, and everyone wants to do their part to not let their team down. Interestingly, I have since found that many of the qualities required for an MBA are the same qualities required from an entrepreneur; stubborn perseverance, a passion for learning, flexibility and intelligence to name a few.

I was always quite entrepreneurial; my mother loves gardening and when I was a child she taught me about the benefits of ladybirds on her roses (They eat Greenfly). I had an 8 year old lightbulb moment and proceeded out to the adjacent corn field, collected a box of Ladybirds and sold them door to door at 10p each for our neighbours’ gardens. I’d like to say I reinvested the profits or retained some capital, but Kearn’s sweet shop was my downfall! During Semester 1 of the MBA, a good friend of mine installed a home control system; I don’t have space here to tell the full story, but suffice to say that through really good timing, a twist of faith and a little bit of luck, I had a 35 year old lightbulb moment. I already had a 400 page business plan (I know!) completed when I approached the UCD Entrepreneur in Residence. Suffice to say she didn’t mince her words, the plan went into the bin and she quickly pulled me out of the rabbit hole and back on the right track.


You see, I realised that the future of Advertising is the Internet of Things, but not in the way everyone else seems to understand it. Thus I reached a crossroads, one of those very rare moments in life where you can do something huge, something global that will change the world forever. This is one of the most significant things about the Smurfit MBA that nobody ever mentions; it gives you what I like to call with admiration an ‘American attitude’. A belief that no challenge is too big and no matter what you want to achieve, the world is your oyster and you can do it. Being surrounded by really capable, driven people, breeds a belief in yourself and a belief in others. A belief that hard work and perseverance will prevail. I started talking to prospective customers and with my partner Manuela formed Promo Pads. And I jumped in! Thus began the cat herding.

Over the last few months the business has pushed ahead at an incredible pace, and I switched into survival mode on the MBA. People talk about the intensity of start-ups, but you don’t really understand it until you live it. A Global tech start-up only amplifies this further. When we’re not building sales leads speaking to customers or project managing with our development team, we’re planning our International expansion strategy or optimizing our market positioning and financial forecasts. Everything needs to be done yesterday, but the MBA gave me a basis of knowledge for areas where I previously had no experience. Every minute of life is filled with either MBA work, incubator work or now vastly more importantly, real business. I have developed a new level of disdain for procrastination, because I simply don’t have any time. Keeping everything balanced really is like herding cats. In fact, I’m writing this blog in my car for a short break before a business meeting. But yes, we’re building something amazing and loving it.

So I launched into MBA Year 2 with the business ramping up into what feels like 7th gear, and having secured a place on an incubator. You see, anything I’ve ever had to do, I’ve always just got on with it. Procrastination frustrates me. However, the MBA has provided new insights about the ways that other people like to work; it turns out that not everyone wants to get the 5 week assignment 90% finished in week 1, just so it’s off the desk. But it also turns out that ‘getting on with it’ is what a start-up needs. If you have a start-up idea, the best advice I can give you is stop thinking and start doing. It won’t build itself and if you truly believe in it, then the train is leaving the station no matter what.

I would like to think that without being on the MBA, I’d be in the same position I am now. But realistically it was the overall environment of UCD Smurfit that prepared me mentally for this. In an ideal world the business would have been started after the MBA, but once-in-a-lifetime opportunities don’t tend to wait around.

I come from a military background. In the military, leaders sometimes have to be tactically clever, sometimes they need patience, and sometimes they need to charge headlong down the middle of the battlefield with nothing but smoke for protection. A good business analogy is Uber’s headlong rush to global domination. Well, I always did like smoke…although mirrors are a good complement. So back to what I know and nobody else understands; I’m unashamedly using this blog to plant Promo Pads flag at the top of the hill. Hello Google. We’re coming.

Diarmaid Murphy ~ Executive MBA