Alum Dave Byrne uses UCD Smurfit MBA as platform to set up “Buzzoo”.

The June 2013 Business eConnect magazine (official e-zine for UCD Business Alumni) features one of the FT MBA ’12 students…

In Profile: Dave Byrne FT MBA ’12

Taking a year out to do a full-time MBA helped fill in the gaps in Dave Byrne’s (MBA 12) business knowledge and gave him the space to come up with the idea for and set up his online music technology company Buzzoo. For Byrne, the company – a social music service for bars and retailers that play background music – is the perfect combination of his dual interests in technology and business.

Byrne’s primary degree was a bachelor of science in computer applications in DCU, which he graduated from in 2001. “That really sparked an interest in technology for me,” he says. “Ireland had become a major player in IT so it was an exciting degree to be studying at the time.”

After graduating, he joined PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as a management consultant. “It sounded like it would be an interesting job and the graduate induction programme involved a three-month training programme in Florida. It was a fantastic experience and a great way to kick off my career in consulting.”

He spent two years with PwC, before the consulting arm was bought out by IBM. After two years with IBM, he moved on to Accenture for the next six years. “I had the opportunity to work with some really talented people over the years and to learn a huge amount from them,” he says. “I saw consulting as ideal for my early career because it allowed me to work across a vast array of projects in a variety of roles. Every project started as a bit of a trial by fire but you quickly adapt. I always viewed them as very good learning opportunities and the constant challenge and change kept the work very interesting.

“Consulting really teaches you to figure out how things currently work and how they can be improved. That’s the basis of most of the projects. The work brought me to some interesting locations like Arizona and South Africa.

“Consulting can be pretty demanding so I took a six-month career break in 2008 to travel around the world with my wife. It was a once in a lifetime experience and really helped to recharge the batteries.”

While technology consulting offered a good mix of technology and business, he felt there was a lot he still needed to learn. “I’d always wanted to do an MBA to fill in the gaps in my business knowledge, to learn about things like strategy, marketing, accounting and entrepreneurship. The MBA at UCD Smurfit has a great reputation so I was thrilled to get a chance to do it. I guess it was a difficult decision to leave a very good job at a very good company but I’m glad I did.”

That decision was helped by the fact that he was awarded a full scholarship. “I was on the fence up until then. I decided to go for the full-time programme to really throw myself into it and get the most out of it.”

He describes the experience of taking a year out to go back to college after 10 years of working as refreshing. “It opened up a lot of opportunity outside of what I’d done previously. I think the MBA really helps you to think about business at a higher level, to think more strategically and have more of a commercial focus. It’s a great way to look at opportunities outside the area you have worked in to date and maybe to bridge into a different career in a different area. As a learning experience, I would say it’s second to none and I think anyone in a professional career is really lucky if they can get the chance to do an MBA.

He came into the programme without definite plans around his future direction. “I was quite open. I knew that as part of the MBA I needed to spend the year exploring the opportunities and trying to figure out what it was I was going to do afterwards.

“I’ve always felt I like to work with business and technology, which is quite a broad scope so I was looking for something that would marry those two together.”

Beginning Buzzoo

The idea for Buzzoo came to him during the year. “One day we were in a bar complaining about the music that was playing in the background. I noticed that we had our smartphones on the table in front of us and suddenly wondered if we could solve this problem with our smartphones.”

The solution itself is aimed at any business that plays background music, including bars, restaurants and retail. “It enables everyone on the premises to control the music by using their smartphone,” says Byrne. “It’s like moving the jukebox onto the smartphone so that the crowd becomes the DJ.  You can vote up the tracks you like and vote down the ones you don’t like.” The product as it is now includes an admin application that allows venues to schedule and play music from any location, while a smartphone app allows visitors to influence the playlist.

Byrne asked two of his fellow MBA classmates to come on board and, as part of the entrepreneurship module, the three developed a business plan which ended up winning the UCD business plan competition for 2012.

Byrne says that new job opportunities that came up during the course of the year made it a tough decision to launch the start-up after the MBA. “It was a bit of a risky decision, but the challenge and the excitement of it was too much to resist,” he says.

After graduation, Buzzoo was accepted onto the National Research Centre Launchpad Accelerator programme. “The programme provides investment and mentorship to help early stage digital technology companies to get their business off the ground. They’ve a top team of mentors and you’re surrounded by likeminded people going through the same process.”

Over the last year, Buzzoo has also received EnterpriseIreland support and been accepted onto and completed the Irish Times Fusion programme. In January 2013, it was selected as a finalist in the Best Irish Startup category at the Europa Awards. Most recently, the company won bronze in the Food & Drink Entrepreneurial Startup of the Year category at the Startup Awards 2013.

“We’ve built out a really solid team,” says Byrne. “We’ve built the minimum viable product and we have some great partners and customers lined up.”

Alpha-testing has now been carried out in a couple of bars in Dublin and a commercial launch is planned in the next couple of months. “We’re looking at Ireland as a bit of a testbed and the hope is that we can go to a couple of key reference sites in Ireland and then start looking at overseas markets. We’re working with a big drinks company on a proposal that would see a fully branded version for one of their products rolled out in 10 bars on a pilot. So we have the ability to offer a fully branded version of the application as well.”

Future developments of the product may include integrating video, he adds.

Outside influences

Byrne says that learning has always been a key driver for him and that he has learned the most from the people he has worked with. “My family is also a big influence on me. I’ve a great wife and I’ve two fantastic girls and they’re very important to me. Between my family and some of the guys I’ve worked with, they would be the key influences rather than a public celebrity.”

His advice for anyone considering starting a business is not to be afraid of taking risks and to give new things a shot. “If you fail, it’s no big deal. You’ll still learn from it. Sometimes the things that scare you the most are the things that are most worth doing.

“With regard to starting a new business, the first thing to do would be to talk to lots of potential customers and sketch out a one-page overview of the business using a business model canvas. Get advice from people in the know, figure out what gaps you have, build a strong team and go for it.

“I think it’s important to be as lean as possible so you can give yourself as long a runway as possible. And I think you need to experiment and be prepared to pivot the business as required.

“I’ve no idea what the future will bring but that keeps things interesting I guess. As long as I’m doing something that has a focus on business and technology I’ll be happy.”

More about Dave’s experiences on the MBA Programme

UCD Smurfit MBA alums join European elite at the Europas!

Best of luck to fledgling company Buzzoo who take on the best in Europe at the Europas on 22nd Jan. 2013.  Buzzoo are made up of FT MBA 2012 alumns – Dave ByrneVishal Balasubramaniam, and David Pierce.

The Europas have been deemed the premier European awards for early, mid-, and late-stage technology start-ups, by leading investors and media. The Europas seek out the “hottest new start-ups in Europe, Middle East and Africa” and have previously recognised such household names as SoundCloud, Mind Candy, Spotify and Betfair.

Buzzoo made the shortlist for the forthcoming Europas start-up awards in Berlin on 22 January from more than 1,000 nominees that were put through the judging process.   The nominees were judged by venture capitalists from firms like Kleiner Perkins, Accel and Google Ventures, as well as founders like Bebo’s Michael Birch, Cloudflare’s Matthew Prince and YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, not to mention journalists from various tech news sites across Europe.

– Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager

Enter the Dragon

Excitement is building for the upcoming international class trips to China and Brazil. I was lucky enough to visit China a number of years ago at the end of a round-the-world backpacking trip with my wife, though it was a very different experience to the one that awaits us in March.

After 5 continents, 16 countries and 6 months of travel, the nomadic lifestyle had left me looking rather unkempt and quite different to my passport photograph.When we arrived from Hong Kong into Shanghai it took 20 minutes of suspicious examination and a second opinion from another border control official to convince them that I was in fact the person in the passport photo. By that stage of the trip my beard had me looking like a cross between Confucius and confused. Beards must be unusual in China as literally hundreds of people took my photo wherever we went– this really took some getting used to!

The Shanghai maglev train took us 30km into the city in a mere 7 minutes; it was a strange feeling to be travelling at 430 km/h on land.Shanghai is a very modern and impressive city. We had the pleasure of sharing hostel rooms with Chinese people which was a good way to learn more about their fascinating culture. After a great week there we left China to spend two weeks in Japan before finally returning to Beijing for the final leg of our trip.

Beijing is a sightseer’s paradise. Some of its highlights are the famous Tiananmen Square, the incredible Forbidden City, the amazing Great Wall and the quirky Tiantan Park, where locals enjoy everything from tai-chi to tango dance classes to taking their birds for a walk in their bird cages. Beijing is also a shopper’s paradise. For 6 months my wife and I had upheld a strict ban on shopping, partly because of our shoestring budget and partly because we needed to travel light. As Beijing was the last leg of our trip, we finally lifted that shopping ban.My wife drew her credit card like a samurai sword and charged at the shops with a crazed look in her eyes. I found her 10 hours later collapsed in exhaustion in a fitting room on Xiushui Street.

Last time we were backpacking on a shoestring budget and it was certainly a different experience. This time we will have 5 star hotels, a fantastic itinerary and a great crew of MBAs. This time we will be digging deep into Chinese business to learn what powers this country’s economic engine. This time we will be there for Paddy’s Day. This time it’s the year of the dragon. Bring it on!

– Dave Byrne, FT MBA 2011/2012

Dublin Airport and Design Thinking

During our ‘Performance-Driven Marketing’ course we had the pleasure of working with the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) on marketing solutions within Dublin airport. This kicked off with an initial ‘design thinking’ brainstorming evening. Design thinking uses creative thinking-in-action design principles to solve management problems. Some of us are taking an optional course in ‘Design Thinking in Business’ next semester and are looking forward to exploring it some more. I knew that brainstorming with this bunch of MBAs would produce some pretty interesting and innovative ideas. I’ve previously seen the class make very short work of a task to come up with 100 uses for the paperclip, which included such innovative uses as lock-picking and creating snow shoes for mice. Their creativity would put MacGyver to shame. The marketing ideas generated were great and really showcased the wide variety of backgrounds in the class. Being a keen technologist (nerd), I pitched ideas involving smartphone interaction using geospatial location-based services.

To really understand how our ideas would work in the environment, a group of us arranged to take a trip out to Dublin airport to meet the client and get some additional inspiration. The security team at the airport run a tight ship and rightly so. Some of us discovered that, while a student card will get us a 10% discount in Boots, it’s not enough to get us through airport security. For our particular expedition we might need something more along the lines of producing a DNA sample or a signature from the pope, or solving a series of cryptic riddles. Once we got through security (well most of us) we were given a full tour of terminal 2. The economic timing may not have been ideal but terminal 2 really is a fantastic foyer to the country that we should all be very proud of. It’s great that the MBA gives us the chance to learn new ways of thinking and to apply what we’ve learned by working with organisations such as the DAA.

– Dave Byrne, FT MBA 2011/2012

A non-typical day in the life of an MBA

D-day has finally arrived! This morning we have our Financial Reporting exam, the first of many that will test what we have learned from this comprehensive and intense curriculum.

Living in North County Dublin, my commute normally has echoes of the film ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’. I walk to the bus stop, get a bus into the city centre, walk to the train station, get a train to Blackrock and then cycle to the college. It’s a long and arduous trek but a small price to pay for attending a world-leading business school. Yes, the guys down the back of the bus give me funny looks when I use my laptop on the bus but I take every opportunity I can to tackle the workload. Today, however, I need to get in very early for some last minute study before the exam so I drive in by car instead. Continue reading A non-typical day in the life of an MBA