Our morning session featured guest speaker Stephen Dillon, who is an Irish entrepreneur with an interesting history. He actually went to school for French business but developed an interest in the wine and spirits industry through a part-time job. He emphasized the importance of finding your passion and exercising ways to explore it, which for him became working with retailers and creating his own brands of alcoholic beverages. Being 18 and unfamiliar with the industry, I found the process of developing a drink and getting it to market to be very interesting. In as little as two weeks he can put a new drink on the market, with a brand and everything, due to many connections and partnerships he’s acquired over the years. Another interesting concept he’s involved in is startups.ie since 2005. What started as a blog for sharing information on creating successful startups has now become a place where entrepreneurs can connect and share resources. They even host an annual National Startup Awards, honoring early entrepreneurship who really need encouragement.
Understanding your personal strengths and weaknesses is another point he made. As an entrepreneur, he has a lot of continuous ideas that he has to put aside in order to focus on current projects, which he often finds challenging. But he hinted at the impact of the future, and how it may become easier to have “side hustles” in a more remote working style and less security in keeping one job. Remaining flexible and having the ability to pivot in a VUCA environment of the future is key as markets keep changing and past generations’ advice may be no longer applicable.
In comparison to the US, in which he has much family living, Ireland seems to be harder to enter a market, due to the small population base to appeal to. In the US, even a niche market is likely to garner at least some interest based on the country’s size and amount of potential consumers. This idea is important to keep in mind as we pitch our business ideas tomorrow, as the countries do differ in the size of our target market.
Our afternoon was spent at the Airbnb site, which became one of my favorite visits. While it had a very similar format to that of our US visits, the friendly, relational Irish culture was very apparent, despite it being very international. Not only was the building uniquely decorated, creating a home-like feel based off of previous hosts’ homes, but they served organic, healthy meals while working in a positive, friendly culture. Repeatedly these were the things that employees found to be their favorite part about working for Airbnb. Even though they are very transparent and collaborative, there is still a peaceful, quiet atmosphere with soundproof offices. With no desk to call your own, teams instead are housed in “neighborhoods.” It actually felt like an Airbnb experience, which makes sense considering the site focuses on customer service and experience. Their value proposition highlighted their accessibility, authenticity, and idea of making magic. For example, one of the many teams is called the Love team, and they actually send gifts to visitors of homes based on their social media activity and call it “giraffing.” Another large team is the trust and safety team, who’ve established programs and services to ensure safety and monitoring while staying at any home site.
Learning about the history of the company was also very interesting, as there were similar themes to our entrepreneur speaker this morning. Because two guys wanted to work for themselves, they took an idea and turned it into a business, after renting air mattresses on the floor of their San Francisco apartment. All of this discussion on entrepreneurship and startups is really inspiring and makes you think about what problem out there can you solve and really make a difference doing.