« I want people to recognize me as a good entrepreneur or business leader, and not label me as the “female” entrepreneur – the gender should be irrelevant. The more women entrepreneurs there are – the more there will be in the future”
Grainne Barron is Ceo & Founder at Viddyad. She is responsible for commercial product development internationally. Grainne has an MBA from UCD and a B.Scs. in Business and Law from Fordham University, New York. She is a founding member of Startup Ireland, a member of IBEC’s CEO Forum and part of Techpreneurs. Grainne has been listed as one of the most influential business leaders in technology in Ireland, won the PWC Most Innovative Startup award, Winner of Spark of Genius award for Technology, was named one of the top 50 most powerful and influential businesswomen in Ireland in the Sunday Independent in May 2014 and is a finalist for the World MBA Entrepreneurship Awards 2014.
Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
My Father as he made sure I grew up in an entrepreneurial atmosphere. He was an Entrepreneur as was my Uncle Sean Barron who owns Ireland’s largest chain of fashion stores. That’s the only family I have on the Barron side. My Dad taught me anything is possible and you had to go for it, as life is short. He took risks left, right and center, wouldn’t take no for an answer and always thought in “solutions not problems” mode. He was a talented cameraman & producer and full of passion for his work. He worked for Ireland’s national news station covering The Troubles in Northern Ireland, where he met John Hume, who was his best man at his wedding. He was also great fun, had great charisma and a distinctive character that I miss everyday. Sadly, he passed away last year.
What was really important from the two of them – my mom and my dad – was work always came first. I’ve been working since I was 13. First, in my Uncles shops during the summer. When I went to University in New York I had 2 jobs and an internship at NBC TV. Each weekend I would give my parents half the money I earned from my waitressing job to help pay back the fees for my university, books, etc. because it’s really expensive to study in the US. Then, the day I graduated from Fordham they gave me an envelope.
I said, ‘What’s this’ and they said, ‘ Grainne, that’s all the money that you’ve saved up over the last two years.’ They had actually put all the money I had given them into an envelope for me each week without telling me and said, ‘Now you know how to save. Keep it up and remember how good it feels to work for yourself and be independent.’
That is typical of my dad. If engineering had been around when he was in college, he would have been like Steve Jobs. I’ve never met another man so amazing to figure out ways to fix things. Around his house he would build gadgets to solve problems, he was so inventive and creative. He was like the man out of ‘Back to the Future’ movie, you know, the crazy cool guy? He wanted to make things better, faster, easier. He totally got what I was doing even though it was new technology. He was 80 years of age and knew everything about Google, read the Steve Jobs books, he understood the video ad technology. For a man of his age to understand my business better than many of my peers, was astounding. He was a big influence and taught me never to give up and forget the begrudgers.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
I’m really proud of my team – the enthusiasm and the fun I have with them. I think they think I’m a little crazy sometimes, but that is ok! I’m really proud that they get me, who I really am, and they can almost think the way I think now. They just know how I’ll react to things, and are like an extension of me. I can trust them completely in Dublin. I’m over here in the US now, and that is one of the things I worried about, but they rallied around and that is really important to me. They learn and build the shared culture and like working for a successful company. They love the fact that they are building something that every day is getting bigger and better. I have so much faith and passion in the people I work with. That’s half the battle.
When looking for hires, I want to see 3 things stand out. They must have passion, be trustworthy and be really smart! Passion creates energy, coupled with smartness, which builds value and trust means we share a vision together and move as a team.
What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?
I love challenges, so I don’t see them as a negative. They are just really good learning curves.
I’m learning all the time, every day. We all are. We never stop. I sit in front of investors and in meetings with really high up people, and if you said to me a year and a half ago that I would be doing that, I would have said ‘oh I’m really shy, I can’t.’ I know I don’t strike people now as being a shy person when I’m presenting, but actually the real me, the person who is not selling Viddyad, is a lot quieter. I just get very passionate when I’m talking about Viddyad and our industry.
I think a challenge for me was moving to America on my own earlier this year as I didn’t know anyone so that was hard. I also need to focus on some work life balance because when you’re in a new place where you don’t know people, you tend to spend all of your time working. That’s actually not necessarily productive or healthy.
I’ve started to build a network of friends in San Francisco. I didn’t know anyone when I moved there but met my second cousin Niall and his wife Sinead live there and they’ve both been the most positive influence on me since arriving. They were a Godsend. I’m simply overwhelmed how great the Irish are to each other when you travel or live abroad. It warms my heart and I feel so proud to be Irish. I’m a huge believer in Karma. Now I try to help anyone that comes to SF too. There’s a great network of Irish people there that I wasn’t aware of until after a few months. The more you give, the more you get back!
What do you think is key to your company’s success?
I think a complete belief in what you’re doing and how it can change the world. I was in a shopping mall last week and walked by these big TVs with static images to advertise local businesses in the mall. It was frustrating for me that they don’t know about Viddyad yet because they could easily put much more engaging video on those screens instead of static images for the same or less money by creating content on Viddyad. Sometimes when I walk into a restaurant or hotel lobby I notice screens with either nothing on them or static images too. Or in the back of a taxi and people don’t realize they can put video ads there too, easily, in minutes!
I was talking to the Sales Director of Time Warner Cable recently and he has just hired 70 people internally to make video ads because they want more businesses to advertise on Time Warner Cable. They want more SMEs/SMB’s to advertise on cable, yet these companies don’t have video ads or the resources to produce them. So big cable companies are saying ‘We’ll go out and make a video ad for you. Then you’ll have an ad to use on our cable co. But they (the Cable Co’s) loose money on the production of the ads, just to get the local business to advertise in the first place. The Cable Companies can now use Viddyad’s platform to create ads for these local businesses faster, cheaper and easier making the whole process 500% more efficient for the Cable Companies which translates to more sales, faster. We focused on making life easier for others, saving the time and money.
The key to success is keeping your eyes wide open – physically wide open all the time and looking around. Never have tunnel vision to the extent that you can’t innovate in your head. Think – what can we do better, faster, easier?
If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
There is nothing I would change because I believe in the butterfly effect and prefer the life I’m in to one I don’t know. I should have probably tried to work a little harder on a work life balance. I still need to get that part right. In general though, I’ve no regrets. I live in the present, not the past as that’s history and you can’t control the future (too much!).
What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?
Everybody is an entrepreneur. Whether you’re a street cleaner, a shopkeeper or a tech engineer – you’ve got to think of yourself as a salesperson or entrepreneur selling your own set of skills as you make your way through life. Don’t think of an entrepreneur as someone who sits in Silicon Valley and starts a tech company. They are far from it. An entrepreneur is everyone and anyone who is passionate and selling a skill no matter how big or small and who has the guts to keep going and keep trying. If you love what you do, you’ll find a way to do it better and improve yourself.
Remember too that being an entrepreneur is a struggle. It’s got serious highs and serious lows. You never leave your work in the office at the weekend.
It’s with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I would really strongly recommend anyone to read The Hard Thing About Hard Things and ‘The Struggle’ by Ben Horrowitz. Google it. I promise you, it’s worth it. It shows you’re not alone, which is important. You’re not the only one who is doing it all the wrong way, or the most difficult way. You’re not the only person who is sometimes close to giving up but can’t figure out why you just can’t. Or who seems to be chasing your tail all the time. And you’re not the only one who second-guesses yourself on everything. But you are one of the few who’s not going to have a regret about not giving it a go. You took the chance which is half the battle.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure how its all going to turn out either. I remember when I was in college, I was 18 in NY, and I came home really upset one day to my dad and he said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I said, ‘This girl, she knows she wants to be an accountant, she has it all planned out and knows exactly what she wants to be and I still have no idea!’ and my dad started laughing and said, ‘Isn’t that the most exciting thing? You have no idea what you want to be when you grow up”. He said, “Grainne, sure I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up and laughed again”. I just totally changed my attitude. So until this day, I say ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up but it will be an adventure getting there.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I lead by example and I trust people. I also recognize where I’m strong and weak and lean on my team to fill the gaps. We all have different talents. This instills self-confidence to make decisions, which is important for my team. They’re certainly not afraid to argue a point with me, which is good and I’m democratic but at the end of the day, the final decision is always going to be the burden of the CEO. You have to recognize that. It’s hard but the buck stops with you and you must take responsibility for any falls or mistakes as a leader.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say ‘slow down a little bit’. I was always so super driven. I would probably also say, ‘you’re doing fine, don’t worry about it’. A really important thing is that there are going to be people in your life that aren’t going to like what you’re doing. Not because they don’t like what you’re doing, but because they don’t like what “they’re” doing. Remember too that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Don’t take it personally if things don’t work out. At least you tried. That’s where you succeeded too!
It’s not because of what you’re doing, it’s because they are not happy. And when people aren’t happy they’ll find a way to make you be the problem. You have got to make your own life and do the best you can in your own skin.
“Life is for living, not for long. Anything is possible.”
What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years?
I would love to be in a position where I would be able to invest in other companies especially other females because the more there are, there more there will be of us. On a personal note, I would love to have a farm in California for rescued animals. I would love to have some land because I’m a country girl at heart.
3 key words to describe yourself: