The power of ambition compounding in Irish startups

There has been a flurry of media attention about Wayflyer, whose recent investment valuation (led by DST) made them Ireland’s sixth startup unicorn. Congrats guys! But also, congrats Ireland! It’s pretty remarkable what a decade of compounded startup experience can do.

Josh Manchester in Champion Hill Ventures coined a phrase which I love: ‘capital-adjusted ambition’. It refers to the local boundary conditions of investor ecosystems which founders have to navigate. Fundraising decks in early markets (e.g. Ireland in 2010) need to demonstrate real exit possibilities but the very same presentations in mature markets (e.g. Bay Area) will be a red flag to investors for lack of ambition. A quick sketch of Ireland’s journey:

20yrs ago: a ‘big’ exit was a public listing (‘are you the next Iona Technologies?’)
15yrs ago: a ‘big’ exit was <$100m (‘are you the next Havok?’)
10yrs ago: a ‘big’ exit was <$200m (‘where is the Irish Google?’)
5yrs ago: a ‘big’ exit was probably still <$200m (‘did you know the Stripe founders are Irish?’)
Today: only exits around the $1b mark would be considered ‘big’ for an Irish startup and the growth of companies like Wayflyer, Flipdish, Intercom, Workhuman and LetsGetChecked have clearly raised the average level of ambition for founders.

There are lots of external contributors to this journey (increased fungibility of capital, normalisation of remote working, distributed founder experiences, increased addressable markets) but it’s clear the compounding effect of serial founders and investors in Ireland has been powerful. Today an ‘Irish Google’ (as so many politicians have talked about in the past) is absolutely possible.

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