Building the Future of Journalism: We Chat With Caoimhe Donnelly From Legitimate

Legitimate offers a complimentary toolkit for journalists, aiding their work and combating disinformation and fake news.

In Berlin, Caoimhe, co-founder of Legitimate, is keeping a hectic schedule.

She's attending the MediaTech Hub Conference, in a city known for its century-long tradition of pioneering media technology. Alongside her partner Gerard, they are actively engaged in networking, learning, and promoting their product, Legitimate.

In Caoimhe's words, her work on Legitimate is a far cry from her teaching days when she focused on bringing out the best in primary school children on a daily basis. In a completely new industry, acquiring fresh skills, and adopting an entirely novel approach, she's determined to make sure that Legitimate sets the standard for journalistic productivity.

Here's her journey, in her own words.

Can you tell us about your journey as a founder? What inspired you to start your own business?

I have a background in education. I was a primary school teacher and school leader before I started Legitimate. I never thought I'd start my own business. I wasn't very business minded growing up. It was my husband who came up with the idea for the company. I sort of just helped him bounce ideas around and hone in on exactly what he wanted to create.

For the first few months it was just him working on the idea. Then during covid, when we were at home, we would discuss ideas, explore theories, do some research etc around Legitimate. I started becoming more involved, especially with the relationships, customer outreach and communication side of things.

I realised that it was something that I was good at, and that I really enjoyed it. I was ready for a change so I jumped in!

What challenges did you face in the early stages of your entrepreneurial journey? How did you overcome them?

Massive feelings of being out of my depth and out of my comfort zone! I was in a completely new industry, learning new skills, working in a completely new way.

I still sometimes feel like I don't know what I'm doing! But I take every day as a learning opportunity. I try to focus on what I'm gaining from all of these new experiences and how they are making me grow as a person.

"I think that honesty is so important when working with customers. They have to trust you in order to build relationships and get buy in."

How did you identify the target market for your product/service? What made you confident that it would resonate with customers?

We knew that we wanted to focus on journalists. It's a pretty tough industry to crack if you're on the outside. So we just started to reach out to journalists, tell them what we were trying to do and see what the response was. I was very lucky that some of the people I spoke with very early in our journey were extremely open and so helpful in helping us shape the product.

There were a few pretty well known journalists who were very generous with their time and advice and I really appreciate what they did for us when we first started. We were very confident that the product would resonate with customers because we spent almost a year refining it based on feedback from hundreds of journalists, at all different types of publications, all over the world.

What were some of the major obstacles you encountered while building your business? How did you navigate through those hurdles?

A huge obstacle was not being in the industry.

It was difficult to break into the journalism space. As mentioned above, it was just a matter of being open and honest about what we were trying to do, speaking with a lot of journalists, and then slowly being brought into the space.

I think that honesty is so important when working with customers. They have to trust you in order to build relationships and get buy in.

Could you share a specific moment of doubt or failure you experienced along the way? How did you bounce back from it?

I've had a few moments when I've considered if I'm the right person for the job. One specific moment was when an influential investor said that the idea was not investable. It was a hard one because it was someone who is well respected in the VC space in NYC and I really valued their opinion. So, I doubted what we were doing.

How I got over this was to go back to the people we were building for and ask them some more questions. I spoke with a load of journalists, editors, and publication owners and really dug deep with questions. The feedback was, as always, that the platform was extremely valuable, needed, and worthwhile to all of them.

They really believed in it and knew there was a huge gap in the market for it. And that made me keep going. You're not going to be able to please every investor. they each have their own beliefs, areas they are excited by, and opinions on your product.

But if the people that you are building for can see the value, that's all that matters!

How did you approach scaling and expanding your business? What strategies did you employ to ensure sustainable growth?

We're just at the beginning of that stage. Our strategy has been the same as it's always been. Reach out to potential users, share the value of the products with them, and answer any questions they might have. We haven't started officially marketing and expanding yet. It's still organic and word of mouth.

"I have a strong belief in what we're doing and don't let others derail me from it."

Did you face any scepticism or resistance from others when pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams? How did you handle it?

Yep! I think you'll always face negativity in life. Especially when you're doing something that not a lot of people do. I've been lucky to not really be influenced by what others think. I don't let that put me off. While I'll always listen to advice and feedback from people, I have a strong belief in what we're doing and don't let others derail me from it.

Can you describe a key decision you made that significantly impacted the trajectory of your business? What were the factors you considered?

Introducing a paid product was key for us. We had been a free tool suite for months and had found it didn't elicit the adoption we had hoped for. When we spoke with potential users, the feedback was that by charging, it would show value. We held a number of focus groups and did some research on other products in the journalism space before we decided on a price.

Once we launched our paid product, we saw significant growth.

What advice would you give to aspiring founders who are just starting their entrepreneurial journey?

I would advise to speak with your ideal customers as early on in your journey as possible. Ask tough questions to try find out if there is a demand/need for your product/service. Communicate with your users as much as possible and be honest with them. If you have a product/service that people want and are willing to pay for, don't let other people put you off.

Listen to advice but you don't have to take it on board. Also, build out your network as much as you can. Go to events, reach out to people online, offer to help others, and ask for advice from founders in your space. There are a lot of people who are willing to help.

What role has mentorship played in your entrepreneurial success? Were there any specific mentors who made a significant impact on your journey?

We had great support from people in the media space, especially in the US. Some really high profile and well respected journalists have been very generous with their advice and time. It had a huge impact on our progress as it helped us to be accepted into the journalism space. They opened doors for us and introduced us to a lot of customers.

To find out more about Caoimhe, visit her LinkedIn page. Learn more about Legitimate here.

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