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Founders S2 | Entrepreneurial Sparks

Marty's Entrepreneurial Journey: From Challenges to Triumphs

Life decisions aren't always definitive, but rather, it's about how we handle what comes our way.

Learning how your favourite bands came together can teach you some valuable lessons.

Think about the intricacies of logistics, financial hurdles, internal conflicts, and the pursuit of creating value through their music. It all draws striking parallels to founders assembling their teams and crafting their entrepreneurial tunes.

It's also why we like to ask founders about their favourite albums. It's an enjoyable way to connect with them, giving us the chance to explore a diverse world of music.

Occasionally, we turn the volume up to eleven. That was definitely the case with Marty Neill's choice, The Black Album by Metallica. Marty's a self-proclaimed metal head and I can't think of a better album to exemplify that.

In fact, the first time we ever spoke to one another, he told me, "I'm off to the States tomorrow. We're travelling down the West coast, and at the end of it we're going to listen to some Metal in the desert."

He was admittedly in a bit of a hurried state, apologetically so. He's a busy man, something all founders seem to have in common. He's running various ventures including Raise Ventures, an early-stage startup accelerator helping other founders find their footing.

Offering all levels of support from a friendly chat, to founder nights and potential funding for the next big idea, Marty would be the first to admit he didn't have the luxury of this level of support in his younger days.

His entrepreneurial journey is a compelling narrative marked by resilience and forward-thinking.

Life's Beginnings

Kicking life off with two GCSEs and the responsibilities of parenthood at 17, Marty decided then and there to take responsibility by the scruff of the neck, and ventured into self-employment at the tender age of 18.

Marty would probably advocate that this perspective is the building block for his significant entrepreneurial journey. The decision of which has led to the unfolding of new opportunities and uncharted territories.

"I've never looked back," he mentions, and somehow, I get the impression that this is an acknowledgement that life decisions aren't always definitive, but rather, it's about how we handle what comes our way.

Encountering the challenges of a failing record shop in Belfast, Marty identified a crucial market gap.

He recalls, "I quickly realised there was no easy way of enabling a small shop to sell online and also control the stock in the premises well." This realisation sparked the inception of his ventures, setting the stage for future success.

Returning to Belfast from San Francisco amid personal and professional setbacks, Marty faced the collapse of an investment fund and the necessity to part ways with a co-founder.

Reflecting on this period, he notes, "In Belfast, it’s different, the know-how and infrastructure are in the earlier stages, and it felt like starting again."

The subsequent years posed challenges, from personal tragedies to the impact of the pandemic on retailers. Marty and his team demonstrated remarkable resilience, pivoting and adapting. But again, the choices that had to be made to pivot came with their own set of challenges too.

As he puts it, "Those 3-4 years were devastating. However, we pivoted, cut the team in half, and decided to plough on. This far we’re getting there."

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Approaching a new phase of expansion, Marty contemplates efforts to enter the hospitality market and plans for a US launch in 2024.

Challenges persist, but Marty's strategic mindset and adaptability continue to guide his endeavours. "We’re right at the point of doing it again and right in the middle of figuring out what might work," he shares.

Scepticism from an Invest NI adviser, dismissing their idea as "stupid," only fuelled Marty's conviction. "That was when I was first sure it was a great idea," he recalls.

Advice and Mentorship

Offering advice to aspiring founders, Marty emphasises, "You can’t do this because you think it’ll be fun, cool, or lucrative. You have to have a problem you need to solve and the ignorance to try to solve it."

This advice is crucial for aspiring founders - if you're not actively solving a problem, what exactly is your purpose in the entrepreneurial journey?

Many describe mentorship as having a dependable guide in uncertain times. The guidance they offer may be a steady stream or maybe a one-time share of wisdom is enough to inspire. Marty especially reflects on advice from tech veteran David Kirk, who played a transformative role.

"David Kirk changed my life in a one-hour conversation. It’s a great story. Let me on, and I’ll tell you it!"

As I finish editing this piece, the last track on The Black Album, The Struggle Within, rolls around. It's a high-tempo, bone-rattling affair, finishing the album on a relentless note that echoes the intensity and raw energy encapsulated throughout the entire musical journey.

It serves as a reminder that, much like the challenges encapsulated in the song, the journey of a successful startup owner demands resilience, a relentless spirit, and the ability to navigate the tumultuous terrain of entrepreneurship with unwavering determination.

You can learn more about Marty, and his business, by visiting the AirPOS website or on LinkedIn.

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