The 2015 edition of the pan-European startup contest Idea Challenge sees an increase in variety and internationality. The series of events re…
Photo credit: Dan Taylor/ Heisenberg Media
Anyone, who has dipped toes in the Austrian startup ecosystem, is bound to have seen Daniel Cronin (33) – at a Pioneers event, as part of AustrianStartups or even on TV. “I always wanted to do things,” Daniel says. “I think nowadays we call these things startups - it’s a modern word I learned, I wasn’t aware of that in 2010.”
Things, for him, translate into a variety of responsibilities – he is cofounder of the AustrianStartups community, a position, which has him meet with budding entrepreneurs and politicians alike. He also hosts Pioneers Festival, shapes young minds by teaching at three universities, and was the moderator during the first season of "2 Minuten 2 Millionen", the local version of Dragon’s Den. But above all, he is a marketer to the core, a description that is often a rarity in the techie-dominated startup scene. He employs those soft skills to bring entrepreneurship to a broader audience, while helping startups refine their own messages, and he is doing it with the satisfaction of someone who has a reason to say “I love my job” on a daily basis.
Cronin and the crowd; Photo credit: Daniel Cronin
With marketing being somewhat of a murky water area for most entrepreneurs, it is no wonder that in the past four years Daniel has become a fixture of the Austrian startup scene without ever coming close to the typical serial tech entrepreneur. And a memorable one at that - his signature ginger beard and black-rimmed glasses are not likely to remain unnoticed in a crowd - both of which, he claims, has little to do with hipsters. In fact, the reason for the bushy look is much more about reversing an age-old trend of owners choosing pets with similar physical traits. “My dog likes my beard a lot, he thinks we’re a lot more closely related and I’ve started a lookalike competition with him, getting there more and more,” he says, only half-jokingly and pulls out a series of photos with his cocker spaniel. The resemblance truly is there.
His dog takes a special place in his heart, for the first thing he says to introduce himself is: “Half-Irish, half-German, Colombian girlfriend, Slovakian American Cocker Spaniel, went to school in Portugal and Germany, and Austria, so I am basically from all over the place and nowhere.” His easy demeanor reveals a lot about why he was branded the Pitch Doctor by Founders Experts, where he answers questions on apps, mobile, marketing and pitching by phone.
Perhaps even more noticeable is the enthusiasm he has for what he does and how open and ready he is to discuss his favorite topic – the startup scene in Austria. A scene he stumbled upon through equal parts of hard work, chance meetings, and decisions that seemed stupid at the time – like taking up acting school while studying business and marketing. “I think I have the mindset of a 13-year-old so I am about as naïve and excitable and that explains a lot of things and why I’ve done them,” he confesses.
I think I have the mindset of a 13-year-old so I am about as naïve and excitable and that explains a lot of things and why I’ve done them.
Although he struggled to find his place in school and work, once he did discover his passion for marketing and all things mobile, Daniel took any opportunity that came along, often without “ever realising what I was getting myself into.” His first steps in the scene came when he was working on his Master Thesis. A survey on mobile marketing led to some useful contacts and he became cofounder of “all about apps”, a mobile solutions company. “I just totally took a nosedive into the whole startup scene and felt so much at home,” he says.
While he was working at all about apps, a chance mention of his acting background over a coffee ultimately led to an offer to host an event called StartupWeek 2011, now much more popular under the name Pioneers Festival, and he jumped at it, not realizing how many people would attend, nor how accomplished most of the speakers would be.
And as a cautionary tale for any entrepreneur, no matter the chosen field, he admits hosting Pioneers wasn’t the only time he had to overcome his fears in pursuit of his goals. Being absolutely fascinated with the idea of the Dragon’s Den programme, he knew the moment he heard the local Puls 4 channel was doing its own version that he wanted to be a part of it, even if it was a long shot. At a Pioneers event, he spotted Markus Breitenecker, the CEO of Puls 4. “Essentially I walked up and said ‘Hi I am Daniel, I heard you are doing the show, I would love to host it, what do I need to do.’ Which, to be honest was quite scary,” he says. “That’s how great stories always start and I think internally I was shitting bricks, I couldn’t believe I was doing that.”
Daniel hosts is first event in 2011, and presents Pioneers in 2014
Some may consider this drive to be part of the show a vanity trip, yet Daniel explains he had a bigger purpose: “I just loved the idea of doing something with startups for a broad audience because I think startups do so amazing things that are often hidden.
Giving local startups a voice was one of the key goals that made him join five other entrepreneurs in co-founding Austrian Startups. “Startups, at least the ones we knew, didn’t feel themselves too well represented,” he says. The non-profit organisation has grown to the point where they actually get face time with the local Finance and Foreign ministers to discuss the state’s involvement in improving Austria as an ecosystem. “It is a very long process, but startups are the motor behind innovation and behind creating new jobs and right now we still have the opportunity of slightly focusing the eco-system on that and stopping the brain drain,” Daniel says. The organisation has local representatives all over Austria to serve as First-Stop-Shop and also holds monthly Stammtisch meetings covering startup topics.
One of Daniel’s passions, along with a deeply instilled love for Formula 1 racing that stems from growing up by the circuit in Portugal, is giving the community not just a voice, but a clearly defined, winning message. “For me the best thing in the startup culture nowadays is pitching,” he says. “You can have the best idea, you can have the brightest mind, if you don’t know how to sell it, no one cares, it doesn’t matter.” He believes that one of the biggest mistakes many entrepreneurs make that they fail to ask what drives their potential customers, and that they take too long working on ideas that have not been market-tested in any way. “A good pitch is the essence of every company, if you have a good pitch, you understand what you are doing,” he says.
Once the proper message is formulated, there is also the matter of reach. Through his work teaching in Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna University of Technology and the University of Applied Sciences in Hagenberg, Daniel is already reaching a big group of young people and pitching is an important part of his classes. If he had more of a say in the education sector of the country, his one addition would be a junior Dragon’s Den as a project in school that offers a multidisciplinary approach to a practical business project and has teachers and entrepreneurs coach students in different aspects.
For me the best thing in the startup culture nowadays is pitching. You can have the best idea, you can have the brightest mind, if you don’t know how to sell it, no one cares.
Daniel and the Austrian Startups team are looking for good role models to spread their message to a new audience. He feels that people like Mark Zuckerberg are great to look up to, but far too distant for local youngsters to relate to. This is why his organization is aiming to spread the word about local and accessible entrepreneurs and their real struggles. Some of the people, whose stories Daniel wants to tell, include Florian Gschwandtner of runtastic, who, he underlines, initially worried his parents by “doing something with the Internet” rather than the family business, or Ali Mahlodji, of WHATCHADO, who recently visited the refugee camp in Traiskirchen to talk about entrepreneurship. But there are so many more inspiring more stories to tell out there.
Startups are becoming the hype, almost like having a band in the 90s, Daniel jokes, so they have to be careful to reach the right people and not the ones planning to found a company for the wrong reasons: “Nothing against money, but the problem is with expecting to make a fortune overnight like the stories we read. [...] It is fantastic, yes, you can live the dream; yes, some people do make a lot of money, it can happen, but don’t do it just because of that,” Daniel says and highlights what the correct motivation of a founder should be: “There is nothing better than creating your own job, there’s nothing better.”
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