Taking a year out to do a full-time MBA helped fill in the gaps in Dave Byrne’s (MBA 12) business knowledge and gave him the space to come up with the idea for and set up his online music technology company Buzzoo. For Byrne, the company – a social music service for bars and retailers that play background music – is the perfect combination of his dual interests in technology and business.
About Dave Byrne
Byrne’s primary degree was a bachelor of science in computer applications in DCU, which he graduated from in 2001. “That really sparked an interest in technology for me,” he says. “Ireland had become a major player in IT so it was an exciting degree to be studying at the time.”
After graduating, he joined PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as a management consultant. “It sounded like it would be an interesting job and the graduate induction programme involved a three-month training programme in Florida. It was a fantastic experience and a great way to kick off my career in consulting.”
He spent two years with PwC, before the consulting arm was bought out by IBM. After two years with IBM, he moved on to Accenture for the next six years. “I had the opportunity to work with some really talented people over the years and to learn a huge amount from them,” he says. “I saw consulting as ideal for my early career because it allowed me to work across a vast array of projects in a variety of roles. Every project started as a bit of a trial by fire but you quickly adapt. I always viewed them as very good learning opportunities and the constant challenge and change kept the work very interesting.
“Consulting really teaches you to figure out how things currently work and how they can be improved. That’s the basis of most of the projects. The work brought me to some interesting locations like Arizona and South Africa.
“Consulting can be pretty demanding so I took a six-month career break in 2008 to travel around the world with my wife. It was a once in a lifetime experience and really helped to recharge the batteries.”
While technology consulting offered a good mix of technology and business, he felt there was a lot he still needed to learn. “I’d always wanted to do an MBA to fill in the gaps in my business knowledge, to learn about things like strategy, marketing, accounting and entrepreneurship. The MBA at UCDSmurfitBusinessSchool has a great reputation so I was thrilled to get a chance to do it. I guess it was a difficult decision to leave a very good job at a very good company but I’m glad I did.”
That decision was helped by the fact that he was awarded a full scholarship. “I was on the fence up until then. I decided to go for the full-time programme to really throw myself into it and get the most out of it.”
He describes the experience of taking a year out to go back to college after 10 years of working as refreshing. “It opened up a lot of opportunity outside of what I’d done previously. I think the MBA really helps you to think about business at a higher level, to think more strategically and have more of a commercial focus. It’s a great way to look at opportunities outside the area you have worked in to date and maybe to bridge into a different career in a different area. As a learning experience, I would say it’s second to none and I think anyone in a professional career is really lucky if they can get the chance to do an MBA.
He came into the programme without definite plans around his future direction. “I was quite open. I knew that as part of the MBA I needed to spend the year exploring the opportunities and trying to figure out what it was I was going to do afterwards.
“I’ve always felt I like to work with business and technology, which is quite a broad scope so I was looking for something that would marry those two together.”
The idea for Buzzoo came to him during the year. “One day we were in a bar complaining about the music that was playing in the background. I noticed that we had our smartphones on the table in front of us and suddenly wondered if we could solve this problem with our smartphones.”
The solution itself is aimed at any business that plays background music, including bars, restaurants and retail. “It enables everyone on the premises to control the music by using their smartphone,” says Byrne. “It’s like moving the jukebox onto the smartphone so that the crowd becomes the DJ. You can vote up the tracks you like and vote down the ones you don’t like.” The product as it is now includes an admin application that allows venues to schedule and play music from any location, while a smartphone app allows visitors to influence the playlist.
Byrne asked two of his fellow MBA classmates to come on board and, as part of the entrepreneurship module, the three developed a business plan which ended up winning the UCD business plan competition for 2012.
Byrne says that new job opportunities that came up during the course of the year made it a tough decision to launch the start-up after the MBA. “It was a bit of a risky decision, but the challenge and the excitement of it was too much to resist,” he says.
After graduation, Buzzoo was accepted onto the National Research Centre Launchpad Accelerator programme. “The programme provides investment and mentorship to help early stage digital technology companies to get their business off the ground. They’ve a top team of mentors and you’re surrounded by likeminded people going through the same process.”
Over the last year, Buzzoo has also received EnterpriseIreland support and been accepted onto and completed the Irish Times Fusion programme. In January 2013, it was selected as a finalist in the Best Irish Startup category at the Europa Awards. Most recently, the company won bronze in the Food & Drink Entrepreneurial Startup of the Year category at the Startup Awards 2013.
“We’ve built out a really solid team,” says Byrne. “We’ve built the minimum viable product and we have some great partners and customers lined up.”
Alpha-testing has now been carried out in a couple of bars in Dublin and a commercial launch is planned in the next couple of months. “We’re looking at Ireland as a bit of a testbed and the hope is that we can go to a couple of key reference sites in Ireland and then start looking at overseas markets. We’re working with a big drinks company on a proposal that would see a fully branded version for one of their products rolled out in 10 bars on a pilot. So we have the ability to offer a fully branded version of the application as well.”
Future developments of the product may include integrating video, he adds.
Byrne says that learning has always been a key driver for him and that he has learned the most from the people he has worked with. “My family is also a big influence on me. I’ve a great wife and I’ve two fantastic girls and they’re very important to me. Between my family and some of the guys I’ve worked with, they would be the key influences rather than a public celebrity.”
His advice for anyone considering starting a business is not to be afraid of taking risks and to give new things a shot. “If you fail, it’s no big deal. You’ll still learn from it. Sometimes the things that scare you the most are the things that are most worth doing.
“With regard to starting a new business, the first thing to do would be to talk to lots of potential customers and sketch out a one-page overview of the business using a business model canvas. Get advice from people in the know, figure out what gaps you have, build a strong team and go for it.
“I think it’s important to be as lean as possible so you can give yourself as long a runway as possible. And I think you need to experiment and be prepared to pivot the business as required.
“I’ve no idea what the future will bring but that keeps things interesting I guess. As long as I’m doing something that has a focus on business and technology I’ll be happy.”