Meet Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh Chief Presentationist at Clearpreso a business which helps startups craft great presentations which simply get results. Ed lives and works in Dublin, specifically Dalkey a lovely village right on the Irish coast.
What’s the name of your business and when was it founded?
Clearpreso is the name, presentation design is the game. I’ve been on the go since 2009, and at the moment, it’s me myself and I. Occasionally I hire in people to help with bits and pieces I’m not great at but I find it really hard to give up any sort of control… it’s a problem I have.Who is your typical customer and what value do you bring to them?
I help companies ranging from startups to corporates get their messaging right and then put in great presentation visuals. At my last calculation pitch decks, I’ve worked on have raised more than $10m, it’s great to be a small, but important, part of their journey. My typical customer, well I work with all sorts really! In a way, it’s anyone who knows they need help. 100% of my work is by referral.
You’re a one-man operation, where do you work out of Starbucks?
Most of the time I work from home out in lovely picturesque Dalkey. In theory I can work from wherever I can get a decent internet connection, so occasionally I’m working on the road. This summer I spent a month working and living in Newfoundland in Canada, I’m really grateful I’ve lucked myself into a position where I can do that.
How was Clearpreso originally funded and how do you make money?
Funding was easy. I basically only needed two things to get up and running. First was a web domain (about €15) and my biggest investment was a whopping €20 on some business cards. I operate on the old fashioned “value for value” model, I create great presentations that get results and people give me money in return!
You’ve an impressive client list, why in your opinion did those teams succeed, what do they have that others don’t?
I work with dozens of founders every year, and I’ve seen their high highs and rock-bottom lows. Although I’m not a founder myself I think I’m kind of a sideline reporter with VIP access to all areas.
And what I’ve found is that startups, when done the right way, are not “fun”, or if they are they are a very specific type of “fun”. They’re the sort of “fun” you find in a war zone. I remember listening to a podcast recently about people who came back from ww2, most soldiers were shocked, some were profoundly traumatised, but a small group were actually disappointed to be home. They loved the war and everything that came with it.
I think that’s what founders are like, uniquely suited for war. And that’s not to say that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I think they’re just born with the love for the fight. It’s why you’ll see founders who get a big exit take about a week off and then put it all on the line again with another startup. As I say… uniquely suited to war.
The funny thing is you’ll probably never really hear of them because they won’t be speaking at startup events every week, cause they’re too busy working!
You’re like the Keyser Söze of startup events, is that purely a recruitment drive for business or is there more to why you turn up and mentor startups at so many events?
Haha, I’m trying to cut back to be honest, I’m not the serial attendee I once was. Attending these events is a mix of it being good for business and it being a great place to mingle with people that are “doers”. At events like Startup Weekend the enthusiasm is infectious and you’ll come away from the event knowing some great new contacts, mentors, possible future co-founders etc.
It’s worth pointing out that the real heroes are the people who organise all these events, they have it tough! I just turn up and do my thing, they’ve been putting in weeks of prep work.
Were you ever close to failure? How close? How did you recover?Absolutely. I remember the exact day! June 15th 2012, the day of the “Dotconf”. I was supposed to be going along, but a quick look at my accounts put me into a bit of a panic, things were so dire I remember literally looking around the apartment for things I could sell to get a bit of cash.
I think it served as a good rock bottom moment and was definitely a good kick in the ass. I very much realise though that I have it pretty easy, my clients have a lot more to lose, personal guarantees, payrolls to be met etc.
What’s your background? How did you get your start and what brought you to a life in business/startups?
In the first phase of my life, I was sure I was going to be a professional basketball player. Looking back, I obviously wasn’t good enough, but when you’re that age you don’t let facts like that get in the way of your dream.
When that dream didn’t pan out, I decided I wanted to be a big-shot business guy, suit, tie, working in a “consultancy” whatever they were. I did a BComm degree which led to me interning with one of the main consulting companies in Dublin. The reality of that brief stint ended phase number two.
So now I’m in phase 3 which I could either call “the experiment” or “the accident”. I really only started this business because there were no jobs out there. I knew I had skills when it came to presentations, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to work for myself at all. Six years on and I’m still loving it!
What do you think are your best and worst character traits?
I would say the answer to both questions is my ability to be critical and pick holes in anything. That’s very good when you are trying to dissect a presentation and put things back together. It’s actually a pretty crappy trait to have in the rest of your life though, crappy for you, and crappy for others. It’s something I need to learn to park when I’m “off duty”
Are you striking a work / life balance? If so, what’s your secret?
I think if you’d asked me that years ago I would have said that there’s no difference between the two, but as time goes on I’m starting to realise I probably need to more clearly set boundaries for myself. There’s the whole Parkinson’s law thing which says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
When things are going crazy, what do you do unwind?
Without question, it’s walking. I’ll routinely go for really long walks when I’m feeling stuck. There are some really great walks near where I live, some of the finest views in all of Dublin.
You stayed in Newfoundland for a month to explore the place its people and the thriving startup community, sounds like an awesome adventure what did you discover?
Aw man! that place is fantastic. When I describe it to people I start by saying “You know the way there is French-Canada, well Newfoundland is Irish-Canada.” The similarities in our cultures are phenomenal, and if you run into a Newfoundlander you’ll notice instantly how Irish they sound.
Newfoundland chocolate with their local phrases on it, so Irish
It’s a beautiful place with a look and feel similar to the West Coast of Ireland, it’s got that rugged Atlantic feel. Just 20 mins outside of the main city, St. John’s, you can find yourself some amazing walks and scenery.
Startup wise, they’re a small city (250K-ish) with a scene that has been pretty fragmented until recently, kind of like Ireland actually, but there are some great groups like StartupNL that have been trying to bring everything together.
I met some great startups there, they are fiercely proud to be from the region and don’t see operating out of what could be seen as a small-time outpost (compared to Toronto/Montreal) as an obstacle to success.
You’ve written some excellent travelogues, how did that come about and when’s the next adventure?
I’ve done two major ones, and I suppose they were both situations where I thought other people needed to be convinced to try them out! Seriously that 55 hour (yep… 55 hour) train from San Francisco to Chicago was amazing. All of the classic American scenery, the Sierra Nevada, Utah deserts, right through the Rockies, wizzing past your window.
More broadly I like writing, it’s something I should do more. I’ve had a blog since before it was cool (2005) and I need to carve out more time to do it.
What’s the last book or movie you’ve read/seen?
I just finished re-reading “Let My People Go Surfing” my favourite business book of all time. It’s written by the founder of Patagonia clothing and tells the story of how we want from accidental and indeed “reluctant” business man to CEO of a global company. I love this snippet from the book ““If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.”
What’s your favourite gadget and why?
I think this is best answered by the “apartment burning down test”, if I could only escape with a few things it would be laptop and Samsung Note 3 It’s big, thin, has great battery life, and because it’s all plasticky (Samsung), you can drop it on a concrete floor and it’s still good to go.
What’s the most played song in your itunes / spotify playlist?
I reckon my most played song if “Take the long way home” by Supertramp.
So what’s next for Clearpreso?
I’m about to catch a train to Galway to check in on all the teams at startlab, a tech incubator programme powered by Bank of Ireland, built from the ground up to educate, connect and scale tech startups.
Well that’s it, all over thanks for taking the time Ed
Thanks, really enjoyed the chat best of luck with the series.
Ed during his month-long visit to Newfoundland
#FounderStories simply a series of conversations with founders that I meet on my travels, have worked with in the past or simply find what they do interesting. These posts do not represent the views of any employer or any business that I am affiliated with.
I hope you enjoy them! Want to be featured?
Other interviews in the series: