Meet Mark Cummins, Co-Founder at Pointy

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The Pointy POS barcode scanning device in action

 #FounderStories simply a series of conversations with founders 

Co-Founders Mark Cummins and Charles Bibby of Pointy.com

I recently caught up again with Mark Cummins, Co-Founder at Pointy, an Irish hardware startup that he co-founded with Charles Bibby in 2014, which is helping retailers to win back the high street. 

Previously I’d visited the team back in August 2015 at their Dublin office find out more about what they were up to and discuss an innovation project I was working on at the time.

Founded in 2014 and already over 500 retailers around Ireland like Donnybrook Bikes below are using the Pointy device to auto generate search engine friendly web pages for over 500,000 unique products with a view to ultimately driving more in store sales for them. In effect Pointy is helping to take back the high street for retail.

NOG: What is the name of your startup, what year was it founded? do you have any co-founders? how did you get the idea?
MC: Pointy, founded 2014. Co-founder Charles Bibby. The idea came from a very ordinary experience – I was drinking some craft beer at a party. I really liked it, but after the party I had trouble finding it in shops. It was definitely available somewhere locally, but I never found it. It seemed so strange that I could search the entire internet in half a second, but it was a struggle to find something in my local shops. The process hadn’t really changed that much from fifty or a hundred years ago.

NOG: This isn’t your first foray into entrepreneurship, what was your previous startup and what happened to it?
MC: That’s correct Niall, the previous startup that I was involved in was Plink. Plink became Google’s first UK acquisition in April 2010. Our visual search engine technology allowed users to simply take a picture of something in order to find out more about it. Our first product, PlinkArt, recognized famous paintings and was a winner of the ADC2 and a featured app on the Android market.

Video: Oxford Entrepreneurs Google Success – Plink Art Interview

NOG: Where is your startup located and how many people work there?MC: We’re based in Dublin, Ireland. We’re 7 people full-time, plus a few additional part time.

NOG: How was your startup originally funded, how are you funded now and how does your startup make money?
MC: We initially worked on the idea unpaid until we had a working demo. We then raised a seed round of $1.2M from some well know angel investors and VC funds. Our revenue comes from a small monthly fee we charge to shops on the system. There are some additional things in pipeline.

NOG: Were you ever close to failure? how close? how did you recover?
MC: I failed my driving test quite a few times :-). But in professional life there’s never been anything really close to failure so far. Perhaps after Pointy I’ll have some stories of hair-raising moments to tell.

NOG: What’s the biggest challenge your startup/business faces today?
MC: Reaching small retailers. Our product has proven very popular with retailers once they learn about it, but reaching small retailers at scale is a hard thing to do. There’s no real shortcuts, just a lot of different channels and lots of hard work.

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Looking for Cocoa Brown 1 Hour Tanning Mouse in Kill? No problem Allcare Pharmacy has you covered. (Allegedly the lads at Pointy buy it by the case)

NOG: What is your background? how did you get your start and what brought you to a life in business/startups?
MC: I studied Engineering and Computer Science at Oxford, and then went on to do a PhD in robotics and computer vision (as did my co-founder Charles). After Oxford I started a previous company (Plink) which Google acquired in 2010. I then spent three years at Google before leaving to start Pointy. I’m actually a little surprised to find myself founding start-ups, it’s not something I ever thought about growing up.

NOG: What gets you up in the morning? and what keeps you up at night?
MC: Honestly, the thing that actually gets me up in the morning is curiosity about what’s happened in the world overnight – normally in the form of checking our dashboards, emails, etc. At night, I often lie awake for an hour or more thinking about what to do next – it’s something I’ve done all my life. So, I guess the answer is: everything.

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NOG: What is your best character trait? what is your worst character trait?
MC: I like playing with ideas and questioning things – if you question enough things sometimes you have an idea for something new and interesting. On the other side, I sometimes over-research and read a lot of background material on things, when a bit of direct trial-and-error or even just focused thought might get me there quicker.

NOG: Are you striking a work / life balance? If so, what’s your secret?
MC: It can be long hours during the week, but I always take the weekends off. That works for me.

NOG: When things are going crazy, how do you unwind?
MC: Cycling in the Wicklow mountains.

Picture taken by Mark while out cycling in Co. Wicklow, Ireland

NOG: You reference Donnybrook bikes on your site, have you ever used Pointy yourself to find and buy parts there yourself?
MC:
Yes, have got plenty of small bits and pieces off Donnybrook Bikes, the guys are great and have a great selection – last thing I think was a new Bontrager bottle cage.
NOG: Ok I just checked on Pointy and they are showing in stock, thats cool!

Bontrager RL Cage (Black) available at Donnybrook Bikes

NOG: 
What’s the last book or movie that you’ve read or seen?
MC: Last movie was Star Wars, in common with half the world! Last book was The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi.

NOG: What’s the most played song in your itunes or spotify playlist?
MC: Bonxie by Stornoway

NOG: What’s your favourite gadget and why?
MC: 
I use a projector at home instead of a screen. I love it.

NOG: What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you created your business/startup?
MC: One of the trickiest things was where to draw the line between business and non-business life. e.g. Friends and family who wanted to invest and/or work in the business, etc. I think we mostly got it right, but more by luck than judgement.

Pointy being interviewed by the folks over at IrishStartup.TV back in July 2015

NOG: So what’s next for Pointy?
MC: We’re just about to launch in a new country, which is very exciting!

NOG: What question would you like me to ask the next founder?
MC: I’d be interested to know how much of their time people spend the different aspects of the job – e.g. working on product, hiring, raising money, sales, media, etc.

NOG: How would you answer your own question? 🙂
MC: Nicely done! The majority of my time is on product – quite a lot of actual coding. There’s also a lot of time on high level decision making – which features should we prioritise, which city should we launch in next, etc. The other major part of it is establishing and maintaining relationships with investors, keys partners, etc. There are periods of a month or more when fund raising is 100% of my time. Hiring is also a big one which happens in short bursts.

NOG: Well Mark, that’s it. Congratulations on the recent funding announcement, continued success in helping retail to take back the high street. by helping them gain traction online in order to drive sales offline in store.
MC: Thanks Niall, really enjoyed the chat.

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Are you an Irish retailer wanting to learn more about Pointy and the opportunity to join them on their mission to help win back the high street for retail? then click here

#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:

Now is the winter of our discontent (or is it…)

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“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
Richard The Third Act 1, scene 1, 1–4

In the above Richard, the future king, opens this Shakespeare play not by protesting his discontent, but by celebrating an upturn in his family’s fortunes. His brother Edward IV — they’re sons of the Duke of York — has wrested the English crown from Henry VI and the Lancastrian house. So those who simply quote “Now is the winter of our discontent” are doing these lines a disservice, since the “now” actually modifies “made glorious” (i.e. “The winter is now made glorious summer”). More — Source: endnotes.com

Inspired by an article Marcelo De Santis Global CIO of Mondelez shared earlier: ‘Why the rise of CDO role represents a power grab’ by Dan Woods on Forbes.com, excerpt below I penned the following post.

“The rise of the CDO is being driven by many different forces, but one that is rarely acknowledged is class struggle. The classes are not the proletariat or the bourgeoisie, but rather the tech incumbents, the CIOs and CTOs of the world, versus marketing and PR professionals.” Read More by Dan Woods on Forbes.com

Now is the winter of our discontent (or is it…)

Marcelo already knows my personal opinion and suggested path to resolution on this very real challenge facing global IS / GBS organisations and CTO, CIO roles within large organisations right now.

It’s not a power struggle more a mid-life crisis on all sides of the table facing into the new world order brought about by the rapid pace of distributed digital enablement by SaaS/PaaS solutions penetrating like a positive virus across global organisations at present.

The IS / GBS organisations that face into this challenge, reinvent their value proposition, become agile versus waterfall, earn versus expect the right to participate in the new digitally led world order and leverage the fact that they have a massive head start versus the competition, given their unique position typically having touch points across every aspect of the business globally.

IS / GBS organisations are the nervous system or connective tissue which in one way or another touches everything across a global organisation. The challenge today and why I refer to it as a ‘mid-life crisis’ versus ‘power struggle’ is in what seems overnight, the rug has been (or will be) pulled out from under global GBS / IS organisations leading to them sitting on the outside of discussions, decisions and resulting activations related to this new digitally driven world.

Gone are the days when sticks like compliance, cost management, policy and fixed organisational hierarchy are sufficient glue to keep IS / GBS in the game. It’s a new day, a new dawn in which these organisations need to rapidly change and reinvent themselves or face the very real risk of getting left behind or worse moving slowly towards extinction.

But let’s not despair, for those who now take stock, recognise the situation, rally the troops and reinvent themselves as a more agile agency like entity versus clinging on to the lingering perception of IS / GBS organisations being slow moving bureaucratic civil servant type organisations, the future will be very bright indeed.

I’m lucky enough to have a bird’s eye view into how challenges like these are impacting many organisations given my involvement in both enterprise and start-ups. At Mondelez for example, we face these challenges just like everyone else, however the difference to allot of other organisations is that it’s already recognised as a challenge (opportunity) at the highest level within the organisation and people are actively working to address it.

They do this in the knowledge that getting it right should contribute along with many other measures currently being activated across the organisation to a real and sustained competitive advantage well into the future.

Header Image: ‘Lonely kid in the wilderness’ by Frédéric de Villamil

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Also by Niall O’Gorman