TenderScout wins Bronze at the Bank of Ireland Startup Awards 2017

There are a few sleepy heads in the office today after the great event held last night at the Mansion House for the Startup Awards 2017.  

TenderScout was delighted to win Bronze in the Tech Startup of the Year category. We’re proud of the award and proud of the company we were in; our fellow contestants are a brilliant cohort of some of Ireland’s most exciting startups.

Startups participating in this category were:

Growing a startup is an exhilarating journey, but it can also be isolating as you focus heavily on finding customers, refining the product and increasing revenue. It’s a welcome opportunity to spend an evening in the company of the startup community in Ireland.

Thank you Bank of Ireland and Startup Ireland. See you next year!

(All category winners can be seen here.)

It was great to be in the company of Ireland’s startup community.
Our category!
The cheesecake desserts were a hit with EVERYONE!
We’re proud to stand aside the contestants in our category.

 

Meet the TenderScout team!

TenderScout is taking some big steps in 2017! We’ve grown our team to eight people, moved into our own office on Harcourt Street in Dublin 2, and secured investment. And it’s still only the first half of the year!

With all this activity afoot, we thought that now is the ideal time to introduce you to the team, and we’re starting right at the top, with our founder, Tony Corrigan.

Tony Corrigan founded TenderScout in 2014, after realising the size of the opportunity SMEs were missing out on by not competing for public contracts. He began his career at IBM and has worked in Ireland and abroad. One of Tony’s core responsibilities now is recruiting the right team to grow TenderScout and provide superb service to our customers.  

Tony, tell us a bit about yourself and your role as a part of TenderScout:

I’m from Limerick and am the CEO of TenderScout.

How do you think your position contributes to the mission and goals of TenderScout?

It’s my job to to define the mission we’re on as a company, set goals and support the team to deliver those goals.

Tell us about why you set up  TenderScout?:

I came up with the idea of TenderScout when I saw a lot of great companies not winning contracts as they didn’t know how to write tenders.

For quite some time I’d been writing tenders and I was quite good at it. I thought everybody else was writing them too. I only realised that tender proposals flummoxed many people when individuals asked me to help them… Buyers also started to ask me for input on RFPs, so I got a unique understanding of both sides of the equation. I realised there was an opportunity and I used my knowledge of both tendering and tech startups to build this platform. Using technology, we eliminate much of the confusion associated with tenders for suppliers and help them win contracts.  

What inspires you about working at TenderScout?

I love problem solving and TenderScout is solving a big problem for businesses. Winning tenders helps businesses increase their sustainability, protect jobs and grow more jobs. TenderScout makes a real difference to SMEs with our product and service.

How do you stay motivated?

Before getting involved with tech, I’d been passionate about music; I was following bands across the country. Being a musician or an actor sounds great to most people but it’s actually a tough life with a lot of travelling and hard work. I realised I was moved by people’s passion for what they were doing, with money and fame being a secondary consideration. I feel this was about technology.

Founding a startup is a very lonely existence – a lot like being a solo artist! You have to believe in yourself to make it because the road to success is filled with obstacles. Truly believing in what you are doing is only the level of motivation that really counts.

How would you describe the value proposition of TenderScout? 

TenderScout takes away the pain of tendering, and allows SMEs to compete for – and win – business that they would have not been able to. We go on the tender journey with the client and provide support throughout the process.

Does TenderScout need to be concerned about a strong competitive environment?

Yes. We turn data into knowledge about the competitive environment for our clients. Other people could also come up with clever algorithms. Thus we need to invest in data collection and our solution in the future to maintain our innovative edge. And if we’re truly successful there’d be 50 other companies trying to do the same.

For example, when the Beatle’s started, they were innovators. In a few weeks, hundreds of bands sounding the same came up. Companies need to constantly keep innovating, then you show competitors the way.

What has been your biggest accomplishment this month?

Oh, I completed my first board meeting, plus I secured the funding from Enterprise Ireland!

Are you more of a hunterer or a gatherer?

I’m definitely not a person that waits for people to do stuff or create solutions for me. I prefer to be proactive and come up with my own solutions. So yeah, that’s definitely more the hunting part!

Any advice for your previous boss?

I worked at IBM before which is a great company with the extremely skilled employees. So I’ve seen the best of the best working together in a company. I have wondered if quantity more than the quality is the success driver, but I’ve discovered it’s not about how many employees you have, if they still are not skilled or motivated, you won’t make it far.

In the end it doesn’t really matter how many people you have. Even if you are only a lean team like us, the most important point is that you are ambitious and motivated to succeed and believe in your company’s mission and goals.

Secret addiction: Coffee, sweets, etc…

Well, I play Candy Crush on my phone. I’m not really obsessed with it but I enjoy playing it when I’m bored. And I was fairly obsessed with video games as a teenager.

 

Things we learned on the Google Adopt A Start-up programme

The Google Adopt A Startup programme has just come to an end and TenderScout was a proud participant this year.

While we weren’t one of the finalists (and we send a huge congratulations to LogoGrab, Campsited and Obeo who placed first, second and third), we are delighted to take away a few observations and lessons from the programme.

Ambition drives growth

All of the participants are ambitious. Launching and working in a high octane start-up demands it. It’s important to channel this ambition into solid plans, linked to measurable KPIs, to drive growth.

Failure is part of the deal

Not enough is shared about the failure tech start-ups face, and this does a disservice to entrepreneurs and founders since failure often acts as a catalyst for innovation. One of the great insights we’ve taken from the whole programme is of the failures the finalists faced, what they learnt from it and how they pivoted to overcome the failure.

Leverage resources

Every start-up runs on a lean team, but networking helps entrepreneurs and founders extend their reach to dozens of other people who can provide valuable direction and advice. Engaging with the start-up community, and looking to provide value and support as well as seek it, is the key to leveraging resources beyond your team.

The programme made improvements

Embarking on the programme gave the participants a new perspective on their enterprises and improvements were made by each of the teams. Working so close to the coalface of your tech start-up, it can be difficult to judge whether you are doing things in the most optimal manner. Searching questions were asked by the panel of each participant and these questions provided the basis of evaluating whether current processes, product development or branding in each start-up was driving value or could be done better.

It’s onwards and upwards for us as we implement everything we learnt on the programme, and we’d like to say a special thank you to our Google team leader, Helder Pimenta, for all his support and encouragement.

 

TenderScout wishes Niamh Bushnell well in her new role as Head of TechIreland

The reality of running a tech start-up is far from the image words like “founder” and “entrepreneur” instil in people’s minds. While I wouldn’t change it for anything, guiding your business idea to fruition can be isolating at times, and challenges are par for the course nearly everyday.

People you meet can have a huge effect in this environment, and Niamh Bushnell’s influence on TenderScout will be felt for a long time to come.

Niamh’s support of TenderScout started in the early days when she was part of the panel that included us in the final of the WebSummit Spark of Genius Award. This was a great industry validation of what we were about and looking to achieve as a start-up, and a huge mental boost for myself.

Her championing of TenderScout continued with Niamh inviting us to participate in startup activities and SaaS workshops. Niamh also played a pivotal role in our seed investment round by introducing us to Gianni Matera of Growing Capital who led our Seed funding round.

Of great personal meaning, Niamh invited TenderScout onto the Mentoring for Scale programme although we hadn’t raised any funding and we weren’t as far along as others. Now, as Niamh moves to her new role, it’s with pride that I can say we have warranted her belief in us and are scaling into new markets in no small part due to the quality of mentoring that we’ve received.

Both myself and TenderScout would like to thank Niamh for her support through the years and we wish Niamh everything of the best as she takes up her new role as Head of TechIreland.

 

How much does it cost to respond to an RFP?

You may have heard that governments around the world spend more that $3 Trillion on goods and services that they procurement through competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) processes.

If you’re like the vast majority of small-medium-businesses (SMBs) you’ll have concluded that it’s not really worth the effort – it’s too resource intensive, too costly and the outcomes are too unpredictable to be considered worthy of investment.

Is it really thought? How much does it actually cost to respond to an RFP and how much should you be investing in related presales activity before you start seeing an uptick in your fortunes?

Empirical evidence is quite thin on the ground in this regard. A cursory internet search reveals that the Irish government suggest SMBs spend about $5,000, LexMundi estimates a legal proposal, , will take 40-50 hours to compile (again c.$5,000), but there’s very little data. So at TenderScout set ourselves the challenge of figuring out what the right answer was; we decided to get some data! Data is the difference between feeling that proposals are too expensive and knowing exactly how expensive or not that they are.

Gathering the Data: How much do SMBs tell us they spend?

We asked 130 SMBs how much they spend on proposals in response to RFPs; this is what we found:

  •  SMB Investment in RFPs worth less than $140,000
    For low value contracts, typically those published by state, city or county buyers, 57% of SMBs spend a maximum of $2,100 on their proposal, while 26% spend in the region of $5,300.
  • SMB Investment in RFPs worth more than $140,000
    For higher value contracts, typically those published by federal buyers, 48% of suppliers spend up to $5,300, while 50% spend up to $10,000 and beyond.

    Analyzing the Data: What’s the % of cost to contract value?

    To determine the correlation between the cost that SMBs compiling a proposal and the value of that contract, we mapped the data taken from our SMBs real proposals and we found that SMBs spend 3% to 6% of the contract value on all of the activities leading ou to and including the proposal delivery.

Analyzing the Data: Can we predict competition outcomes based on the amount invested?

To round out our challenge, we asked our SMBs to tell us their win-rate, the ratio of proposals submitted to contracts won. We wanted to see if the level of investment could be used as a predictor of outcomes. When analyzing our sample data set we discovered a linear correlation between the amount invested and the win-rate;
An SMB that invests 1% of contract value on proposal delivery has a win-rate of 10%, while a 6% investment results in a win-rate of 60%. The impact of investment at higher levels becomes increasingly marginal.

 

In conclusion, SMB, should invest at least 3% of the expected value of the business if they are serious about competing for RFPs; those that spend more than that will realize significantly impactful results.

Selling to Government Organizations – What do I need to know?

Government organizations invest millions of dollars in RFPs for goods and services each year; dollars they spend with small-medium-businesses (SMB) throughout the US. There is a huge potential for SMEs to participate and increase their revenue with public contracting. Yet most of them avoid it with lot of excuses including complaints about transparency of the system, time consuming process or budget. They struggle with finding and qualifying right opportunities. When they participate, their win rate is very low, typically around 10-25%. So what are they doing wrong?

Having participated in the qualification of thousands of RFPs, it’s clear that the norm is for SMEs to run headlong into seemingly attractive opportunities without considering whether it’s really for them – that’s not a recipe for sustained results. Winning contracts is a process that starts with baselining your capability and capacity to compete for opportunities. Once you recognise what your strengths are and you’ve a plan to rectify your weaknesses you’re ready to start finding, qualifying and competing for opportunities

Find the opportunity

There is a couple of public websites we mentioned in our previous blog posts (Finding government contracts that you can actually win) where you can find government contracts. These sources usually display opportunities from certain country or region.

However most bid managers will benefit from a single source of information. So instead of browsing different websites, use a single platform source like Tenderscout. You can search for more than 5,000 new opportunities every day from 100+ countries.

Qualify if it’s a right fit for you

Let’s say you found an opportunity in your country that matches your area of expertise. It seems like you can do this one, but should you go for it without further examination? The answer is no! Proper qualification is the most important part of the process. There can be a lot of hidden factors including past buyer records that may warn you from competing for this opportunity.

Make sure you have all the information before making a decision that could cost you a lot of time and resources. Use qualification analytical tools that will help you determine whether to bid or not and avoid contracts you have a very little chance of winning.

Compete

When you pick the ideal opportunity, here comes the real challenge – being the best one among all the bidders and winning the contract. That’s where you need to show differentiation. Show the buyer who you really are and why are you the best fit for them. Understand their needs, think outside of the box and offer the best innovative solution. It is also very useful to follow structured templates that will guide you through the process of writing the proposal.

 

To increase your chance of winning government contracts make sure you build the right process and long term plan. Find, qualify and compete for opportunities strategically. Every SME has a chance to participate and become successful public supplier. Use tools like TenderScout and start winning more business today.

Do I have any chance of winning a government contract?

A Question we are often asked by potential clients in Tenderscout is do I have any chance of winning a government contract? Sometimes the client is frustrated because they are only winning 10-25% of the opportunities they are writing; sometimes they have never tried but have no faith in the fairness of the process. For the record, in our experience 95% of these opportunities are run fairly.

There are two answers to this question:

Yes…but… in short it has to be the right opportunity for you, understanding which ones work for you can sometimes take a little trial and error, but the first step is to understand the need of the buyer, and whether or not you can fulfill this need.

In order to answer this question you should ensure that you have a     strong Bid/No-Bid and Qualification process for each opportunity you are going to pursue.

Figure out exactly what the client is looking for, for example, a new website is rarely the goal of a RFP but a new website is a great way to achieve the goal of improving the look and feel of a brand online. Once you understand the client’s needs, it is easier for you to assess whether the opportunity is right for your company.

Honestly assess your own capabilities – a five-person agency is unlikely to win an opportunity that calls for huge complexity, 24-hour support and has a minimum budget of $1,000,000. Start with contracts that you can almost certainly win and ignore the ones you have little chance of winning. This will have a positive impact on both your team’s morale and your costs!

 

No…Unless… You treat winning public opportunities like a process. When it comes to winning private sector business you have most likely built a sales process that works for you and winning public opportunities is no different. So the better question becomes – how do I go about winning opportunities that work for my company?

As mentioned above start with Qualification and Bid/No-Bid. Next, demonstrate that you understand the needs of the buyer – in the example of the website rebuild that we used above find out why they want to build a website – User engagement, Brand image improvement, Improving User understanding of the service they offer. Showing the buyer that you understand what they actually need and shaping your solution to that need will distinguish you from 90% of your competitors.

Demonstrating your team’s suitability for this project. Your CV’s are you chance to sell a buyer on your team, in the public sector as well as the private – people buy from people. Take this opportunity to tell a story about each team member and what makes him or her suitable for this project, not just another cookie cutter LinkedIn profile or recitation of the jobs that they have done and education they have.

Spend time on your template documents – things like safety statements and CV’s, Case Studies, Methodology may seem like simple items that are taken as read but there are valuable points available here, they are documents and policies that are easy to get right so why don’t you get them right?

Do not stress about price – price the job like you would in the private sector, charge the price that works for you and not the one that you think will win. Contrary to popular belief, the last thing any opportunity falls down on is price.

Building or improving a robust government contracting process for both Public and Private RFP’s is something that can benefit almost every business we do it every day in www.tenderscout.com. The basics of how we do it are laid out here, if you would like to learn more feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn – or email me at ronan@tenderscout.com

Beating the Odds – How SMEs win RFPs

It’s common wisdom that for small and medium businesses (SMB) competing for government contracts is a waste of time. RFPs are loaded with legal jargon, the requirements are vague, the names of incumbents a closely guarded secret. And what? You want to know the budget? That’s just crazy talk.

Those are just some of the sentiments that I hear from bid managers and sales executive, when I ask them why they’re avoiding government contracts. To a large extent they’re right to. The average win rate for an SME is an appalling 26% according to PwC’s most recent report into European procurement Activity (Report).

To digress into figures for a moment, the same report indicates that the average contract value is €60,000. Most businesses spend around 5% of the contract value on presales activities. It’s plainly unsustainable to build a 20% margin into your proposals just to break even.

Next time you’re weighing up the odds of spending that money on writing a proposal or having a flutter in the casino, take note that in The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver noted that the odds of winning at Blackjack in Las Vegas were 48% – that sounds more attractive in the short term than slogging over a proposal you’ve little chance of winning!

But here’s the thing, there’s a small cohort of SMEs who are beating these odds and winning as much as 70% of the RPP proposals that they write. At TenderScout we studied over 100 of these businesses to try and understand what they were doing differently and how we could apply their strategies in our clients businesses.

All companies spend pretty much the same amount (between 3% and 6% of the contract value) on their presales activities; the difference is in where they spend it.

In most companies, around 10% of pre-sales cost is incurred on qualifying opportunities and almost 90% on proposal development – writing content, creating graphics and so forth In the cohort that are beating the odds, they spend three times as much, up to 30% qualifying opportunities (and conversely less time writing actual proposals).

The qualification process is fundamentally data-driven decision making around which RFPs, fit the sweet spot and are winnable. We identified 4 key categories of tools used to help make decision:

  • Customer Relationship Management Tool (CRM) to record details of your relationships with buyers and build up a record of your engagement with them.
  • Buyer Profiling to better understand who the buyer is, who the key decision makers are, what the buying history looks like, how they make buying decisions, how much they typically spend and what their needs are.
  • Competitive Landscape Analysis to acknowledge whom your competitors are, their strengths and differentiators, their relationship with the buyer, their track record, experience and expertise and whether they are likely to submit a better proposal than you can.
  • Bid/No-Bid process to standardize decision making in the context of your solution, the buyer need, the competitive landscape, the budget and timescales within which the solution is to be delivered and so forth to determine whether all else being equal your proposal will meet their needs and be a more compelling proposition than that of your competitors.

Businesses are using tools like salesforce, Datahug, VisibleThread and TenderScout amongst others to simplify the process, increasing the robustness of their decision making and ultimately giving themselves a platform for sustainable success.

Finding government contracts that you can actually win

Public sector contracts represent about 12% of the Irish economy. There’s huge potential for companies to grow their revenues through government contracting. Yet, the majority of businesses don’t compete for contracts because they don’t feel that their effort is worth the reward.

Many small and medium businesses have the potential to compete and win government contract, but there are challenges to overcome. The first is figuring out just why all of these opportunities are hiding.

The Irish government publishes around 7,000 tenders each year, the majority of which are between €25,000 and €135,000 in value. They can mostly be found on etenders.gov.ie. If you’re feeling more confident, higher value contracts are found on the pan-European website ted.europa.eu.

There are other sources of tenders, mostly paid-subscription services offering some value added features like email alerts and market research, but most of their opportunities come from these public sources.

The key challenge of course is not finding where the opportunities live, rather finding the opportunities that you actually have a chance of winning. There’s no point in writing proposals for opportunities that just don’t fit your sweet-spot. Even if you win the contract, you’re going to be up against it to try and fulfil the contract terms, much less make a profit.

It’s easy to miss the right opportunity if you’re spending all of your time sifting for hours through different websites looking for that perfect opportunity.

To increase your chance of starting out on the right path, choose a source of opportunities that combines multiple sources and automatics as much of the sifting through opportunities as possible. That means you’ll just be focussing on opportunities that are right for you.

To give yourself the best chance of success, focus on finding opportunities that you truly believe are ‘meant for you’. Use alerts services like www.tenderscout.com that give you a single source of information and fast-track you towards winning those contracts you deserve. There are a thousands of public opportunities out there. Make sure that you’re competing for the ones with your name on it.

3 Startup Lessons from the Valley

I was chatting with Paul Burfield, Enterprise Irelands’ man in Silicon Valley over breakfast; we were pondering why it was that US startups appear to have more success at scaling than equivalent companies elsewhere.

As I travel back from the SaaStr 2017, an annual orgy of all that is SaaS, held in San Francisco, I’m musing on what I’ve heard from the founders of leading companies like Facebook, Dumo and Zendesk. Many of the speakers, tell stories of their journey to Annual Recurring Revenues (ARR) to $100m within 5 to 8 year timeframes. They tell stories about cracking $1m in their first 18 months and the struggle to get to $5-6m ARR – when the “cavalry arrives” over the next 18 months.

The level of ambition, or perhaps, it’s expectation, amongst US startups is on a totally different scale to that I’ve experienced elsewhere – they’re only getting started by the time their revenues hit $30m; many founders in a different environment are looking for the exit doors.

Having spent time getting under the covers of many of these startups heading for the stratosphere, I’m struck by how ordinary their technology often is. Listening to the speakers at SaaStr, the talk is not so much about technology innovation – mostly (and it is a sales conference!), it’s about building a sales engine.

Many of the solutions SaaStr are centered around optimizing the sales process, improving your Net Promoter Score (NPS), better tracking of SaaS metrics – tools for all the other SaaS companies to build their own sales engines. Every solution now comes with ‘machine learning’, which means all things to all men, but in truth, there’s no technology that’s any more innovative or game changing than what I’d commonly see in my home town of Dublin or any of the other startup hubs around Europe.

I’ve distilled the thoughts of the leading minds from Stripe, Intercom and their peers speaking at SaaStr into three strategies.

1. Prioritise Market Definition over Product

Prioritise defining your market above the product you’re going to build. US companies happily go to market with ‘minimum viable products’ and trust that the technology will catch up with the marketing.

2. Recruit Sales Recruitment over Engineers

Prioritise recruitment of sales staff and even marketing staff over engineers. In Silicon Valley, this may be a result of the shortage and the cost of engineering talent, but it’s clear that where Irish companies are knuckling down and writing code, their US counterparts are building momentum through brand awareness and early sales.

3. Build your Sales Machine Early

  • Build your sales machine as early as possible. US companies invest in sales technology like Datahug, insidesales.com and pipedrive.com that optimizes lead generation, incorporates predictive analytics and supports a scalable process.
  • Measure every element of the sales process – the lead conversion rate, sales velocity, customer acquisition costs, customer retention costs, churn and the all-important monthly recurring revenue. Because at the end of the day, without sales, nothing else matters.

As I travelled home I met startup founders from SwiftComply, Phorest and several Irish companies. Having spent time learning from SaaS pathfinders, they’re more confident than ever in their ability to compete with the very best on the planet.