Startups, business failures and work-life balance: Mary McKenna tells it like it is!

I "Twinterview" Mary McKenna, a fellow IIBN member and serial entrepreneur. Tune in for ten truth bombs from the world of start ups and entrepreneurship.

The amazing Mary McKenna, Irishwoman extraordinaire, was very kind to agree to a "Twinterview" - a short interview on Twitter. Mary has decades of business experience, a fascinating life story, and she tells it like it is. Take it away, Mary! #SavvyWomenTwinterview


What separates startups from scaleups? 

Not many people are aware that "startups" doesn't just mean companies that are young and energetic! Start up is a phase in the life of a company. Mary makes the point eloquently: each phase requires very different skills, and so very different personalities. Otherwise the energy of new beginnings might fizzle out...


What characteristic(s) do you look for in a business collaborator (in the broadest sense of the word)?

Collaboration is essential - "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together". Two or more brains are better than one - but human relations are just that, human. Trust and loyalty are musts.


What connotations do you associate with the term "business failure"?

A failure is only a failure if you "fail" to draw the lessons. Learning from something that didn't work equips you to do better the next time. According to Mary, the business world in the US has a more constructive view of failure - it's valuable experience, and it increases your future odds of success.


What did you do differently in your 30s in comparison to your 20s when it came to your career?

Start ups and entrepreneurship are not just for "the youn'uns". Young founders might get most of the media attention, but the truth is that more experienced, wiser people make excellent start-up founders, too. Mary started her business at the ripe old age of 43. So what did she do in her 20s and 30s then? Well, you'd be surprised.



Tell us about one mistake you avoided?

Mary upends yet another startup myth! It's all about round after round of seed funding, venture capital and finding investors, isn't it? Well, it doesn't have to be that way. Mary never took external funding and bootstrapped her way to success.


How can hunger for business success turn from aimless energy to a strategic vision?

Dreaming of the entrepreneur's life? Mary doesn't mince her words when it comes to taking action - there's a time to stop dreaming and start doing. Are you serious about becoming an entrepreneur? Don't forget that the reality of an entrepreneur's life is lots of pressure and long hours. There's no shame in saying "This is not for me - I'll pass."


How do you always maintain relevance?

Age is just a number. What matters more is relevance: are you up to date? Do you know what is happening at the bleeding edge of your industry? Are you keeping informed, and do you know what the future will bring? Relevance is about both what you know and who you know. Keep learning.


Many people would agree (I'm first on that bus!) that you're a role model. What's your gut reaction when you hear that?

I like calling people I admire role models - and watch them raise their eyebrows... Role models are important: how can you be what you can't see? It's up to each of us to be a role model. You never know who is watching, who is being encouraged by your example. You have more influence than you think, so step into your greatness.


You travel LOTS and LOTS and LOTS! How do you keep it interesting?

Travel: a perk of entrepreneurship, or a necessary evil? Mary and I love the variety and the novelty of travel. The bland prepackaged meals, though, not so much...


Complete this sentence: Work Life Balance is...

Another truth bomb from Mary! According to her, work-life balance is not the perfect 50/50 equilibrium we are led to believe in. It's a constant challenge... but work shouldn't feel like something that takes away from life.


And that's a wrap! The Twinterview was great fun and we're planning the return match on 15th October 2018 at 6.30pm, GMT.

Update: Mary has now published our second Twinterview on her blog - in which she asks me no less than 15 questions! Read it here.

Follow us on Twitter @MMaryMcKenna and @SusanHayes_ 

For more of Mary's incredible stories and invaluable insights, follow her blog at

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