Instead, he became one of Irelands foremost tech journalists, first with The Sunday Business Post and now as the Technology Editor of The Irish Independent, where he remains one of the most inquisitive and essential voices writing about tech in Ireland today.
What kind of startups do you like to write about?
The people I like best are the ones who have the same accent they always had, straight talkers who know their product and their market. A good example would be PageFair, a really successful company thats really going places at the moment. Talking to Sean Blanchfield, theres no airs and graces, hes not trying to sound like hes from the Valley or be on message all the time. Thats really refreshing. And theyre the guys who will go far. I think theyre about to break in a big way.
I like Drop, I was in San Francisco last week, I walked into a shop off their street and the first thing I saw was their product. Theyre smart, and theyre doing great right now. We tend to figure out clever business niches, and take advantage of them. Kudos to a company like Brite:Bill who have won some huge deals in the states. What they do isnt sexy, its billing software, but who cares? They spotted an opportunity and jumped on it. And look at 3D4 Medical, who got two minutes on stage during the Apple launch the other week. Theyre not a new company, but what theyre doing is genuinely interesting. And they were a significant part of something that made front pages all over the world.
It feels like an exciting time in tech in Dublin right now
I dont think its necessarily just Dublin, its all happening across the US and Europe as well. Most big cities now have a nascent tech scene thats linked to a new type of entrepreneur, and a new model of innovation. In Dublin, however, we have an extra cushion base because we have so many multinationals who are based here. Some of it is shallow and superfluous, as some of the tech companies who are based here dont actually do much tech at all. But other multinationals are contributing to the bigger tech ecosystem; there are growing niches within those companies that are more involved in engineering and design here. Places like TripAdvisor, who have around fifty people working down beside the O2 Arena, and most of those are engineering jobs or quasi-design jobs. You’re seeing quite a bit of that happen. Even with old-timers like Microsoft, youre seeing more and more bits and pieces that are being designed here in Dublin.
The people I like best are the ones who have the same accent they always had, straight talkers who know their product and their market.
To some degree, its a very natural evolution for those companies
Its down to talented managers here arguing for that, and also to a growing workforce. Then theres the influx of people from Eastern Europe, for example, which has massively enriched the skills base here. Those are the kind of people that Silicon Valley is built on, that cities like London and Berlin are desperately trying to get, and the ones that create the real value.
For all thats been written and said about it, how big an issue is taxation when it comes to MNCS in Dublin?
Theres two different issues there. The first one is about corporate taxation as policy instrument to attract companies here. From my experience of talking to dozens of tech companies, it falls into two camps: with the larger ones, it definitely is an issue, but I dont know how much an issue it is for companies who have been here for years because theyre already bedded down so much. Googles just after spending 150M on a second data centre, and have just gone over 5,000 employees in Dublin. Now, you cant tell me that if our corporate tax rate goes from ten per cent to fifteen per cent, that theyre going to just pull out. I dont believe they will. If you say that everything that goes through the Google office is taxed at fifteen percent, then maybe that is a threat. But I dont believe theyll leave if you hike it by a few percent. As an issue, I dont think its the massive issue that people make it out to be.
For smaller companies, however, and I talk to a lot of them, ones with under a hundred staff here, they dont give a shit about tax. And the reason that they dont give a shit about tax is because a lot of them arent making profit yet. It only becomes an issue when youre actually making a profit. Their main worry is to still be alive in a couple of years time.
Dear Apple, you have 100bn in cash. For 50bn, we rename country iReland for 15 years. Deal?
— Adrian Weckler (@adrianweckler) February 7, 2013
What do you think makes Dublin unique as a tech hub?
I like the advanced sense of social accessibility that Dublin engenders, both in our own tech companies and in the companies that land here. Its not that hard to meet people here, even the ones who are senior, you dont have that sense of royalty that you get in Silicon Valley. Now you cant compare Dublin to Silicon Valley; its a million miles ahead of anywhere else in the world. I would argue that were trying to compare ourselves more on a level with a city like Stockholm, which is a proper startup city. Maybe even London, even though its ten times bigger than Dublin. We definitely outperform proportionally compared to them.
Are we in a moment right now?
Were definitely in a moment. If you look at the recent CSO stats, tech is the second highest pay category in pay in Ireland, and its just behind the financial industry. I think its around 65,000 per worker per year. Thats has a huge effect on many levels. Theres a big psychological effect, too. In Ireland, traditionally, middle-class aspirational parents have always tried to push their kids into white collar professions they saw as respectable: law, finance medicine, maybe engineering. The reality now is that the kids coming out of the science and computing courses in the colleges, its not just that theyre with these hip companies, theyre now starting to outbid the financial graduates on the townhouses in Dartry. And for middle-class snob parents who thought that tech was just for nerds, theyre now seeing the tech graduates going to San Francisco, London, Berlin or they stay here and make more money than their kids do. And that probably sticks in their craw a little. That might sound a little bit shallow, but theres a big cultural realignment that goes with this shift towards tech, and all of this makes a difference in terms of how the city works.
Who are the Dublin startups to watch right now?
Theres one called Cesanta, that Im really impressed with on a variety of levels, its basically two guys (Sergey Lyubka and Anatoly Lebedev) who were deep core high-level programmers in Google’s Dublin office, one from Ukraine, one from Russia, who decided to go out on their own with an Internet Of Things play. Theyre very impressive guys, and theyve got money from some very impressive people. Thats a company I could see scaling quickly, and theyre committed to Dublin. Another one I find really interesting is a company called , run by Jay Bregman, the co-founder of Hailo, its basically trying to become a global regulatory standard for drones, hes got some real heavy-hitters behind him. Its a very ambitious idea, and he wants to do it from Dublin. Thats what makes it interesting to me.