There’s a moment on Downton Abbey (forgive my love of period dramas) when the Crawley’s open up their castle to tours in order raise money for the village hospital. Some family members were skeptical anyone would even want to visit the family home.
I experienced the same bizarre feeling when I saw an advertisement on Instagram for Stroll City Walks a few weeks back. They were offering tours of Dublin’s tech companies in the Silicon Docks.
Cue my stuck-up skepticism: “Step right up! See work buildings with real desks and chairs.” Why would someone want to tour offices? It turns out, however, this company may be onto something interesting.
Stroll Co-founder Marco Pavesi says they want to create a tour company for the 21st century traveller. He and his team of 12 are focused on designing unique tours for different audiences. They’re building an app for bookings to enhance the tour experience. It will allow visitors to book a tour and even connect to the guide (called Strollers) via Bluetooth to follow along.
That technology helps show what the offices look like inside, since it is not practical to take a group of tourists into the lobbies of Facebook, Google, and the like.
“We want to create personalized tour for any kind of character or person,” says Pavesi during a tour of the Grand Canal Docks.
In addition to the Silicon Valley tour, Stroll offers a brewery crawl, an after dark paranormal tour, plus a tour focused on Irish dance. They even have a tour just focused on Ireland’s history of boxing and fighting, everything from Steve Collins to the modern fighters like Conor McGregor.
Pavesi’s background in motion graphic design adds to the artistic flare for each tour. They were designed like movies, with specific genres and even a Netflix-esque trailer. The Strollers work as contractors, in the Uber model. For each tour booked, Stroll gets 15% and the Stroller gets the rest.
For Stroll, the goal was to create tours that showcase the technology and aren’t covered by most companies.
“It’s hard to describe why a part of the world is important,” says Stroll City Manager Jack Redmond, acting as the Stroller today. “This part of the world, this place where we are in, definitely is. Inarguably.”
From the slave trade a thousand years ago and alcohol exports in the 19th century to today’s technology companies, Dublin’s economy has transformed time and time again. Most tours don’t visit the Docklands because until a couple of decades ago, it was run-down and dangerous. The influx of capital from multinationals and startups have transformed the area.
That makes for an interesting story.
During the tour, Redmond talked candidly about disagreements over whether foreign multinationals pay enough in taxes. One thing the tour covers is the preservation (and lack of preservation) of the historic buildings, as well as the boom of the Celtic Tiger and the bust that followed.
“Even though things were down for a little bit, things are definitely starting to improve again,” says Redmond. “This is about how we are getting back on our feet, how we are recovering, how we are going, we think, in the right direction.”
Have you ever been taken in by the thrilling nature of the Irish Dance?? Want to learn more then take a stroll with us on one of our tours pic.twitter.com/UrYYvaUs1i
— Stroll (@strollcitywalks) March 10, 2017
Unsurprisingly, as someone who writes about technology, I’ve spent a good amount of time in the Dublin Docklands in the last eight months. I went on the tour expecting to know it all. I was wrong. Beyond the stories of cool offices and amazing perks, Redmond taught me a lot about the architecture and history before the tech boom. For instance, as a recent newcomer to Dublin, I learned the Alliance Gasworks building was actually used to extract natural gas from the ground before it was renovated into its use today. The natural gas is also the namesake for Google’s building, the Gasworks.
On the Stroll, you really appreciate the layers of history in that part of town. Of course, so much of Ireland has layers upon layers of history. That’s why approximately 10 million people visited the Republic in 2016.
All of those tourists encourage a fairly healthy travel tech industry in Dublin which we’ve featured in the past. Some startups like Homestay work directly with travelers to give them a live-like-a-local experience. With Homestay, visitors book rooms and stay with regular people.
Some Dublin travel tech startups are business-facing, providing the infrastructure for everything from systems for travel agents to book trips (Dynamic Res) to airline in-flight entertainment systems (Inflight Dublin). Meanwhile, Dublin-founded Cartrawler provides most the backbone to many car rental companies.
“I’m a fan of walking and seeing cities at ground level and getting to know locals, and this platform potentially combines all of those while adding some digital components to the experience,” says Mark Lenahan, an independent travel industry consultant with 22 years of experience who has no connection to Stroll. “That said, launching a B2C travel business is very challenging.”
Luckily, Stroll has the Irish audacity to take on those challenges. It’s that sort of audacity that would drive even an insider from the industry like Mark to download it once it is ready. Expansion to New York and London would be next. But for now, they are taking advantage of what Dublin can offer. The company received Enterprise Ireland funding two years ago.
“Dublin is a small place, and the Irish mentality makes it easy to make contacts,” says Clarke.
While it is never easy to reinvent an industry, Dublin may be the best place to try. After all, the city has reinvented itself dozens of times in the last millennia.