Destroy 40 years of Culture
Okay so we could possibly do with destroying the last 2000 years but hey, we have to start somewhere. If you know me in any way, you’ve probably had a pint with me and been subjected to lenghty and lofty rants theories about culture change and how it’s bloody important to tear down the attitudes of old school Northern Ireland and start anew, especially with the high tech renaissance in full swing all around us.
If you’ve been listening to the majority of our politicians in the run up to the election then you know that draconian views and limited thinking is still rife in our less than moderate little part of the world and it can drag you down. I’ve said it before, it’s not easy being a young person in Northern Ireland, many of the cultures and outlooks that are ingrained in the place are at best restrictive and at worst destructive. Especially to those who are creatively minded and entreprenurial. Too often trying to get your voice heard and your ideas across feels like wading through quick-sand. If you’re not careful, your motivation and belief can get sucked down into a gabbling abyss and be lost forever.
In the past six months I’ve been going through a loop of validation, finding interested and interesting people who think our business ideas, like AirPOS, can be big noises not just in our own backyard but on the world stage. On the one hand this is a wonderful experience that makes the world seem brighter and everything seem possible. On the other hand it makes you lament the years you spent in Belfast’s wilderness giving time, energy and ideas to projects and people who either didn’t know how to, or didn’t want to, recipricate. I’ve fought my last battle with the attitudes of old. In answer to the question “Do you want to win or do you want to be right?” I’ve decided that I want to win, come what may.
And I’m learning new ways of winning. If your ideas are strong enough and your will to carry them through is equally strong then there are a thousand ways of progressing with the one constant being levels of risk. There’s an ingrained need in many for the security of the day job, the regular wage that takes the sting out of the mortgage, the child support payments, the school fees, to keep the pension pot ticking or any number of reasons. I can appreciate that attitude, but I can’t subscribe to it. If your idea is strong enough and your will to succeed equally strong I believe there will be a way to meet those commitments and also to follow the path that opened up to you when you had the eureka moment. You may fail but if you do there will be options. You and the people you love will survive, and be stronger for it.
If the alternative is mortgaging your dreams and robbing the world of your creations then that risk is mitigated surely? It’s got to be worth a try.
At the end of May VI (that means six BTW) companies from various different sets of circumstances will be building their own incubator in Belfast City Centre to start the first steps of this journey. We’re still young enough and in need of learning enough to be one of them. AirPOS will be VI of VI. The others will be announced in due course.
They’ll be sharing experiences, being mentored, seeking investment, helping each other and generally supporting each other as they seek to have grown enough in VI months to stand alone and try to take their ideas to the next levels. Surrounding them will be people who have volunteered their time and resources to help from lawyers to accountants, designers to joiners, investors to civil servants and every spectrum in between. The BBC will be documenting this process, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.
These people, like me, have decided that they want to win and that there’s generally little value in being right.
You can boke at the sentiment if you like, and growl at the sheer lack of hipster-knowing-wink in the following statement but what you can’t do is deny the thruth behind it.
You may say that we’re dreamers, but we’re not the only ones…
Post inspired by Phil Wilson an entreprenuer, salesman and part-time comedian who, incidentally, is winning.
So they’re all trying to gain our trust again it seems these politicians and they’re sorry indeed about the expenses stuff and all that bad stuff they were caught doing. We should forgive them and let them fix up the country they say. We owe it to ourselves.
Now it’s unfair to tag them all with the same brush but the adject tedium of the Facebook posts and Twitter stream with the electioneering is overwhelming to the point where they are now best referred to as anti-social networks. But like the proverbial wobbly tooth I haven’t got the willpower to unfriend them all, on some horribly corrupt level I must be enjoying it.
Saying that it’s not all bad. In the interests of disclosure yes we built her website and yes my fiance works for her but it’s still refreshing to see Anna Lo pledging her help to SME ands, wait for it, Start Ups on her election literature. Check it out for yourself…
(Fake?) Tales of San Francisco – Day 2
Fake? Not really. Remembered through a haze of Bushmills more like. Back home friends of ours have a name for the second day of drinking, the ill-advised watching the game down at the pub after a heavy stag night, wedding or birthday. They call if Day 2, and it should send shivers down the hardiest of spines. And it appears that Day 2 has an international faction.
If you haven’t been you should go immediately. There’s a reason why all of the songs about San Francisco are about how leaving it breaks your heart. It’s entirely true. Granted it’s got an extraordinary homelessness problem that beggars belief, also there’s parts of the neighbourhood that you’d be advised not to venture into but despite these things it has an atmosphere that is unlike anything we’d ever experienced. There’s a buzz in the air, a belief in something, what? A way of life? An attitude? It’s hard to put your finger on it but it’s there in the electric between people. It’s there when you walk down a half empty street.
Our first St Patrick’s Day (16th of March) was spent much like the actual St Patrick’s Day, in an Irish pub, drinking Irish drinks and generally living up to every single Irish cliche imaginable (minus the fighting) and it was a blast. We even got up and played some songs in the end, which confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’d found our way through the road of excess and took a wrong turn at the palace of wisdom too.
All Saints – San Francisco Day 1
Did I mention that we almost missed our flight to San Francisco? Literally we got to gate at a sprint with the last of the Austin tequila sweating its way out of our stressed and bent up bodies. But we made it, and you had the feeling that on this trip you were always going to make it. The fates couldn’t possibly be so cruel.
When we finally touched down at SFO we had to make it to San Jose and so we hopped on a Super Shuttle and tried stretching the latest flights out of our systems as we got ready for a fairly hectic schedule. Naturally the first guy that we struck up a conversation with just had to be a retired venture capitalist who was only too happy to fill us in on the venture capital glory years (a license to print money) and how things were now radically different in the Valley (Silicon Valley). And of course Chris Noble gave us his card and told us to keep in touch with any developments back home in Ireland. Will do Chris.
As an introduction to the attitude of San Francisco and the way people go about their lives Chris was perfect, a human intro passage, an organic tourist brochure. He was open, interested, a bit wild eyed and above all grinning from ear to ear. He liked what we were trying to do with the AirPOS product and loved that we’d come to San Francisco to meet up with our investor. As validation went that we were in the right place, it couldn’t have come any more graphic than our first chinwag.
From here we suited up in a hotel bathroom (yes that’s SUITED up) and made our way to the Enterprise Ireland networking lunch and company exhibition. Here around 30 Irish companies were showing their wares while the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and prominent members of the ITLG and Californian business community mingled and chatted.
Here was only the first instance of talking about the ‘can do’ attitude that permeates the place but it most certainly wouldn’t be the last. While talks and speeches in Belfast are typically full of book learned business jargon and politicians answers dressed up as actualities in California they’re talking about a philosophy and a culture that they have nurtured, fed and matured into a State wide identity. The more cynical among us might scoff at this very American ‘can do’ take on things but don’t ever be in any doubt that in California they’re not just talking about it, they live it, every moment. It’s in their marrow and is the driving force behind everything that they do.
We were as wide eyed and excited as every person from Dublin, Wexford, Limerick and every corner of Ireland and like them, we were slowly but happily being inducted into the cult of JFDI (you work it out.)
John Hartnett and Arnie at the ITLG Awards, Stanford
From here we made our way to the luxurious halls of Stanford for the ITLG Awards, an annual event showcasing and rewarding the best of breed tech companies from Ireland. And there is was again, the Can Do. The anecdotes from Irish entreprenuers who have anted up and tried to live their dreams out. Of course there are those who will have had their hearts ripped out, but there were none in this room.
Instead we were treated to a roll call of diverse success stories and weighty tales of start up rollercoasters. It might be indicitive of something that the word Belfast was uttered 23 times from the stage, much more than any other part of Ireland (yes, we did count like silly little patriots!) and not least by the keynote speaker, none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself who treated us to stories about his bodybuilding days and training at the Belfast docks in the early 70s when even the hardiest of souls gave the city a wide berth. He gave awards to SiSaf from Belfast and Redmere from Dublin, congratulations to them both as shining examples of what’s possible in Ireland and also as proof positive that world class companies can be born and grow on these shores.
Kieran at the ITLG Awards, Stanford
The history of Stanford itself is a story of risk taking and outlandish thinking and its little surprise that this then became the birthing stone of such luminaries as Cisco Systems, Google, Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo! What a privilege to be standing in the corridors of the giants, trying to take our own baby steps forward. Let’s start the trend of thanking one David Kirk for his commitment to us and generosity of spirit right here, with the memory of Stanford bright in our minds…
Marty Neill and David Kirk at the ITLG Awards, Stanford
The Web Has Won
Just thought you all might like to see the video of Eric Meyer’s Build talk that we’ve been harping on about for weeks. A brilliant angle on things we thought, see what you think for yourself: