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
Houston We Really Do Have A Problem… SXSW 2010 Day 3
Cancelled flight. Delayed flight. Exhaustion. Sorrow. Misery. And the elation of catching our connecting flight to San Francisco with just about five minutes to go. The perfect setup for what would be leg two of this wonderful first excursion to the USA. The hotel room at the Best Western seemed like a paradise hotel compared to the blow up beds and cat flaps of the treehouse and for the first time in a few days we settled in for a sleep and a recharge. We were going to need it as it turned out. Come back in a day or two for more…
Blind in Texas SXSW 2010 Day 2
Did I mention that we were staying in a treehouse? Now not a house suspended up in a tree, that would have been great but we’ve outdone even that by renting a house with a tree quite literally growing through the middle of it. And it had a firepit outside, already built up with the sort of kindling that just deserves to be smouldering at midnight while beers and stories are passed around and happy faces are aglow with the heat and the occasion. But that was for later. We’d already done Bill Hicks, so it wasn’t a great leap to aping Joe Strummer right?
Problems with paying the rent via Paypal (grrr!) made a hole in our scheduled day (the lie in after the previous night’s antics didn’t help either) and therefore the talks and seminars that day that were saved on our sitby.us and sched.org apps got left behind. Still, there was plenty more to offer in the guise of the tradeshow which was a perfect anecdote to a rampant hangover.
The entire main hall of the Convention Centre was simply alive with start-ups, established players and general weirdos of the tech world and it was heaven to walk around and see so many flourishing ideas in one place. And you know how they say that Americans are friendly and interested in what you do? It’s completely true. Of the probably 500 or more exhibits we probably had a meaningful conversation with 90% of the people exhibiting, and took away a bulging sack of business cards in the process. If you’re looking for reasons why tech companies and outside ideas thrive in the US, the attitude to other people and the willingness to be open about what you’re doing is a great starter for one. We could learn a lesson from this, even if sometimes it is over the top false sincerity. That doesn’t matter as the result is the same. We can get to Northern Ireland’s fatal risk aversion later but for a start maybe we could learn to be a little bit friendlier and a little bit more open? If we can import anything how’s about a new attitude?
Following the geek stuff we tapped up 6th street for some more mayhem and met up with a few back home friends from Sonic Academy and Invest NI. Again this was a conversation of wild eyed optimism and frenzied plans, soundtracked purely by chance by what must have been one of the finest local bands Austin has produced in the Eric Tessmer band (www.erictessmerband.com). It was a pure treat to come across a musician with the chops of Jack White in a pub with a couple of hundred people. The fact that almost no-one left and that when the band started playing covers towards the end people asked for more of their home grown stuff is testament to how good they were. They’ve a CD out called Green Diamond (highly recommended) but if you do get the chance catch them live, Eric will strangle a guitar on your behalf.
A few tequilas and beers later and with 6th street pouring kerosene on our brains once again we went off in search of fire, and did the beer and bonfire party long into the night. Austin is the perfect setting for such a thing in fact when we make it back we should do it again, bigger and brighter next time. The Belfast beers and bonfire party. Sounds excellent right?
Texas Radio (and The Big Heat) SXSW2010 Day 1
I’ve always had a hankering to visit Austin, Texas. The outside world had told me it was the hip city, a heaving swamp of the dirtiest blues, cowboy boots, roadhouses, too-tall beer glasses and mammoth steaks that would enthral and seduce even the dourest of souls. Walking down 6th street at midnight after the first day of SXSW it felt like the outside world was right. Here is a sprawling behemoth of excess and a place that knows just how ice cool and swaggering it is. Austin loves to play up to its reputation it seems, a good time is guaranteed, you can’t escape it and if you try one of the familiar and disarming natives will talk you round in that slow, deep drawl of theirs.
And that’s the first thing that hits you when you’ve been around town for a few hours. The Southern hospitality that you’d heard so much about is as real as the cow heads on the walls of the steakhouses. And it’s very refreshing, if surprising when a stranger pats you on the shoulder in the street purely because they felt like saying hello. It melts your suspicious nature and makes you feel a lot more at home than home if that makes sense.
We’re here for SXSW (South by South West), the now legendary music, interactive and film festival. The interactive leg of the event is what our short window here will cover and thus far it’s been a blast. The village sized conference centre is home to the great and the good of the web with talks ranging from start-ups and how they’re changing the world to how to deal with bad clients (8 ways of dealing with bastards to be precise) filling its walls.
One drawback is that there’s so much going on that it’s simply impossible to see it all and so it becomes necessary to plot a solid path and stick to it. Yesterday we caught Donna Fenn and an inspirational talk about Y-Gen start-ups and how they’re breaking all of the rules before an engaging panel on Open Source and how different models for giving away your work can be lucrative or challenging. For us there was a validation in listening to the brave souls who were willing to try business models outside of the norm, we’ll be doing it with our AirPOS product this year and it’s good to get a heads up on the potential highs and lows of pursuing the ‘freemium’ model.
Following this (and with one of those mammoth steaks we mentioned lining our expanding stomachs) we got a real treat. There was a premiere for a new Bill Hicks film in town and given that Austin was Bill’s adopted hometown it felt like a wonderfully intimate affair, equally hilarious yet sad as unseen footage and laments from his closest friends accompanied by some great graphic work and fitting weirdness. And to see Bill talk about how he’d played Belfast, Ireland from a stage in a theatre (at Queens University) that had also hosted Oscar Wilde was a lovely moment. You should check it out, Bill Hicks: American. It has Austin in its veins.
No More Art in the Belfast Telegraph
We’ve made a further appearance in the Belfast Telegraph this week and on their website talking about what makes a good website from both the designer’s and the client’s perspective. If you fancy a read have a look here http://tinyurl.com/beletele