So you may know that I’ve been in San Francisco a little bit this year, firstly meeting with our US friend and investor David Kirk after the fun that was SXSW and then again to get married in the amazing surroundings of San Francisco City Hall. This has meant many round trip flights, long layovers and general travel mayhem that has got in the way of both our fun and our business.
So it’s heartening to see a heavy push for direct flights from Ireland to Silicon Valley led by John Hartnett of ITLG and the Irish Innovation Centre in San Jose among other things. In fact it’s surprising that such a flight doesn’t exist already. The business case is crystal clear and obvious, so I feel no need to restate what’s been said.
If you’re interested in helping to push the case join the Facebook group here and make your voice heard…
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