Campbell Scott stops...a moment of contemplation - WE wonder if IGOpeople jobs will be going North of the border.
Individuals, Groups, Organisations - the IGOpeople website is a place where consumers communicate with business. ‘Network for the real world'.
The inspiration behind IGOpeople came from founder Cormac Horan. He saw the monumental rise of sites like Bebo, LinkedIn and Facebook and thought why not have a social site where consumers can find out about companies, ask questions about product and services pre-purchase, and discuss support issues post-purchase.
CEO of IGOpeople is Campbell Scott (pictured right). He prophesied, "Over the last decade we've seen the Catholic Church losing its command in the community, and the pub becoming less of a meeting hub as prices rose and attitudes changed. As an alternative, the web provides a platform for people to communicate and makes it very easy to do so, which are the reasons we've seen the popularity of consumer network sites explode in the new era of Ireland."
However, as companies automate workflow and veil themselves in the self-service / no-service regime, it has become increasingly difficult for people to reach businesses at any level of the sales and support cycle - this leads to a lot of frustration.
IGOPeople addresses this by providing a place where businesses and consumers can mingle. People are able to talk to brands and companies can engage in an open and neutral way, encouraging people to come find out about them.
The idea behind IGOpeople is simple.
But, in a market which is flooded with the next BIG social media thing, is the support for start-ups in the Republic of Ireland enough to help companies like IGOpeople swim or, like many that have gone before in the new media world, sink.
IGOpeople certainly has some impressive credentials.
Aside from Horan and Scott, the management board consists of Chairman Fergal O'Byrne, (pictured left) CEO of the Irish Internet Association who has a career in the Internet industry spanning back to the 90's, Gareth Dunlop, the Managing Director of web agency TIBUS and Board Member of the IIA, and most recently, world renowned expert on lateral thinking and award winning author of titles such as Six Thinking Hats, Dr. Edward de Bono (read more).
Launched in December 2008 after a short but intensive period of Ruby on Rails development, IGOpeople is exiting beta stage with a level of adoption they thought would not arrive until November. 500 companies using the system and 20% of the mainly Irish registrations are visiting the site at least monthly.
According to Scott they are delighted with their progress. Over the last five months, unique visitor have increased 40% month on month and currently stands at 9000, of which 70% is coming from Google organic searches.
The company is currently working on a three-pronged user adoption strategy. Firstly, they are identifying one key brand per industry sector, working on the premiss that if a company begins using IGOpeople as a weapon in their marketing armoury, then their competitors will follow suit.
Secondly, they are travelling to a lot of networking events across the country (of which are plentiful) to talk to attendees about the site and, lastly, telemarketing to small, medium sized businesses.
For most of the social media set, which is just about everyone nowadays, the size of your friend list is the currency of kudos. In the new media world everybody is adding, linking and following not only their friends and acquaintances, but the friends and acquaintances of their friends and acquaintances. You can't help but wonder, if only for a minute, if the success of social media sites is built not on the sharing of information and knowledge with friends, but simply because of a desire to appear popular.
If and when sites such as Twitter begin to charge customers for service, we will see if people value their core service enough to pay but assuming they do, it's slightly contradictory why an online network site is having to resort to the real world to fuel their adoption strategy.
We put this point to Scott. He said initially even they were sceptical whether telemarketing would work. But consumer to business networking is conceptual and they found Marketing Directors to be very open because many are still unsure about how to engage people online.
Enterprising Ireland - Is Enough Happening For Start-ups?
Based on his own experiences, Scott believes that raising money in Ireland is by far the most difficult obstacle to overcome for the entrepreneur, and he is somewhat frosty in his opinion of Enterprise Ireland.
He explains, IGOpeople were told straight away they qualified for High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) funding which would be forthcoming. However, to his utter frustration, Scott found the goal posts being continually moved - build the pilot, launch the beta, get some paying customers.
Scott continues, "Of course, EI have a responsibility to invest the Irish tax payers money wisely and be confident of a return, but if they'd been more transparent in the first place, we could have focused our attention on other avenues, and not have wasted so much time. Above all, we could have progressed IGOpeople without the increasing uncertainty and disappointments."
Echoing many Irish web industrialists, he concludes that Enterprise Ireland simply do not understand that this part of the internet is about building communities to generate value for the users before people will part with cash. Consequently good ideas don't get the right advice or the understanding.
With minimal Intellectual Property coming out of the pipe relative to the sums going in, Scott believes that State funds allocated to Science Foundation Ireland, the group tasked with building the knowledge economy, is disproportionately unbalanced and fundamentally flawed. Most of the funding is administered by EI which was recently reported to be spending 42% of the budget on the internal cost of running the organisation.
In the US, investors are happy to carry more risk, provide bigger pockets of first round and early stage funding, and provide the necessary support infrastructure to help the start-up succeed. Like the twitter business model.
They know that nine out of ten businesses will not make it, but still pour substantial sums in to them because they are confident that one or maybe two will be enormously successful.
The components for start-ups are ideas, creativity and money. In Ireland, there is an abundance of strong entrepreneurial spirit, the expertise and knowledge to innovate, but sadly, an investment and support vehicle which is sorely lacking
"Had Twitter and Facebook been born in Ireland, both would have long ago been resigned to the bin," Campbell Scott, CEO IGOpeople
The Irish technology industry is stagnating and it's disheartening to see Enterprise Ireland failing to adapt to the times, a complaint of the technology entrepreneur for some years now. Even though the organisation has been recruiting tech savvy people, it would appear that they are still falling some way short of nurturing an environment for web industrialists who, if given the tools, will build Ireland's Knowledge Economy, creating jobs and exports of Irish product and services globally.
Disillusioned with Enterprise Ireland, IGOpeople has been looking at alternatives with Invest NI and seemingly has had a much more positive experience. Already the agency has introduced IGOpeople to new funding opportunities, which they are hoping to announce very soon, and significant subsidies for their telemarketing initiatives.
Like most start-ups, they need the resources to develop a revenue base, but are having to do it prudently.
Scott stops in mid flow to contemplate - we wonder if IGOpeople jobs will be going North of the border.
Learn from Experience
So what can a start-up young entrepreneurs learn from the people beating the path before them?
Firstly, in the present climate, pre-revenue investment is becoming increasingly scarce and it is highly unlikely investors will sustain long periods on non-revenue generating adoption.
This means that, first and foremost people need to focus on bringing their products to market very quickly, identifying after-launch what customers want, and then getting into a position where they can charge as quickly as possible. This means working harder, doing it faster and leaving the bells and whistles.
Scott says, "The best source of finance is a paying customer. People should never be distracted from this goal."
Secondly, the source of private funding can be quite easy to come by - ask friends, family, acquaintances and leave the proposal flexible enough for people to invest the sums they want to. So far, IGO people have raised in the region of €800,000 private investment in this way.
Build a solid infrastructure of value-add people. Having people like Fergal O'Byrne on the board adds credibility and extensive contacts from the Irish business world. Dr. Edward Bono is a coup. Not only is he challenging, he offers alternative solutions and encourages different thinking. He does absolutely no harm to investor confidence.
Thirdly, avail of all funding that merely requires a bit of form filling. Feasibility grants, chord funding (tax free 38k) and seed capital relief which allows you to reclaim paye from your previous 6 years employment. Be aware though, that you are unable to take grants and funding in the same year.
Being a start-up in Ireland Inc is not an ideal environment and certainly more needs to be done to bring sizeable funding to the grass roots.
Time will tell if IGOpeople make the €10million annual revenues they forecast in a few short years, and time will tell if they do so here in Ireland.
Well, tip the hat, with a bit of luck, they will!
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