Lessons for Irish Start-ups from TC40?

22nd of September 2007 by conor

I was lucky enough to attend TC40 as a guest of Cubic Telecom last week and came away buzzing with energy and ideas. Whilst the echo-chamber of Silicon Valley was at maximum volume, there were still many useful things that Irish web start-ups could take from the two days.

I’ll admit that I came away suffering badly from greener-grass syndrome. Seeing Geni having a $100m valuation or a single-city dating site with 6m uniques per month gives you a sense of the scale difference between there and here. I talked to one Dutch entrepreneur who felt he had to go to the USA to build his site and has never looked back. I talked to several who are thinking about it and discovered that an old friend of mine has made the move too.

Enterprise Ireland told me that this is the first year since the crash that the numbers of Irish moving their bases to SV has become noticeable. However the consensus was that a move to the US should never be done just to get access to capital. It must be your target market and whatever USP you have in Ireland must remain one in the USA or you will find it impossible to rise above the noise. Access to developers is a major problem once again in SV so keeping the engineering function in Ireland (or moving it to Eastern Europe or India) is the way to go.

Jeff Clavier announced a new fund at the event and it struck me as the ideal structure for an Irish one. A mix of Jeff himself, institutional investors and other angels have come together to create a small seed fund of $12m with investments ranging from $100k to $500k. I’d much prefer that EI took this approach with their leverage money and pulled together a team like that. Imagine a fund with Brian Caulfield, Chris Horn, Peter Conlon and Jerry Kennelly on board!

In fact the “Getting Funded” panel was worth the trip on its own. I hope they make a video of it available on the web as it should be compulsory viewing for anyone doing a start-up. In particular, Sumant Mandal from Clearstone was completely honest about investing being an emotional activity not a logical one. If you believe in the people and/or the product, then the numbers come afterwards.

A Finnish entrepreneur asked the one question on the tip of my tongue – would you guys invest in a business based outside of the US? The initial answers were “sure, if the business was compelling enough” but as they talked it through, it became clear that the chances of them doing so were minimal.

This was reinforced by some opinions expressed by Marc Andressen. Here is an incredibly successful entrepreneur and investor whose most recent success was the $1.6B sale of Opsware, a company that many people thought was toast five years ago. His questions about “distribution” to most of the start-ups were very incisive and highlighted major flaws in their plans. However he showed his own blind-side when he admitted that he couldn’t see the point of Cubic Telecom’s MaxRoam since he rarely left California (and possibly isn’t that concerned about mobile phone bills!). As European start-ups we need to realise that people in the Valley rarely look outside of the Valley.

New York, on the other hand, is a different place entirely. I had a short but revealing conversation with a semi-competitor of LouderVoice based there. They were fully up to speed with the European scene and were able to offer informed opinions on companies over this side of the Atlantic.

Given that TripIt and Yap made it on to the stage this year, I look forward to seeing at least Touristr and MySay on the stage next year.

The main lesson learned was that an Irish start-up with a great product can go to Silicon Valley, wow the crowd, get enormous press coverage and show more marketing savvy than any other company presenting. Watch those Cubic guys, I wasn’t the only person there who believed they were watching the launch of a $1B business.

Company Index: Cubic Telecom

Comment posted by Igor Jablokov
at 9/27/2007 2:26:38 AM

Well, those trucks are usually reserved for natural disasters, national emergencies, etc…I doubt music concerts nor nerd fests fall under those jurisdictions. :-)

They do tend to show up at 3GSM or CTIA, when it’s obvious that you’ll otherwise have a meltdown given the density of devices…all trying to show you why you’d want to watch television on a screen the size of a postage stamp, that in turn drains your battery within 30 minutes…sigh. Goodness, I think we could derive a better killer app for 3G than that. ;-)

Comment posted by Conor O’Neill
at 9/27/2007 2:15:46 AM

That’s really useful to know.

I’ve been hearing about the complete collapse of mobile comms at outdoor concerts here because of tower overloading. Our cunning plan to get mobile reviews of the music acts fell apart as a result.

I’m a bit shocked that they can’t get Vodafone or O2 to sponsor these concerts and drive up with a few trucks!

Don’t get me started on well-meaning EU politicians……….

Comment posted by Igor Jablokov
at 9/26/2007 7:09:20 PM

Conor,

(1) The low cost repeaters would have died since they support 2-3 devices max. Our chairman was at TC40 as well, is responsible for building most of the US wireless towers, and had interesting comments he muttered under his breath. I’ll be sure to relay them if we ever meet up for friendly drinks. :-) That said, it would have been difficult for the organizers to solve this disconnect without changing the venue (which was superb otherwise); what you really needed there one of those base stations in a truck to support the density of devices in that room. In retrospect, they did a terrific job MCing the event around whatever (few) glitches presented themselves in their first ever conference.

(2) I’m sure the EU politicians mean well in being so protective of your biometric data, so I sent a request to our general counsel on how we could add folks on the other side of the pond to our closed betas. Will post if I hear anything positive.

Thx for your continued feedback!
i.

Comment posted by Conor O’Neill
at 9/26/2007 2:37:09 AM

Joe, I’m with Jeff on this and I think he has the track record of success to back it up.

Igor, I pointed out on Facebook that you can get a mobile repeater/booster for less $200 on eBay! The lack of infrastructure support for that panel was the low point of the event.

Forget the EU, I’ll sign a waiver just to give Yap a go. Hopefully ourselves and the Brits won’t be too hard to understand!

Comment posted by Igor Jablokov
at 9/25/2007 6:10:36 PM

Well…I’ll take that as good natured ribbing if you eventually noticed that we weren’t just a bunch of college kids “mashing” off the shelf parts. ;-) We prefer folks that have done *real* engineering on our team, so you can talk DSPs with them any time of the week. :-)

Re: twice the fun in presenting, wouldn’t need that if we had bloody wireless coverage or their audio cables didn’t give way. Although Jason and Michael did a fantastic job MC’ing and being flexible because of these external factors non inherent to our demo, we do owe them *many* thanks for a quick recovery.

Yep, realize that context shift between the app and the browser’s annoying. Some surprises are in store that will negate that…it should also work with your bluetooth headsets. We’ll definitely let you guys play with it as soon as we can…we’ll need to spin up an unsigned version, EU language model, and be sensitive to your privacy policies though. Not sure they’ll take kindly to our capturing audio files over there for processing here.

Comment posted by Joe Drumgoole
at 9/25/2007 4:31:56 PM

Conor 12m is too small. With 12m you don’t have the ability to follow the money on your successes and you are spread too thin to sustain a lot of failures. I would want to see a fund of at least 100m to be comfortable that it was sustainable as a VC fund.

Comment posted by Conor O’Neill
at 9/25/2007 3:23:51 AM

Hey Igor – I don’t doubt the complexity at all, I worked in DSP in a previous life. The more the demo progressed the more it impressed me. Even if you guys did get two chances ;-)

Only one flaw in the demo. Don’t tell people that you can use Yap to TXT whilst driving if one of the examples you give is opening up a web-browser during a session. Cops are not going to like that one.

Yours was one of the few apps that I went to install after TC40. Any chance of a beta invite? Does it work outside of US on a Nokia N70?

Comment posted by Igor Jablokov
at 9/24/2007 6:05:00 PM

Conor,

Don’t underestimate how difficult the Yap platform was to invent, as it does not simply move audio files about. Our folks previously worked on iPod and ViaVoice prior to this as it required non-trivial skills to bring to market, with quite a number of patents that fell out of the experience. So we’ll look forward to some unique Irish startups next year. ;-)

That said, MAXroam was certainly impressive & I’m looking forward to using it as we drive our solution into international markets.

Regards,
i.

Comment posted by Conor O’Neill
at 9/23/2007 1:35:15 PM

See you there Jan!

Markus, I know the guys had to push very hard to launch in time for TC40. They are only just back home. I’m sure all the information you need will be up on the site soon.

Comment posted by Markus Goebel’s Tech News Comments
at 9/23/2007 9:16:52 AM

Cubic Telecom and Maxroam compared to other offers…

Now it’s nearly a week since Cubic Telecom presented their new product Maxroam at TechCrunch 40 (TC40), but still they don’t reveal their real prices which should be found here. Still Maxroam says “Rates published soon” while Cubic Telecom’s websi…

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