it@cork Web2.0 Conference

Event type: Conference

Date: 2006-06-08

Rating: 4 out of 5

I met Fergus for the first time at the EI Web 2.0 Conference back in April but his reputation far preceded him. He has been described as the consummate networker but I think this does him an injustice - he is not just a genuine friendly guy, he is a doer. Whilst have the tech world talks about Web 2.0, he has gone out a built a real revenue generating Web 2.0 business.

His presentation was probably the most important one of the day for any Irish person thinking of trying to create a new web-based business. It was clear from his opening that he was not going to spend his time talking about esoteric subjects. For a definition of Web2.0 he said “ask Tim”.

His first question to the audience was “how many of you in a startup?”. A reasonable number raised their hands. The numbers got bigger with “ever been in a startup?” and “would be in a startup again?”

He gave a summary of his career to date which involved stints in Propylon (Ireland’s best known Python shop after Google I believe ;-)) and six years in Microsoft. He mentioned a few base technologies that Nooked use including the usual LAMP stack and recently some microformats.

But the bulk of his talk was about business and he quickly touched on several important points:

  • Judy Gibbons: “your users are always just one click away from leaving you”
  • Orkut and Bebo - global reach but allows them to be big in some locales and not in others
  • Release early, release often
  • User feedback is critical but don’t let them define your product. What users want could result in just a faster horse and trap rather than a Model T
  • Monitor to an obsessive degree how your customers are interacting with your service. The CEO of Kelkoo said that every day at 7am they analysed the web traffic and tweaked the service
  • Don’t obsess about a single business model. Nooked went through three before they found one which worked and scales. Throw enough sh** at the wall and some of it will stick.
  • cluetrain manifesto - read it
  • The biggest cost any company has is Opportunity Cost - delays in closing sales and getting product out the door
  • If you take too long as a web startup - it could kill you

Earlier on I had asked him if any VCs were attending that he knew. This prompted him to say that he would ask for a show of hands during his presentation, which he did. How many? Zero! Let me just repeat that. Zero!! As Fergus said “well that just speaks for itself”. I guess several hundred million euro of taxpayers money can make a VC a little unfocused. That is a complete disgrace.

He asked how many people in the audience had talked to Irish VCs - it was only a tiny smattering. He asked how many had got funding from Irish VCs - big fat zero once again.

He had a few gems to relate regarding VCs

  • 25 VCs passed on Skype
  • BVP passed on eBay
  • Use VCs as free consultancy on the validity of your ideas

His business tips were simple but needed saying:

  • Operations - understand your business drivers and your traffic
  • Have a strong back office
  • Headaches, you’ll have plenty of them - keep plugging
  • There are only three real exits - IPO, trade sale, failure!
  • Some clients won’t touch you if you are not incorporated in the US

Fergus genuinely thinks we have all the ingredients to build a solid ecosystem of indiginous tech companies in Ireland. I completely agree. He was asked if he would have done things any differently knowing then what he knows now. He replied that he would go after the consumer market. Yup!

[tags]Web2.0, Web20, it@cork, Fergus Burns, Nooked, microformats, Web2Ireland[/tags]