Our community is brimming with inspirational people who do amazing things within industry and in the communities across our region. Our “Leaders Insights” series aims to give you a little glimpse into the people and organisations driving our region forward. In our first installment of the series, we sit down with Andrew O’Shaughnessy, founder of Poppulo ( formerly Newsweaver) and the recent recipient of Tech Industry Alliance “Tech Person of the Year” Award 2022.
Andrew is a passionate believer in the power of communications to transform how people work and that is why he founded Poppulo, the global leader in internal communications software, working with many of the world’s biggest brands to unlock the power of their people. With a career in technology spanning over 30 years including: Founder E-Search (1996), Chairman Irish Internet Association (2001), Founder Newsweaver (2002) and Founder Poppulo (2012), Andrew has been a part of the back bone of our tech and wider business community in Ireland for many years.
You recently were announced as the Tech Industry Alliance Tech Person of the Year 2022 – what does it mean for you to be recognised as such a leading light in our industry?
A group of us worked hard for many years under the radar, continuing to learn and adapt to the changing market and managed to end up with Poppulo being the global leader in employee communications. It was fabulous to get the recognition.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
A decision 10 years ago to go after the market of Employee Communications which at the time was being ignored. We knew that good employee communications impacted positively the bottom line of businesses as it improved a company’s ability to execute effectively on its strategy. We also knew that it was only a matter of time before this became widely recognized. So, we decided to take a ‘bet the business’ gamble in an attempt to be a global leader.
What are the biggest challenges facing our sector and how do you think we can tackle them?
In a word, competition. I think the sources of competition are growing rapidly. Obviously silicon valley is the biggest competitor as there is an amazing startup culture of ‘go get it’ and an incredible finance eco system to support that culture. In addition, the number right across Europe is growing steadily. But, I think the biggest competition in the years ahead is going to come from Eastern Europe and India. For many years these countries have supplied the ‘west’ with a cheap source of top-quality engineers and stood back and watched others reap the big rewards from their tech ability. A trickle of successful startups from these countries has turned into a steady flow of global successes and I predict that in a short period of time as they grow in sales and marketing experience these countries will be a huge source of competition for Irish startups.
In the past 10 years the Irish start up eco system has developed enormously with better state aid, startup incubators and increased sources of finance. In addition, there is an expectation of success and a greater ambition. We have to double down now in every area and not just improve it but set our sights on being ‘best in class’ not just in the supports to the startup community but right across the board. Increase the coloration with third level research facilities and make the models for spin out companies slick. Make it really attractive for the investor community to take risks and for employees also to be rewarded in a tax efficient way. We do all of these things to some extent today, but I would say we score 3 to 4 out of ten. We need to strive for 10, quickly.
In your opinion, what are the key opportunities the South-West Tech ecosystem can capitalise on?
Although employees can now work from anywhere, I believe there is still a strong advantage in having regular face to face gatherings for planning sessions, collaboration and to build a strong company culture based on good interpersonal relationships. With that in mind the South West as a region offers a great quality of life to employees. To be able to live anywhere in the Cork/Kerry region with beautiful scenery, low population density and all the lifestyle advantage that that brings while still having a high powered highly paid job. That is something that companies can use to get the best employees and have a low churn rate.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
It’s hard to call any mistake ‘the biggest’. I have made many with long lasting consequences. The main trick seems to be to learn from them and not make the same mistake again. The other big learning about mistakes is to recognize when you have made a mistake and to change course quickly. The temptation is to ‘stay the course’ due to sunk cost and effort but this may not be the best thing to do. The most important thing is to question it openly, is continuing the best decision or do we need to change. The worst thing to do is to just carry on without investigation which in itself is a passive uninformed decision.
What would be your main piece of advice for any founder starting out on their journey right now?
Stay really close to your customer. Develop your product after extensive conversation and observation of your potential customers and involve them at every stage of the development. You need to be sure that they will buy, that the value they get from your product or service is worth money to them and that they can get budget for it.
Andrew, here are some quick fire questions so our followers get a little more insight into where you draw your energy/inpiration from…
Who is your role model and why?
I have no particular role model but I have the greatest of respect and admiration for anyone who takes the personal risk of following their vision and is committed enough to bring others along on the journey. It gets me every time.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
There are so many great books and recommendations abound. The main thing is to keep learning, so keep reading and applying the learnings.
Favorite place to hang out in the South-West?
Lived in Ardfield near Clonakilty for 17 years and enjoyed every bit of it
Career highlight so far?
Working closely with the Poppulo team in a culture of cooperation, caring, learning and fun.