BizCamp 2011 Review

Theme: Success Through Innovation

Des Kirby digital marketer at LEAPThis year’s BizCamp was a mixed bag of experiences. The format of the day was different than last year. 2010 saw the entrepreneurs gather in the lecture hall where each presenter took to the stage and the audience could focus on each one in succession. This year the entrepreneurs were allocated different rooms so audiences had to move from room to room. This had a strange effect on the day as the momentum seemed to continuously break. The morning was broken into 6 sessions where attendees could choose from 5 different speakers per session. Topics covered everything from cloud services and social media, to ‘Building a Business’ and ‘Selling a Business.’ The trouble is that attendees could only pick one topic out of a possible five to attend for each of the sessions. I know the event was only a fiver (and thank you BizCamp for that) but there were a lot of speakers that I couldn’t see due to the way everything was scheduled.  So it was a little disappointing that way. Also it seemed to me that this year’s speakers were somewhat rushed because of time constraints and there was a sense that none of them could really get into their stride. The morning sessions just seemed a bit too rushed.

That said, I did manage to see one or two interesting speakers. Paul Cawley, founder of Pinnacle, spoke about the wonderful world of Google Analytics. This is a new world for me and one which is slowly starting to make more sense. After all, what’s the point in all your social media links, campaigns and connections if you can’t measure the effect of them on your bottom line? Paul enlightened us about bounce rates and exit pages, but alas time was against us and the session stopped much too soon. But you can always learn more about search engine marketing at www.pinnaclesem.ie

Michael Fitzgerald, CEO of OnePageCRM.com and one of the organisers of BizCamp 2011, also gave a good talk. The official title of his talk was ‘Pick your business like a Vegas poker table.’ With a title like that I just had to stop by and hear what he had to say. On arriving in the room I found Michael busy renaming his power point presentation to ‘Town Squares, Contradictions and Poker Tables.’ It focused on business people knowing which markets are right for them to operate in and which ones aren’t, much like poker players need to understand which tables are suitable for them to risk their money on and which ones could cost them dearly. ‘Table selection’ as Michael called it, is about businesses knowing their competitors and customers and not involving themselves in games they don’t really understand. His talk was heavy on metaphor; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever been to a discussion that managed to cram so many metaphors into 40 minutes, particularly animal metaphors. ‘Rabbits’ are customers who are plentiful but hard to catch. ‘Elephants’ are big lucrative  contracts which could boost your gross and net  margins very nicely, but if the elephant suddenly folds you could find yourself with a gaping hole in your business. And ‘Deer’ are…well I guess the deer are somewhere in between. But it wasn’t all abstract, there was some simple straightforward advice too, like ‘do one thing well’, something that all start- up’s should bear in mind. You can learn more about Michael and OnePageCRM at http://www.onepagecrm.com/

If the morning sessions were rushed and a little too chaotic, the afternoon session was exactly the opposite. At 3pm the panellists’ discussion got under way in the lecture hall with guest speakers John Keogh, John Concannon, Conor Kenny and Karen Golden.  This panel shared their business experiences and it was both informative and entertaining. Particularly impressive was Karen Golden who talked about the difficulties that Kenny’s bookshop experienced when moving their business online. It was extraordinary how many times she and Conor Kenny were let down by software development companies who couldn’t seem to design a reliable and effective system for Kenny’s books to be sold online. Embracing the internet age of commerce proved to be a difficult transition with many costly errors along the way. And judging by the sound of it, the cost was more than just financial but also a real test of sanity and nerves too. However, the Kenny’s persevered because they had both the belief in their business and the willingness to learn from mistakes. That perseverance has paid off and today Kennys.ie is one of the most successful online bookstores with more than 500,000 new and second hand books in stock.

John Keogh of Shantalla Inc, a management consultancy firm, and senior vice president of GS1 Global Office (non-profit), is quite an extraordinary character. His activities range from developing technologies in cloud computing and social media to innovations in food safety technology. It is the latter technology that is most impressive with its emphasis on product safety, traceability, recall and anti-counterfeit. Mr Keogh is currently in negotiations with the India government about these technologies that have the potential to save literally millions of lives, particularly in regions where food contamination and mortality is a major problem.

John Concannon, director of Market Development at Bord Failte gave a lively and entertaining talk. As well as entertaining the crowd with the self- assurance of a seasoned stand-up comic, he also covered some crucial points about Ireland Inc. Particularly how businesses don’t have to aim for a breakthrough innovation that will turn their companies around overnight. Instead companies should focus on achieving lots of small innovations that add value to their services and which consumers will respond favourably to. Other key points included the importance of customer service and encouraging creativity of all staff members across the business, not just a select few.

The afternoon panel discussion left a bigger impression on me than the speaker’s sessions, but all in all it was an enjoyable day in NUIG. By the way John Keogh is also the founder of the Irish Executives Network who will be hosting their Summit 2011 at the Radisson in Galway on the 15 of September. The network is a group for Irish business people in Ireland and abroad, and more than 8000 people have connected with them on Linked In. Mike Gaffney, CEO of LEAP will also be speaking at the event whose theme is working together to get Irish businesses back into a winning position. If you want to get your company back into a winning position then why not come along and get networking.

Irish Executives Summit 2011

Des Kirby digital marketer at LEAPThere was a sense of history in the making today at the Radisson Hotel in Galway. In the midst of Greek default threats and ominous warnings for the Eurozone, a group of entrepreneurs gathered in the conference room determined to find solutions not excuses. John Keogh, Senior Vice President of GS1 Global Office and founder of Irish Executives, kicked off proceedings by talking about the idea of business people connecting online and then meeting offline. With a membership of over 8000 on Linked In, and rising, this Summit was about turning that virtual community into a real world networking experience. There were four key themes on the day; cloud computing, social media , leadership and the Irish diaspora. It was clear that Mr. Keogh is keen to mobilize Irish people around the world, not just in Ireland, and social media makes this goal more attainable than ever before.

Cloud computing is still a phenomenon that a lot of people are unclear about, but a panel comprising executives from Goshido, Blueface, Big Dogg and Microsoft helped clarify matters. Put simply, cloud services are a way to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Firstly, cloud companies act like a utility service that can provide your IT needs without having to worry about internal servers, breakdowns or security issues. Secondly these services are relatively cheap compared to traditional IT costs. The panel also seemed excited about Cloud Telephony, with one member proclaiming that ‘renting a fixed line is dead.’ Really? Well apparently with the increase in mobile device intelligence we have now reached an age where there may not even be a need to rent an office space for some businesses. There is no large hardware or capital costs involved either. With cloud utility companies and cloud telephony, many companies can now save themselves a small fortune on rent, bills and IT costs. According to the panel 50{aa1e4c34c9c0f46e0a1f04e30c2eb1b9efaea7a47ed6ca6f324476e114da37f4} savings are now the norm; welcome news in this current economic climate. Microsoft’s Declan McGovern emphasized mobility as the big advantage of cloud services, ‘you can work from home, hotels, wherever’. Other major advantages are that they are easy to implement and cloud companies provide their customers with all the latest software developments. Whether there are extra charges for the updates wasn’t made clear. What is clear is that the cloud is changing the business environment. The panel left us in no doubt that cloud computing is the way to go for businesses who want to embrace a more cost effective future.

Kingsley Aikins from www.networking- matters.com is a man with a long history of supporting Irish business and gave a very interesting talk on the concept of diaspora. Kingsley maintains there are many Irish diaspora from over 5 million in the UK to 500,000 in Argentina. Would you have guessed there are that many with Irish blood connections in one single South American country? No, nor would I, in fact Argentina wouldn’t enter my head as a major cultural or commercial connection. Citing Israel as another example, these diaspora have the power to transform entire economies. And it goes beyond economics; Irish American diaspora played a part in the Northern Ireland peace process. Other examples of governments reaching out to the diaspora include India, China and Taiwan. Interestingly, several people mentioned Farmleigh and the Global Irish Economic Forum which is coming up shortly. The idea of a globally connected Irish community is gaining momentum.

One of the highlights of the day was a live demo of the Irish Executives TV channel where a speaker connected live with a Summit participant called Martin Lynch in Toronto as the conference was taking place. Martin was able to give us a live slide demonstration called ’What have the Romans ever given us.’ It highlighted some of the contributions Irish people have made to the world from architecture to submarines. The slide show wasn’t the focus; the focus was the fact that this was real time TV broadcasting across the web specifically for the Irish Executives audience and that was pretty cool. It was also a reminder that the people behind the Summit are serious about building a global Irish community that reaches out to each other.

But the innovations didn’t end there. John Keogh also announced a competition titled Inspire Ireland, with €150,000 in investment money up for grabs. Any companies that can inspire a business idea that contributes to the Irish economy are welcome to enter the competition which is scheduled for the end of September.  John also announced the beginning of Irish Executives Press also to be launched later in the month. As I understood it, the IE Press will publish ebooks written by those interested in a particular subject e.g. Lean Manufacturing. The writing and editing process takes place over 8 – 12 weeks. Judging by the level of experience and talent at the conference I’m sure there will be plenty of people interested in contributing to this new facility. Fancy getting your own ebook published? Then stay tuned in to the Irish Executive group on Linked In for updates.

There were a couple of workshops that took place at the Summit too. Social Media led by Niall Harbison and Niall Devitt and a 21st Century Networking workshop led by Kingsley Aikins and Ed Kelly. I attended the Social Media workshop as I’m currently in my own developmental process of learning how to utilize social media platforms. I figured I might pick up some tips here and I did. One tip, from Niall Devitt, was simple in its theory but worth bearing in mind for any social media newcomers like myself, that is to listen to the online conversations. Seems obvious, but only to the more experienced tweeters and Facebook campaigners. For the greenhorns it is a vital message. We must learn to pick up on the rhythm of the conversations happening online and then target the ones relevant to our business. There’s little to be gained and too much time lost in conversations with everyone and anyone. Networking and building meaningful relationships is a learning process that starts with listening to the ‘noise’ online and deciphering the pertinent from the irrelevant. Another useful tip offered by the workshop panel concerns blogging, and it relates to the comments box. The advice was to interact with other blogs, leave comments in other writer’s boxes as a means of opening up lines of communication. It’s all part of the culture of online relationship building. Further tips from the Boards.ie director John Breslin, included avoiding the hard sell, a big no-no in the social world. Online communities are about sharing, informing, educating, connecting, trusting. But of course the social networks are no longer just there for amusement. They may have started out that way but the virtual world has splintered into various groups and one of them is the business group and this group wants tangible results not just cosy cyber relationships.

Our own Mike Gaffney, CEO of LEAP, was on the Leading People panel that also comprised Dr. Briga Hynes (UL) and Colm O’Brien (Carambola Kidz). Mike pointed out that leadership is something that can be taught and 86{aa1e4c34c9c0f46e0a1f04e30c2eb1b9efaea7a47ed6ca6f324476e114da37f4} of leaders are according to Stanford research. Self- awareness is the critical factor here and Mike did a good job of clarifying an issue which still confuses many business owners. That is the issue of growing your business as opposed to managing its day-to-day operations. Too many company owners think they can, and should, be doing both. But leadership is about being comfortable in the leader’s role and allowing managers to get on with the daily operations. As Mike pointed out, some CEO’s can become too involved in management activities and become more of a hindrance than a help. There was a large crowd in the conference room and I’m sure this message resonated with many of them. I think a good example of Mike’s philosophy of leadership in action was Liam Ryan of BMS Ireland. BMS produce torque tools and abrasives and Liam has grown his business by focusing on innovative products for the market. He spoke plainly but wisely about his business – ‘I am not an engineer so I hired engineers to do the work.’ Liam is clearly a man who knows how to separate his leadership role from that of the management. It is easy to see why he won the SFA National Small Business Awards 2011. Both Mike Gaffney and Liam Ryan have a clear and pragmatic style of talking that appealed to me on the day and I think a lot of others appreciated it too. Conferences such as this can sometimes cause a sense of bewilderment when faced with the overwhelming expertise that many entrepreneurs have. With some speakers I occasionally find myself thinking ‘what the hell is this guy talking about?’ So it was good to have some panellists who are prepared to speak plainly on issues like leadership, executive coaching and management roles.

The innovation panel included Siobhain Duggan of GS1 Ireland and Craig Meek founder of Powow. At the end of the conference I wanted to get some other people’s perspective on the day’s events and these two participants kindly agreed to share their thoughts on the Summit. Siobhain had this to say:  “Fantastic idea to bring executives together and to share ideas and experiences. I learned a lot from the various speakers and will definitely be an active member in the network in the future. I look forward to seeing Irish Executives evolving to help Irish businesses.”

Craig’s thought of the day was: “It was a very energized day with the collaboration through Irish Executives TV to set up a platform. But Peter’s insight was the highlight of the day.” The Peter he referred to was probably the highlight of the day for many people, that is keynote speaker Peter Hinssen, who delivered a very funny talk on where we are now in the world of technology. Accompanied by a slide show on the big screen that was as slick and polished as Peter’s performance, he focused primarily on the topic of his second book The New Normal.  The basic concept of The New Normal is that we are only halfway through the digital revolution and there are still a lot of changes ahead. God help us! Peter is a funny guy and had the crowd laughing for over an hour. But there isn’t enough space here to dissect his concept. I guess you’ll just have to buy the book. Or go visit him at http://www.peterhinssen.com/books/the-new-normal.  I also asked Peter for his thought of the day. He had this to say: “This was the first time a virtual group became physical, where the group dynamic became tangible.”

Niall Devitt’s thought of the day was, “the Summit was about redefining what it means to be Irish. Rediscover our outlook and perspective.” Mike Gaffney  thought the Summit was “an inspiring conference and a huge credit due to John Keogh and everyone involved in organizing it. Great to see everyone so energized after it.” But I guess the final thought of the day has to come from the man who started the whole Irish Executives ball rolling. John Keogh said: “Reach out in Ireland and outside Ireland and let the world see what we have to offer.” People most certainly are reaching out and who knows what collaborations might result from today’s Summit. Perhaps some of them might come back next year to let us know. That is, if there is another Summit. I for one hope there will be, until then happy networking.

 

Des Kirby
LEAP