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.