Jerry Clifford: The Power of the Endeavour Program

Last week we gave a brief outline of the Endeavour program in our article Endeavour: New Program for 2011. Since then we have had the opportunity to talk in depth to Dr. Jerry Clifford, Head of Development at the Institute of Technology Tralee, one of the founders of the program.

To recap: Endeavour is part of a series of business programs that are aimed at different age groups.

  • The Junior Entrepreneur Program which is for children of 11-12 years old.
  • The Young Entrepreneur Program for students in their transition year, 16 years plus.
  • The Endeavour Progam which is launchpad for startups.

How successful was last year’s Endeavour program?

“When we looked at it, Endeavour last year was a huge success. We worked with some fabulous companies. Probably the top start up companies that are around in Ireland at the moment. Companies like Datahug, Gaelforce and tapmap amongst others.

“These companies on the basis of rounds of funds almost secured or rounds of funds actually secured have a collective valuation in excess of €10 million. This is not the companies themselves giving you figures out of the air. These are figures based on people pumping money into these companies.

What will be different this year?

“We review everything we do as we are going through it and at the end of the year. We visited a number of incubator programs in New York and in Silicon Valley – particularly Y-Combinator and Plug and Play.

“We got a huge amount of things right and a critical component was the ability to bring in one to one mentoring. This year we are back with a revised program where we have two phases:”

  • Phase One is a short seven week program which runs concurrently in Dublin and in Kerry. This requires a commitment of one evening a week for six weeks and then one Saturday for all the day. For each of those evenings there are going to be two entrepreneurs and one professional advisor covering all the topics that are key to developing a startup business.
  • Phase Two is a five month intensive program working with national level mentors. Each participant on this part of the program will have a dedicated mentor. There are also mentor teams overseas in New York, Silicon Valley and Asia. We have also partnered with Plug and Play in the Valley to be able to access their expertise.

“We want to get as many people as possible on to Phase One but mentoring capacity is the limiting factor for accepting people on to Phase Two.

“These companies that participate are going to get every single chance to accelerate their progress as they go through the program.

“The corporate partner, Kerry Group, have really come on board. Kerry Group is probably the ultimate Kerry start up. They started off in a caravan with two or three guys and now have a market capitalization of around €4.5 billion. They are putting their resources behind Endeavour not only fiscally but also with expertise in large scale international business.”

How does something like Endeavour fit into the larger Irish tech scene?

“Endeavour shouldn’t be looked at on it’s own. It should be regarded as being a part of a suite of initiatives which resulted in Kerry being the European Entrepreneurial Region of the Year in 2011.

“There is a community motivation from this perspective in having enhanced economic activity in your community. We have 2,500 students in this college. We have to ensure that this talent is retained in the County so that they can feed back to the next series of entrepreneurs. They are the ones who are going to make Ireland a better place.

“If Ireland is to have a future, I think it is Irish grown companies that are absolutely going to be that future. Irish companies that are trading internationally right from the get-go and not focused solely on the domestic market.”

Applications for the program close on the 26th of January. There are plenty of spaces still available. As Jerry says, “The critical message that we do want to get out is; fantastic if you have an idea, fantastic if you have a startup but for the people who don’t just want to have a job but they want to have a career by working with an innovative startup then absolutely they should get involved.”

Wavebob: Generating Power from the Movement of Waves

Wavebob is a device that floats in the sea and converts the movement of waves into electricity. The average electrical output of an individual unit is around 500 Kilowatts. That is enough energy to provide power for three to four hundred houses every day. A small city such as Galway, with just over 25,000 households, would only require a wave farm of between eighty and a hundred Wavebobs to provide it with sufficient electricity for its domestic needs.

According to SETIS, the European Commission’s information system for strategic energy technology, wave generated energy could supply Europe with roughly 1% of its power requirements by 2020.

Wavebob was founded Irish physicist William Dick in 1999. By 2007 it became apparent that the company needed to scale to be able to bring the product to a commercial reality. It was at this point that Andrew Parish, an environmental chemist who had worked in the public and private sectors and who at the time was running his own management consultancy joined Wavebob to help create and lead the management team.

How did things look in 2007?

“I joined at a time when we had just had our first sea trials in Galway Bay. We had started to attract some international attention by virtue of the fact that we had a sea-going demonstrator and a track record of R&D prior to that.

“My task was to formalize the company. We opened an office in Maynooth which was convenient for Dublin and for accessing the highway to Galway where we were doing the sea trials.

“We have an office in the United States and our operation over there has recently started to bear fruit for us. We have just recently got a $2.4 million grant from the Department of Energy for the work we are doing there. That builds on grants that we have secured here in Ireland of €2.2 million and a European Commission Framework grant of €5.1 million.

“We have been quite successful at maximizing financing from the public sector over the last couple of years. This is very important as it has been a time when the global economic conditions have been such that investment in new pre-revenue technology has been challenging. Trying to find the right investors with the right kind of appetite for this has been challenging.

“Having the endorsement of significant public sector funding partners has been important in bringing in new investment. But we also have been very successful in attracting large corporate companies to work with us.

“We have brought together a world-class team of engineering expertise into the company. We realise we can’t develop a commercial product on our own. So, instead of growing 50, 60, 70 people internally we have built a small, very talented, expert team and we collaborate with third parties in areas where they would have greater expertise.”

The green-tech energy sector is growing in importance and is clearly vital for all our futures. But good ideas and technology are not always enough for success. How do you manage the non-technical development for Wavebob?

“The opportunity for us has been trying to collaborate with end-users at an early point. Identify who would be our ideal customers and get them working with us now. So, we are developing our product absolutely in line with their expectations.

“We identified key market segments that we wanted to serve:

  • ”Utility scale electricity. A wave farm where you might have one or two hundred megawatts of wave energy devices bringing electricity to shore into the national grid and contributing to renewable energy targets, etc.

    “To that end we have strategic relationships with Vattenfall one of the largest electrical utilities in Europe. We have established a joint venture company with them in Ireland called Tonn Energy which is focused on developing commercial scale wave farms consisting of Wavebob technology off the west coast of Ireland.

  • “We are also engaged with Bord Gáis. They invested with us before Christmas. We also have a technical service agreement with ESB international so we have good, strong relationships with the key utilities.
  • “The other market sector we are pursuing is the off-shore oil and gas sector. Wavebob technology is designed to operate deep water so we can get out to those platforms that are operating in that environment and work effectively. There are a number of oil and gas companies that see the opportunity in reducing their costs by using the renewable energy that surrounds their platforms.”

When are we likely to see these wave farms in operation?

“The industry is still three years away from being commercial. There is a lead-time for putting down the infrastructure for these wave farms; the permit process, the planning, the environmental impact assessments and all the regulatory issues that are involved and which have to be considered.

“Then we have to allow for the fact that the amount of time to procure the cable that brings the electricity back to shore is about eighteen months to two years. The cables are made to order as there are specific requirements for fibre optic cables for communications and so on. Also, at present, there is a global shortage of copper.”

Despite the challenges involved, generating electricity from the movement of waves contains a number of advantages that justify all the effort and costs involved. Designing a device that is expected to function consistently while out in the open sea and be able to survive in that environment for twenty-five years is a work of extreme engineering by any standards.

Apart from issues of sustainability and fulfilling the need for a low environmental impact, wave generated electricity offers a consistency of power generation not found with wind powered devices. There are always waves coming in along the west coast of Ireland. It is this combination of sustainability and consistency that makes the generation of electricity by means of wave power such a vital contributor to our future energy needs.

Fergus Hurley: Developers and Product Development

In the second part of our series on bringing a product to market Fergus Hurley discusses the role of developers in the development stage. He has been, and still is, heavily involved in the development of Clixtr and PicBounce. The first question we put to him is, “Where to start?”

“With development it is crucial to pick your technologies first and stick with them. There are a lot of frameworks for building these web application and when you pick a framework you are by association picking a language that most of your applications are going to be built with. Your developers are going to need to know that language.

Ruby on Rails is very popular right now and that is one that we use. It is a great framework to get you up and running.

“The main thing now with web applications is that there are a lot of libraries available and APIs and gems which is the word they use in Ruby for pre-coded packages that you install in your application. The advantage is that you can leverage this code that other people have written and not have to do it all yourself.

“So the first question is, “What frameworks am I going to use?” The framework is tied to the language but also tied to the gems that are available for what you are trying to do.

“If you are trying to do location based stuff then Ruby on Rails has some gems that you could use but Python has a lot as well. Python is the language that is used in Google. They are pushing out a lot of stuff and they will be pushing out even more so that is something to take into account.

“Python is the number one priority language for Google and the framework for building applications in Python is Django. So, if you want to work with their service you will have to build your application in Python.”

How much code does an entrepreneur need to know?

“As with design the entrepreneur needs to understand development as well. They need to be able to look at the code and ideally, be able to write some code themselves. If you look at most successful web companies like Twitter and Facebook, most, if not all, of the founders and early employees were able to do development themselves.

“However, development is not rocket science and people need to start learning the development process themselves. I would say the first step is to learn Ruby on Rails and before that you need to learn to use the Ruby language. To be able to use Ruby effectively you need to learn how to program. Those are steps of the process of learning to code.“

If you are not a great developer yourself then how do you find one who is?

“Finding brilliant people is always the hardest part and finding great developers is extremely difficult. Your first step would be to ask your friends. Ask them who they worked with in the past that has been brilliant and that might be able to work on some stuff.

“What I found that has worked well for us and has worked well for a lot of friends is to attend a lot of these developer events like Hackathons and work with some developers there.

“Maybe the entrepreneurs might not be brilliant developers themselves but they get to work with these developers and they can get to really see who are the best ones. Then they get them to work on some side project with them and then over time they become full-time people.

“You really have to network to get the best developers in the world and they are really hard to get.”

What are the cost factors to look out for in development?

“The cost of development has gone way down which means that your cost of development is your developer. With Amazon services you can be up and running in half an hour with a full website and a full hosting environment on a dedicated server if that is what you want. You can scale it up and down with a click on your computer. You don’t have to pay for the licences and servers and so on.

“A really awesome developer, like a really awesome designer, can do way more in a short space of time then a newbie who doesn’t know anything. If someone has built an application that is very similar to your one before then they will have made a lot of mistakes along the way. So, when they build it the second time, the third time, the fourth time, they are going to be way more efficient and know which mistakes to avoid.

“Most of the time-sinks in development are when you don’t know the solution to the problem that you are trying to solve. You have to spend hours googling, going to stack overflow, going online to Quora and other different websites, messaging your friends, messaging helpdesks and so on, trying to find an answer. A great, experienced developer can help you bypass a lot if not all of that.”

What should we keep in mind for the future?

“Development of web applications has got much easier over the years but building mobile applications is really where there is a huge shortage of developers and there is going to be a lot of opportunities there. A lot of developers are going to be moving over to mobile because every company in the world is going to need to have a mobile presence.

“In the web and development space that we have right now we are not really solving that many hard technical problems. I think we are entering a transitionary stage on the web where it is now about design. However, in a couple of years time the development will become more advanced and much more important again.”

Video

You can watch Fergus give a talk on design, development and delivery from his presentation at BlogTalk 2010 in Galway last year.

Mendeley: Creating Connections Between Researchers

Mendeley is a service that provides a tool for researchers to easily comprehend the nature of the readership surrounding a particular academic paper or collection of papers. Not only does it determine the credibility of material by means of social proof it also provides reader recommendations which makes it easier to collect and collate a library of material on a given subject.

It was founded by three Phd students in Germany. One of them, Dr. Victor Henning, wanted to be able to look at a paper and see how the citation network connected that paper to the other papers he was researching. It was from this initial curiosity that Mendeley evolved.

We spoke to Ian Mulvany the head of New Product Devlopment and asked him, how that original inquisitiveness led to the discovery of the problem which they set about solving.

“From the end user point of view, for the scientist, one of the problems they have in managing their information is that it is a bit of a mess. The academic articles that they access, that they publish, that they download from the web mostly come in the form of PDFs. Managing the metadata around that is painful.

“It’s like you take a highly structured piece of content and you put it through a sausage factory and you end up with this digital object which has practically no metadata associated with it as far as the end user is concerned.

“But there’s another problem which is even bigger. It is not just about knowing the smaller piece of information that you are interested in. The bigger problem is, how does that fit into the bigger global picture of the entire academic content and the entire world of academic literature? How does the article you are reading connect to an article that someone in a different field is reading? How do you know about the other people who are reading the same kind of things you are reading about?

“So what we have done at Mendeley is create a single tool which sits on your desktop and helps you manage your individual articles. We mirror all that activity into the cloud so we can see what people are reading right now and how many people are reading articles on a particular topic. We can also see how many people are reading a particular article. Our vision is to use this user activity around their local usage of PDFs to create connections between researchers.

“The more people that use it, the more crowd sourced the value we generate out of people’s usage. Using our client application as a base we have created the world’s largest search catalogue for academic papers which also gives you social information around the usage of those academic papers.”

How does this compare to what Google is doing?

“Google have a product called Google Scholar which indexes content. But what Google don’t have is access to the individual collections of articles that someone has decided that they are interested in.

“They provide many of the search services and discovery services but they don’t know what people are actually reading. They might know what people have browsed to but once someone has actually got their article Google doesn’t know anything else about them.”

What is the role of the academic publishers in this area?

“They have a lot of really rich information that they could use to generate interesting services on top of the content for scientists. Publishers have full access to the content. If they are looking at their server logs they know who is reading the content. They know who the authors are. But there has been little interest from the publishers in doing that kind of thing.

“From the point of view of the academic publishers it is purely a volume business. They just need to get as much volume out the door and sell subscription packages to libraries. If you look at the bigger publishers it is no longer enough for them to be a content paywall. They need to be providing services rather than just content.”

All networks, social or otherwise, have privacy issues. How do you handle that at Mendeley?

“We anonymize the information around who is reading what paper. The benefit to a user for using our service is if they synchronize their data with our client based service they can keep all of their information synchronized between multiple machines. As soon as the information passes through our servers we know what the reader information is but we anonymize that in the online catalogue.

“If you want to be even more private around your data you can stop information from going up to our cloud but then it won’t sync between the different machines. You can contribute to this online catalogue of usage information without exposing your own personal collection. We don’t identify paper X is read by reader Y. We say, paper X is read by X number of readers. This percentage are in America this percentage are in Europe. This percentage are professors, this percentage are undergraduates.”

Could you give us a brief example of how it might work for a user?

“When people create an account with we ask them for their academic status; undergraduate, graduate, Phd student, professor and so on. We ask them what areas of research are they interested in. We make the aggregates of those attributes around the papers available through our API.

“You could ask the following question through our API, “In the last year, what has been the most read by undergraduates in biological sciences in North America?” Presumably, that is going to be quite a different paper than the most read paper by people who are senior professors. These are the kinds of questions we are enabling people to answer that nobody else is really doing at the moment.”

Arduino: The Documentary

Arduino The Documentary (2010) English HD from gnd on Vimeo.

For anyone interested in Arduinos and the possibilities that technologies such as these promise then this film is well worth 30 minutes of your time. You get to find out about the history of the project and see some very interesting applications of the technology in action such as the 3D printer.

One of the more enjoyable aspects was the emphasis on teamwork and the enrolment of others with associated skills.

As so often with projects of any sort it, is easy to look back over its development with 20/20 hindsight and declare that there was an inevitable trajectory that dictated a successful outcome. In reality, happenstance and expediency are just as likely to be major guides along the path.

It was interesting to learn that although they had a great piece of hardware it was the addition of the USB connector that enabled the Arduino to really get shipped. Also, the decision to go open source, while noble in intent or not, was made to prevent the work from being buried in archives should a legal calamity take place.

We have written about Arduinos before in Using the Arduino: Tuning Thinkers Into Doers and Arduino: A Big Revolution in a Small Package. The latter made our ten most read articles of 2010. We regard its development and uptake has highly significant and relevant.

This is because, as the film shows so clearly in the maracas scene, you no longer have to be an electronics whiz just to get a few LEDs to light up. Or, in this case a whole screen filling and refilling with images according to how the maracas were shaken.

A competent but not necessarily technical person can have an idea and by using Arduinos and its associated programming language be able to express it in a reasonable short time at very little cost. There is a real magic in that.

Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Until the advent of technologies like the Arduino I had always assumed that the magic would be created by techies hidden from the sight of ordinary citizens. I never thought it would be the citizens themselves that would be capable of creating the magic.

Dublin Startup Weekend

Dublin Startup Weekend is taking place across the weekend of the 25th of February at the Digital Hub in Dublin. The organisers Sean Murphy and Amy Neale were so “blown away with what people were able to achieve over the weekend” at the last Dublin Startup Weekend held in May 2010 that they have decided to run it again.

We spoke to Amy, who is a Program Manager at NDRC which is s an enterprise focused on translating research output into commercial products, about what will be happening this year.

How did the idea for Dublin Startup Weekend come about?

“It came about through myself and Sean having a discussion about the need to do something in Ireland that emulates the type of things that happen in the States. We are both very interested in startups and the genesis of ideas and how they form. Also, all the different skillsets and how they come together. We were interested in bringing those skillsets together at the very earliest stage.

“We had both heard of Startup Weekends taking place in the States and thought it was just a fantastic way of kick starting ideas and getting them off the ground. We got in touch with the guys in the US and they were interested in doing something in Dublin so we worked with them last May at the first Dublin Startup Weekend.

“Sixty people came along on the Friday night. The came from a really diverse set of backgrounds. As you might imagine there were a bunch of software developers but we also had designers and people who were interested in startups in general coming along. Over the course of that weekend six teams formed and they worked like crazy and did a show and tell on Sunday evening.”

Who can come?

“It is open to everybody. But when people purchase tickets they will need to state on the website whether they are technical or marketing or design. That is so we have a good idea of the mix and we can better target publicity as we start selling tickets over time.

“It is important to stress that it is completely not for profit. We are doing it for the community but we need to cover the costs of everyone’s food over the weekend. That’s what people’s tickets costs go towards.”

What can people expect to happen?

“What tends to happen is that about 20- 30% of the participants will come along with a strong idea of what they want to build over the weekend. The rest are coming along with their skill sets looking to join in with a team. There will be access to wireless, whiteboards, markers, workbenches and various other materials that are needed to get going.

“It is a really good way to meet people with skill sets other than your own. That is the fundamental reason people should attend. Plus the experience with the facilitators (soon to be announced) over the weekend means you stand a really good chance of being able to build something over the weekend. This is the chance for the participants to see if an idea can get off the ground over the course of fifty-four hours.”

The Dublin Startup Weekend takes place from the 25th to the 27th of February at the Digital Hub. You can register and buy tickets by visiting the Dublin Startup Weekend website.

There is also a Facebook Page where you can let people know you are attending and share related posts and links.

Endeavour: New Program for 2011

Endeavour is part of a whole framework of developing entrepreneurship in Ireland and specifically in the Kerry region. One of the founders is Jerry Kennelly who sold his stockphoto business to Getty Images in 2006 for over one hundred and thirty million dollars.

According to Jerry,“You can set up a startup and grow it to an international business from wherever you are.”

There are three programs in all. Just launching is the junior entrepreneur program which is for children of about 11-12 years of age. Then there is a young entrepreneur program which is for students in transition year in secondary school which has been going for three years. Endeavour itself is the launchpad program for startups.

There are two phases to the Endeavour program:

  • Phase One is a short seven week program which runs concurrently in Dublin and in Kerry. This requires a commitment of one evening a week for six weeks and then one Saturday for all the day. For each of those evenings there are going to be two entrepreneurs and one professional advisor covering all the topics that are key to developing a startup business.
  • Phase Two is a five month intensive program working with national level mentors. Each participant on this part of the program will have a dedicated mentor.

In addition there will be international mentor teams. One focused on the East Coast of the United States and another one on the West Coast. There will also be an interantional mentor team for Asia.

Applications for the program close on the 26th of January. There are spaces still available.

Fergus Hurley: The Role of Design in Getting a Product to Market

Fergus Hurley is an Irish entrepreneur working in Silicon Valley. We have written about two of his projects before; Clixtr and PicBounce. Fergus has agreed to share his observations and experiences in the form of a three part series which we will feature on Technology Voice every Wednesday. The subjects he will discuss are design, development and distribution. These are the three most important elements in the process that brings a project from just being an idea to being a product in the market. This week Fergus will talk about design.

When you are coming up with a web concept design is probably the most important part of your success. Because if you don’t have good design people are not going to be able to use your product. The first part of design is need finding.

Finding out what do people want and what people want to do with your product. You might have the best idea in the world but if nobody wants to use then is it really a great idea? Once you have the idea about what people should be able to do with new technology then you need to be able to take it and come up with the best incarnation of that.

Historically, design has been less important in the web and in engineering in general. But we are now entering the era where design is number one. It is a space that is evolving all the time.

It is much harder than engineering in the sense that there aren’t any fundamental principles that that you can count on to remain the same and stay constant. The fundamental laws of gravity don’t change but design philosophies are changing all the time based on what is possible with technology and what people actually want to do with the technology.

Who to hire first, a designer or engineer?

I would say that one designer can keep many engineers busy. In the first early stages what you want to have is a really awesome designer who is committed to your product. The impact that a designer can have in a few hours is much larger than an engineer can have in a similar amount of time. That is not to devalue the engineer’s time but it takes a long time to build out the applications because it takes time to code.

Getting a designer that is really awesome is crucial. If you try and hire a designer that matches your salary constraints as a startup you might end up with a designer that is not the most awesome one out there. It is a false economy. An awesome designer will produce better work in a much shorter period thus you may even ultimately end up with a lower cost.

How to find and what to look for in a good designer?

Finding good designers in Silicon Valley is a very difficult thing. I would say that to find a really, really good designer there are probably two ways:

  • One, is that you look at a really good product that is tangential to your space and you find out who designed it. Then you contact that designer and try and recruit them to work on your stuff. That is probably the best way. That designer has experience. They have already proven how good they are and you are impressed with your work.This approach also works with personal connections. You can ask your friends, “Do you know any designers?” When you get their recommendations you can look at the designer’s work and then you can reach out to them.

    Also, since good people have a tendency to associate with others that are as good if not better then themselves, if a great designer is not available it may be worth being referred to one of their associates who may be available.

  • The second way is to put a job posting out there and to try and get someone through that mechanism. But I think that is less effective than going out to try and find a product that is brilliant and was conceived by a great designer.

Good judgement has to be used

There are many facets to design. Just like in engineering you may have one engineer who is good at iPhone development. You may have another who is good at Ruby on Rails development and another engineer who is good at front end development. Each one of those skill sets is specific in itself. Probably all three of those engineers understand the other two area but only one is going to be really good at their particular speciality.

The same with design. A lot of the time one designer won’t be able to do all the different parts. User experience design, laying out the flows of how people will go through the application, is a different skill-set to those possessed by the people who put the skin on that and make it look beautiful.

The different steps of the design process

  • Need finding: What to people want?
  • User experience: Paper prototyping. The application I recommend to use for that is balsamiq.
  • User testing: Once you have the balsamiq mockups you can show the flow of the application to people. At this point you ask them such questions as, “Here is the homepage, what button would you press?” “Is this what you were expecting when you pressed this button?” “If not, what would you have expected to happen?” And so on.
  • Take it from the mock up to the UI. This is where you use the photoshop documents that look really good. The hi-fidelity prototypes. Then you do more user testing.
  • Turn it into an actual product. Now you do usability testing. You are not asking the person, “Would you use this?” anymore. Now you are asking very specific questions and you are giving very specific tasks to your testers. Asking them to find a specific route through your application to a specific goal, etc.

We have talked about the design process in this article. Next week we will be discussing product development and working with developers and the week thereafter we will be discussing distribution.

Video

You can watch Fergus himself give a talk on design, development and delivery from his presentation at BlogTalk 2010 in Galway last year.

Recommended reading:

Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Mark Cagan

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Faye Dinsmore: Irish Facebook Phenomenon

Faye Dinsmore is a graduate of trinity College Dublin and she is now signed to IMG Models, one of the world’s top international modelling agencies. She is originally from Ballintra, Donegal and is the youngest of a family of fourteen. Faye now spends her time between Paris, New York and London. She is one of those rare Irish models that have achieved international acclaim.

On the advice of her agency she set up a Facebook Page. Something Faye herself thought to be an incredibly self-obsessed thing to do. She only ever expected to have just a few hundred people ‘liking’ her but to her surprise the number of fans of her page has just passed 225,000. This makes her, by a considerable margin, the Irish person with the most likes on Facebook.

Just recently, Technology Voice got the chance to ask Faye about how she managed to become so successful on Facebook.

How much of a user of Facebook were you before you started your fan page?

Basically, I’d started to get a huge number of friend requests on Facebook every day, as well as countless messages from people all over the world, who might have read or seen an editorial or campaign I was in. It seemed like a sensible idea and something a lot of other international models do, so as strange as it felt I started a fanpage and essentially made my personal profile all but invisible. I think for the first 24 hours I only had one fan and that was me.

As regards using Facebook, I was a heavy user of Facebook prior to that. Sadly, I was in Ireland only twice in 2010, so Facebook is really the one and only way I stay in touch with friends back home.

What kind of strategy did you use to get to get such high numbers?

I can’t say I had any sort of strategy. I’ve had an iPad since I started my fanpage, so any time I found a little downtime on set or at a show, I just started posting behind the scenes pictures, sharing interesting articles from fashion websites, doing status updates and so on. I guess some people liked what I was sharing. Eventually I found a Facebook fanpage slightly restrictive so I started a blog which has proven popular.

Sometimes people share posts I do thousands of times. Bit by bit the blog has become more popular outside of fashion capitals. For example, in December more people visited my blog from Dublin, Ireland, than most of Ireland’s major fashion magazines have monthly readers. (Over 40,000 people from Dublin alone visited my blog in December).

Finally, I always do my own posts as opposed to one of my agencies in Paris or New York doing them. Oh, and one other thing, I regularly do particular posts for say fans in Colombia or Indonesia or Ireland, posts that you only see if you are in a particular country or even city. I use Google Translate to put a phrase into Indonesian or whatever the language happens to be. I think people really appreciate that.

How meaningful or useful is it to have such a lot of ‘friends’?

It has become substantially more meaningful in New York in recent months, and that trend will extend to other fashion capitals in the coming year. So for example, an increasing number of big clothing labels will now specify in a contract with a model that she must also use her Facebook fanpage, if she has one, to promote a given campaign. And for most major international models that’s no problem as they all now have Facebook fanpages that they regular update.

How hard is it to manage in terms of hours and effort?What sort of advice would you give to others who wanted to increase their Facebook presence?

I guess I spend on average about 10 minutes a day, maybe less. Advice, me! Mmm… If people are not sharing or liking your content then their friends won’t ever come across your page and as a consequence you may find it hard to grow a presence. Just be yourself.

Oh and you’ve got to have some perspective. What I mean by that is that one hundred fans can be a lot of fans depending on how niche the product or person. A local football club in a particular village appeals to people in that village, say a maximum of 500 people in total. A band or an artist that plays all over the world appeals to a potential audience of hundreds of millions. I may have close to quarter of a million fans, but when you put that in perspective, perhaps it’s not that much.

With so many people on Facebook it is difficult to go viral – what in your opinion was the tipping point for you – is it the fact that the industry is so pioneering and so it is either first to market or those with considerable influence will rise up?

I don’t know if there has been a tipping point, but instead there are occasional mini tipping points. For example, if you appear in a magazine that is distributed all over South America and Spain in a particular month then you’ll get a big increase in fans from these areas. Sometimes, something you post goes somewhat viral, but you can almost never predict that.

Google Analytics & Facebook Fans

Traffic to Faye’s blog from Facebook has reached 40,000 visitors from Dublin alone. Contrast that figure with the number of fans that the Irish publications of Social & Personal – Dublin, Tatler, and Image have – Faye has more likes than all of them combined.

In the world of social media, where high numbers can equal influence which can then equal attention, Faye’s status updates makes her a major influencer in her particular niche in the lucrative world of fashion. They have a reach that surpasses anyone else in Ireland and have a global spread as well.

However, what seems to separate her from other high profile people and organisations is her willingness to not only share her observations and experiences with her audience but to engage with them as well. As always, the key to social media is being social.

Optim.al: Accessing the Facebook API

Facebook is huge. It has over half a billion sign ups and even allowing for dummy and secondary accounts that still leaves a lot of people actively engaged with its service. A good deal of Facebook’s potential commercial power is based on the access to personal information that it has obtained from its user profiles and the monitoring of their activities, their likes, their shares, their posts and so on. But even an enormous, well-funded company like Facebook which has the ability throw immense resources at any given challenge realises that it cannot do everything itself.

As Sasha Ziman, Sales Director of Optim.al, puts it, “The notion of the API and the development of relationships with companies such as Optim.al is that they know they don’t have all the answers and so they have invited vendors to try and innovate using their tools.”

Optim.al is a platform where advertisers, big and small, can go on and create campaigns and test a lot of their creative ideas for their Facebook campaign and figure out which creative ideas and variables are the best.

Optim.al is a part of Xa.net which was founded by Rob Leathern who in his own words, “engineered a great deal of multivariate testing and optimization for display ads, emails and text ads at LinkedIn and NexTag and saw an opportunity to extend these methodologies to the rapidly growing and evolving Facebook ad ecosystem.”

Optim.al are among the very few Facebook data API partners and they have direct access to the Facebook ad-server. Their multivariant platform tool can substitute for Facebook’s own interface.

The advertiser can give permission to Optim.al to target their connections so they can advertise to them. Or, very neatly, they can advertise to everyone except their connections. They can also reach out to the friends of their connections which for many Facebook users can be a very large group.

The advertisements themselves are broken up into the headline, the body copy, and an image. The primary body text is broken up into two pieces. It was felt that the ‘call to action’ should be dealt with as a sole element and is therefore treated as a variable itself.

Sasha explains further, “[With this creative optimization platform] not only can we test out which ads and parts of ads are doing best but we can also figure out which audience components are successful as well. Not only can you get indications of responses from gender you can also break up the analytics according to their likes and interests.”

The full factorial of options, the multiple and varied ways that and advertisement can be created, combined and recombined can get deep, complicated and unwieldy very quickly. The issue with running every possible combination of an ad is the time and energy that is required to sift the information from the noise.

Fortunately, to help users avoid being overwhelmed there are simpler routes through the system. There are videos available to help with working through the options and it is possible to outsource the entire experimentation to Optim.al itself.

There are a lot of the other platforms which help advertisers manage their Facebook campaigns but this technology which was developed in-house by their own engineers has the ability to give its users insights to improve campaigns that they might otherwise have found very hard to obtain. It enables advertisers to pinpoint what makes their creative work great or not great.

The key here is audience segmentation, audience targeting and really creating ads that resonate with that audience. The power of being able to access a service like Facebook directly is that you have hundreds of millions of people who will tell you exactly who they are and what they like.

Whether Facebook will open its doors further to allow more third parties to have access to their API has yet to be seen. Considering how valuable the social graphs are that it possesses it us unlikely we will see a third-party eco-system that exists around say, Twitter.

However, the willingness of Facebook to allow companies to have direct access to its ad-servers may be indicative of an increasing self-awareness of the limits of its own capability that comes with maturity borne of experience.