VendorShop: Making Use of Facebook’s Social Graph

Chris Small is originally from New Zealand and is now living in Ireland. When he first arrived he set up a small advertising agency and consultancy which he later sold to a much larger firm. His current project is VendorShop which enables businesses to sell products on Facebook.

VendorShop powers stores and is not a store itself. The users of the service sell everything from fresh chillies in the United States to both restaurants and individuals right through to World Vision Ireland who put their alternative Christmas catalogue online and you can go and buy an immunization for €15.00 for a child.

As Chris explains that as opposed to conventional methods of ecommerce, “One of the fundamental things about why Facebook is the new place to be when going online is because the future is about activating social commerce.

“A very simple way of looking at it is that if I am shopping on a VendorShop store what I want as the vendor is for you to buy something. What would be even better would be my buying something prompting my friends to buy something as well. That is what Facebook is all about. It is about friendships and encouraging the friendships to encourage buying.

“When you are talking about social commerce as opposed to ecommerce where I might use google ads and other tools to drive traffic to my site all I have to do is to get a person to get buying and interacting. Because as a shopper when I interact with your site something goes up on my wall and all my friends see it. So all of a sudden I got this much bigger sales force out there pulling people in as compared to having to advertise to do it.”

A key aspect to how VendorShop works is in its ability to take advantage of Facebook’s social graph.

“We’re about individuals saying, ‘I got this fantastic deal and I am going to share it and I share it on my wall with my friends.’

“If I am buying something in the real world you can say, ‘I got a deadly pair of shoes the other day and I bought them in XYZ shop.’ to your friends when you are having a coffee. Exactly the same thing can happen in the online space on Facebook because that is how Facebook works. Facebook is all about connecting your friends together so friends can ultimately see what what you are doing and get implied recommendations as a result.”

Chris is a participant of the Propeller Venture Accelerator Fund program at The Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship in Dublin, Ireland.

Over a period of three months startup and early stage companies are given space and some funding to take their businesses to the next level.

A resource of prime importane for the teams on the program is the access to a group of more than forty mentors covering all the diverse areas of business such as legal, sales and marketing, strategy, funding processes, and so on.

“We know lots of stuff but there is lots for us to learn. That is what we are finding in terms of the program. We are meeting people who do a number of things. They allow us to bounce off thoughts and ideas. They may be about business structure. We met our legal mentor last weekend to talk about the best way to structure our business in order to get the next round of funding that we need.

“We talked to other mentors about the people they can, ultimately, introduce us to. We are growing really quickly but we want to grow two or three times more quickly then we are growing now. We want to have hundreds of thousands of stores on Facebook in a pretty short space of time.

“Also, for a small early stage company it is hard to cover all the bases. Being able to get all the expert information really quickly is brilliant. Literally, to be able to just pick up a phone to some of the people we have who are mentors and ask their opinions on stuff or get them in and throw around a few thoughts on the table is a great thing.”

Survey on Online Social Networks

A team of researchers at the Information Systems Department at the Technische Universität München, in Germany are conducting a survey on Twitter usage, and how this is affecting the daily lives and personal relationships of those who use the social network.

The survey examines the emotional effects wrought by Twitter usage on the individual, as well as the individual’s real and perceived role within the social network. It also looks at Twitter’s perceived problem-solving utility in ‘real-life’ situations.

Felix Köbler is one of the researchers conducting the survey, “Online social networks, in particular Twitter, play an increasingly important role in our lives. The use of Twitter has even been linked to political and social revolutions. We want to learn about the different ways that people use Twitter and how it affects their online and offline social relationships.”

Those wishing to participate in this study can do so by following this link. The survey takes about fifteen minutes to complete, and Felix expects the results to be available in the fourth quarter of 2011.

You can read more about the work of Felix and his colleagues in this article: “NFC: Using your Mobile to Make Natural Connections

Tom McEnery: The Restructuring of Failure

Ghost estate, Oranmore, Galway.

As I read and listened to the recent comments by Frank Daly the NAMA (ref: link to talk given to Society of Chartered Surveyors, 12 April 2011) the first thing that jumped into my mind was that it seems incredible and startling that what Ireland seems to be doing is restructuring failure instead of nurturing success.

The second thing was, if you are talking to a group of auctioneers and chartered surveyors — the very people that were intimately involved during the bubble in turning the Celtic Tiger into a sick kitten — and say to them, ‘We should have been more vigilant,’ that seems like an attempt at black humor instead of being a legitimate criticism to make as you move forward.

I was aghast just looking at it.

I read in the Irish Times the other day about the 100 or so ‘ghost’ golf courses. Some are owned by the government. They are indicative of what happened during the wild splurge to just lend anybody anything for any kind of chimerical concept.

However, to have government interfering with the private market by keeping some of these ghost golf courses and other commercial buildings and businesses such as hotels in business seems to me to be exactly the wrong thing to do.

What’s the key to the future of Ireland? As always — it is investing in its people.

But that seems to be a measure that is being discussed far more than it is being implemented. The other thing that popped into my mind is that famous line of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, Memory of Brother Michael — “We sailed in puddles of the past.”

Certainly the latest chapter of world history is filled with mistakes of every kind. Many of them committed by the United States. The important thing is to learn from these mistakes. As I read the latest pronouncements from the Irish government I think in many cases they are saying the right thing. But the key is implementation. That’s what Craig Barrett, the Chairman of the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) and former Chairman of Intel says so often.

It is wonderful to have American companies come to Ireland and make investments and employ people. That is positive and a key ingredient. Good things have happened in Ireland in the last decade and a half. But what’s far more important is what groups like the ITLG and others are promoting and that is invest in the people of Ireland. Invest in young Irish entrepreneurs and hopefully have a parallel investment by the Irish government in education and infrastructure.

If you are trying to keep alive ghost properties and restructuring the horrible failures of the property boom then you are really missing an opportunity for the second time.

The opportunity we have before us is to look at what always has been the strength of Ireland — the people there and the people in this vast Irish diaspora which is now in place. Instead of talking about it and having Taoiseachs delivering bowls of shamrocks to the White House it has to be implemented in a significant way.

An analogy that comes to me because of my background in early 20th Century Irish history is that it is almost like after the Easter Rising in 1916 when Michael Collins and the other new leaders decided to look at things completely anew both in the structure of a revolutionary movement and economically. (This latter aspect is often overlooked in Collins’s case.) He realized that you couldn’t just do the things that had been unsuccessful in the past.

It is good that we have Googles and Intels investing in Ireland but the real success will be when we have those new Irish companies that may have had their founders and staff trained in Intel or Dell. When we have those young Irish entrepreneurs coming out of Trinity and UCD or the other Irish universities being able to get funding.

The funding obviously, largely has to come from the private sector but the government can play a role too.

That is the road to Ireland’s economic stability and success in the face of what has happened in this tremendous implosion of the Celtic Tiger.

It is not about waiting for Twitter and the like to come to Ireland. That is obviously positive. I think it is important to keep the corporate tax rate low but supporting education and funding entrepreneurship is the priority. This 21st Century, as we have seen through the advent of social networking, is going to be a century of innovation.

Ireland can either look to the past and sail in those puddles or it can, in a significant way, change its governmental structure. This has to be done to restore the Irish people’s confidence in their government but the agencies like NAMA, IDA and Enterprise Ireland have to think and act anew.

They have done good things in the past but that is not enough. They have to do more with the Irish diaspora then just say nice things about us. We don’t need that. Ireland doesn’t need that and the young graduates of the universities and the people looking for meaningful jobs that pay a decent wage don’t need this.

Propeller Venture Accelerator Fund: Hands on Program for Startups and Early Stage Companies

The Propeller Venture Accelerator Fund is an initiative of The Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dublin City University. It has €1 milllion with which to fund up to twenty-four early stage companies over a two year period.

Gordon McConnell is Deputy-CEO and Director of Business Development for the DCU Ryan Academy is a strong supporter of the Lean Startup methodology, “It is really about getting the product out there. You can sit in a room for six months and develop a product that nobody wants or needs.”

Up until about a year ago the Ryan Academy was mostly concerned with training. But using funding and support models such as TechStars and Y Combinator the focus has shifted to a hands-on results focused incubation process for startups. Gordon says, “We would see ourselves as being ‘pracademic’ as opposed to being academic.”

“If you want to do a Masters or a degree please go to DCU business school. If you want to do a short course that is, ‘What can I do in the morning?’ oriented then you come to the Academy. That’s the sort of stuff we do.”

“The Law module is being taught by a senior partner at Arthur Cox who deals in startups. The Intellectual Property model is being taught by a senior partner in Tomkins which was the Irish IP firm of the year in 2010. The Venture Capital module is being taught by an ex-VC guy so it is very much, ‘I do this for a living as opposed to writing articles on it.’

“A lot of the companies did not realize how important the mentor-led bit would be. The key to having something like a TechStars or a Y Combinator is having a really good, high standard of mentorship in different areas. Some of the them are technologists while others have a sales background. Some of them have scaled companies before while others understand the finance and investment side. The mix of disciplines is key.”

The Ryan Academy is slightly different to most of the US accelerators which tend to be based around Web 2.0 or some other specific area of technology. Gordon explains, “We take a broader view than that. There is some interesting hardware coming out of Ireland, some interesting informatics and some interesting clean-tech. So we broadened our remit out to make it about the internet, software, hardware and other areas of interest.”

The application process for Propeller is quite simple and takes about twenty-five minutes. Unusually, there is no particular requirement to produce a business plan.

“It’s not that we don’t think that’s important.” Gordon explains, “but it’s about the team, their background, who they are. Have they accomplished something already with their limited resources? Because if they have accomplished something on their own then with our heavily mentored program and being able to throw them a few bob as well we can really move them along in three months.

“Everybody here had product demos, there were early products getting out there. They had accomplished something. A Silicon Valley catchphrase that we use is to ask, “Is this a team that can pivot?” So, if they are going after one market and after week three they discover that is not going to be a runner can they pivot into something else?

“In filling out the application you do need to show that you know the market for the product and all that kind of stuff. But if something goes wrong in the three months and you need to switch over then are you the right team?

“Some of the people here have been through startups before. We like that — because they’ve learned. It is great to see that we are starting to see a movement beyond the failure issue which we have obviously had in the past.”

At the end of the program the participants have to present themselves and their product at an especially convened Demo Day. Potential investors from Ireland, the UK, Europe and the United States are invited to attend and the aim is for the companies to get up and say, ‘This is who we are are. This is what we have accomplished in the last three months and now we want X to accomplish Y.’

Gordon explains, “They are going for an ask: ‘We need two hundred grand, three hundred grand, five hundred grand, whatever.’ That number is to achieve the next set of objectives.”

The Propeller Program is also very much focused on introducing its participants to a global market.

“Ireland is not a market. Ireland at the very best is a test bed. While some of them have an interest in Europe most of our teams are looking at the States. Europe is a fragmented market and it is hard to get a product into it so a presence in the States is necessary.”

With that in mind the Ryan Academy has established a relationship with Arizona State University who have a large incubator of their own in Phoenix. This will be the first stepping stone into the vast American market for many of the teams.

Banner image and main article image by Sarah777

Ryan Academy, Citywest (Sarah777) / CC BY-SA 2.0