John Dennehy from Zartis: The Benefits of Moving to the Cloud

Having already had a string of successful tech startups in the early years of the last decade, including web development company Zartis, and game developer Upstart Games, John Dennehy is well placed to chart the challenges and opportunities ten years of technological advances have made to creating a startup business, as he builds his latest venture, Assembly Point Ltd.

Assembly Point’s two products, human resources application HR Locker, and a recruitment application also called Zartis, are sold as a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, and John sees the global market as being far more accessible than it was in a decade ago.

“The primary difference between now and then is that people are now willing to spend money on online services. Previously there was a lot of hype around Internet services, there was a lot of hype around companies who were bringing out new products in that space, but ultimately two things weren’t happening.

“Firstly, everybody wasn’t using it and consuming those services, especially from a business point of view, and secondly, now there’s an acceptance that you pay for those services online so there’s a whole industry that’s evolving at a massive rate. It’s a massively fast rate in Software as a Service, and it’s companies developing products locally and selling them globally.”

Assembly Point’s first product is HR Locker, a human resources application that allows small to medium enterprises to manage information like annual leave, timesheets, employee records and compliance-based documents, and even to publish a staff handbook and have staff sign it online. “It keeps all the data in one safe, secure place and they pay a low cost annual fee for it”, explains John.

Zartis.com is John’s recruitment application. “We want to help companies hire great people without going to recruitment agencies. The cost of our service works out a €600 per year, the cost of the average hire through a recruitment agency is €6,000. So you could hire one person through a recruitment agency, or use our service for ten years, and that’s a comparison I want people to think of.”

For both products, John has deliberately made the signup process as quick as possible; with the sheer wealth of information on the web, he is aware that people’s attention spans are limited.

“Sixty percent, typically of the people who land on the front page of your website will leave and they never actually go any further than that, and that’s across the sector.

“Visitors are very transient, it’s a very ephemeral attention span people on the web have, so you have to catch their attention immediately and you have to try and have a compelling call to action and convert them into a customer as quick as you possibly can. Every single time barrier and obstacle that you put in their way, you will see a fall off.”

As a participant in Microsoft’s Bizspark programme for startups, both the Zartis and HR Locker applications are hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, and John believes that moving to the cloud has allowed him to focus on the important elements of his business.

“Essentially what cloud computing does, is it removes the platform layer as a distraction from us so we can focus on building our application, working our marketing message and managing our customers.

“We no longer have to worry about scalability, we don’t have to put NTR architecture in place with multiple web servers and multiple databases and hardware accelerators, you know? Nobody should ever have to worry about that.

“There’s probably about five companies in the world who will take care of that in ten years time. It’s probably going to be the Microsoft’s, the Google’s, the Amazon’s, and the IBM’s, and that’s what they’re very good at, providing that platform. We want to build our application on their platform.”

Security is a frequently voiced concern when a move to the cloud is mooted, but as John points out, the platform provider has access to a far greater level of security resources than a small software developer does, and this again allows the SME to focus on their product and their customer.

“Security is a key issue for us, we have a very sensitive data so we went with the Windows Azure platform, largely because of the security around that. Microsoft has spend over $20 billion rolling out their data centre; they look after the firewalls and the software upgrades.

“They can provide attention to detail and security resources that no medium size company could put in place. So security is absolutely essential, it’s a very important thing, and in choosing which provider to go with you have to rely on a partnership with them to provide that world-class security.”

Although the cloud has made things easier in one sense, John is acutely aware that in a global marketplace, although there is abundant opportunity, there is also fierce competition.

“Your competitors are not local guys. People always look over their shoulder to see who’s their local competitor; that’s no longer relevant.

“To compete effectively on the Internet, you have to be absolutely top of your game, because if you’re not giving the best service, somebody else will, so that’s a pretty profound change.”

Additional material by

Dyslexie: Typeface for Dyslexics

In 2008, during his final year at Utrecht School of the Arts, graphic design student Christian Boer came up with the idea for creating a typeface that was easier for people with dyslexia to read.

A dyslectic himself, Christian had read about the ways in which dyslectics perceive written letters, as three-dimensional characters where letters can rotate and interchange with one another, causing difficulty in distinguishing between characters like “b”, “q”, and “p”, or “v” and “w”.

“It was intended to help only myself at first”, recalls Christian. “I read about how dyslectics turn and exchange letters and I thought, “Yeah, I can change the form and I want to have a look to see if it works.”

Christian’s typeface, Dyslexie, alters the shape of the twenty-six letters of the western alphabet, making the bottom of the letter bolder, effectively anchoring them to the ground, or increasing openings or indentations to emphasise the difference between characters, even if rotated or interchanged.

He found that the new typeface worked, “very well” for him, but he also knew that dyslexia affects people differently and he was unsure whether it would help others. With this in mind he sought out some people to test the typeface on.

“I searched for eight different dyslectic people with heavier and lighter dyslexia, and I sent them the text without saying that it was the Dyslexie font and they all came back to me right away and said, “Yeah, I like the font, I want the font”, so I knew that it not only worked for me, but for all dyslectics.”

Although Christian admits that he wanted to keep Dyslexie for himself and the eight dyslectic people that he used for testing it on, he found that, “there was too much attention on it to keep it for myself!” He was approached by Renske de Leeuw, of the University of Twente, who asked if she could do some research into his creation.

Her study, completed in December 2010, found that there was a decrease in reading errors among dyslectics while using Christian’s typeface.

Following on from that research, Dyslexie is now commercially available in Holland, and Christian is currently in negotiations to have an English version available for the English market for September of this year, with the American market, “hopefully” to follow.

Christian acknowledges that people can be, “quite sceptical about it,” and insists that the best way is, “always if the dyslectic reads it by themselves; “ They notice what the difference is, and that’s the best result you’ll ever get.”

Paying for Online Content: Will People Pay for Quality Content? [VIDEO]

Last week when Apple released the Lion OSX John Siracusa, from Ars Technica, delivered a 19 page review of the new operating system for free.

Ars Technica then decided to sell a $5 Kindle e-book of the review.

The review was downloaded 3,000 times over a period of 24 hours and it generated $15,000 in revenue.

This was made possible by the power of Amazon’s one click experience which makes impulsive shopping or purchases very easy.

Also, it would seem that people appreciate longer pieces of writing and will open their wallets to pay for such content.

The Irish Naval Service: In the Fight Against Ireland’s No.1 Enemy — The Deficit

The difficult times that Ireland has found itself in as a result of the recession have required a great deal of belt-tightening, with every citizen required to do his or her part towards reviving the ailing economy.

As well as protecting Ireland’s interests on the seas, the Irish Naval service is aiming to add to its public service by turning itself into a “knowledge institution” and engaging in maritime research through the MERC³ initiative, which will research ways in which Ireland can harness the huge potential offered by its marine resources.

The Marine and Energy Research Campus and Commercial Cluster, a joint venture between the Naval Service, University College Cork, and Cork Institute of Technology, is a new campus for research into the marine and ocean energy sectors, located in Ringaskiddy, adjacent to the National Maritime College of Ireland and the Irish Naval Service headquarters.

The initiative came about when Commodore Mark Mellett, now Flag Officer in Command of the Naval Service, the head of the Irish Naval Service, alongside partners in UCC and CIT, began looking at, “a number of niche areas that were important in the context the national interest; technology in the maritime domain, the whole opportunity in terms of renewable energy, and issues such as maritime security, shipping and transport.”

They came to the conclusion that there were, “quite a few strands of potentially important research areas that the state wasn’t quite pursuing in a coherent manner,” according to Commodore Mellett.

After, “joining all the dots together,” the concept of a creation, initially of a campus and then of a cluster was born, and MERC³ was launched in March 2011.

In joining up with the two academic institutions, the Naval Service brings a wealth of experience as the largest professional maritime institution in the State to the consortium.

“I could see clearly that I would never be able to compete in the context of large aircraft carriers or large submarines or Tomahawk missile deploying ships, but what I could compete with was the common resource which is most critical to every organisation and every navy and that’s people.

“We could actually transform the people of the navy in terms of their smartness and the key to that is education and training.

“By pursuing this concept we are first of all satisfying the agenda of developing the navy into a knowledge institution, but also we have the added benefit in terms of relevance to society, of serving as a stimulant for the maritime economy.”

Part of the work done in the MERC³ campus is the provision of resources to small and medium enterprises in the maritime sector. Among the companies collaborating with the Naval Service are SEFtec, who deal in maritime safety and firefighting safety, and Cathx Ocean, who develop specialist underwater lighting.

A major focus point for the MERC³ campus will be renewable energies like wave and tidal power and also offshore wind power. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has predicted that up to 52,000 jobs could be created in Ireland in the area of wave power by 2030, and Cdre. Mellett is quick to stress the role that could be played by the Naval Service in achieving this target.

“Ireland sits just approximate to the richest source of wave energy in the world, and already we have six of the top renewable energy device companies [such as Wavebob.] Their prototypes are most likely to drive the first generation of productive wave energy devices.

“The whole knowledge in the domain in terms of the anchoring arrangements, the siting, the marine spatial planning, the governance aspects, the legal aspects, the security aspects, they’re all areas in which the navy has competence and expertise.

“By working with the companies who are actually going to be involved in the placement of these wave farms, there is a huge opportunity for the navy to act as a public good in terms of future
renewable energy infrastructure.”

Although the Irish Naval Service will never lay claim to the largest warships or the greatest arsenal, Cdre. Mellett is determined that in developing it as a “knowledge institution”, the Irish
Navy will use its human capital to provide the greatest benefit to Ireland’s people through aiding its economy.

“The national recovery plan has put an onus on us all to actually be innovative and smart in terms of how we use resources that are becoming difficult to fund. In the navy, we’ve clearly
identified the centre of gravity of the enemy is the economic deficit. So any way we can attack the economic deficit, and one way to attack that is to create jobs.

“I’m confident that in the very near future the first foreign direct investment client will be announcing jobs as part of the MERC³ initiative, and that’s proof that the concept is right because that will actually start creating real jobs from a concept that is being driven by education and public sector institutions.

“The navy’s ultimate vision is to be the smartest, most innovative and responsive naval service provider in the world. We don’t want to be the second smartest or the third smartest, and
it goes back to the original point, the key piece of the navy in terms of it’s future is its people, so if we can have smart people who are actually doing smart things with technology, we can do a lot
more with less.”

Demise of Google Labs [VIDEO]

Just recently Google announced the closure of Google Labs. Although the ideas generated in Google Labs were never expected to go mainstream a number of successful products managed to surface from the project.

These include familiar products such as Google Reader, Google News and Google Maps.

Google is now making Google Plus it’s top priority with over 10 million subscriptions to the service over the past month despite it being by invite only.

Arekibo Ventures: Time for Irish Business to Invest in Itself

Martin Casey co-founded digital media company Arekibo in 1999, and despite its success, he feels that the availability of a private investor fund to help Arekibo’s development would have been a great help, and something that is lacking in the Irish startup community.

Twelve years later, he doesn’t think that much has changed in that respect, and Arekibo has launched Arekibo Ventures, an angel seed investor fund for Irish startups.

“There’s no use waiting for someone else to do it, we just felt that it was the right thing to do,” says the South-African born entrepreneur, “It’s no good talking about it and saying, “wouldn’t it be great if it happens”, we just have to do it.”

Having built much of its business around developing online strategies and branding for businesses, Martin feels the time is right for Arekibo to, “put our money where our mouth is.”

By Arekibo having a “vested interest in making sure that it has the best chance of becoming successful,” the startup is getting the most utility possible out of the resources available to them.

“I think it is a very odd thing for a digital agency to open up a seed fund, but at the end of the day we want to see companies succeed, we’re startup people. To me it just makes sense, we want to make things happen.”

While Martin insists that he will not be seeking a place at the boardroom table of any funding recipients, he wants Arekibo Ventures to utilise the full array of skills available in the Arekibo stable to ensure the success of any relationships.

“We have funds to invest plus we have very important expertise that we believe these companies need. So it’s a kind of added piece that we can bring; we’re not just a guy who’s going to introduce you to two or three people, we’re actually going to be the people who roll up our sleeves and actually get involved, but we’re not trying to take over at all.

“Today funding is difficult. It takes a long time, it takes a special skillset, it can take away from the core idea, because you get caught up in business plans and the mind is screwed with questions.

“We think that we can help people with that because we’ve been there, done that, and we can fit into a specific area where we can get some of these companies ready to go to the big guys.”

As regards what type of company Arekibo might view as suitable for investment, Martin is open to different approaches, not just from companies in the digital space, “it’s kind of horse for courses, it’s trying to find a good fit.”

“You can tell very quickly if someone’s going to fit in, or if it’s too early or if someone’s too brash. At the end of the day, we don’t want to mess anybody around, we want to be someone who can look at someone in the eye and say right we’re interested we want to do stuff with you, let’s make it happen.

“Obviously as a seed fund, that’s what it is, you have to plant a seed and you have to water it and nurture it and that’s where we want to be.

“It’s not just about you trying to win us over, we have to win you over, because ultimately this is about a long term partnership, we obviously want this to work. It’s a case of if you like the look of us and vice-versa, and we think that we could do stuff together then, hey, let’s do it.”

Martin believes that there is a, “very healthy environment” in Ireland at the moment and there is, “a lot of goodwill about people wanting to make things happen, particularly in the digital space,” however he also thinks that there is a reluctance amongst Irish entrepreneurs to promote themselves, an endemic modesty which can negate much of the good work being done here.

“I don’t think we say enough, I don’t think we promote ourselves enough. I think we’re quite happy to keep under the radar, whereas I think we’re got to learn how to promote ourselves, we’ve got to learn how to speak about how we’ve done stuff, we’ve got to be prouder of what we’ve achieved because there’s some very, very smart people, there’s some wonderful ideas here.

“Why do we always have to look over the water for these things? It is happening here, and we’ve just got to tell people, show people that we’re achieving.”

“The reason that I wanted to do it fundamentally is because I believe that people like myself have to step up, and make it happen. There are lots of guys at it and who have been at it longer, I suppose this is just our small part and hopefully the companies that we are involved with and who choose to work with us can become successful. You never know, it happens all around us and we are where we want to be, we are the silicon valley of Europe. Why not?”

Are apps the new music video?

Boston alternative rock legends The Pixies are the latest music artists to release free content to the public in the form of a free smartphone app. Black Francis and his cohorts have released an official Pixies app for iPhone which features live concert footage, three live albums spanning twenty years of performances, and tracks from the band’s original demo tape, known as “The Purple Tape.”

Icelandic avant-garde singer Björk has also released an interactive audio-visual iPhone and iPad app to accompany her new album, Biophilia, while Belgian DJ collective Soulwax decided to forgo the making of a new album under their 2 many DJ’s moniker, and opted instead to release their Radio Soulwax, a collection of 24 hour-long mixes with accompanying visuals based on the original artwork of the featured songs.

Although YouTube is still a powerful marketing vehicle for music, it seems that the golden age of the music video, heralded just a couple of weeks short of twenty years ago with the launch of MTV, is drawing to a close, or at the very least, entering a new phase of its development.

The more forward-thinking artists are now questioning the wisdom of hiring a celebrity movie director and paying for a harem of dancers and enough lighting to land an Airbus, for a clip that will only ever be viewed on YouTube or Muzu, and fleetingly at that, when they can employ an app developer to create something that stays in the consumer’s pocket and can lead them to engage with, and even purchase from, the artist.

The Pixies app provides free content, but only after the user agrees to share the app with his or her Facebook or Twitter friends. The fan gets free, and legal, content, while the band gets invaluable exposure through social media, not to mention the links to purchase the band’s music and merchandise through the site.

Björk, being Björk, has a slightly more complicated approach, but the basic premise is the same. Her app, narrated by naturalist Sir David Attenborough, is an integral part of the overall concept of her album. The initial app is free to download, and acts as a umbrella for ten micro-apps, which will accompany the ten songs on the album, and will retail at around €1.79/$1.99.

These innovative and, frankly, odd apps will feature various games and interactive educational features which will teach the user about topics such as chromatic scales. This might be a step too far for many people, but if the video for “It’s Oh So Quiet” was released today, how much attention would it receive? Probably not enough to even cover director Spike Jonze’s wages. You have to applaud the source of Iceland’s second-most violent eruptions for her willingness to be a pioneer in this field.

Of course, bands have tried this before with CD-ROM’s; I remember all of twelve years ago spending what seemed like, and probably was, hours sitting at my mother’s rickety old desktop PC waiting for an interactive Foo Fighters “experience”, which turned out to be a couple of tour photos and a music video which took so long to load it felt like watching a cartoon being animated in real time.

Technology has moved on though, and the time is right for artists to properly explore the mobile world, and finally wreak vengeance on the video for what it did to the radio star.

Surprise Upturn In Intel Sales [VIDEO]

Running contrary to industry expectations Intel has just posted record sales $13 billion in its last quarter.

Although demand has ebbed in its established markets of Europe and the United States this has been more than compensated for by the upturn in sales in countries such as Brazil and China.

In addition, apart from buyers in the new markets who are buying PCs for the first time, Intel claims that the advent of smartphones and tablets has not had the impact on sales that many observers would have thought.

According to Intel CEO, Paul Otellini, customers still see these device as additional purchases rather than outright replacement for their PCs.

Philanthrokidz: Real World Results from Online Play

The Rift is a new website for pre-teens, the brain child of Tina Venema, a mother of two with a background in software development, whose interests in innovation, technology and a budding interest in philanthropy led her to explore the idea of creating a virtual world for children where they can socialise and, by playing online, contribute to community projects.

While her own children were avid users of technology, their one complaint was that for all the time they spent playing games online, nothing would happen. Her children would tell her they could decorate a room or feed an animal online and while this was fun for them, nothing else would happen — there were no visible consequences to their online presence.

Tina came to the conclusion that children in the tween demographic, between the ages of nine and thirteen, are equally involved in their online lives as they are in their real world lives, “Tweens live with one leg in the real world and one in the virtual world; virtual experience is very real for them but they are still in school every day in really concrete situations.”

“A theory I came up with is that there is no bridge between their real world experience and their virtual experience and how cool would it be to empower kids to do things virtually that they have currency in and the ability to play online and to transform that into something that they could be proud of creating in the real world.”

Thus The Rift was born.

It is Tina’s company, Philanthrokidz’, current project and is what Tina hopes will become, “the coolest place online for kids.” It differs from other tween sites such as Webkinz or Club Penguin in that by playing and taking part in activities online, kids can generate currency for themselves called Rifts which they can use to contribute to virtual community projects.

“Our special sauce is we have to have all the things a virtual world needs that keep kids coming back; which is fun and games and allowing them to be part of masterminding it. I think the one benefit we have which we haven’t seen in other places is the ability for them to turn their virtual currency and power into the real world things happening.

“Currently our users are building a virtual kids’ park in the Dominican Republic. What the kids are doing is all virtual and our corporate partners match with real currency in the real world what our kids are doing with virtual currency in the virtual world.”

On the website the Rift kids will find a toggle button where they can watch the real park as it’s being built and there they can see what is happening and how their real project is coming along be able to compare it with their virtual park on the website.

The benefit for investors is that they’re able to build their own customised space on The Rift where kids can go and sample their product, help them with development or design new packaging, and all of this information goes directly from the users on The Rift right back to the company.

The name for the site comes from a legend Tina and her team created for added intrigue and that added a spark of folklore to the idea of these children coming together to create their own world where play equals power.

The fictitious tale of The Rift goes that at one point in time an island existed out in the middle of the Atlantic which was governed by five guilds; entrepreneurs, builders, artists, intuit and scientists. The island was seen as the place that other people could go to seek help.

Then the rift happened and while no one knows how exactly this happened, the different tribes or guilds that had taken up residence on the island fled back to their countries of origin. The island turned in on itself and sank beneath the ocean.

Fast forward thousands of years: Five kids spread across the globe get together online via a blog that one of the girls starts; unknownst to themselves they are all descendants of the five guilds.

“So the idea is that The Rift is being rebuilt and at the same time we’re saving the world, kids are invited to become part of that endeavour through all the activities they do and by earning their virtual currency. This currency gives them virtual spending power and also status, so we’re encouraging healthy competition among kids to earn more but also to give more.”

As they play online, pre-teens can earn a virtual currency which they can use to build their kids’ park in the Dominican Republic. They purchase the land which then has to be sodded and grassed and as that happens in the virtual world it’s also happening in the real world, funded by real currency.

The beauty of this scheme is that children are being enforced with the idea from an early age that earning money and working towards a goal can be extremely rewarding. The Rift is gives them the experience of seeing their goals come to fruition through vicarious education.

“While we don’t want to be an educational site for kids we do think there are some important things that can be learned though this project around financial literacy, global issues, geography and languages.”

Another major part of Philanthrokidz and The Rift project for Tina is a desire to develop user generated content, “We’re seeking out feedback from our users to help us build the world in the way they want it to be, we really want it to be a world for kids, built by kids.”