Metricfire – A One-Stop Shop for Application Metrics

There are many ways to launch a startup, and none of them are particularly easy. There’s a huge element of risk involved for all concerned. However, as the importance of startups finally becomes apparent to the powers-that-be, the tools and opportunities available to tech entrepreneurs in countries like Ireland is taking some of the fear out of it.

This is no doubt a good thing, but perhaps some of these startups are living in an artificial cocoon of funding, incubation, mentoring, games rooms, and lattes in the common area. The fear of losing everything isn’t always as strong a motivating factor as it once was.

The good folk behind Application Metrics-as-a-Service provider, MetricFire, have decided to do it the hard way.

Dave Concannon has worked with a number of successful startups over the years (including mobile security developers YouGetItBack), while co-founder Charlie Von Metzradt had been working with Demonware in Dublin.

“I decided it was time for me to finally step out and do something for myself,” recalls Dave. Charlie, he says, was the obvious choice for a partner, “I’ve worked with him before, I can trust him – I know he’s very, very smart”. The two took what they both had in the bank, enough to last a year, and they’ve bootstrapped their way from idea to market.

The idea for Metricfire came from their past experiences as software engineers, such as Charlie’s time at Demonware, where he saw first-hand the need to be able to track huge amounts of metrics coming from systems. “There’s a lot of mission critical stuff,” says Dave, “so it’s absolutely critical that you know when things are slowing down and be able to eliminate all the bottlenecks”.

The pair felt that, while many companies offer solutions to one or more of the problems presented by application metrics, none was comprehensive enough to make outsourcing worthwhile.

“There are a lot of solutions that do individual parts; you can measure things, you can alert things; but connecting them all together is a real pain. We want to be the one-stop shop for measuring everything inside an application and then letting people know when something’s gone wrong. Basically, it’s a way to measure everything that’s out there,” says Dave.

“We allow people to quickly and easily measure anything that’s coming out of their application, be that how quickly things are responding or the number of times something happens, or maybe you just want to know how many users are using a particular area of your app.”

Charlie remains in Dublin, while Dave is out in California. An American presence is important, they felt. Even if they are not quite at the stage where it has begun to make a difference, it projects a message of intent.

“It’s not even just to have an American presence, but almost to have a presence in the Bay Area,” says Dave. He recalls an anecdote where an acquaintance could not secure funding from VCs until he moved from San Diego to San Francisco, whereupon the investors began to take him seriously, “It’s that odd perception of having to be at the hub, I suppose, around the Bay Area, which is a little bit strange”.

For a two-man operation, the eight-hour time difference between Dave and Charlie might have been an issue, but Dave notes that Charlie, “tends to keep odd hours so he’s more on my time zone”.

“It works out pretty well because our days overlap probably 80-85 per cent so we’re online at the same time, which works out very well. We get a lot done; it feels like he’s just down the road,” he says.

Metricfire was in a beta program for four months, “Gradually letting more and more people in, getting feedback on what they like, what they’d like changed, how the interface works, how it suits them”, and has just this month launched its first pricing plans.

They are hopeful that companies will see the benefit of purchasing this software as a service, rather than devoting programmers’ and engineers’ time and effort towards resolving these issues in-house.

“Would you rather have your developers writing code for you, or would you rather have them fixing a thing that lets you know when something else has gone wrong?

“The comparison we’d make is; you can take one of your developers, have him spend the day figuring out what the different options are – install one of those – then he has to find out the next part of the chain – install that – connect them all; that’s another couple of days’ work. And then eventually, maybe six months down the line, something goes wrong, and he has to fix it, or maybe he’s left the company or he’s too busy, so someone else has to do it, so you’re looking at all these days accumulated,” explains Dave with all the exasperation of someone who’s been in this situation before, and resolved not to repeat the experience.

“The way we’re doing it is, you have a hosted service, we take care of it all and make sure it can grow and scale. We have people here who can take care of it for you, so you’re not wasting your time when you could be doing something that’s more core to your business.”

Metricfire is, explains Dave, “Kind of language agnostic”, and can cater for almost any application out there, big or small. They also plan to offer free projects to open-source developers and students.

“We have libraries for Python and PHP, and we’re adding more, with Ruby, Java and Node JS on the way, but we have a HTTP API that lets anyone that wants to either build their own native client or just wants to connect quickly. But our plan is support as many languages as we can, and we’re gradually just building them up based on customer requests that we’ve seen.”

While they have bootstrapped so far, they are hopeful that the connections of David Smith and Enterprise Ireland will prove, “A pretty good resource for what we’re doing,” and open some doors for Metricfire in Silicon Valley.

Angels and VCs constantly harp on about wanting more than just talented people with good ideas; they want to know that their money is in safe hands. Having eschewed all outside help and crafted a viable business across two continents, Dave and Charlie will hope to show investors that Metricfire is as safe a pair of hands as any in these uncertain times.

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US Government Joins the Dots with Irish ‘Linked Data’ Technologies

Agencies in the US Government have adopted a set of web tools and standards developed in Ireland by researchers at NUI Galway’s Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI).

DERI’s technologies are being utilised by Data.gov, a portal developed to bring an unprecedented level of transparency to the US Government. DERI’s research, which is funded by Science Foundation Ireland, focuses on enabling networked knowledge, using the latest Semantic Web and Linked Data technologies. Its technologies allow related data that was not previously linked to be connected together, so that a person or computer can see the bigger picture through interlinked datasets. Data.gov allows the linking of open government data from agency publishers to contributions from other public and private organisations.

DERI’s Dr John Breslin, who also lectures in Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway, explains: “I recently saw a universal toy adaptor that allowed you to connect plastic building blocks to wooden construction sets. Linked Data is a bit like that – it’s based on a universal data format that allows you to bring datasets from different realms together, making them more useful as a whole. Your planning applications could be linked to your broadband penetration rates or your traffic congestion data to help identify issues and trends.”

Among the DERI outputs being used by Data.gov and the related Healthdata.gov site are Neologism and the GRefine RDF Extension. Neologism is a new tool which allows for the easy creation of ‘vocabularies’ needed to link data and is built on the powerful open source content management platform Drupal. One such vocabulary that is listed in vocab.data.gov is the Vocabulary of Interlinked Datasets (VOID), which was co-created by DERI researchers. The second technology in use, the RDF Extension for Google Refine, is a graphical user interface for exporting data from Google Refine (a tool for working with messy data) as interlinked Semantic Web data.

George Thomas, Enterprise Architect with the US Health and Human Services Administration, has said: “More behind the scenes work that routinely benefits from substantial DERI engagement includes an ongoing contribution to the creation and promulgation of open standards related to open government data catalogs and communities. But DERI doesn’t stop there, they put these new standards into practice through enhancements to Drupal 7 core, helping make it an even more powerful publishing and visualization tool for the emerging Web of Data.”

He added: “We hope to leverage all of these features and capabilities in our current and ongoing Healthdata.gov modernization efforts. They also create lots of other useful tools and pen helpful blog posts that promote the proper use and integration of standards. Furthermore, DERI folks are active in many other efforts to promote structured data using open standards and help to clarify best practices that will ultimately lead to better integration of international government statistics.”

Joint work between DERI and Mr. Thomas’ team on Patient Controlled Privacy (using Linked Health Data) will be presented at the Semantic Technologies Conference in San Francisco in June, that makes use of the Privacy Preference Ontology and related privacy management web applications from DERI’s Social Software Unit.

Data.gov is part of a global initiative referred to as the Open Data movement, with the goal to motivate governments to make public information freely available and easily accessible online. Others examples include data.gov.uk and data.london.gov.uk from the UK, and data.fingal.ie and dublinked.ie from Ireland.

Researchers at DERI in NUI Galway are in the vanguard of this new technology space. The largest research organisation of its kind in the world, DERI with its 140 researchers, it is collaborating with industry and governments to revolutionise the utilisation of data.

Today, more than 200 regions and countries are publishing their government data online. Three years ago, DERI announced the adoption of its SIOC data format by a website in the Obama administration. The SIOC format is one of the Open Data formats being produced by a number of US Government websites that use the latest Drupal platform, including energy.gov (the US Energy Department), policy.house.gov (the Republican Policy committee), lsc.gov (the civil legal aid program), and oag.ca.gov (the California Attorney General). The DCAT vocabulary from DERI is also used by various government sites for describing government datasets and data catalogs. DERI also collaborates with the European Commission on common semantic vocabularies, such as the Asset Description Metadata Schema (ADMS).

Professor Stefan Decker, Director of DERI at NUI Galway, says that while we are seeing Open Data being used to improve public services and promote more transparent and effective government – that is only part of the story. “Open Data has been described recently by the UK’s Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude as the raw material of a ‘new industrial revolution’. Making more data freely available is resulting in people using it to build new businesses and grow existing ones, creating jobs.

In Ireland, the Open Data movement is being pioneered by the likes of Fingal County Council, the Dublinked consortium and the National Cross-Industry Working Group on Open Data. DERI participates at a national and international level through the provision of best practices, standards and technologies. Open Data is key to supporting a truly transparent and participatory democratic system.”

In Ireland, DERI collaborates closely with local and the Local Government Computer Services Board, as well as the National Cross-Industry Working Group on Open Data to promote Open Data.

Professor Decker concluded: “These are exciting times and a true spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is engulfing the IT world as networked knowledge begins to come into its own. Undoubtedly, ten years from now when we look back, we will wonder how we managed with the volumes of unconnected data we have now.”

DERI was founded in 2003 at NUI Galway with support from the Irish Government’s Science Foundation Ireland, as part of a strategic investment in Semantic Web research and business development.

The Value of IP

One of the ironies of our high tech age is that developers and designers seem to know very little about the value of software as a product. There are all kinds of encouragements and advice on how to be a lean startup, to utilise Agile for development, to ship early and often and so on. But these are just methods to attaining a given goal in, hopefully, a faster and better way.

Admirable as some of this guidance maybe, software applications and software businesses are often created seemingly without very much understanding of the real, inherent value of Intellectual Property (IP).

Techies (and most other people it should be said) find that due to the lack of any absolute way of directly applying a useful metric they are reluctant to engage with the intangible. The value of IP, like the value of marketing doesn’t lend itself easily to quantification — the lifeblood of the engineering process.

That means it is left to other people such as investors, lawyers, promoters and, of course, the tax authorities, to care about what a piece of software is worth.

There all kinds of intangibles but fortunately, software is one of the more tangible intangibles. An intangible is not valued on the cost of the production but on the cost of the future income it will bring. If you want to value software you have to assess the future income stream.

A piece of Intellectual Property (IP) is not the same kind of commodity as say, a brick.

Like nearly all commodities, bricks only have a value when they are in demand, usually at a time when a wall or a house is going to be built. Otherwise they are either inventory lying around incurring costs or are highly illiquid constituents of a construction.

As far as accounting systems go, money made from commodities such as bricks or professional services are classed as routine profits. Due to the unquantifiable nature of IP it is regarded as being non-routine. This is an important distinction because as you will see this is where the real money is.

There are also two other important factors concerning IP. It is extremely portable and it is highly recyclable.

The same IP can be used again and again. The core IP of most of the major pieces of software that we use, spreadsheets, word processing programmes and the like have changed little over the years. All we have had, for the most part, is the same basic function with new features, different user interfaces and other assorted bells and whistles.

The IP value of a given piece of software remains constant from one version to the next and is different in value from the what the customer perceives and will pay for in terms of updates and new features.

Also, that core IP can be stored anywhere in the world or even merely said to be stored anywhere, by means of filling in a few registration forms.

Gio Wiederhold, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, was at NUI Galway last summer to receive an Honorary Doctorate. While he was in town he gave a talk entitled “How to Value Software in a Business and Where might the Value Go?” and afterwards spoke to Technology Voice.

“Our attitude to software generation has not changed with the times. If software is misvalued, creators don’t get the value from it and the government doesn’t benefit from it in taxes. — This can result in a disincentive for investors to invest and a lack of future job creation.

“IP is poorly understood but is essential to generating profits. As a consequence it is easy to misvalue and in the United States you are not even allowed to put it on the books. As the typical tax official is unable to determine the value of IP.”

Just to muddy the waters further, companies and corporations can very easily take advantage of the extreme portability of IP.

“A company can live in many places.” Gio says, “When you have IP you can separate the rights of the IP from the location of the IP.”

This means that parent corporation can have a holding company in a tax haven somewhere like the Cayman Islands whose only purpose is to hold the registration for the IP. It is then able to receive fees from the licensing and pay no tax.

But try as they might, corporations still need people to work for them; developing new products, dealing with customers and so on. Also, large corporations need to keep going 24 hours a day so having to have operating bases in Europe becomes a consequence of doing business.

Choosing English speaking Ireland with its low rate of corporate taxation and highly qualified workforce was a no-brainer for many US corporations when it came to establishing an overseas location.

But that doesn’t mean that the Exchequer of Ireland gets anything like the money it would do if the IP was registered here. Taxes collected from multi-national is based on routine profits. According to Gio, “Routine profits are earned when a good job, well done, has been rewarded, and on average generate profits of 5 to 7%. Non-routine profits which are based on IP can earn up to 80% profits.”

So, a parent corporation can have a subsidiary in Ireland. It can then have that Irish subsidiary licence its IP from a holding company set up in the Cayman Islands or tax haven of choice and taxes from the non-routine IP profits are, quite legally, avoided.

“Because the IP is overseas, multinational companies and Ireland [unlike the UK and the US] only legislates for taxes on its own territory then these companies are only liable for taxation on their routine profits.

“Ireland’s corporate tax rate of 12.5% is only applied to the usual routine profits and not to the profits from the IP which are a cost on the books as they are often a licence fee to a shell company in a more favourable jurisdiction.

“Because of these practices the US loses about $180 billion a year.”

So what to do? According to Gio, “Companies are smarter than any government. This is not about closing loopholes. It’s not that simple. This is a whole system.”

Thanks to Professor Wiederhold for the use of Loss of Revenue to US Government image.

More material on this subject is available from the infolab website.

Speeksy: Social Discovery Through Facebook

Social discovery is an online space that has been emerging over the last couple of years. It is a throwback to some of the original ideas that the first social networks were built around. Friendster was about meeting new people through mutual friendships. Likewise, MySpace was a very social way of discovering new music.

In contrast, Facebook, with its multiple levels of privacy settings is very much about keeping in touch with people you already know. Social discovery is, in essence, a network that enables you to meet people.

For the moment, with Facebook’s star still in the ascendency, launching a competing social network is a task set aside for the brave and the foolhardy. A smarter way to address the need people have for meeting new people would be to integrate a social discovery application with the Facebook platform.

This is what Barry Cassidy has done with his company Speeksy — a social discovery platform that uses Facebook information to create connections through shared interests and mutual friends.

Barry says that, “We looked at how people met new people in the real world. What was it that makes a connection between you and someone new that you are meeting? Essentially, mutual friends is a big thing and so is common interests.

“The Facebook API is pretty easy to engage with but for us it was more about thinking through the features that we could use. What features in the Facebook Open Graph could we leverage to make it easier for people to meet new people?”

Speeksy has just one single sign-on process. Information needed to create an account is pulled from Facebook’s Open Graph. A match is then made between you and people who share your interests and are connected to you through mutual friendships.

Connections are created based on things that you have already indicated that you liked on Facebook such as movies, TV shows, bands, books and so forth. Barry says, “It is a seamless entry from Facebook into our product where you don’t have to create a profile of fill in a questionnaire or personality test.

“We are trying to create a social experience where you can meet new people in a very natural way. We are creating an enjoyable social experience that people will want to go to and engage with regardless of whether they meet new people or not.

“When you log into our site we create connections through interests. You can find interests that you already have or you can explore new interests such as running and other things you might do in the real world. You can create music playlists and see what other types of music people are listening to. You can also browse people and see their interest graphs”

Just like in the real world the online world has its share of unsavoury characters. However, Barry has a strategy for dealing with egregious behaviour: “We filter people out on the reputation [they acquire] based on their behaviour and engagement with other people.”

Meeting new people (providing they are not nut-jobs) is a necessary component for maintaining our health as we move through life. We are social animals who revel in novelty. New social encounters can sometimes challenge some of our fixed, but maybe false, notions. They can provide new sources of stimulation and through shared interests we can feel a sense of belonging that is essential to our tribal natures.

Most of social media is human nature taking advantage of the technologies of the World Wide Web to broaden one’s horizon from the village and the local area to the global. Social discovery and applications like Speeksy offer us a new opportunities for fresh engagement based on shared interests.

Having common ground to begin with makes it all the easier for new relationships to flourish.

Propeller 2.0 Demo Day

Last year we covered the Propeller Accelerator Programme, Propeller Venture Accelerator Fund: Hands on Program for Startups and Early Stage Companies. Similarly, this year, The Propeller 2.0 Venture Accelerator Investor will culminate in a Demo Day which will be hosted by the DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship and will place this Friday April 27.

The Demo Day comes at the end of months of hard work creating, innovating and developing a product and structuring a viable business proposition. The culmination of all this focused effort takes place at an event where the companies get to pitch their projects and ideas to potential investors.

The companies are supported by the DCU Ryan Academy team and have the constant availability of guidance and advice of over 60 mentors.

We spoke to the Venture Manager at DCU Ryan Academy Propeller Venture Accelerator, Terence Bowden about this year’s programme.

Terence explains, “We have got six companies presenting to both national and international investors. They will each make a ten minute pitch to the investors in the hope, looking forward, that they will be able to raise the next round of funding.”

For this, the second Propellor programme there were 137 applicants this year, double the previous amount.

Terence says that in addition, “The quality of the applicants that have applied to us has jumped significantly compared to last year.

“Applicants were coming from Rwanda, South Africa, China, New Zealand, India, Israel, Brazil, Canada and three from America. Plus a host of other European countries. People are noticing that we have a very good programme and people want to apply to Propeller.”

Last year the companies involved in the demo-day raised $1.73 million and as a result 28 jobs were created.

Terence says this year, like last year, the companies are of a very high quality and he has high expectations for their success.

The event is invitation only as Terence reckons, “We’d have everybody lined up outside wanting to get in. Whose going to be at the event? Basically, it is going to be investors.

“The mentors are going to be there as well. These are 65 people who really helped the companies to grow and accelerate up to the level they are at now.”

The six start-ups who will present at the 2012 Demo Day are:

RoleConnect: Cutting Out the Middleman in IT Contracting


Kieran Logan founded Cork-based RoleConnect as a result of personal experience. He had been working as an IT contractor for almost 10 years doing software development and systems design. He obtained most of his work through recruitment agencies. However, 2004 he became the CTO of a small company and was in a position where he was required to hire contractors from time to time.

It struck him that his conversations with recruitment agencies were a complete reverse of those he had when he was a contractor: “As a contractor, whenever I was looking for a certain rate of pay, I was always argued down. As an employer I was always been argued to raise the pay up. It didn’t take me long to figure out where the difference was going.”

This is a process that involves two different negotiations and lacks any kind of transparency.

Kieran reasoned that, “That from an employer’s perspective, if they could negotiate directly they could potentially save money that would allow them employ another number of people. But also allow the contractor to increase their daily rate.”

There was a substantial amount of space in the middle where they could both meet.

“It’s a win-win situation where employers would save a lot of money and contractors could dramatically increase their take-home pay.”

Although from the user point of view RoleConnect may look like an application built on a database it actually uses search engine technology to access profile information.

A potential employer uses search to locate skills but in addition, semantic web technology is deployed to help find additional terms that may be implied by the original search term. The software is able to, “Understand the wider implication of the search terms. It not only understands the search terms but also the connectivity between skills.”

Kieran explains further, “If someone starts putting in skills like PHP then you can anticipate stuff like MySQL might be involved. Skills can be uncovered that are not in the search terms.”

For some time now there has been a global shift from full-time, permanent employment, to people working freelance and on ad hoc short-term contracts. To check out the validity of some of the assumptions underlying this trend Kieran did his own research:

“In 2009 we did a study over the summer months. [The summer was picked so they could see recruitment amongst recent graduates.] Over a three month period we captured every single job advertised in Ireland and analyzed them. In that period of time, approximately 8.5% of the jobs advertised were contract jobs. The rest being permanent.

“We repeated that exercise last summer in 2011 and there was a dramatic change in circumstances. In the exact same period of time, the number of contracting jobs had gone up to 28%.”

This seismic change or as Kieran puts it, “Strongly emerging trend,” is not about to reverse itself anytime soon.

RoleConnect has just two full-time employees, Kieran himself and Catherine Wall formerly of it@cork. Kieran says, “We needed to be true to what we believe in and the rest of the workers are contractors.

“From the company side we are concentrating on Ireland and the UK at this point. But our ambition would be to be global and not just nationwide and across the water.

“We see the emerging demands for skills and we see a lot more remote workers and contract-based workers. The successful companies of the future will be more agile and will have skilled people to call on for specific projects.”

Open Ireland: Opening the Doors to Talent

On March 23rd this year Sean O’ Sullivan an Irish/American entrepreneur, was asked to give a keynote speech at a technology leaders conference. He gave a talk entitled “Re-inventing Ireland: Making Ireland the Silicon Valley of Europe” which was inspired by his need to address the biggest challenge to the growth of his own business — the lack of properly qualified, engineering talent presently available in Ireland.

This is a problem that faces the entire Irish tech sector. Many companies are being held back by the inability to find and hire enough people with the requisite technical skillset.

As a result of that speech the Open Ireland initiative was born. Technology Voice spoke with Sean recently to find out why Open Ireland isn’t just another earnest, well-meaning, flag-waving, talking shop.

“We have to recognize that Ireland with a population of 4.2 million can’t produce enough engineers to produce the products required by the [7 billion] people on the planet.” Says Sean, “We have to acknowledge that there is a short-term problem with economy here that was caused by an errant banking sector and an errant property development sector. This has nothing to do with the success that we have had in technology.

Quarter after quarter* there is a widening trade surplus. Ireland has a two-track economy. There is the high tech sector where we are continuing to grow jobs and continuing to drive the rest of the economy and the over-heated sector which had a bubble and burst.”

The question that naturally arises from this evidence of Irish strengths is, “Why don’t we trade on our advantages in our world-leading position in that market to help us get out of trouble?”

The answer, Sean suggests, comes in three parts:

“The first goal is to create Ireland as a vibrant economy where people are coming to rather than leaving. To double the population over the next 20 years and to have people accept that the goal is to have Ireland become more cosmopolitan and for Ireland to become more open to immigration rather than emigration.

“The second goal is to really blow open the doors for all tech talent across the world to come to Ireland and allow them to fill the vacancies we currently have in our vibrant tech sector and to enable startup companies to startup more readily.”

That would involve enabling over 70,000 work visas to become available for suitably qualified people.

The third proposed goal would be to, “Become a gateway for China to Europe in the same that we were a gateway for US companies to Europe.”

Unlike a lot of government initiatives these suggestions require little or no money to make happen. “These are things that can be done without spending any tax-payer dollars yet these are things that will increase the flow of funds to the exchequer and help us to recover our economic vibrancy.

“There are about 20,000 jobs available in the IT sector alone. And these are positions that cannot be filled. There is not enough oxygen in the room right now. We can’t grow all the talent that is needed by long-term educational planning alone.”

There is also an enormous opportunity for Ireland to take the legislative lead in rewriting in some its laws around the issuing of work permits.

Silicon Valley has exactly the same problem as the US government is not providing enough visas for IT professionals with highly desired skillsets. But due to this being an election year, taking place at the end of a long and deep recession, it is extremely unlikely that have immigration quotas and restrictions will be eased.

Sean is very aware of this opportunity for Ireland, “If Ireland is going to become the first country in the English speaking world to open its borders to high-tech talent then we’ll have huge inward investment by any company that is facing this type of shortage.

“I think it would be a huge relief to Silicon Valley if they could come and open new plants and operations in Ireland— if they could get access to the workers in Ireland.

“Why don’t we trade on our advantages in our world-leading position in that market to help us get out of trouble?

“It is only stating the blindingly obvious that if we take advantages of our strengths our weaknesses can go away and it wouldn’t cost the taxpayer anything.”

You can pledge your support for this initiative by visiting the Open Ireland site.

*A full breakdown of export categories can be downloaded from the CSO website.