Havok boss wants software firms to think business

7 Jul 2008

There is no shortage of software companies in the world with a brilliant idea but that’s not enough to survive long term, warns the chief executive of Irish games tech firm Havok, which was bought by Intel last year for US$110m.

Havok, which has by and large retained its independence despite being bought by Intel, is one of Ireland’s most successful digital exports and its technology features in major games such as Halo 3, as well as blockbuster movies like Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

On the question of fielding more Irish technology success stories, Havok chief executive, David O’Meara (pictured) said some serious thinking needs to be done to ensure companies have what it takes to survive and prosper.

“When I look at Irish companies in the software space, many companies do not have the business model or the understanding of what customers need. When I look at Havok, the products sell, the software sells and a customer of Havok would not buy unless we were able to demonstrate financial stability, organisational viability and talent and resilience. Firms need to see we’ll be around in five to 10 years.”

O’Meara said Irish companies make the mistake of thinking they’ll succeed on the basis of a good idea or a good piece of software. “It’s simply about business. Software and ideas are just a component of the total business model, and not even the biggest part.”

O’Meara has encountered numerous companies existing around a technology or an idea. “They are entirely missing out on what it takes to export. We succeeded because we have shown we are resilient and around for the long term, financially, organisationally and in terms of management talent.”

He used the metaphor of rock music to explain that good ideas and natural talent aren’t enough and that cold, hard business logic and expertise are required. “Would U2 be around today if it didn’t have Paul McGuinness? What would have happened to bands like Aslan or the Waterboys if they had management talent like McGuinness behind them?”

He continued: “Software and the creative idea are just one component. There’s no way Sony or Microsoft will bet their future on an Irish technology company just because it has a great idea. They would need to be convinced the idea has a 10-year life in terms of development, sales and product management.”

It is the area of product development in particular that Irish firms need to improve vastly, O’Meara said. “If there’s one thing I think Irish software companies are appalling at, it’s product management. It’s one thing to have an idea at the start but the entire lifecycle of a product needs to be planned out and they have to be bringing other products in and managing their development.”

O’Meara said key to solving the problem and assuring a vibrant future software sector is talent. “Management expertise, financial talent and long-term strategic thinking are in short supply.”

O’Meara said in one sense Ireland should look at how a similar country like Israel, which doesn’t have the same level of FDI that attracts business talent away, but has a thriving indigenous technology sector and has learned how to build up its talent pool from the ground up.

“Israel didn’t have the huge FDI structure Ireland has nor is it in the EU, it had no option but to build. Isn’t everyone’s strength everyone’s weakness? Ireland will get more successful at software when it has no option but to be successful,” O’Meara told siliconrepublic.com.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years