Silicon Republic @ 20: The start of an online revolution

18 Nov 2021

Silicon Republic founders Ann O’Dea and Darren Mc Auliffe. Image: Colin White Photography

From meeting co-founder Ann O’Dea in 1998 to celebrating 20 years online, publisher Darren Mc Auliffe gives us a whistle-stop tour of the origins of Silicon Republic.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

In 1998 we were at the height of the dot-com boom. Any company with a ‘.com’ after its name was speculating that with VC money they could build enough brand awareness to grow, depending heavily on advertising, and get big fast in the era of the New Economy. As a result, technology advertising became one of the largest revenue streams for mainstream media worldwide.

At that time in Ireland, The Irish Times had a virtual monopoly on the business technology advertising spend. So when I first met Brendan McCabe, a lifetime friend and ally, who was then advertising director of the rival Irish Independent, he was open to any ideas that would help them get a share of the B2B technology advertising market. He saw in my track record of technology publishing the opportunity to break the stranglehold of The Irish Times, and I saw the opportunity to build a world-class business. We agreed to start a series of business technology publications.

One week later, I met Ann O’Dea in the bar in Moran’s Red Cow Hotel. I was going to need a superb editorial partner, and over a bowl of chowder and a pint we agreed to collaborate for the first time. The rest is history.

We quickly published our first title together, e-Business 98, a 16-page broadsheet supplement in the Irish Independent. More one-off titles followed and after a board-level pitch to Independent News & Media (INM) we secured a contract to become the outsource technology news service for Ireland’s largest-selling newspaper.

We went to work fast, recruiting the best Irish tech journalists, editors, designers and advertising execs, and setting up an office in Dublin’s Citywest. We published the weekly eThursday technology section in the Independent’s business supplement, as well as the monthly supplement Digital Ireland and a consumer tech title called Get Connected.

Hatching a plan for the future

By 2000 we had some of the top tech journalists in Ireland and a strong revenue stream from our INM contract, but we did not have direct access to our audience. In the precarious world of outsourced publishing we knew better than to risk our future on one big contract.

So Ann and I sat down once again – this time at a kitchen table in Newbridge – and formulated a plan to create our own online title.

We knew our tech-savvy readers were getting their global tech news from international news outlets online. It made sense that we would create Ireland’s own online technology news service.

In a way, the breaking tech news was the easy part. Stuff happens, we report it. We wanted a global publication with an Irish accent, but what that voice would represent was the key to shaping our features and campaigns.

‘Know your audience’ was always our mantra. We understood our role was to represent the concerns and aspirations of the people who work in and through technology and science in Ireland. There was an entire community of technology zealots in big companies, start-ups, academia, research and in State bodies that was underserved.

The tech industry was being reset. The dot-com party crowd had come and gone but the standard-bearers of tech were still here – the likes of Intel, HP, Cisco, IBM, BT, Microsoft et al. They competed fiercely globally but, here, what united them was the aspiration for Ireland to become a modern, progressive, knowledge economy, where science and technology were core to both economic growth and individual advancement.

From the start we decided to champion the people from all these backgrounds and to make it a key focus for our team to report on Ireland’s policies and investment in digital infrastructure, research capabilities and building the skills and mentality necessary to create and sustain a knowledge economy.

Serving a knowledge economy

America had its Silicon Valley. Ireland needed to become a Silicon Republic, with its own unique take on science and technology.

After many months of working into the night, in November 2001 went online for the first time, bringing breaking technology news and reports from the frontline of a knowledge-driven island on the edge of Europe.

10 years later when Steve Ballmer, then CEO of Microsoft, took to the stage at the Build Windows developer conference in the US, there was a distinctly Irish ‘Wahoo!’ heard from the audience when he gave a shout-out to Silicon Republic. Ballmer had started his presentation by quoting Windows 8 reviews from the top tech media from around the world, and there was Silicon Republic wedged between Venturebeat and CNN. Hearing that ‘Wahoo!’, knowing that someone in the audience was proud to hear Silicon Republic’s name, made us smile. A small independent media outlet in Ireland was being cited by the CEO of the world’s most iconic tech brand in the same breath as goliaths of international media.

Three years later, a smaller audience in the city of Dublin heard a keynote speech from Ireland’s Digital champion, David Puttnam. We had invited David to speak at our sixth Digital Ireland Forum on a digitally enabled future. As ever, David’s insights into a digital society sent firecrackers going in all our minds. He then turned his thoughts to what Silicon Republic meant to him: “Without Silicon Republic we wouldn’t have that coherent, cohesive centre point which is constantly pushing what’s possible, and reminding us that maybe we could be doing better… and frankly by nudging, pushing and shoving, Silicon Republic is doing us all a favour.”

Being recognised on a global stage was satisfying, but much like the sentiment one hears about winning with your local club, being appreciated by your community for the values that matter most to you and to them is truly world-class. To this day, it remains the most eloquent insight into what drives me, Ann, Elaine, Ailbhe and the whole team at Silicon Republic.

David Puttnam’s address at Digital Ireland Forum 2014

Onward and upward

We continue to bring the best of the sci-tech community together, sharing the stories and experiences of inspiring people from all ages and backgrounds, challenging ourselves and our community to be a positive, progressive force for change in the world.

This year, for the first time, we introduced a subscription service which enables subscribers to have unlimited access to our 20-year archive, as well as being able to bookmark articles under their own profile. Everybody can still read three stories a month free of change. We have also kept open, unrestricted access to our Careers section as we see this as a crucial advice and career development resource for our younger community.

Our flagship Future Human event allows us to bring our community together to share the experience of some of the greatest minds in science and tech, and their solutions-focused approach to a positive, inclusive, progressive future – one where values and purpose are more important than just valuations and profit.

As we move into the next chapter, we remain committed to ensuring our community has the latest news on technology, to helping them stay current and giving them the knowledge to succeed in a technologically driven world.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Darren Mc Auliffe is co-founder and publisher of Silicon Republic