The Friday Interview: Jerry Kennelly, ex-Stockbyte CEO

27 Apr 2007

This week’s interviewee is Jerry Kennelly (pictured), founder and CEO of image library Stockbyte, which was sold last year to Getty Images for €135m

How and why did you go into business and create Stockbyte?

I was a photojournalist working for a freelance agency in Tralee covering Ireland for international and national papers for 15 years. I also worked in my family’s business Kerry’s Eye from the age of 14.

When the [Apple] Mac came out I saw its importance immediately and learned about it inside out. By the late Nineties CD-Rom drives were shipping as standard in computers.

Because I understood how to make high-quality digital imagery I was able to create a delivery mechanism for 650MB of stock photos. I figured out how to take a €5-piece of plastic and turn it into €500 of revenue.

What would be your advice to regional firms with a global vision and an exportable product?

The key issue is that every business today is global. If you think you can set up any business without being fully informed you’re kidding yourself. The key is research and knowledge.

One of the questions I ask of entrepreneurs is to tell me the story of their industry and where they fit into it. A lot of them aren’t informed on the real story of their industry, who are the big players, are there mergers and acquisitions, is there consolidation?

How should a business use market intelligence?

At Stockbyte we were masters at using internal and external information. Bill Gates’ book Business @ the Speed of Thought was our bible and we ran our business like a military operation using every piece of information we could lay our hands on. (Ironically Bill Gates was one of the under-bidders for Stockbyte.)

This kind of information was transactional information – who was buying what and why.

In the first eight years we produced 40,000 images and in the last two years over 45,000 images.

We had gathered enough transactional information to make smart bets. We had a good form sheet. For example, we discovered there was growth in the multi-ethnic market in the US, particularly the Hispanic market. The market reacted very quickly.

Stockbyte was the first Irish company to do e-commerce. What lessons did you learn?

In 1997 we started off licensing CDs and shipping them by post the next day. By the end of 1999 we moved to fully automated transactions.
It’s a sophisticated world out there and you need to learn how to differentiate your company and brand.

We were really customer driven. Every customer who licensed an image got an email with my direct contact details saying ‘tell the guy who started the company what you think about it.’ I was always in listening mode.

We regarded technology as a core tool for the business and central to daily challenges like quality control and customer experiences on the website.

How do you feel about the new genre of user-generated content and sites like YouTube?

I find it shocking that Google would pay €1.65bn for YouTube and a lot of the value is being driven by stolen content. This is something that needs to be fixed big time.

Content being created has a value and if large corporations are going to be allowed to derive revenue in a cavalier fashion, there is major trouble down the line for anyone who creates and owns their own content.

It is the opposite of fair trading and is totally disruptive. There has to be something that can be done if third parties come along, use your content and sell advertising because of the traffic it draws to their website. That is wrong in my view.

By John Kennedy

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