The Friday Interview: John O’Shea, Zamano

4 May 2007

This week’s interviewee is John O’Shea (pictured), chief executive of Zamano, which recently listed on the Irish Stock Exchange and London AIM and reported profits of €2m.

Having built a profitable company and floated on the stock exchange, what has your experience been of starting up a business in Ireland?

I joined Zamano in 2002 and it was very difficult until 2004 – we were in survival mode much of that time.

Ireland is a small market. Every technology company in Ireland, to survive, has to immediately start selling abroad. It’s a barrier that few companies overcome. US and UK companies have an advantage in being able to work in their home markets.

Access to funding in Ireland is difficult. The venture capital firms haven’t been in a position to invest significantly in start-ups. We were very lucky to get profitable early on. Before floating on AIM we had a strong balance sheet.

How would you describe the market that Zamano targets?

Mobile data services is a catchphrase normally used to describe us. But what does that mean in a world where there’s greater confluence between fixed-line internet and mobile handsets?

The devices are getting more and more powerful and the bandwidth available to handsets is increasing. In that light we view mobile devices eventually becoming the key interface to the internet for most people.

How is the mobile data services market evolving?

Firstly people have more choices over the route they wish to interact with others, whether it is text and multimedia messaging, video or voice. In the past it was all about text because that was the only thing that worked.

We’re getting to a point where there are greater levels of acceptance for new platforms because of price and people are more tech savvy.

In the UK some 16 million people downloaded content onto their mobiles last year. That’s almost 30pc of the population. That’s the market we are targeting and we’re helping that to happen.

How do you reach consumers?

Mobile operators aren’t customers of Zamano; rather we go via the operators to access all the subscribers. We go direct to consumers or via partners. The operator retains the billing relationship and shares the revenue with us in a defined way.

At a time when few technology companies pursue a flotation, what was your motivation?

The reason we raised cash on the IEX stock market in Dublin was to have the currency to use for acquisitions, which we believe is a key element to the growth we foresee.

We’re forecasting 45pc growth for the company in 2007. The company had a turnover of €13.5m last year, driven by high growth patterns and the impact of acquisitions.

How much would you invest in research and development?

The percentage would sound low because our turnover is quite high, but what I can say is that out of 40 people in the company about 18 people would be focused on developing new products.

How do you feel about social networking players moving into mobile?

As I said there’s an ongoing crossover between fixed line and mobile internet. Users of both should be able to switch seamlessly between them.

But before people start jumping on the bandwagon, devices need to get better and that’s happening. Storage of data on devices or elsewhere is going to be paramount.

By John Kennedy

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