A focus on usability, an obsession with ‘mobile first’, and a ‘blue ocean’ strategy of targeting new areas has given Eamonn and Brian Fallon success online. The brothers were named Internet Heroes at the Eircom Spiders awards in Dublin last night.
The Fallon brothers established property website Daft.ie in 1997 when Eamonn and Brian were 20 and 15, respectively.
The group has burgeoned into an online empire called Distilled Media, with brands that include online news site TheJournal.ie, boards.ie, thescore.ie and property.ie, as well as Daft.ie, which continues to thrive.
According to Eamonn Fallon, TheJournal.ie, which was established three years ago, is now accessed by 20pc of the Irish population. Distilled Media now employs more than 60 people and the group intends to have more than 150 employees within two years.
“I guess if we really researched it properly we wouldn’t have done it,” Eamonn told Siliconrepublic.com about the origins of Daft.ie. “Back then in the late Nineties there were only 50,000 people online – you couldn’t really build an online business back then with that amount of people using technology.
“I was still in college at Trinity when we started the business. What changed the game was these free internet discs that were being dispersed for dial-up and I think we were in the right place, the right time and we were the right age.”
He also said that in the early days they didn’t seek investment and that was a good thing because investors would have looked for a faster return. “It took us nearly six years to make any money at all. When I think back, the adoption rate for internet was low, smartphones weren’t on the horizon. It was really just the naivety of youth I suppose.”
The penny only really dropped for Eamonn that Daft.ie was working when he mentioned to an old college friend that he was moving out of where he was living and the friend recommended Daft.ie as the place to go seek new accommodation.
The core of what made Daft.ie work as far as Eamonn is concerned is they weren’t looking at it as a property site. “We were more focused on the job that had to be done in simply enabling a user to find a place to live – that’s a universal human need that will never go away.
“We weren’t sidetracked by the things that made money during the boom, we were focused on the user first and foremost. When the collapse inevitably happened we weren’t affected.”
Digital media moguls
The Fallon brothers’ move into digital publishing occurred at a strange time for media. The implosion of the economy sent property advertising into the abyss and cut deep into the heart of the newspaper world’s operational model. But at the same time advances in broadband and the advent of smartphones contributed to the explosive growth of Ireland’s online population.
“The inkling of the idea for TheJournal.ie came a few years beforehand – we were looking at our traffic on Daft.ie and realised that it was significantly bigger than the corresponding traffic for the top newspapers of the day and something just didn’t ring correct about that.
“A colleague of ours from Norway pointed to the success of online publications in that country. Looking at Ireland at the time in 2007 we felt existing news organisations didn’t do online products very well, because the prevailing wisdom was not to do anything that would undercut print advertising or circulation.
“It was down to timing and we felt we could do a better product. But the advent of smartphones with the arrival of the iPhone eventually decided it for us.
“We felt that mobile would be the primary method by which people would read news in the future. We were also lucky that we weren’t encumbered by legacy operations or if a person writing a story had to write it in different ways for print, mobile or web.
“We only had to worry about mobile, really. We do distribute on web, but we are a mobile-first news organisation – everything we do around our sites is oriented on consumption via mobile.”
Another guiding principle is usability – just making things easy to use. And this principle is ultimately what guided Daft.ie to success. “We always felt that technology has been overcomplicated. Building a direct-to-consumer brand means making products that are ridiculously intuitive – you shouldn’t have to make people work just to use it.”
In creating TheJournal.ie, Eamonn doesn’t agree that they were attacking the established newspaper order. Quite the contrary, in fact. “If you think about the circulation of daily newspapers they are typically around 100,000, which is a fraction of the Irish population. That means there are at least 3.5m people who weren’t buying newspapers or reading the news. What were they doing for news?
“Our strategy is all about tapping into new demand. We have a blue ocean strategy – rather than fight where everyone else is competing – we target new areas.”
Eamonn added that mobile can’t be underestimated.
“We are in the middle of the smartphone revolution. Desktop will never get close to 100pc of population but mobile will. The late adopters of web will be half the population who will do so by smartphone.”
And are there any other platforms that catch Distilled Media’s fancy? “TV is interesting, but until someone comes up with a game-changing platform to make it easier for accessing content we’ll wait and see.”
Winners of the 2013 Eircom Spiders awards:
Travel, Tourism & Hospitality: My Golf Society
Retail: Linwoods Heath Foods
Ebusiness: Funked Up Fixies
Social Media: Electric Ireland
Campaign: Electric Ireland (Powering Kindness)
News & Entertainment: Tv3 Showpal
Web Design & Development: Webfactory
Sports: Sport Changes Life
User Experience: Irish Water
Mobile App: Irish First Aid App
Innovative Use Of Tech: Lyons On Pause
Digital Start-Up: Bullorbear
Cloud Excellence: Bizimply
Elearning & Education: Hibernia College
Professional Services: Cuckoo Events
Irish Arts, Heritage & Culture: Century Ireland
Digital Geography: Scoilnet Maps
Irish Language: Litriocht.Com
Financial Services: Linked Finance Pp Lending
Internet Hero: Eamonn and Brian Fallon
Outstanding Achievement: Paddy Cosgrave
Grand Prix: Sport Changes Life
Business Choice: Tenderscout