Silicon Republic – Onwards and upwards

1 Nov 2011

Ann O'Dea, managing director, Silicon Republic Knowledge and Events Management Ltd; editor John Kennedy and successful technology entrepreneur Bill Liao, who is coming on board as a director. Credit: Conor McCabe Photography

Irish online technology news publisher Silicon Republic has secured a significant investment from international venture capital firm SOSventures. editor John Kennedy explains what this all means for himself and his colleagues.

Ten years ago to almost the day, on an October bank holiday Monday, a handful of surly print journalists trooped grumbling into a meeting room summoned by their publisher Darren McAuliffe to attend a presentation. Most of us were bleary-eyed, grumpy that we had to work a bank holiday Monday, and as we waited in turn for the jug of filtered coffee to be passed around, a vision was laid before us: the ultimate online technology news service from Ireland.

You have to think of it in the context of the times. The bubble had just burst and despite Ireland’s relatively low exposure to the internet industry’s implosion, any kind of online adventure seemed foolhardy. And like most journalists would, we complained among ourselves: “sure, haven’t we enough on our plates?”

We embarked clumsily on our journey at first, feeling our way around the dos and don’ts of online publishing, shocked and awed by the instant response of readers to stories and figuring out what worked and what didn’t. The hardest lesson about online for many years was realising that what you thought would work didn’t and what did work always had ‘attention to detail’ at its core.

Until the internet changed publishing forever, journalists were somehow removed from the immediate impact of their stories. Online taught us, however, that a writer’s link with a reader is tangible and personal. Online taught us about a new range of disciplines that extends from analytics to tactical and strategic social metrics, about design and video, and much more, besides. Ultimately, online taught us that stories can live and breathe and are made to be shared. Online reignited the art of storytelling forever!

Silicon Republic’s journey over the last 10 years was gradual but ultimately mesmerising. We learned the hard way how to build an audience that today stands at more than quarter of a million monthly readers, not only at home in Ireland but around the world.

Accolades at home such as winning Best Technology Website at the Irish Web Awards for the past four years in a row emboldened us and hastened our step.

As the web has matured; in the last 10 years the public’s interest in technology has shifted dramatically. Ordinary punters today are just as curious about the changing technology landscape as any hardened IT professional or investor.

To reflect this, our coverage has broadened from core enterprise IT issues to include social media, start-ups, science, the latest gadgets, the newest web tools and websites, skills, the environment, and connecting people with work opportunities.

The shape and scale of Silicon Republic changed consistently in this time to reflect our growing local and international audience and taught us to march in step with their thirst for knowledge and their aspirations. Each change brought new capabilities such as video, reports engines and new content tools, and we’re excited about the capabilities the next decade will surely bring.

The future of Silicon Republic

Last week, my colleagues and I were thrilled to learn that Silicon Republic had secured a significant investment from international venture capital firm SOSventures.

The investment will see Silicon Republic spin out as a new company, Silicon Republic Knowledge and Events Management Ltd, with at the heart of the new ecosystem. The move is designed to create an Irish-based international brand. Silicon Republic co-founder Ann O’Dea will be managing director of the new venture and successful technology entrepreneur Bill Liao will come on board as a director.

SOSventures was founded by Sean O’Sullivan, an Irish-American who founded Kinsale-based tech start-up Avego and whose previous investments include Harmonix, which created Guitar Hero.

Liao, European venture partner with SOSventures, said Silicon Republic is an ideal strategic fit with the VC firm’s portfolio, which includes Storyful.

“The Silicon Republic team has built an online publishing brand that has become the definitive source for tech and new media news in Ireland,” said Liao. “While the web is full of excellent blogs and commentators in this sphere, there’s still a need for authoritative news and content from experienced editors, journalists and curators, and serves this need excellently,” he added.

“We’re delighted that SOSventures has invested in Silicon Republic and is committed to the Irish tech community,” said O’Dea. “With a track record of investing in successful and innovative online media brands, from Storyful to Netflix, we believe it is a vindication of Silicon Republic’s established place and bright future in the online media sphere.”

Like the rest of the team at Silicon Republic, SOSventures’ investment was for me both a surprise and a delight.

As I spoke to Liao at the Dublin Web Summit on Friday last – after I moderated a panel discussion with successful entrepreneurs Brian Conlon of First Derivatives, Ann Heraty of CPL Resources and Iain McDonald of SkillPages, in which I revealed our new investment – I gauged his feelings about Silicon Republic.

It was clear to me how excited Liao is about Silicon Republic, and his belief in the team’s ability to build a strong international brand was clear. He asked why shouldn’t a strong international tech brand emerge from these shores? And he’s right. In recent weeks, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer name-checked Silicon Republic during the company’s BUILD conference in the same breath as The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Engadget.

Ireland is geographically on the periphery of Europe, but it is dead centre at the beating heart of the technology world. This country captures more daylight hours of business than anywhere else on the planet as the sun traverses the globe and, thanks to Ireland’s growing reputation as the internet capital of Europe, journalists here are as likely to catch time with senior executives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Twitter and Activision as counterparts in London or New York.

The voice of tech coverage globally today can now include West Coast twangs, Cockney slang, Scottish burr and now a distinctly Irish lilt. It’s onwards and upwards for Silicon Republic.

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