How a business-school thesis became Ireland’s prime competitor to Facebook

6 Nov 2008

Social-networking start-up has eyes on international expansion.

As Irish parents wonder what their little darlings are getting up to on the internet, they may be interested to learn that it could no longer be Bebo or Facebook holding their children’s attention online., a young, Dublin-based start-up founded in February last year by Swedish native Per Jacobsson, has now notched up some 118,000 users – ahead of what social-networking giant Facebook achieved in Ireland after its first year.

Backed by private investors, the site has managed to come up with a formula to make itself sticky, as well as leveraging enormous traffic from Bebo and Facebook users by allowing them to copy over their entire address books to

Some 60pc of Nimble’s 118,000-strong audience is female, and the site’s owners reckon they have, in the space of a single year, captured 20pc of the Irish population of 16–24 year olds. The site boasts between four and six million views per month.

It was while studying for a master’s degree at Dublin Institute of Technology that Jacobsson got the ball rolling on “My thesis involved developing a business plan. I had the idea for Nimble and decided it was a good time to try the idea out. I developed my business plan and financial projections. When I graduated, I decided to give it a shot and developed the website.”

A native of Ronneby in southern Sweden, it was Jacobsson’s destiny to arrive on these shores. “It was 2001 and I was studying for a computer science degree in Sweden, when some friends who were staying in Dublin invited me to visit.  Within a few weeks I’d met an Irish girl and intended to stay for a year. I’ve been here ever since.”

When asked if was inspired by the success of sites such as YouTube and Bebo, Jacobsson says he had the idea since 2003, before Bebo was a reality or YouTube was bought by Google. “Growing up in Sweden, we were already used to social networking. The world’s first social-networking site, Lunar Storm, had its origins in the Nineties.

“I spotted a lot of things that could be improved in the social- networking world, and that’s how Nimble came along, but the master’s degree thesis gave me the opportunity to do something solid.”

Jacobsson says the secret sauce that makes Nimble effective and attractive to its young audience is all to do with context. “We are able to provide locality-based content and allow users to narrow down their interaction to the area they live in. It gives more of a personal feel than something that is global.”

The most important mission of any internet business is to achieve monetisation and break even. “There’s a wide range of ways to monetise a business like this. Advertising will be the main source of revenue with targeted banner ads based on location and gender. We will also be looking at different

models such as sponsorship, but advertising will be the main revenue source,” says Jacobsson.

The world of social networking, much like the internet in general, is blending in with established media models such as TV, and sites like Bebo already feature video content such as Sofia’s Diary and travel shows. However, Jacobsson isn’t entirely swayed in this direction.

“I think perhaps this is a bit unnecessary, or maybe a step ahead of what it should be about. The main focus of why people visit these sites is to socialise, and our intention is to focus on core activities.”

Jacobsson has every intention of exporting the model. “We are going to focus on one country at a time. There will be versions in the UK and Australia, but keeping a local context will be important.” takes its inspiration from local, market-oriented social-networking firms such as Sweden’s Lunar Storm and Japan’s, rather than global players like Facebook.

“People would rather find friends from their local area or from where they grew up. We will be trying to integrate more college and local activities into the website, which is something big players like Facebook and Bebo don’t do so well.

“By not trying to be a colossus, we will have a distinct advantage of truly understanding a local market’s culture and trends,” he concludes.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: founder, Per Jacobsson

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