Focus on users, not VC, Business of Software Europe conference learns

19 May 2016

Mark Littlewood, director, Business of Software. Photo by Connor McKenna

Business of Software Europe hosted its third event this week and, for the first time, brought the conference to Ireland.

It was in the grounds of the glorious Powerscourt Estate in Co Wicklow that the Business of Software Europe event found a happy home in Ireland. Blessed by a spell of sunny weather, the stunning location offered a beautiful setting for those involved in the business of software to mix, mingle and mull over the ideas shared over the course of the two-day conference.

Event director Mark Littlewood explained that the overarching aim is to help people build great software products and businesses, and he had been lured to a new location by a growing tech scene.

“It’s fascinating to see an ecosystem emerge that’s relatively young in Ireland, but it’s certainly moving in the right direction,” he said.

Tips on VC, sales and recruitment

Hosting two days’ worth of speakers on a single stage, Littlewood had the privilege of absorbing each and every presentation in full, spotting the themes and common ideas that emerged.

“Venture captial and angel investment is nether necessary nor evil,” he said when asked what advice he would take away from the event, and indeed this message was echoed by a number of founders, including Nick Halstead (Cognitive Logic), Rand Fishkin (Moz) and Bridget Harris (YouCanBookMe), who each offered perspectives on the pros and cons of investment and the alternative ways to build a business.

Nick Davies, CEO and founder of Dentally, who was visiting Business of Software from his company base in London, picked up on the need to “never stop following up, forever” from Steli Efti, CEO and founder of, as well as advice from Harris on hiring the right people from around the world and building remote teams as a start-up.

Understanding the psychology of users

Harris herself was struck by the number of speakers urging a user-first mentality. “At the end of the day, software is for people to use, and I’ve heard a lot of speeches today from people who talk about how you need to understand more about how your customer is feeling, how they’re interacting with your software, what product you’re selling, what problem you’re trying to solve, and, actually, to be more empathetic about the user’s perspective on your software,” she said.

One particular keynote that was the talk of the event came from Ogilvy vice-chair Rory Sutherland. Sutherland’s presentation on the the effectiveness of psychological nudges and tactics targeting people’s biases proved inspiring to many attendees, including Fishkin.

“I think [it’s] not manipulative in a negative way, but manipulative in a positive and honest way,” said the well-known face (or wizard, if you will) of Moz. “One of his best examples was the placebo effect, where the body gets trained to heal itself.”

Though scheduled for an hour, Sutherland captivated the Business of Software audience for about 90 minutes. “It’s fascinating and, some of my decision-making, I can re-examine because of understanding that,” said Halstead. “Every sentence was like a little a-ha moment,” chimed Royal London’s agile lead Clarke Ching.

Attending the conference regularly since the first, Ching was once again satisfied with the two days in Wicklow. “It’s just a lovely place to be and you go away feeling much, much cleverer,” he said.

To find out when the full set-list of talks from Business of Software Europe 2016 will be available to watch online, you’ll need to sign up for updates or follow @bosconference on Twitter. In the meantime, it’s on to Business of Software USA in Boston this September.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.