SuperAwesome’s Dylan Collins named Internet Hero for second time

1 Dec 2017

Internet supremo Dylan Collins. Image: Eir

Serial entrepreneur Dylan Collins has been named Internet Hero at the Eir Golden Spider Awards for the second time.

eirFor the first time in the Eir Golden Spider Awards’ illustrious history, a previous winner has been bestowed the honour of being named Internet Hero twice.

If you think his achievements prior to the last award in 2011 weren’t enough – which included selling Demonware to Activision for $17m – Dylan Collins had more surprises up his sleeve.

‘Our technology now ensures that over half a billion kids every month have their digital privacy protected with their interactions across brands and content’

One of Europe’s most experienced digital media entrepreneurs and investors, Collins has since co-founded a venture capital company called Hoxton Ventures. His latest venture, SuperAwesome, is a leading player in the kid-safe marketing ecosystem.

Tipped for a potential stock exchange listing, SuperAwesome recently raised $21m in a funding round led by Mayfair Equity Partners.

SuperAwesome’s customers include Lego, Disney, Clarks and Cartoon Network, and the company employs 100 people across offices in New York, Bangkok and Sydney.

The platform safely reaches and engages with more than 500m kids worldwide by combining kid-safe advertising and powerful social content tools.

The start-up revolution at House 6

Speaking with, Collins said he never really intended to become an entrepreneur. “Actually, I wanted to be a palaeontologist.”

He went to Trinity College and, along with Sean Blanchfield and Ronan Perceval, caught the entrepreneurial bug while the trio were working on the university newspaper at the student union in House 6.

Phorest – a company that provides technology to the beauty salon industry and is still led by Perceval today – was the engine room for a number of companies to emerge in those heady post-dot-com days.

Always brainstorming, the next company to emerge was Text By Numbers, followed by Demonware, a company that made it possible for console gamers to engage in multi-playing, something taken for granted by gamers today but which was revolutionary just a decade ago.

The platform caught the attention of gaming giant Activision, which acquired the company for $17m. Demonware is still active in Dublin today as a subsidiary of Activision.

When you went to Trinity and met your respective co-founders, did you have a burning desire to set up companies? How did they (Phorest et al) come about?

I think it was more a burning realisation that we had absolutely nothing to lose, so why not try it? Ronan, Sean and I had always seen opportunities. I think we had the right combination of skills (technical, legal, marketing) to actually do something about it. Phorest originally started because we realised that text messaging was a technology which all companies would want to have access to. In 2017, that statement sounds quite primitive but in 2003, it was a big deal. And full credit to Ronan, who took Phorest from that very early incarnation into the powerhouse it is today.

Clearly, the three of us were similarly hardwired from that point though, if you look at what Sean has done with PageFair (after Demonware and Jolt). There were a few other folks around the same time starting tech companies, too (Steve Collins, Hugh Reynolds, Pat Phelan etc). You could probably assemble a Wu-Tang Clan of Irish tech pretty easily.

Two of your businesses still are up and running in various forms – Demonware and Phorest. What are your thoughts on how Irish entrepreneurs should go about building businesses of scale?

I would also include Potato to that list, which is now part of WPP. In general, I would say that starting a company is easier than ever, but scaling it remains as hard as it ever was. There are certainly many exceptions to this rule but, in general, I think you need to either be near your customers or your capital, but it’s pretty hard to scale without choosing one (ideally both) of those. Ireland has far more digital scaling experience now than ever before so, every year, we have greater capacity to produce world-class teams.

SuperAwesome seems to be going from strength to strength, particularly in Asia. What are your thoughts on the digital marketing world aimed at kids, and where do you think it is headed as new platforms such as VR and AR arrive?

SuperAwesome has become the go-to technology for kid-safe digital engagement. Our technology now ensures that over half a billion kids every month have their digital privacy protected with their interactions across brands and content. More and more people are realising that with kids now the fastest-growing online audience, we need to have dedicated ‘kidtech’ to support them, as opposed to pretending that adult platforms and technology are sufficient.

VR, AR and voice are all fascinating developments, and offer incredible opportunities for both entertainment and education. But, as with most new technology, generally very little consideration has been given to interaction with kids – so it’s critical we look at what data is being captured and how secure it really is before we unleash it into homes and schools.

You are also an investor with involvement in venture capital firm Hoxton Ventures. How much time do you dedicate to funding other start-up companies?

The Hoxton team (Rob Kniaz and Hussein Kanji) are focused full-time looking for investment opportunities. My area of expertise is more around digital media. We’ve acquired a small number of companies (for SuperAwesome) and continue to look for both investment and M&A opportunities in the space.

Funding levels are reaching new highs and new methods, such as ICOs using cryptocurrencies, are in vogue. What are your thoughts and feelings on the entrepreneurial scene overall? Do you think the tech-funding scene is in danger of overheating?

I could probably talk for a full day on this question. Fundamentally, as long as there is some kind of consistency in returns within the broader technology space, it will continue to attract large amounts of capital. You have very real, massively profitable companies being created and, even if that is one out of a thousand, those odds will attract risk capital.

In the short term, it’s very hard to distinguish between novelty and real innovation. The conventional financing model (with institutions) is certainly being displaced in areas (crowdfunding platforms, ICOs, P2P lending etc) but it’ll take a full cycle (around 10 years) before any real data emerges about whether that approach generates better returns than what it replaces.

I am extremely comfortable not understanding the cryptocurrency space very well and asking everyone else to explain it to me repeatedly.

How do you feel Ireland should better support its start-ups?

Copy and paste the UK’s CGT relief for entrepreneurs (10pc CGT rate for the first £10m).

Should entrepreneurship be taught in schools or is it a rare talent that cannot be taught?

I think people over-intellectualise this. Starting companies is about two things: 1) prioritisation and 2) toughness. We can certainly teach 1; however, 2 is a requirement that can be shared across multiple founders.

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