Four kids and a start-up: Cork entrepreneur builds a social network for families

6 Aug 2013

Eugene Murphy, founder of Tweekaboo

For every entrepreneur there is the spark. The moment when he or she has an epiphany and the idea is so irresistible that it has to at least be attempted. For Eugene Murphy, Cork entrepreneur and father of four, the moment came when his oldest daughter Ciara, then five, was going to school for the first time.

“The last five years of her life shot past me like a blur. My first child was going to school. I wanted to slow everything down, just to hold onto the memories.”

The next day, at about four in the morning, Murphy got out of bed to write the first draft of his business plan for Tweekaboo, a technology platform for parents for recording and sharing family moments.

Murphy set up Tweekaboo in 2011. In recent weeks, the company raised US$800,000 in a seed round from private investors and is about to take on the US and Asia.

The network now has a user base in more than 100 countries and Murphy will establish an office in the US, as well as launch a new print product in September.

“I realised that some of the most powerful and precious conversations between families aren’t being recorded properly. Tweekaboo is a private-messaging platform for families to have all those wonderful conversations and experiences backed up in the cloud and turned into a child’s life story.

The purpose of Tweekaboo

What Tweekaboo does, said Murphy, is allow parents to gather the narrative of their child or children’s lives through photos, sounds, text and video and just hold onto those memories.

“Tweekaboo is a family network, a place where families can gather online and have private and intimate conversations,” Murphy said.

To illustrate his point, Murphy recalled his own childhood and said that apart from a few photos, there are no videos or recordings of him from under the age of five. “A photo on its own has value – date, the context, a note written on the back – in fact it is priceless.

“We’re trying to take the pain out of photobooks, baby diaries and journals and essentially disrupt that market. The Tweekaboo platform lets parents aggregate content from those special moments on a daily and weekly basis on their iPhone or their computer.”

In September, Tweekaboo will globally launch a service whereby all the moments captured digitally can be physically printed across a variety of templates.

“We will have different kinds of print products, such as pregnancy journals, baby diaries that will bridge the divide between print and the web and make it possible for parents to generate a print product journaling their family lives straight off a smartphone.”

Murphy, a civil engineering graduate from University College Cork (UCC), worked as a business analyst and project management executive for investment bank Salomon Brothers between 1997 and 2000 before joining a JP Morgan spin-out called Market Access.

He returned to Ireland with his wife Caroline in 2003 and started his own architectural design and engineering business.

He said he preserves his initial business plan for Tweekaboo like it was the constitution and said it remains accurate to this day.

“After writing the business plan I woke my wife up and she agreed to let me try it for three to four months. I decided that as an entrepreneur you can’t be good at two things so I shut down my business and took a huge leap of faith.”

The first thing Murphy did was ask UCC if they could recommend someone who could intern and help build the first phase of the product.

“I had this idea I gleaned from the customer development methodology used by Stanford University that if you can solve a problem for at least three people then you’ve got the basis of a business,” said Murphy.

Tweekaboo kicks off

The first iteration of Tweekaboo was tested on 15 people and five of them loved it.

“What we built was a digital platform where a kid’s whole life story can be recorded by their parents. I thought that would be the coolest thing I would ever do as a dad,” said Murphy. “I was passionate about it. I was afraid I would forget stuff and as we fly through life I thought wouldn’t it be cool to do something that lets parents capture something their kids say.”

Today, half of Tweekaboo’s user base is in the US and there is considerable interest in the platform in Asia. “We have grandmothers in the Philippines using the platform to communicate with their granddaughters in North Carolina.” Geographically, families are moving further and further apart and there is an opportunity to combine mobile and cloud computing to bring families closer together.

“We have positive investors on board who have between them raised US$120m in venture capital in the past and they have global expertise and are committed to building a big international business,” Murphy said.

Tweekaboo works with data privacy consultants to make sure that everything the company does is in line with best international practice and the technology platform runs on cloud technology via Amazon Web Services, Murphy said.

“Family networks are password-protected and the average network of a family on Tweekaboo is around 10 people.”

Murphy said 80pc of engagement with Tweekaboo is by mobile phone and that as well as the existing iOS app, an Android app is in development.

The company employs seven people in Cork and as well as establishing a US office and marketing in the US, the focus will be on localising the platform for various languages.

“Families are the same everywhere and every parent has the same emotions about their children growing up. I think we’ve built something that meets that emotional need, is global and useful,” Murphy said.

“With the print aspect of Tweekaboo coming on stream in the autumn, I have a feeling that 2014 will be a huge year for us.”

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 4 August

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