Ireland’s leading start-ups name their all-time tech heroes

18 Dec 2015

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, was by far the top hero of Irish start-ups we spoke to in 2015

We asked some of Ireland’s leading start-ups if they had five minutes to spend with a tech hero of theirs, who would it be and why?

Throughout the latter half of 2015, we began posing this question to start-ups we interacted with. We’re well aware of the lack of female tech heroes named here, which we would like to see changed. Next year, in 2016, we hope to have more female start-up founders here celebrating their tech heroes, male and female.

Elon Musk

Peter Foley, LetsGetChecked: “Elon Musk – it’s a cliché but the guy is incapable of thinking small or inside the box. Rather than holding onto multiple ideas, he farms out the lower priorities to concentrate on the more pressing tasks. In short, he will gift technology to competitors to ensure that things keep moving. His philosophy is about getting to the finish line and not wasting time. If you can spend money to save days, spend money.”

Kieran Walkin, Little Vista: “Elon Musk – mainly because he’s going to save the world!”

Kevin McCaffrey, Tr3dent: “Elon Musk, incredible achievements with Tesla, SpaceX and previously with PayPal. I would spend the five minutes finalising the terms of his investment in Tr3Dent.”

Pearse O’Reilly, Scriba: “Elon Musk. The energy and drive of such an amazing polymath is an inspiration to us all.  In creating a start-up, you put it all on the line – emotion, time, money, sleep – but no one did it as frequently and as publicly as the real-world Tony Stark. Seriously, the guy counts ‘changing the world’ amongst his hobbies!”

Stephen Malone, Jibbr: “Elon Musk, the man is a freak! Not only the success he’s had with PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, but the ideas and concepts he releases to the public are fascinating. He doesn’t seem to sit back and be content with his successes, instead he constantly strives for improvement and is taking on challenges that people believed they would only read or hear about in science-fiction novels and movies. There are endless examples of this, from Space X’s re-usable rockets to battery-powered city grids. I think five minutes with him to pick his brain would be extremely interesting, but something tells me five minutes wouldn’t cut it.”

 Steve Jobs


Peter Layland, Sortsy: “It would have to have been Steve Jobs. He was a man led by his vision and enthusiasm for the job, and was a constant source of motivation for those working around him, which is essential when leading a start-up. It’s very clear that without the motivation and leadership of Jobs, Apple never would have grown to the industry-leading brand it is today.”

Paul O’Hara, ChangeX: “Steve Jobs. To better understand his philosophy of integrating the best technologies around and how he organised to make his incredible vision a reality.”

Drew Houston


Cian Brassil, “Hard question, but I’d probably choose Drew Houston. As a company, Dropbox is used as a reference of good execution for so many areas of business, from marketing to product. As a technical founder, Drew has shown better than almost anyone how good product companies are built.”

Gavin Kearney, Jumble: “We see the Jumble model being close to DropBox so I’d to spend some time with Drew Houston. It makes for interesting reading to learn about the early days of DropBox, the failures, the mistakes and the ultimate success and rise of such a great product and company.”

Marc Andreessen


Image: Joi Ito

Joe Lennon, Subwoofr: “Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). He co-authored NCSA Mosaic, the first web browser; co-founded Netscape, which was sold to AOL in 1999 for $4.2bn; co-founded Loudcloud/Opsware, which was sold to HP in 2007 for $1.6bn, and has invested in the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Github, Skype and Pinterest. Might need more than five minutes though!”

Reed Hastings


Neil Young, FlowForma: “Reed Hastings, CEO – Netflix. A great product company story – transitioning from physical to digital and creating their own unique premium content to drive their customer numbers to a huge scale at a time when it was a high-risk strategy. He has been able to scale out into a large technology company while keeping the innovative culture bubbling – an incredibly difficult thing to do. His management techniques are also very innovative (not all proven but he’s taking the risks to test them!).”

Alan Turing


Chris Fildes, Gaybrhood: “My tech hero would be Alan Turing. He was an inspirational visionary who was mostly interested in furthering knowledge for the common good, despite the appalling way he was treated for being gay. If I had five minutes to spend with him I’d like to tell him how far we’ve come both technically and, just as importantly, in terms of the way society treats LGBT people.”

Jack Dorsey


Shane Nolan, Laundrie: “I’m inspired by so many it’s hard to chose just one. I think five minutes with Jack Dorsey could teach me a lot about my business and the fundamentals to grow it as he’s done it several times. Simplicity mixed with efficacy is the core of my business and he’s done this brilliantly with Square and Twitter.”

Christian Chabot and the Tableau team


Richie Power, Showtime Analytics: “In the data analytics space, the leadership team at Tableau would be a model we have aspired to replicate, whereby success is based on the combined skills of technology, data and commercials. Chris Stolte had the technology idea, Pat Hanrahan brought the creative visual differentiation and Christian Chabot took the product to a global commercial marketplace. At Showtime, Joe is the data guru, Paul the technology genius and Richie the commercial nous, so if we got a beer with the Tableau team they hopefully wouldn’t feel freaked out by the similarities!”

Seth Godin


Fedoua Errizani, Cirquit: “For me it would be Seth Godin, this guy has such a unique vision of things. He’s not a conformist, he doesn’t just follow the masses. Innovation does not only belong to technology but also to how we do things in general, in everyday life. It is not just about adapting to new devices but to a new way of life.”

Jony Ive


Oisin Kim, Webdoctor: “Has to be Apple’s Jonathan Ive and it must be in his secret lab. I have no doubt he could improve any product in five minutes, plus I’d love to see his secret lab!”

Reed Hoffman


Kristjan Koik, Doclink: “Reid Hoffman. I’d like to know how he built the world’s largest business network from a single user in only 10 years, and what characteristics he looks out for in hiring the right team. Also his critical factors for investing, given the list of successful start-ups in which he has invested (PayPal, LinkedIn, Facebook, Airbnb, Flickr).”

Jaron Lanier


Ger Meade, Cirquit: “Jaron Lanier and it would have to be in his home recording studio. It would be great to be able to posit a question around the deep fundamentals on the future of technology while setting aside a little time for a quick jam on some weird and wonderful instruments. I would classify him as a futurologist and would be keen to talk through technology; its beginning, evolution and our future with it. Might need more than five minutes, though.”

Biz Stone


Yvonne Murphy, Qmeeto: “It’s difficult to pick just one. I’m constantly reading interviews or books by successful entrepreneurs, they’re great for inspiration and helping to keep youmotivated, particularly during the more stressful times. I love the quote from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone; “timing, perseverance, and 10 years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.”

Brian Chesky


James McElroy, HouseMyDog: “I think Brian Chesky of Airbnb. Brian and the Airbnb team have built an incredible company. In trying to explain our idea quickly we often use the tagline ‘Airbnb for dogs’ and usually once people hear that they get the idea straight away. As another on-demand marketplace, there is a huge amount we could learn from Brian and Airbnb, I also really admire their company culture, any employees we have spoken to intrinsically understand the company mission and their role as part of that mission, and their focus on user experience and design, each visit I make to Airbnb makes me want to travel and to progress to the next step.”

Kelly Johnson


Declan Gordon, Mohago:“I’m an aviation nerd so I’d have to say Kelly Johnson, an American engineer at Lockheed Martin. His creativity and management doctrine were responsible for building aircraft in the 1950s and ’60s that still hold speed and altitude records today. This is from when the last word in design aid was the slide rule! What’s most interesting about him is that he was an early proponent of the idea that only small teams, working with autonomy, can deliver projects within budget and on time.”

Indigenous innovators


John Tinsley, Iconic: “I’m fortunate enough that I frequently get to spend more than five minutes with people who have motivated me to get as far as I have today (with a long long way to go still!) The likes of Robin Blandford at D4H (pictured) and Iarfhlaith Kelly who founded Kitman Labs are great examples of individuals who have set up indigenous business and have grown them from something small into something world leading, which is exactly what Iconic is trying to achieve. For me, they are a great source of advice and guidance when needed, while at the same time providing inspiration by leading by example.”

The coders

Mark White, Codacast:“The true heroes in software are the guys on the ground designing, writing and testing the code. Without them there is no product to manage or sell. We – the programmers – are the rock stars of the digital age!”


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