Dublin is turning out to be quite a hub for social networks. In recent years, the city has become home to the global operations of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a myriad of young digital media companies that are shaping the social business landscape, like marketing and advertising player HubSpot.
Just this past week, Squarespace, a web design platform company based in New York, announced plans to establish its EMEA headquarters in Dublin and the creation of 100 new jobs in the process.
Dublin’s collection of social networks is about to be joined by a new kid on the block called SunZu, which aims to take all the wizardry and clutter out of using social media and allow business owners to simply do business.
Lyndon Wood, the founder of SunZu, said he agrees there are already enough social networks in the world. The thing is, few of those social networks talk to each other or succeed in providing businesses owners with what they need most: knowledge, he said.
Wood is a successful British businessman who owns multi-million-pound businesses, including insurance company Moorhouse Group and Construcaquote.com. He set up his first business at the age of 19, from his bedroom.
He employs 150 people across all his businesses and has a turnover of stg£35m from insurance premiums alone.
An ardent social media user himself, he has 25,000 followers on his Twitter account, and is author of the book Diary of a Fortune Hunter.
Birth of SunZu
Last year, Wood acquired Ecademy, a business network that had 500,000 members. He relaunched it as SunZu, with the aim of growing its base to 1m users by the end of this year. The network currently has 4,000 members in Ireland.
SunZu is starting in Dublin with a small team and is looking to hire developers.
Bill Liao, tech investor with SOSventures, has come on board as director.
Liao is also the co-founder of the then-named Open Business Club. He and Lars Hinrichs co-founded the company in Hamburg, Germany, in 2003, as a platform for business professionals. In 2006, Liao renamed it XING.
XING is one of the first Web 2.0 companies to go public and competes with LinkedIn in Europe.
Now there’s SunZu. The name SunZu is derived from The Art of War, the ancient strategy text by Chinese general Sun Tsu, who wrote: “If you know your opponent and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.”
Wood said SunZu is about the sharing of knowledge, encouraging others to share knowledge, inspiring each other and assisting one another to grow.
“My background is in assisting businesses over the last 15 years and you could say SunZu is an attempt to do that en masse,” Wood said. “I purposely avoid the word ‘help’. We replace that with ‘assist’, because the world ‘help’ puts a restriction on the mind, in my opinion.”
What business need – Lyndon Wood
Businesses do not need help, Wood said, they need assistance and knowledge.
“One of the biggest weaknesses in terms of growing a business is access to knowledge,” he said. “Whether you are an established business or a start-up, we all have knowledge to share.”
According to Wood, the problem with existing social networks is they all take time to figure out how to use and the reality is business people are already too busy trying to run their companies.
“The other problem is trying to get the various networks to talk to each other. If you look at Twitter, I can send tweets to my Facebook page and vice-versa but I can’t get my Google+ page to talk to Facebook,” said Wood. “They all sort of love and hate each other.”
Wood is positioning SunZu as a business-first service.
“The other social networks have a bit of a mystique and they certainly have the numbers of users,” said Wood, who knows very few people who know how to leverage LinkedIn to win business and make money. “And I can’t say I’ve met anyone who has managed to leverage Facebook effectively yet.”
Wood said leveraging social networks for a business can become a full-time job and SunZu aims to deliver a simplified platform that isn’t launching a new feature or button every second day.
“The idea is just to connect business people to other business people with the view to conducting business,” Wood said.
The existing social networks try to be too many things to different people, he said.
“We’re not a CV database, for example, and I know LinkedIn is trying to get away from that reputation but yet they seem to be offering new services for recruitment agencies.”
Wood said SunZu’s revenue model is subscription based and the company won’t be selling advertising on the platform anytime soon.
“I’m not saying that in future we won’t take on a sponsor but one of the main pieces of feedback from members is they don’t want to be bombarded with adverts. Only members can advertise to other members,” said Wood.
SunZu membership is free, though different grades from blue to black ranging from stg£7.95 up to stg£21.95 per month for Black Star membership give members various privileges.
“The only people who can advertise on SunZu will be Black Star members who would be entitled 100 adverts per month,” said Wood.
Mobile will be a key aspect of SunZu’s growth plans and 32pc of its existing base of users access the social network via smartphones, said Wood.
SunZu’s international growth plans involve the US, the Middle East and Australia. In terms of Dublin as a location for SunZu to create a global business network, Wood said the Irish population seems to be craving something new.
“What I’m hearing from the businesspeople I’ve spoken to in Ireland is that the business-networking scene in Ireland is quite weak. The ones that do exist are traditional and too structured,” Wood said.
The need for an uncomplicated, connected network of business professionals is necessary, he said.
“There is a lot to understand about the day-to-day realities of running companies,” said Wood. “Most businesses are lifestyle businesses. People earn a wage and are happy with that. They don’t have time or the energy to put into understanding all the different technologies on these different social networks.”
SunZu’s purpose is business first and to keep it simple, said Wood.
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 5 May