Wild Geese: Cillian Kieran, chief executive of digital advertising agency CKSK in New York
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With a year left in the Dublin Institute of Technology before graduating from a physics and computer mathematics course, Cillian Kieran dropped out.
The decision left his mother devastated, but he was passionate about the software services he had been offering clients since his first coding job at 14, and wanted to start his own development business.
Whitenoise Media failed after less than two years, but the same entrepreneurial impulse which drove him to quit college and set up the company still motivates him today as co-founder and chief executive of internationally-acclaimed digital advertising agency CKSK.
As a teenager in the late 1990s, Kieran built a reputation as one of the top 200 Flash developers in the world.
After Whitenoise folded, an opportunity arose to work on a large architectural mapping system called Space Plan for a firm in Boston, which ended up being used to plan the Beijing Olympics.
“Even though I was only a kid I was invited to speak at a lot of technology events about Flash, and out of that came opportunities to contract as a digital consultant for other companies,” he recalls.
“[The work] varied from a week to a few months... It was an exciting time.”
His lack of a degree came back to bite him, however, and he had to leave the US in 2004 after failing to get a work permit to stay. On returning to Dublin he took up a technologist position with a digital signage start-up. After two years, he and the company’s creative director Simon Keane decided to strike out on their own with an idea for a creative agency dedicated to digital.
“It was pretty much the opposite to what everyone else in Ireland was doing at the time,” he says, stressing how other advertising agencies across Europe were offering full-service to clients rather than concentrating on digital, which was becoming big business in the US.
“I remember meeting Enterprise Ireland and the County Enterprise Board and being asked who we were competing against. We always listed three or four agencies but none were Irish. We had a vision for an agency that would grow beyond Irish borders.”
Even when CKSK was in its infancy the company pitched against large international agencies. The strategy was a success and after a year and a half they won their biggest contract yet with Three Mobile.
“It was a big deal. We were a tiny team of eight people serving one of the biggest mobile providers in the country. We did some great work with their marketing director, which won some awards for them. We pitched for Heineken then and things rolled on from there.”