The IDA’s crusade to bring Facebook and Twitter to Dublin

Daily site visits, flowers . . . and furniture moving assistance used to lure social networking firms

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg speaking at the social netoworking site’s Dublin office.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg speaking at the social netoworking site’s Dublin office.

 

The success of Dublin’s so-called Silicon Docks is a combination of enlightened public policy and the blind luck of good timing. This extract from a new book - Silicon Docks: The Rise of Dublin as a Global Tech Hub - details how two of the area’s tenants was lured to these shores.

Shortly after Facebook went global in September 2006, the IDA sent one of its business development executives – John Nugent – to Silicon Valley, to scout out tech firms and encourage them to invest in Ireland. The social network came onto his radar at the beginning of 2007, and he was quickly introduced to Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly. Nugent met Kelly at the company’s offices in Palo Alto and invited him to a dinner being hosted by the IDA in a Palo Alto hotel. And so began a nearly two-year courtship between the IDA and Facebook, one that would ultimately lead the social networking giant to the Dublin docklands.

Facebook had less than 50 employees and was still a “scrappy start-up” when Nugent met the firm in 2007. He was unsure how the company would scale up enough to be of benefit to Ireland, and he had bigger fish to fry, namely Disney, which the IDA team was also trying to lure. Nugent also had his eye on other early-stage social networks, such as MySpace, Friendster and Bebo. But he was impressed with the pedigree of executives at Facebook, such as PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

Facebook was looking to internationalise, and Nugent set about learning as much as he could about the company, in order to help it. Very early on, he met the developers who built the network. At the time, they were experiencing issues with people registering with the same name. Nugent became slightly worried when the social network opened offices in London, but refused to give up. His Ireland-based counterpart, Brian Bastible, meanwhile took on the role of showing around the Facebook executives that visited Ireland and helping to introduce them to lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents.

When news broke in April 2008 that Sheryl Sandberg was joining Facebook as chief operating officer, the IDA was thrilled. It knew she was an ally of the organisation, as she had previously approached some of the agency’s executives at a conference in California and praised them for their work.

On the day that Sandberg started at Facebook, the IDA arranged for a big bouquet of flowers to be waiting on her desk with a note saying: “From all your friends in Ireland”.

During the summer of 2008, Nugent visited Facebook’s offices nearly every day. At that stage, the company had grown to several thousand employees and had its own campus.

In October of that year, with Ireland in crisis following the collapse of its banking system, the good news finally came through. Facebook had chosen Ireland for its international headquarters.

There was a glitch though. The Companies Registration Office (CRO) wouldn’t allow the social network to register ‘Facebook’ as its company name, as another company in the midlands had a similar name. The IDA had to convince the CRO to allow it.

With Facebook up and running in Ireland, Nugent turned his eye to the other social networks. He had a stroke of luck in February 2009, when Twitter co-founder Biz Stone tweeted: “Explaining to my mom that not everyone on the Internet is trustworthy – even if they are from Ireland”. Nugent sent him a message in response saying, “I’m Irish and you can trust me. We should meet.”

Stone responded immediately and introduced Nugent to his colleague, Twitter’s vice president of business operations, Santosh Jayaram. The following month, Jayaram tweeted: “The guy who came to visit me from Ireland is helping a few people move furniture at the Twoffices. Very hands on here!” Nugent replied: “@santojay all part of the service from IDA Ireland”. Two years later, the microblogging site announced it was establishing an international office in Dublin.

This is an extract from Silicon Docks: The Rise of Dublin as a Global Tech Hub, edited by Pamela Newenham and published by Liberties Press in paperback and as an ebook. The book is in bookshops nationwide, priced €17.99