Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Mobile technology with a personal touch

WILD GEESE: Kieran O’Keeffe, MobileWebAdz: A mobile adverts network founded by a Kerryman is growing fast

Fri, Jan 25, 2013, 11:15



WILD GEESE: Kieran O’Keeffe, MobileWebAdz: A mobile adverts network founded by a Kerryman is growing fast

"Mobile internet is growing like a weed. We are up to 25 billion ads per month," says Kieran O'Keeffe of MobileWebAdz

There are few who don’t remember the millennium bug madness in the run-up to 2000. Billions of dollars were spent by companies around the world in preparation for Y2K. One company reaping the benefits was Irish-founded HarperKay.

The business was established in 1999 by serial entrepreneur Kieran O’Keeffe to help companies prepare for the millennium.

“We set up in India, Frankfurt and London to adapt the code of big companies to meet the challenges of the Y2K problem,” he says.

However, the company, which had 25 people employed, quickly found it had to diversify once 2000 arrived, bringing with it no major computing catastrophes.

“We quickly moved into the web sphere in 2000, after New Year’s passed and nothing happened.”

Believing mobile technology would dominate in the future, the Kerryman launched mobile shopping company SmartTech.

“We made it really attractive for people to try mobile shopping. We offered 80 per cent discounts on products such as CDs so they’d come back.

“We did have sales – we sold more than 50,000 CDs – but it never caught on. We were way too early. It was very slow and didn’t have enough graphics.”

The company then moved into the social networking arena and launched Mwah.

“We were the largest mobile social network in Europe for quite some time. Then Facebook came along and squashed much larger players than ourselves, such as MySpace.”

Unable to compete with Facebook, O’Keeffe set up mobile advertising network MobileWebAdz.

“We were ahead of ourselves but knew the mobile world would catch on eventually. Our vision for a global mobile internet company took off with the launch of the iPhone.”

The London-based company was recently named the fourth-fastest growing technology firm in the UK by the Sunday Times’s Tech Track 100. Its network displays billions of advertisements per month on mobile websites in more than 200 countries.

“Mobile internet is growing like a weed. We are up to 25 billion ads per month. That figure was 20 million four years ago. I don’t know how the tech teams keep up,” O’Keeffe says.

He attributes part of the explosive rise in revenue to the success of the iPhone and other smartphone platforms. Sales grew 218 per cent a year between 2009 and 2012 due to the increasing popularity of smartphones and the company’s expansion overseas.

Unique selling point

“The access point for many people to the web is the phone. I think there are now four times more phones in the world than PCs and many of the phones have internet.”

A fan of face-to-face business meetings as opposed to email conversations, O’Keeffe decided to expand the company’s operations abroad.

“We knew launching local offices would give us a unique selling point.”

The company set up offices in London, Johannesburg, San Francisco, Manila, Mumbai and Tokyo. It aims to open offices in Brazil and South Korea.

“To hire the best people in those locations, we offered stock options and ownership. It makes them work twice as hard and stops them disappearing off and setting up as a competitor.”

As for the future, the company plans to have a turnover of $160 million by 2016. The current turnover is $41 million.

Wild Geese is a weekly interview in the Business supplement with Irish business leaders abroad. This article appears in the newspaper today, and in the Business section of the website here.