Irish tech hub the start of something big

Vibrant industry could develop in the way it has in San Francisco, according to Engine Yard chief executive John Dillon

John Dillon: "Companies are much more interested in looking at Ireland than they probably were 10 years ago. I think this is the beginning of a landslide."

John Dillon: "Companies are much more interested in looking at Ireland than they probably were 10 years ago. I think this is the beginning of a landslide."


Ireland has the potential to develop its tech community in a similar manner to San Francisco. That’s the opinion of Engine Yard chief executive John Dillon, who says the country’s tech start-up industry is in its growth phase.

“I think the Irish tech start-up community is just in its teenage years. It’s still a little awkward and not all together yet, but give it another generation.”

Ireland’s stock among overseas firms is edging higher, he says, as they search for possible locations for their European offices.

“The companies are much more interested in looking at Ireland than they probably were 10 years ago,” he says. “I think this is the beginning of a landslide.”

Dillon was in Dublin earlier in the month to talk to entrepreneurs about overseas expansion.

San Francisco headquartered Engine Yard makes product that is used by development teams for designing, building, deploying and managing applications.

It has customers in 65 countries, and has offices all over the world, with the growth of cloud services enabling its support teams to provide help to customers regardless of location.

Its chief executive has history with Ireland. Before bringing Engine Yard to the country in 2011 with the aim of creating 30 jobs over three years, Dillon was instrumental in locating Salesforce. com to Ireland, a move that was a little out of the ordinary.

“The Salesforce thing that we did was pretty unconventional at the time,” he says. “The manufacturing companies were coming here, but not the software companies – they were going to London.”

The Salesforce team was a small one initially, but it has since grown to more than 400, and announced last week that it plans to locate an additional 100 jobs at its second office in Dublin.

Dillon is hoping that he can replicate the same success with Engine Yard, which is based in Dublin’s tech hub around Google’s headquarters.

“I aspire to the same success as Google has. It’s possible, and I can do it here. Our business is intellectual property and people. We don’t build factories the way that some of the more industrial companies did. We don’t represent necessarily the large construction projects but we do represent a lot of jobs.

“They’re intellectually challenging, so they’re well-paid jobs, take advantage of the fact that the Irish population is generally well educated and they value intellect culturally – I think the Irish are known for it. We can have a large concentration in a single city; in our case we’re going to do it in Dublin.”

The Barrow Street premises currently holds a small team of 15 to 20 people, but Dillon is hoping to expand that further over time. Already the team has shifted its focus somewhat, with a core group of developers springing up, with much of the user-experience work – how users interact with Engine Yard’s platform – carried out here.

‘Pretty vibrant’
“It’s not a lot, but it’s 15 to 20 people who are working and paying taxes and spending their money – the multiplier effect of these things is really powerful and the sky is the limit,” he says.

Ireland’s tech community, he says, is doing pretty well, and although Ireland is not a major customer market for EngineYard, it makes sense for the firm to be here.

“The tech community is pretty vibrant. There’s money and a lot of enthusiasm. When we think of Ireland, we think of this as a good place to manage our European operation,” he says.

“Ireland doesn’t have many prospective customers for me per se. But the next Facebook could come right out of Dublin or it could come out of Rome – we don’t know.

“But with the internet, I can build a call centre, support centre, research centre or development team and I’m happy to do that here. It’s great for it.”

The tech community is an important market for Engine Yard, however, with start-ups building a whole product on top of Engine Yard’s platform, allowing the companies to be more agile and to try new things without a major investment in technology.

Add in a favourable tax regime and historic goodwill towards the country, and you can see why entrepreneurs such as Dillon are coming back. Its proximity to European cities also helps; Dublin is just a short plane journey from major cities such as London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.

And with transport links about to improve again between Ireland and Silicon Valley, the country is even more attractive as a destination for US-based companies.

“In my opinion, this is the tech hub in Europe. There are some people talking about the ‘silicon roundabout’ in the UK. We used to go out to Bracknell and places like that 10 or 20 years ago. It’s not the same as the entrepreneurial community here,” he says.

“I think the Irish are more willing to dig in and do the hard work. They don’t expect it to be given to them. There’s a pretty good cadre of experienced tech executives in London but they’re expensive.

“Dublin doesn’t have that yet. but what it has is engineering competence to build products. If I want to build an engineering team, I think I can build a better team here in that in London.

“If I can build the support team and account management team here, in 10 or 20 years, we could have 400 or 500 people.”