Start-up leader of New York’s Irish tech invasion

Wild Geese: Trevor Madigan, founder, the Vision Lab

Silicon Valley may be the first port of call for Irish techies looking to make a name for themselves on the global stage, but New York is giving it a run for its money. That's according to Trevor Madigan, a Dublin-born industry veteran who has called the Big Apple home for more than a decade.

He should know. After all, as well as holding a key role at Facebook before establishing his own start-up two years ago, Madigan has also served in technology leadership positions for the likes of Nokia and Mitsubishi in both the US and Europe.

He was named in the Irish America: Top Business 100 list in 2012 and currently sits on the North American advisory boards of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and the Irish internet company SkillsPages. So he is well placed to comment on New York’s rise as a tech hub and the impact that Irish people are having there.

“New York is exploding with tech at the moment,” he says. “Almost every day I meet Irish entrepreneurs who want to set up here. What’s heart-warming to see is that a lot of these people were badly affected by the recession in Ireland but took the opportunity to go out and do something they always wanted to do. I’m fascinated by the number of Irish people in the US tech market overall, and particularly those who are in New York. They show how emigration from Ireland to the US has changed.

“While there’s a big tech scene in Silicon Valley, the Irish are always much more comfortable on the East Coast. That’s drawing a lot of people here and helping to create a lively scene.”

Madigan has grown to love the city he’s lived in for the past 10 years, but admits he didn’t expect to end up away from Ireland for so long.

Having completed a BA degree in economics and political science at University College Dublin in 1997, he moved to England to study at the London School of Economics, intending to return home afterwards. Instead, he ended up moving to Paris and working as European product manager for Mitsubishi during the launch of its Trium mobile phone brand.

Mulberry team leader

He later returned to London to work for the high-end clothing firm Mulberry, where he led a team that developed and launched high-tech accessory products. Two years later, he moved to New York to work for Nokia, where he spent seven years in senior roles, including head of Nokia Music in the US.

“I learned from working there that you can have so many ideas in so many different segments, but that it doesn’t matter if you don’t execute them,” Madigan says. “Many great products and services failed to see the light of day, and this had a negative impact on the company. Nokia was one of the greatest companies in the world and now it has effectively disappeared.”

After leaving Nokia and moving to Facebook in May 2011, Madigan became the group’s global business manager, leading international sales and business development for the company’s key partners, advertisers and many of the world’s leading brands, including Diageo, Samsung, Microsoft, Procter and Gamble, and Unilever.

Although he enjoyed working for leading tech firms and admired Mark Zuckerberg’s approach, Madigan ultimately hankered to go it alone, which he did in 2012. His business, the Vision Lab, has developed a software application that enables firms to tap into the wisdom of their employees by crowdsourcing opinions. The application encourages staff to submit ideas on specific challenges and then uses algorithms to find the best solutions.

With organisations such as Pernod Ricard and the Ireland Funds already coming on board as clients, it seems that striking out on his own may prove to have been a wise move. “It has been an amazing experience, becoming my own boss. You have so much more freedom when you’re running your own company, but also far less support. You really need a lot of energy and an ability to solve many different types of problems, but I’m enjoying it,” he says. “It’s been a hugely positive decision to go out and set up my own firm, but it has its pressures as well. You have to really enjoy the good days, as there are plenty of hectic ones.”

Hands full

With a fledgling start-up to guide and a newborn baby to mind, Madigan has his hands full right now. But he’s more than happy with his lot in life.

"When I was at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg would always encourage us to fail. He was keen for employees to try new things," he says. "In fact, there was a poster on the wall in the office that asked: 'What would you do if you weren't afraid?' This was a big inspiration in leading me to set up my own company, and something that guides me now.

“I’m passionate about what we’re doing. I believe the knowledge to solve critical challenges lies hidden within organisations. Our vision is to make proactive problem-solving something that’s faster, social and driven by technology, and that’s what we’re successfully doing.”

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