Ecosystems and Cajoling Participants
Back in 2005, I used to work for what was then DrKW in their Digital Markets division. DM was their investment banking answer to the web buzz of the early 2000s. Sean Park, the head of the division, had made a personal killing on several tech floatation deals and had drank the digital koolaid. Ably assisted by an IT chief with a penchant for grand visions, he set about giving Dresdner’s corporate clients an investment banking answer to the consumer behemoths Betfair, Ebay, etc who were seemingly granting supernatural powers to anyone with an internet connection.
You can still view the Googlezon-inspired vision here. I left the bank a year later, but kept an eye on the Revolution platform. It failed miserably. The trouble was they were providing a great integrated digital service that no one in the city knew they wanted yet. Banking is a notoriously fickle industry, and change only happens when trusted relationships introduce it. Revolution’s newly recruited marketing team was manned with former developers, admin staff & inexperienced hires from other banks.
The Digital Markets idea was sold to IT, but it wasn’t sold to the business. So no one from the business sold it to clients. It died a death and now the only evidence I have left is the promo mousemat. Morgan Stanley jumped on the same RIA-powered capital markets bandwagon again, only it was 4 years down the line. Sean Park and his team were ahead of the demand curve, offering something clients would want, but the disconnect between the two prevented the success Revolution should have been.
Looking Around Today
I see a similar scenario developing in a nascent Northern Irish startup culture. A myriad of new media outlets encouraging the growth of chatter about chatter. Strong characters at the helm driving rapid policy creation around buzzwords. The usual presence of the me-tooers and their on-message signal/noise, and as this is Northern Ireland, an avalanche of support structures all offering their wares to the potential idea industry (for those familiar with the Province and it’s current systemic faults, see the rise of the victims industry, where everyone needs help with their troubles and no one is to blame for causing it). A packed diary of events fills out the days and weeks. The blogosphere is alive with what seems at times self-referential posts about this thought leader and that movement. It all seems so ‘go’. But is it?
So Far, So Revolution
I think it is fair to say today’s NI does not have an outstanding reputation for entrepreneurship. Recession notwithstanding, we are still relatively over-dependent on civil service jobs and require a grant culture to encourage business development whether it is for blue chips locating their service centres here or local companies making a go of it. Like hawking web 2.0 to the investment banking industry, encouraging entrepreneurship here in the midst of a recession is a tough sell.
After a while the traditional bank hierarchy in Dresdner closed ranks on the would-be usurpers in it’s Digital Markets division. InvestNI & the rest of the NI statutory bodies could well do the same to local efforts to establish a VC culture. Or they could try to shoehorn their own corporate objectives into the series of funding initiatives underway aimed at ideas (as opposed to companies).
Such a move would be a mistake, but within corporate strategy meetings it could be construed as synergistic. At Dresdner Park railed against the numbers men who “didn’t get it” at the time in internal blog postings. I detect the same hostility against traditional avenues in NI’s would-be VC community. More thoughtful criticism of the traditionalists is also online. Either way, they highlight a problem that isn’t going to be removed unless success, measured in figures, is found.
A lot depends on the type of idea the monies will flow to. On the 24th of this month the 1st round of potential startups will be announced. It may be a watershed moment for tech culture here. Interesting times.