In the past the Silicon Valley dream was relatively simple. Hard graft with a possibility of a reward in terms of a stock market listing or a buyout by a larger technology company eager for the new, new thing.
Now things are different, businesses like Google, Uber and Facebook held out for as long as possible to go public. Technology companies from Apple to Zynga have been punished repeatedly in the market for real and perceived mis-steps. Activist investors charge around Silicon Valley in a similar manner to the way they bullied the S&P index in the 1980s.
Now technology companies are making up almost half of private equity LBOs. An LBO is a leveraged buy out; its where a prospective owner uses a mix of loans and their own money to purchase a company. The company usually has a steady cash flow that is used to pay down the loans and associated interest. These businesses are generally discounted because they are no longer perceived as being high growth companies.
The private equity owner looks to either flip the company to another purchaser, or flip parts of the company to pay down the loan. Either flipping or piecemeal sales are designed to raise more value than the original price paid.
Since these businesses are servicing large amounts of debt, they are vulnerable to fluctuations in their business conditions or interest rate rises. For example, Irish telecoms network Eircom defaulted on corporate bonds in 2012, having been through a couple of LBOs in the previous decade.
There always has been some LBOs in the Valley, Computer Associates bought up rivals and ran them as part of a conglomerate, with a focus on maximising the business cash flow rather than market share growth. General Atlantic Partners and Cerebus Capital Management had specialised for a long time in LBOs of mature ‘also ran’ business software companies with regular support customer support contracts. But the recent growth in LBOs is unprecedented for the technology sector.
I spent most of my time outside of the major cities visiting family and shopping in small market towns.
Here are my thoughts and observations from four days or so in Ireland:
The consumer economic system is largely frozen by a lack of access to credit, this has held the country in stasis with regards reigniting its property markets
Economic decline didn’t seem to be as apparent as say the North of England. I am not sure why this is
Prices are largely the same as in the UK, but Irish consumer products are generally uncompetitive in terms of price. For instance a bag of Oatfield sweets costs €2.49; a British brand equivalent would be in the region of €1.50
Sky usage seems to be prevalent. Irish houses outside the main towns tend to like to keep their aerials inside the roof where possible. However there seemed to be more satellite dishes secured to houses this time. In addition, in public spaces like the airport lounge, Sky News was the default channel
Election campaigns don’t seem to have benefited from an ‘Obama’ dividend. I found only one candidate who was using social media in even rudimentary way. They launch their campaigns in a very old school way with public meetings and traditional signs can be found in every townland
There was an increasing level of Euro-scepticism amongst Irish voters, despite Ireland having probably benefited the most from the rise of the EU. This has lead to good opinion poll showings for both Sinn Fein and independents focused on local issues
Whilst super fast broadband is advertised even in rural townlands; mobile networks gave very patchy coverage indeed
The Irish Independent ran the story of Ate My Heart Inc.; a company owned and controlled by popstar Lady Gaga who
‘demanded I roll over and hand over my ladyaga.ie domain name and trademark’
This action was taken against an Irish-based cookery blogger. This surprised me for a number of reasons:
The two brands and domains whilst similar couldn’t be mistaken for each other, giving the Ate My Heart legal team a relatively weak positon if it ever went to court
You would have a harder time differentiating the Lady Gaga brand from the many social accounts run by dedicated Lady Gaga fans
Lady Gaga and her management seem to be exceptionally savvy about the use and abuse of social media; and its power hence the LittleMonsters.com community that they run
It also reminded me of IT@Cork / O’Reilly Publications debacle that broke out over the use of web 2.0 in 2006. IT@Cork was a small local group interested in business technology who decided to host a session on web 2.0. They invited Tim O’Reilly along to speak alongside other representatives from web 2.0 firms. They were legalled by CMP who run the Web 2.0 Expo and Web 2.0 Conference with a cease and desist letter.
The subsequent online firestorm caused Tim O’Reilly to come back off holiday and broker a smarter solution.
Ate My Heart could have reduced their risk and had a win-win situation like O’Reilly eventually opted for, but instead went all in on a relatively weak legal position, hoping presumably that the blogger would buckle rather than publishing their letter online and calling them out, but they chose not to.
I guess the implicit message to Irish Lady Gaga fans were that they didn’t matter all that much. From a PR perspective, something to keep an eye on in case clients take a similar gung-ho approach to reputation management through litigation; not everyone will be as lucky as Lady Gaga was on this occasion.
I noticed an interesting Facebook campaign overnight. Artists took over the half-built Anglo Irish Bank headquarters in Dublin and created artworks to mirror the post-bust Ireland. Anglo Irish Bank is Ireland’s version of the Royal Bank of Scotland or Northern Rock and is now in control of NAMA – a government agency set up to deal with toxic assets.
Irish public broadcaster RTÉ is celebrating 50 years of television broadcasting and one of the shows being re-broadcast is The Green Linnet. The Green Linnet in question was a drab green Citroen van based on the Citroen 2CV car in which two traditional musicians toured Europe and played music on the streets to earn their keep. The filming took place in 1978 and the series was shown in early 1979.
Watching a few episodes and a retrospective, I realised that the programme was an unintentional proto-reality show; as the filming caught the eventual frayed nerves of the musicians living in an artificially-created environment under constant surveillance. It was a pint-sized Big Brother house on wheels.
The constricted space in the van and their general condition got progressively grottier living on camp sites and spending every waking moment together. The Green Linnet pre-dated the Dutch show Nummer 28 (which is considered by many to be the first modern reality show) by some 12 years. The breakdown also mirrored highlights in MTV’s The Real World.
I would have thought that Dublin Airport Authority would have been enriched by the current situation in Ireland with expensive EU funded financial whizz-kids flying into the country to ‘help out’ and an exodus of young under-employed professionals leaving to make a life somewhere else. So I was surprised that the company had mobile assets that would have been current circa 2004/5. More here.
PocketPC (not even Windows Mobile) and PalmOS were supported – no Symbian (Series 60 and 90 devices would have been out at the time), let alone Android or iOS.
Hallowe’en was a special time for me growing up. Alongside St Patrick’s day it made me feel connected with with my wider family in Ireland. We would have a barm brack sent to us by my Granny. This is kind of like a giant tea cake but richer or less stodgy than say Soreen. It is available most of the year around as a dessert after your evening meal with butter spread on top.
For Hallowe’en barm bracks there is usually a cheap gold-coloured metal ring wrapped in grease-proof paper in the centre of the brack and there was usually a bit of excitement if you found it in your slice. RTE Radio 1 usually had scary Irish folk tales on with sound effects. Their effect was amplified by the eerie quality that mild interference on the medium wave signal would give.
Hallowe’en now means scouring London for a barm brack and some Barry’s tea to wash it down with. I usually call my parents to find out what they are doing for the festival and listen to a bit of the radio online. I usually settle down and watch The Crow on DVD and Gremlins as my nod to the modern interpretation of the festival.
I found this infographic that highlights some of the numbers around the US celebration of Hallowe’en.
Courtesy of: CreditDonkey
I was going through the Irish Sunday Independent to read coverage of the Irish rugby union squad’s win against their Australian counterparts when I came across this chart of data looking the standings of the different political parties.
A little bit of background before I delve into things:
The Irish Independent is a paper that has traditionally supported Fine Gael and up until 1995, went head-to-head with The Irish Press
Fianna Fail and their rival Fine Gael are both quite similar centre-right parties. The difference between them comes from the history at the foundation of modern Ireland. Up until recently, the reason why you voted for one over the other was to do with family, tradition and to a lesser extent personality. Over the history of the Irish Republic, Fianna Fail has historically enjoyed more time in office
Looking at the election data I was struck by how the Fianna Fail party vote was skewed from a demographic point-of-view:
Fianna Fail has a broadly consistent level of support across age groups with a dip for middle-aged voters (presumably because they have been hit the hardest in terms of assets lost during the ongoing financial crisis)
In the 65+ years age group however Fianna Fail gets twice the percentage of votes that everyone else has given them
This is mirrored in the amount of support they get from the F socio-economic class indicating an electorate not actively engaged from an economic point-of-view
Fianna Fail’s support is geographically skewed towards the least productive areas of the country with the harshest agricultural conditions and least economic development, again with an older population
It is a political party with an engaged electorate that is literally dying off. In this respect at least, Fianna Fail is keeping good company:
Harley Davidson suffered from this problem
Numerous cigarette brands: Woodbines, Senior Service have also suffered from a diminishing clientele
So what’s a party to do? If one looks at the likes of the UK Labour Party, it took a decade and a half for the party to reinvent itself after Michael Foot’s disastrous election campaign. It needs to:
Exorcise the past, cutting out the taint of corruption and that means pushing aside a lot of the existing politicians
Bring in new people and new ideas
It needs to stand for something that people will care about and get behind. It could do worse than look at the recent German Pirate Party success in Berlin state elections if it is to get younger voters on side with ideas ranging from online file sharing to social and community issues
On leaving office, Gordon Brown immediately spent a lot of time hammering out a book Beyond The Crash. Unlike Peter Mandelson this wasn’t the Westminster equivalent of a sordid kiss-and-tell exposé or a Tony Blair-esque sales brochure to secure speaking engagements. Instead Brown set out to do what he does best, putting on page deep thought and analysis about the knotty problem of global finances. He did an excellent job of marshaling ideas and sources in the book. His grasp on Asian economics and China in particular is very good. There is a whole section on the Asian crisis of 1998 which is well worth reading on its own.
In this respect, the book is a solid piece of work, Brown isn’t as compelling a writer as other economic thinkers that the Labour party has looked to like Will Hutton; but he does a good job at making his ideas and concepts understandable to the average reader.
Where things go wrong with the book is where Brown tries to humanise his writing. His comments of praise for colleagues and other politicians feels wooden, as if it was written into his book as a postscript. And it is because of this that we see a glimpse of Brown the politician; the polar opposite of his predecessor Tony Blair. Someone who thought at great depth and knew what to do but didn’t have the surface finish.
If you are prepared to persevere with the book, it is a good read, and is currently for sale in Amazon Marketplace at a massive discount to the cover price.
I was reading coverage in the Irish Examiner of what was a pretty standard research-as-news-hook story on how consumer behaviour is changing with the advent of extensive online health information. Quinn Healthcare defined cyberchondriacs as people who used Google to self-diagnose in preference to consulting a doctor.
In Ireland this is exasperated by the cost of getting an appointment with the doctor and the state of the Irish economy. Quinn Healthcare found that cyberchondriacs were likely to be generation-x females who would use Dr Google for both themselves and their families.
Irish films tend to have a good gap between them, good Irish films have an even longer gap. The Guard fits into the latter category. Guard is colloquial Irish English used by older people for an officer of An Garda Síochána. The Guard of the title is a rural police officer portrayed by Brendan Gleeson; more interested in his pursuit of the ladies and the good life than tackling international crime.
Although it is shot in Galway in the west of Ireland; it is not a modern-day version of The Quiet Man. Instead you have a politically incorrect portrayal of a modern-day Ireland with official corruption, feral children and alcoholism.
The combination of dark humour and the bleak landscape of Connemara make this a compelling film.