Change is the only constant in a digital life
Research from the European Commission estimates the mobile app market to be worth over €10 billion in Europe, with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland among the biggest users of tablets, smartphones and cloud technology. Rebecca Kincade spoke to Adrian Bradley, managing director of local technology company, , about how they cope with the constant evolution of this sector.
How did i3 Digital begin?
It was actually started in my bedroom at home and we have just celebrated 16 years of trading. We are one of the longest established independent online strategy and technology companies in Ireland. Last year we experienced growth of 30% and now we have a total of 28 employees based in offices in Belfast, Dublin and London.
How has the speedy growth of this sector helped your business?
As society and the economy becomes increasingly digitised, we are in a strong position having built up our creative expertise over two decades. With the ongoing stratospheric growth in tablets and smartphones, we have continued to invest in people, skills and technology that place us centre-stage in the mobile app market. We are also seeing companies ramp up their use of social media beyond marketing as a way to truly engage customers. For us, it not about responding to hype, it’s about productivity.
What do you say to people who think that digital is a completely new sector of the economy?
There is a lot of noise around digital at the moment. We’ve been operating in the digital space for almost two decades and recent developments such as mobile apps are, for us, simply another layer in the development of the digital ecosystem. Our focus is on building long term valued partnerships with our clients and we are proud to say many of them have been with us since day one over 17 years ago when web business was actually only getting started!
What exciting projects have you got lined up for this year?
We have been doing a lot of research and innovation into augmented reality platforms and we have secured a tender with Magherafelt Borough Council to help with a campaign to drive more people into the town centre. Once there, visitors will be able to use their smart phones, along with our app, to see all of the offers and deals in the shops nearby. We will also be including a time capsule feature that will show you what the area looked like in the past, using images from the council’s archives. We have had enquiries coming from America about this product.
Do you have any recruitment plans in line with your current growth?
We are recruiting as we speak. There are interviews taking place downstairs. We will be looking at bringing in another three or four key people through 2014.
Why is it important to have a base in London, Belfast and Dublin?
We set up the company in Belfast in 1997 but it quickly became obvious that we needed to have an address and phone number in Dublin in order to respond to tenders in the south. Approximately 65% of our business comes from outside Northern Ireland. We don’t want to be seen to take business out of the ROI economy without giving back. London is also a strategic move for us. You have to be in the network over there to work in it.
You also have plans to target America this year?
We will be spending more time in the USA and London in 2014. We have been contacted by a lot of people who have recognised opportunities for our products. We want to try to penetrate this market with a product based business. In America there are certain initiatives in place at the moment to help match our business with potential clients.
Belfast is known for its low cost base. How do you check that your pricing structure is correct?
We are working with consultants in the US to ensure that we have the right pricing strategy but it will inevitably be a case of testing the waters and seeing what people are willing to pay. Invest NI have been very supportive with this move. They have helped us with marketing for export and staff training.
How does Belfast compare to London and Dublin as a so called ‘digital hub’?
Belfast is still catching up. There has been 30 years of conflict and a lot of healing still has to be done. I am very proud to say that I am from here and that I have a business here. It’s a young city that is often very forward thinking. We aren’t at the same levels as London or Dublin but there is still a lot to be proud of.
What is your greatest challenge at the moment?
We don’t have enough resources and skills. As a small, local company we are coming up against the big FDI businesses who are able to pay much higher wages. Foreign nationals will go to London and Dublin for the lifestyle and the experience, but Belfast doesn’t offer that package as much. The negative publicity really doesn’t help us either.
How are you trying to overcome this issue?
We have to learn to stand out as a company in a different way. We are going to be innovative in how we recruit. We are open to employing from Romania and Bulgaria. Bucharest in particular is a big IT hub and they have the skills that we need. We will be working with specialist recruitment companies.
Given the fast growth of the digital industry, does this mean that a start-up in this sector has a one way ticket to success?
It’s a tough market. If you want to be the next Facebook you can ride the wave very quickly. I have been in the industry since 1997 and it has been a rollercoaster as markets collapse and economies rise and fall. In a recession outside suppliers are always the first to go. There are a lot of rapid growth areas and opportunities in this sector. People will jump on band wagons. There is a very tribal mentality around things that are hot in digital circles.
What advice do you have for start-up digital companies?
You are only ever as good as the last project you deliver. We are focused on delivering our services to a high standard. You need to know your comfort zone, what you are good at. We have had a lot of late nights and taken some risks along the way but we have always had a Plan B and a safety net in place.