After Brexit: come to Limerick and build the next great thing

Thomas Bibby

As I write this the day after the UK voted to leave the EU, my prominent emotion is sadness. Sheila grew up in the UK to Irish parents, and my extended family are all from over the water. I'm typing this as we drive over to Wales for our first trade show in the UK. Our lives and our company are evidence of how intertwined our islands are, and it is genuinely sad to see the prospect of further barriers between us. 

I realise for startups in the UK it must be a difficult time. The prospect of being outside the EU must be a scary one. We are in uncharted waters and nobody knows what the outcome will be. 

However in times of uncertainty there is opportunity. And I want to personally invite any UK startup who wants to stay in the EU, to come to Limerick and build the next great thing.

I've outlined before why I think Limerick is a great place to base a tech startup. To summarise: Limerick is a great place to build something awesome. The city is crammed full of programming and design talent, and I'd be delighted to put you in touch with people whose abilities I respect. You can dramatically increase your runway and get away from the distracting cacophony that will dominate discussion in the UK for the next few years. You'll find inviting people and a fantastic environment for engineering the next great thing. Please drop me a line at thomas@regpointofsale.com if you're interested in making a move. I'll do everything I can to help.

Friends don't bring friends to Starbucks

Thomas Bibby

 One of our customers in Cork, The Rocket Man, thriving despite the opening of a Starbucks next door

One of our customers in Cork, The Rocket Man, thriving despite the opening of a Starbucks next door

Here in Limerick there has been some chatter about how Limerick will no longer be a Starbucks-free zone with the opening of two outlets in the city.  It reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw in San Francisco when I was on a J1 summer visa many moons ago: “friends don’t bring friends to Starbucks”.

But why should we care?  Surely we’d like to sell Reg to chains like Starbucks as well?  Isn’t one coffee shop pretty much the same as another?

We designed Reg with pretty much one type of user in mind: the owner-managed independent retailer. Retailers like Starbucks have everything managed centrally.  In fact one of our aims with Reg was to put some of the powerful analytics tools available to big retailers in the hands of independents.

We’re lucky to count lots of independent coffee shops as our customers, and without exception they work tremendously hard to provide a great customer experience and good coffee.  Most importantly though they are products of the visions of their owners.  Quirky, interesting, engaging.  A complete contrast to the dull, designed-by-committee-in-head-office experience that you get from Starbucks and the other big coffee chains.

I’ve talked to some of our customers in Dublin and Cork about the challenges of running an independent coffee shop near a Starbucks and happily it is more than possible for independents to compete with the chains.  Enough people are realising that not only do you help the local economy by taking your business to independents, you get a better, more interesting experience as well.  And the coffee usually tastes better too!

(See also our previous blog article: why support your local coffee shop?)

Why Limerick is a great place to run a tech startup

Thomas Bibby

Limerick is Ireland’s third biggest city, and where we are based.  All the development of Reg was done in our offices in the city centre.  I wanted to list some of the reasons why I think Limerick is a fantastic place to run a tech startup.

Extend your runway

 Our offices in Limerick (we're on the second floor of this Georgian building)

Our offices in Limerick (we're on the second floor of this Georgian building)

Any early-stage entrepreneur is obsessed with their ‘runway', the amount of time that you can run your company without seeking extra investment. This is crucial because when you’re developing your product, time spent raising funds can be incredibly disruptive. The longer runway you have, the more you can focus on building a great product.

The costs in Limerick are ridiculously low. For example, our office, which comfortably fits five desks, costs us under €400 a month. That’s not just rent - that includes all costs: electricity, heat, water, local authority rates, internet, the works. Our office space isn’t even subsidised - this is just a standard commercial office rental. (PS there’s an office for rent in our building - we’d love new neighbours!) Cost of living is tiny compared to other cities (in particular rent and transport) which means salaries can be lower, and crucially you can survive yourself on almost nothing.

A market big enough to be significant, small enough to test

Limerick has 100,000 people which we found to be a perfect size to trial our product. We've had great feedback from local retailers when we were testing our app, especially when we were agonising over some user interface detail where we needed to do some usability testing. I'm consistently surprised at how generous people are with their time in helping us out with advice and feedback. Limerick has all of Ireland’s benefits to test a new tech product (huge smartphone usage, young population, increasing population diversity), with the added benefit of being that little bit more accessible - a perfect place to beta test! 

Don’t waste time on pointless things

 Length of commute in our office

Length of commute in our office

I did a survey last month with the members of the team who happened to be in the office that evening.  The following graph shows our commute times to our office:

Commuting is awful enough when you’re working for someone else, but when you’re putting in 12-14 hour days to get your product ready, it can have a significant impact on your productivity. Living in a city small enough to have lean commute times is a huge benefit to your productivity.

Connectivity

The main broadband provider, UPC, offers 50Mb/s as its slowest connection speed, and offers a guaranteed 250Mb/s with 8 phone lines for less than €100/mo, anywhere in the city.  The main rail and bus station is 4 minutes walk from our office with rail links to Dublin, Cork, Galway and Waterford.  We’re a bit obsessive about costs so I normally take the hourly private coach to Dublin where most of our customers are: air-con, wifi and €10 for a 2h45 journey is tough to beat!  For travelling further afield we’re 30 mins away from an international airport with daily flights to London, Boston, JFK, Chicago etc.

Independence 

 Our local independent café, Canteen

Our local independent café, Canteen

Programmers have been described as vehicles for converting caffeine into code and that’s certainly true in my case.  Fortunately we have the amazing Canteen just down the road from us, who serve coffee from a local roaster in Cork.  There are lots of independent businesses in Limerick like Canteen which add to the richness of city life. Not to mention a large range of pubs perfect for sitting down with a quiet pint. Often some of the more intractable bugs I've encountered have been effortlessly solved by a pint and a chat with one of the other iOS developers working in Limerick.

Access to talent

One of the problems with smaller cities is that you can have one dominant company that hoovers up the talent field in tech. This can make hiring harder, as you end up having a city of battle-hardened enterprise Java programmers, which is great if you want to write something in enterprise-style Java, but not so great if your tech stack is tilted towards more rapid development. Thankfully there is no one big company in Limerick dominating the field, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve found the tech talent in this city to be superb.

It’s not just existing talent - being based in Limerick offers a huge opportunity to attract talent from elsewhere.  Consider the situation of a senior developer with kids - no longer willing to slum it in a tiny apartment. A 3 bedroom house in a quiet neighbourhood within 15 minutes’ walk of our city centre office would cost around €900/mo to rent or about €200k to buy. That’s a great lifestyle opportunity for a developer with buckets of experience looking for a place to raise her/his family.

Ireland’s creative hub

 Limerick's Fab Lab

Limerick's Fab Lab

Limerick has a university in the suburbs, as well as a more technically-focused Institute of Technology closer to town, but the third-level institution that has been most important to us has been the Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD). LSAD is the second biggest art college in the country and its influence has given rise to an incredibly rich art community in Limerick.  In contrast to other cities, the arts scene here is very much ‘bottom up’ with a plethora of exhibitions going on all the time.  Being in the middle of this creative hub is just fantastic for innovation and stimulating your brain to make a step into the unknown.  In addition there is a fantastic crop of designers and UX specialists based in Limerick. And we have a Fab Lab too - right in the city centre, with 3D printers galore and a great community of makers.

Come on over!

If you’re running a tech startup or thinking of getting one going, I’d love to chat to you and introduce you to the city.  Drop me a note at support@regpointofsale.com - I’d love to meet you and show you some more of the fantastic ways that I think Limerick is one of the best places in the world to bootstrap a successful tech business.

PBS Newshour feature on Irish startups

We were delighted to see one of our customers, Brother Hubbard, mentioned in a feature on PBS Newshour by respected journalist Ray Suarez on how start-up companies are leading Ireland out of recession.  The feature on Brother Hubbard also features a mention of our iPad till system.

The feature on Brother Hubbard starts at 2:42 in the video clip below.

Ray Suarez has also posted an article to the PBS website detailing his perspective on how startups are driving Ireland's recovery, featuring Brother Hubbard and again mentioning our iPad point of sale system.

Congratulations to James and Garrett of Brother Hubbard on a fantastic feature.  Despite the gloomy economic indicators, we're optimistic for Ireland's future.  The small, high-quality and artisan-focused restaurants, cafés and wine bars where we have been installing iPad cash register systems are proof that businesses led with integrity and vision can lead Ireland out of our recession.

Why support your local independent coffee shop?

 Pic of one of our customers' counters - this is Loafer Bread in Melbourne. You don't get cute penguins and polar bears in big chain cafés!

Pic of one of our customers' counters - this is Loafer Bread in Melbourne. You don't get cute penguins and polar bears in big chain cafés!

Since we started installing our iPad-based till systems, a lot of our customers have been independent coffee shops.  We've been inspired by the level of dedication and passion that the owners of these small businesses show towards their customers and their community.  So next time you think about popping into a chain to get your dose of caffeine, why not consider these reasons to get your coffee from an independently-owned coffee shop?

1. Your money goes further

You might pay a few cent more for your morning coffee.  But instead of feeding a corporate behemoth, giving your custom to an independent coffee shop ensures that your money stays local.  Coffee shop owners tend to live close to their work (no point commuting long distances if you have to be in at 6am to bake scones!), and their staff do too.  They aren't paying any franchise fees to companies in other countries, and they tend to be more supportive of local community projects, too.

2. Things taste better

Local coffee shops tend to source from small local suppliers.  The world of coffee can be a pretty heartless game of commodity trading on international markets, but there are smaller coffee and tea suppliers who are dedicated to bringing good taste back into your cup.  And you're more likely to get something fresh and delicious to eat - our customers such as Loafer Bread in Melbourne and Brother Hubbard in Dublin bake their items daily because there's nothing worse than a scone made in an industrial estate five days ago, filled with additives to stop it from going off.

3. The personal touch

Don't like what you had at a branch of a big coffee chain? A complaint might meet a shrug of the shoulders, or if you're lucky a dog-eared comment card  which may or may not reach the hands of a bureaucrat in Head Office in a few weeks.  Contrast with your local coffee shop - if you have a query, or a complaint, most of the time the owner is there to listen to your concerns and take quick action.  In fact most coffee shop owners will tell you that's the favourite bit of their work - talking to customers and listening to their experiences.

These are just three reasons why you might think twice before stepping into an anonymous coffee bar chain again.  The more independent coffee shops there are to choose from, the better for our pockets, and for the future of our towns and cities.  Support your local independent coffee shop today!