A lot has happened in the last 12 months. It being the first day back at work of the New Year, I wanted to write a post about some of the highlights of our first full (calendar) year in business.
The year started off well enough. We’d just finished a two month project for Mobivox, a Canadian VoIP startup. We’d been building their billing system and integrating it with their VoIP system since our first day of trading in October. The project went well, and Mobivox was later sold to Sabse Technologies, a company founded by Sabeer Bhatia one of Hotmail’s Co-Founders.
In early January we decided to shake up our business model a bit. We’d previously taken the route of web developers / PHP guns for hire. Ireland is a pretty small market, and we found that sufficiently differentiating ourselves from all the other web developers in the country to be no easy task. Given the broadness of the term itself, we decided to focus on our strengths on those that need them the most: startups. We also decided that in order to do this, we’d need some extra brains.
David had been working in the Open Source community for number of years, spending a lot of time working on PHP and PEAR. Through PEAR he met Helgi Þormar Þorbjörnsson, and was convinced he’d make a great addition to our team. In January, I met with Helgi on Skype and we talked through the possibilities.
By St. Patrick’s Day, Helgi was working with echolibre. This would mark the end of a difficult quarter for most small Irish businesses. It seemed that many businesses were experiencing difficulty in collecting payment. This was due to a wider knock-on effect whereby everyone seemed to be waiting for invoices to be paid, and could not themselves settle creditors invoices. We too experienced difficulties in this area, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, eh?
In April, one of our clients appeared on Dragon’s Den with an app we had built for them called RentCollectors. It’s a service that allows landlords to outsource and monitor the collection of rent. RentCollectors has collected almost €2M in thirteen months, not bad for a difficult economic period.
In April, we started working on VidCollege, an app we built in a week. VidCollege was co-founded by Sean Fee, himself featured on Dragon’s Den UK for his other venture, iFoods / Look And Taste. VidCollege is an web based service that gives third level institutions the ability to provide video access to courses and materials, and offer full accreditation.
The launch of VidCollege was put on hold by Sean and his co-founders, while they decided to focus on the development of a sister web app, called VidSchool. This would be a service that creates a new market place for teachers to connect with students seeking extra tuition. This was a two month build, and we worked hard on it over the summer. We were delighted to see it being launched and showcased at TechCrunch 50 in San Francisco in September.
In May, Helgi was made a partner in our company, bringing to four the number of co-owners in the company.
In June we met with Dave McAvinue of Pixel Lab, to talk about their new venture, Tender 3D. He and his team have been supplying high-end 3D models to film, tv, design and engineering sectors over the last number of years and they spotted an opportunity for a web app that effectively created a new market place for 3D work. Tender 3D connects potential buyers with suppliers of 3D animations, models and graphics. It’s also a project management tool that ties in with the buying process. Tender 3D is supported by Enterprise Ireland, and have a great team behind it. Tender3D will be going into beta shortly, and has already received international attention from the 3D community.
In June we also met with Joe Drumgoole, to explore an idea he had for controlling the cost of cloud computing. Initially we considered developing this as a side project in our spare time. Given the activity in the cloud computing space in the previous 12 months (and knowing that despite the best of intentions, “spare time projects” tend to be slow to develop), we decided to try to secure angel investment. Ray Nolan, co-founder of Hostelworld and serial technology investor stepped in, and CloudSplit was born.
CloudSplit is a huge deal for us, and something we’re very proud to be working on. On a technical level the work has been challenging but fun, and we’ve made great strides with the software since we started development in August. In September myself and Joe travelled to TechCrunch 50 to showcase the service and to meet what would become our fledgling user base. CloudSplit is aimed at users of cloud computing, platform-as-a-service offerings such as Amazon Web Services, Rackspace Cloud and Microsoft Azure. It allows them to track the cost of their cloud infrastructure in real-time. CloudSplit has been covered by tech blogs like TechCrunch, Technorati and Digital Beat, as well as the Irish Times. In December Joe presented CloudSplit to a live audience of 1,500 and an live streaming audience of 100k at LeWeb, Europe’s largest web conference.
On a personal note, developing the software behind the only two Irish companies to appear at TechCrunch50 was a massive achievement for our team, something that we’re very proud of. Working with two entrepreneurs like Sean Fee and Joe Drumgoole has been a real highlight of the last 12 months.
In August we had two new additions to our team. Noah Slater, a Debian packager, well known contributor to Open Source projects such as Apache Couch DB and all-round Python and PHP rockstar, brought his considerable skill and experience in software development to help with the build of Tender 3D and CloudSplit. David Doran, an excellent frontend and PHP developer also came on board and has been working hard on Tender 3D and FRAPI.
echolibre is a distributed company — our team is spread across Dublin, Cork, London and York. While Helgi and David visit Dublin regularly, and I visit London now and then, it’s not often that we all find ourselves in the same location. For our company Christmas party, however, all six of us met in Dublin, and for me this was the real highlight of 2009.
Helgi, David and myself put in a good number of appearances throughout 2009 at national and international conferences. David talked about APIs at the first Open Source Software Barcamp in Dublin, in March. OSS Barcamp is made possible by the hard work of Laura Czajkowski and a team of volunteers, and we’re proud to be a sponsor of each event.
Between May and October Helgi was on the conference trail *a lot*. He gave talks and held workshops at PHP Tek’09 Chicago in May, Dutch PHP Conference Amsterdam in June, O’Reilly OSCON San Jose in July, Epicentre Dublin in August and ZendCon San Jose in October. He also spoke at some smaller events such as PHP London in October.
In October, I spoke about best practices and current trends in Web Development and Startups at Refresh Dublin, part of the Refreshing Cities movement.
Both Microsoft Ireland and Microsoft UK asked us to attend their Web Developer Summit in December, which was held in their headquarters in Redmond, WA. This was an invite only event, limited to 25 attendees, with David and Helgi representing echolibre. Helgi wrote a post a few weeks ago that covered the topics that were discussed. Microsoft have been working hard to make inroads into traditionally non-MS oriented communities such as PHP, in an effort to enhance the performance of their web server (IIS) and cloud (Azure) offerings. From a PHP perspective, any steps taken by Microsoft to engage with the community, to improve performance, reliability and security, and to enhance user experience, is to be applauded.
Open Source Projects
Throughout 2009 we worked hard on our first self-sponsored Open Source prject, FRAPI. We wanted to build a framework that would be useful for creating APIs, easy to use, and free to the community. We started work on FRAPI early in the year, and by August it was being used in the builds of both CloudSplit and Tender3D. We’re finalising documentation at the moment, as we want to make sure the widest possible audience can use it from an early stage. For now, you can see a screen cast of how to build an API in five minutes using FRAPI on www.getfrapi.com.
We continued to support PHP and PEAR by making various contributions through code and documentation throughout 2009. We also lent a hand and some code to the Apache Sponsored CouchDB and the Adobe award winning Twitter client, Spaz.
One of the things that stood out to me in 2009 was the strength of the web and Open Source communities in Ireland and around the world. Through the conferences we attended, the various meetups and tech events, and through the likes of Twitter and blogs, it was made clear to us that there is real community support out there for anyone willing to engage and give something back. If there was one thing we would encourage anyone reading this to do, it’s to follow your passion and get involved. So far, this has worked well for us; we’ve had a year of ups and downs, but the one thing that has always been constant is the community.
Here’s to 2010
We like to blog about things we're passionate about. We love PHP, MySQL, CouchDB, Linux, Apache - web development standards. We also like writing about building web apps and working with web technology.
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