Lead photo by Robbie Murphy, Sherkin Island photographer
Interview with Adrian Legg,@ founder of CultureArk,@ an innovative tech project based on Sherkin Island. A version of this first appeared on Irish Tech News. It was great of Adrian to agree to do the interview, in the middle of submitting a funding application and just before dashing off to take a belated honeymoon for 3 weeks.
We discussed the broadband, and he says it’s not too shabby, as he was actually one of the people who helped bring broadband to the West Cork Roaring Water Islands. It’s really interesting to get an insight into what it might be like to live on an island. It always appeals, but as he wisely says, it takes three winters on the island to decide if it’s really for you…
I have worked in digital media since 1996. I was very lucky my first job was with www.fusio.ie and we were based in Windmill Lane recording studio, in the old Bovril building in Ringsend in Dublin. My first day at work, U2 were upstairs recording Popmart, and we were making the websites and interactive cd-roms downstairs. It all felt very rock n roll. It still does. The first websites I worked on were entertainment.ie and riverdance.ie.
I worked in radio before, and really was fascinated about streaming music over the internet, and dived into streaming radio. I started two online radio stations, and received the first “internet radio” license from IMRO. They didn’t really understand what I was doing, and gave me a license for €100 for the year.
In 2000 I worked with www.dv4.com on streaming the Reading Festival online. At the time it was largest streaming event to date, we had 7 stages, 4 camera crews, 4 journalists and a mixing desk and a satellite truck beaming the feed to Apple online video encoders and streaming to the world. 28k, 54k and 128k streaming video feed via QuickTime!
From there it was working with The Yard media, which was a television production company that was getting into streaming video. Unfortunately the first dot com crash came, and I found that skills in streaming video and DVD production where not in huge demand in Dublin. So aged 30, I ended up at home with my parents, and studied to get a Microsoft Systems Engineer Certificate and also a WIFI engineer certificate. Not so rock and roll, but at least I could keep servers spinning.
By chance then on completing the MCSE, in 2003, I found a job advertised for a Wifi engineer on EU pilot project, bringing broadband to three remote islands in West Cork. I found myself on ferry, off to live on Sherkin Island for 2 years, and working with a team that installed a community Wifi across Sherkin, Heir Island and Cape Clear. It was a fantastic experience, being part of a community, bringing the new fandangled internet to a rural community, and working on your wits to make the system work in some of the wildest weather conditions in Ireland. To be working in an innovative scheme, living in a stunningly beautiful environment and bringing something useful to a community was a welcome change to my life. Being a bit handy with computers meant I was welcomed in to so many homes, well fed and watered in exchange for making the printer work or help installing skype.
After 2 years however, I got an offer from Dublin I couldn’t refuse. www.dv4.com had won the contract to encode all the music videos from Sony, Warner and Universal for the new Vodafone 3G launch across Europe. Graeme Kelly of DV4 asked me to join and help out, and I couldn’t refuse such an innovative project.
In those days you needed to encode video to all the different handsets, as there was no universal formats, and you had to ensure that the rights were correct for each territory. We also became to sole EU encoder for video for Apple iTunes. It was pioneering stuff once more, and a great challenge to help deliver world class digital media services to such a large company. It was here that I first setup an ISO quality assurance system for digital encoding video. Something I have come to believe is vital in setting up a encoding process.
From there I went to work as the Digital Video manager with www.muzu.tv, a great startup that was building the largest licensed music video platform online. Again, I found myself encoding all the catalogues of Sony, Warner and Universal, this time in HD, and getting it up on the platform. We had a live music studio and had a great team of innovators and pioneers. But I found myself longing for Sherkin, the sea and the opportunity of escaping to the wilds of West Cork. So once more, I returned to Sherkin Island, started keeping chickens, growing my own tomatoes, running TedX WestCork and sailing in Roaring Water Bay.
I kept myself by building websites for local business, working with artists and the West Cork Arts Centre and shooting videos. I also got a part time job on Sherkin –DIT BA in Visual Art programme as IT facilitator. DIT runs a full BA programme on Sherkin with 40 students. Every weekend we have video lectures from Dublin, visiting lectures and a resident DIT lecturer and it’s a fantastic outreach programme for mature students to attain a full degree.
How long have you lived on Sherkin?
7 years in total. They say it takes 3 Winters till you know if its really for you.
Tell us about Fastnet archive & CultureArk? What are the differences in what they aim to do?
We started out as Fastnet Archiving, with great support from our local island Development officer Aisling Moran on Sherkin, but now have “rebranded” CultureArk.com
Fastnet Archiving started as a high resolution digital scanning company. We have the highest resolution digital scanback camera, 384 megapixels, and fully mobile, meaning we can go to galleries, artists and museums, and scan their work. We received a grant from the South Cork LEO, and we are enternally grateful to Micheal Hanley and Deirdre O’Mahony to help us get up and started.
West Cork is abundant with world class artists, and we found their need to have a high resolution image of their work. We help by digital scanning the works, making books and prints and creating websites. But we found we needed to store theses images on a proper digital repository system. A digital archiving system that lets the owners preserve, promote and profit from their works. So we are now culturark.com which is a trusted digital repository for cultural heritage and art collections. We can see the future where having certified digital 3D and 2D reproductions will be a huge industry. Having your digital assests on a Trusted Digital Repositry will assure the assets are safe over time, and are the “offical and genuine” objects of the owner.
Our scanning and digitisation services, which also include 3D scanning, video and audio encoding is part of cultureark.com services. We are starting a pop scanning service in the New Year, going to Dublin, Belfast and Cork, where artists can bring their art and we will scan it for them, giving them a free account on CultureArk.com – we are starting in BlockT in Dublin and the MAC in Belfast. Also I think we can claim to be the most Southerly tech startup in Ireland! Unless someone on Cape Clear is doing a startup in stealth mode.
Your recently won an award for Fastnet, what was that for?
Deirdre, my wife and founder partner was shortlisted for Women in Business in the BOI Startup Awards, but not a winner this year… Watch out 2015 though.
You are at the Rubicon, is that to develop one of your business ideas? How much time do you have to spend there?
The Rubicon Innovation Centre has been a vital and essential environment for us. In particular Peter Finnegan our case manger and Paul Healy the Rubicon’s Manager.
We are lucky in getting a place on the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme, a 6 month accelerator programme that focus you on developing new business, developing a working business plan and everything from marketing, PR, project management, pricing, presentation skills, and day to day finance. Also you are assigned a business mentor, who comes from commercial business to guide and cudgel you into shape. Our mentor is Brian O Neill from the successful Cork company Documatics, and we have such support and experienced guidance, I doubt we would be in such a viable position, with all the insight, experience and training we have received. Truly world class experience that has defined and shaped out company.
Via the Rubicon Center we have also gained access to so many of the Cork startup community, and become engaged with the Cork Chamber, CIT, @ITCork and Enterprise Ireland. We have also received two €5000 innovation vouchers from EI, and we have been working Nimbus Research Centre that is next door. They have been vital in helping us with research in to developing our Trusted Digital Repository software and with IOT research with RFID, Bluetooth LE and NFC.
You are active on social media, which platforms do you favour, & why?
I like Twitter most for business. I follow a lot of people from the digital preservation, library and digital archiving world. I get to see what the current thinking and trends are, and can follow along at international conferences around the world. I even get to ask questions at these events while watching along with the streaming video. I like the fact that I can find people and ask questions quickly.
Deirdre does the Facebook side of things, and we are building Twitter and Facebook content curation and content marketing tools into Cultureark.com, so clients can use their stored digital assets to maintain, analyse and engage their audience using their archive materials.
I used to be a fan of Linkedin, and joined quite a few groups, but I now only use it for finding contact’s names and interests.
I also very much like Yo! 😉
Do you have a strategy for how you use social media?
We have started to prepare our content marketing strategy for next year. We will start a new blog, focusing on archives, art and cultural heritage, and use initially Facebook and Twitter to promote our blog pieces and engage in feedback. We are very fond of historical pictures and story telling.
What is the broadband like on Sherkin? Good enough not to affect your work?
Well, as I installed the first community broadband scheme, I have to say its not bad. The scheme is now supported by a local commercial wireless broadband supplier and is quite good. However, we could do with more speed, for less money. Eircom will probably never be able to deliver good speeds, as the copper in the ground is poor, and the nearest Fibre point is in Ballydehob. If we could get 4G from the wireless providers it would be great. But overall, broadband still needs to improve its speeds, availability and price.
How was 2014 for you / your ventures?
2014 was a whirlwind of startup adventure. We are delighted to have new clients onboard, support from the Local Enterprise Board, Enterprise Ireland and Rubicon Centre.
We feel we have forged the base elements required for a viable startup, met with so many people who gave us feedback and advice. We are ready to explode into 2015 and launch a world-class online trusted digital repository service for archives and the cultural heritage market.
What wins did you have?
- Getting an excellent early client with the Cork University Hospital, where we are scanning all their art work, building a website, archive and publishing a book for them.
- Getting 2 innovation vouchers from EI, to help with R&D into Digital Preservation, becoming a Trusted Digital Repository, and Bluetooth LE for IOT usage with cultural heritage.
- Getting place on the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme, was a game changer. It’s a stunning programme.
- Changing from being just two highly skilled technicians, to being business development oriented folk.
- Getting a great software developer.
- Working with artists, galleries, art collections and libraries.
- Getting married to the woman I love, on Sherkin, surrounded by family, friends and islanders.
What would you do differently?
Focus on getting out and meeting with customers. We are subscribers to the lean startup model, of getting out of the building, meeting our customers, learning their true needs, and building a scalable business and software around their needs.
What are you goals for 2015?
More customers, more feedback, more happiness, more art and culture, more investment please!
Success, how would you define it for you?
Don’t do what you love doing, do something of value. Learn to love that.
Success is a passion to do things well. Its not just finding a blue ocean, its about execution and quality of endeavor.
Tips for other startups?
Find a problem worth solving.
Do at least one thing really well, excel at that and become the anomaly. Build a team of excellence around you, and listen to them.
Life / work balance?
But it may involve living on an island.