Entrepreneur, Innovation, Interview, Technology, Ultimate & Innovation, Ultimate Frisbee

Charlie Cheever, cofounder of Quora, serial investor, entrepreneur & ultimate player

@SimonCocking

We’re delighted to have interviewed Charlie Cheever,  @ccheever early Facebook hire, cofounder of Quora , serial investor, and, for a while, serious Ultimate Frisbee player. (First meeting Mark Zuckerberg briefly on the Ultimate pitch, when Mark tried out for the Harvard Ultimate team Charlie was playing for.)

You invested in a range of companies, what are you most involved in these days? Are you more interested in being involved at a investor / big picture level now? Or do you miss being at the micro level?

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I’ve been lucky to be involved with a number of great companies. Zenefits is a rocket ship; Cover was acquired by Twitter; ZenPayroll is doing really well. It’s always fun to be a part of something successful, especially if you can help.

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But I think I still have a few more years in me where I can do something directly.

What are you excited about now?

In the short term and medium term, mobile devices. So many people are going to have them, more than have ever had computers. I think this is the story of the next 10 years, not just the last 5, and that’s more important than bitcoin and virtual reality and drones (though those things are also cool).

In the longer term, I think having a direct connection between brains and computers will change a lot of things in very big ways, but I don’t know how long it will take to get there or what it will be like.

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You don’t tweet much, do you have a social media of choice? Or a time sink to carefully manage ?

I’m never sure what my followers want to hear about. JavaScript? Startup advice? I don’t want to make a tweet and get no faves. I do a lot more @-replying.

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The Irish tech scene is booming, what do you know of it? 

I’ve heard a lot about the Silicon Bog and I know a lot of companies that are expanding internationally are opening offices in Ireland. My friend Patrick Collison is from Limerick and started Stripe which is doing great.

You were here at the Web Summit in 2011, will we see you over here again at it sometime?

I actually haven’t been to Ireland yet unfortunately. I would like to go because I’m 1/2 Irish by heritage and have some family there.

Do you have an interest in having more activity in Europe, or does the US side of your interests take up all your time? Philanthropy, is an active interest for many tech investors, what’s your philosophy on it ? How much should you leave for the kids?

The way I look at it, you just want to make the world into the place you want it to be. Sometimes putting time and money into private companies that are trying to be profitable and self sustaining is the best way to do that, but for other things, non-profit enterprises are the best avenues for that. For example, my mom’s job is running a non-profit that takes care of the parks in Pittsburgh where I’m from; the city wouldn’t be nearly as nice without their work, and I don’t think a private enterprise or the city government could do as good of a job on their own.

Sport, we’re having an ongoing debate about Ultimate Frisbee & tech innovators and investors, you played ? 

I played on the college team at Harvard and then played on a club team in Seattle somewhat seriously for a few years after I graduated. I was pretty good but not great. I’m playing in the SF winter league right now, but I’m old and slow these days.

There does seem to be something about the sport that appeals to tech people. A few of the people I’ve worked with, I met through playing ultimate. I’m not sure why this is, but there does seem to be something to it.

For more see his comments in this Quora question

I was a few years ahead of Mark at Harvard and was a Teaching Fellow for CS51 (the second course in computer science there,) and so they had heard of me, and I had met Mark briefly when he tried out for ultimate frisbee team.

Do you play any other sport, any relevance to your entrepreneurial activities? 

I play in a flag (American) football rec league, and I ran a few marathons last year, and I like to ski. In general, I love sports both as a fan and playing them. I think doing something aerobic helps my brain focus, and I always feel better about everything when I’m in good shape.

What’s you definition of success for the projects you are now involved in?

For me, I think the best feeling is when you notice someone in the seat next to you on a train using something you worked on, or overhear a story about how great something you were a part of is.

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Harvard is a beautiful campus (even in winter with snow in the courtyards, such an old campus), did it help in terms of meeting like minds, and inspiring each other to go on and do great things?

Funny question. I’ve never really thought about it before. I think the #1 thing about Harvard is you just meet ambitious people there. But there is something about the history — names of Presidents and captains of industry on buildings and plaques, etc. — that constantly surrounds you that makes you feel like you have a responsibility to at least try to do something important or meaningful once you leave. A lot of people have that drive within themselves anyway though.

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from MIT, but such a great image!

 

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Entrepreneur, Innovation, Interview, Ultimate & Innovation, Web Summit 2014

451 Degrees, a Californian take on Dublin Web Summit, (and zebra donkeys)

@SimonCocking

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Had great fun meeting and subsequently interviewing Patrick Giblin and Jake Jacoby from 451 degrees for this article, oh and their CTO is a keen Ultimate player too, just saying…

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How did the Summit go for you?

The Summit was a great experience.  It was difficult for us to measure expectations going in because it was such a young event but the growth that it has shown and the few people I knew that had gone were what tipped us to go.  Its reputation precedes it.  The quality of former attendees is very strong making it an easier leap.  We had the chance to establish a global footprint with those that attended as well as find some interesting strategic partners from San Francisco.  We learned a lot as well

Did it match your expectations?

It exceeded expectations.  The event has really unique and good nuances.  It is unlike any conference I have attended and haven’t we all attended too many of these things…it does a great job with keeping it fresh and giving the companies a fair and equal playing field.  It allows companies that are chosen an opportunity to experience the conference from the other side of the floor.  That is brilliant!  We spent days walking around seeing and meeting other companies of interest and could do so because our booth presence was just one day.  The presentation of every company in the simple form and the stand given is great.  A quick look of the overview of what they do and we knew, “Move along” or “Hmm, let’s chat a bit”.

Not much room for wasted conversations and being a company trying to generate interest with flair.  It just worked perfectly.  Then you add in the Night Summit events and the value got even stronger. Creating locations for people to meet without the pretentious “invites” to THE only cool party is great.  There were things for everyone to do.  A chance to meet many different people.

It seemed as if every door was open when it should be and for it should be.  I am sure we were not invited to some rooms that we would have wanted to be in but we were so busy and gaining relationships that it did not matter.

If you were to do it differently what would you have done?

If I was to do something differently I would create better communication with the companies coming in and while at the event.  A knowledgeable point person at each hotel would be useful. Much of this was a mystery to us and we did not know what to expect.  I heard this from many of my fellow START companies as well as Alpha and Beta companies too.  We all felt unprepared with expectations.  Perhaps that is with intent but it was a bit disheveling.  I also think that the understanding of what dinners we were to go to could have been better scripted.  We never were really sure on how to RSVP to “invited” events as a START company?

There was not a point person for Q&A on these things for the companies there.  Lots of the volunteers were just unaware and said “I was just hired yesterday, I really don’t know?   I think in today’s day and age having a brief video tutorial of “What to Expect?” and “This is a Day…” would be REALLY useful to the companies coming 1st time and most are coming for the 1st time.  I also think more Q&A speakers and having some of the Alpha, Beta and Start companies take the stage would have been great.  We need to see and hear from each other more than we need to hear another speech from an established ‘Giant’ trying to promote their product offering today?

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What did people think of your product?

The reception to our product seemed very strong and there has already been follow up to confirm this.  Our SaaS technology is the next generation of Big Data and Ad Technology.  Two subjects that are very hot right now.  We had a lot of visitors and interested parties that we approached.  The tide is rising towards our product. So excitement was there.

People were able to quickly grab the value our product creates.  As Comments become more relevant and definitive to Content everywhere we show more value to the owners of Content. Because our SaaS interprets all Comments using Artificial Intelligence and Machined Learning to create relevant SEO and Ad Delivery it is a natural fit for people.  It was easy for us to tell people that we listen to and make sense of all that “noise” around your content and then make you money from it…people like that message and we have proof that it works so they follow up.

Did you get any useful feedback from people here?

We did.  It is always important to listen closely to the objections and the doubts around your value.  We were quickly reminded that we have a gap in the adoption by the leading Ad Delivery Networks.  At this time, they are not all interested in working with us in a ‘dynamic’ environment.  That can create some friction within our adoption.

We have to find ways through those objections and ways to entice these Ad Delivery Networks to see the gains we can reach for them. So when there was feedback that we cannot be of full use because we do not work yet with their ADN we see a need to cure the problem.

Will you be changing or pivoting your project based on what happened at the summit?

We will not be pivoting or changing the product just building on it and focusing on expanding the API’s that will allow it to create good use cases for all parties.

How did you find Dublin?

Dublin was GREAT!  The people are fine people, kind and welcoming.  Helpful as well.  The city is SO supportive of all of these technology companies and the desire to solve our issues.   Questions about “Why do business in Dublin?” were handled effectively and efficiently.

This is not just about tax breaks and the “Double Irish” it is about support and COMMUNITY.  This city is committed to doing the right things to get things moving forward.  They work together.  City Officials, Banks, Building Owners and People.  They all are giving the same message.  In short, “Come here and stay a while, if not forever, because we like you and want you…we are here to help”  and they all did.  The Summit also gives you a chance to see some of the social side of Dublin.  That was great too.  Nice to see some of the food and spirits that Dublin is known for.  Seeing the history of Trinity College was fantastic!  Guinness Brewery and its meaning and history was great as well.  Just a wonderful city opening themselves up for the good of all of us.

Which had more use for you the day summit or the night one? Why?

Day Summit.  Just easier to get to conversations quickly.  Easy to identify the synergy with whom you were approaching.  Get to the business and move along.  The Night Summit is a great addition and gives social a chance to build relationship that can lead to business for sure.  The let down was in the hype around the Venture Capitalists, Investors and Market leaders being a part of the Night Summit but in reality they were hard to find if there at all.  Most of the Night Summit was meeting of other companies.  It was useful but less precise.  They both are great ideas and Night Summit is a very cool part of what makes this conference unique. But there are no Donkeys painted like Zebras?  Only in TJ… (Tijuana).

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Over here we only have zebra mussels, donkeys, or zebras, no donkey zebra fusion yet!

 

 

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Entrepreneur, Google, Innovation, Start Ups, Technology, Ultimate Frisbee, Wearable Technology

Why is Ultimate Frisbee such a successful breeding ground for creatives and tech superstars?

Layout d’s, awesome blocks, sweet scubas (scoobers), killer break forces, coast to coast plays, zone defence, swilly hammers, vicious blades, going ho’, and other arcane expressions are all from a particular sport which has proved to be a fertile breeding ground for startup successes.

Matrix

A movie created by Joel Silver to try and fill the void after inventing Ultimate Frisbee

WhatsApp, Solar City, Google, all had founders who met and exchanged ideas on the Ultimate Frisbee pitch. You could say the sport got off to a good start, being co-invented Joel Silver, producer of the Matrix trilogy among other major movie blockbusters. Seth Godin, another creative and interesting heavyweight in the field of reinventing marketing is also a keen Ultimate player. Godin often cites it’s self refereeing ethos as a value worth having in other areas of your personal and professional life too.  Dennis ‘Cribber’ Warsen  is also another successful director who spent formative years playing ultimate to the highest level, winning Worlds on several occasions (he even almost played for Ireland’s Ultimate team too but that’s another story).

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Dennis ‘Cribber’ Warsen,  image from Get Horizontal Interview  by Mark Earley @earleymark

Writers are beginning to notice the links and a number of articles are beginning to emerge trying to identify why the sport of Ultimate Frisbee seems to lend itself so well as a breeding ground of teach start ups.

This article in particular is very popular at the moment, with this key paragraph

“I really think Ultimate resonates with the mentality of entrepreneurs. It’s a very dynamic, fast-paced game,” Peter Nieh, a venture capitalist at Lightspeed Venture Partners, tells Business Insider. “Players are called on to use a bunch of skills at once, just like our companies have to have a number of skills to succeed. You have to be able to sprint, but you have to have endurance as well.”

In Ultimate Frisbee, teams score points by throwing a Frisbee to teammates in endzones on opposite ends of a football field.

Nieh quickly rattles off names of fans of the sport within the tech community. “It’s everyone, from famous people to people in other functions at startups,” he said, naming Quora cofounder Charlie Cheever, SolarCity cofounder Peter Rives, and WhatsApp cofounders Brian Acton and Jan Koum among those who have been spotted at pick-up games around the Valley. Rives is known to be one of the top ultimate players in the world. 

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It seems an apt time  to look at why ‘ultimate’, as those in the know refer to it, might be such a fertile place for future creatives and influencers.

Ultimate Frisbee’s ethos of no referees, self moderation and the important of ‘spirit’ are very similar to the hacker ethos of open source and copy left.

Unlike football / soccer, (which I love dearly), Ultimate is not about ‘playing the ref’, getting away with what you can while he’s not watching. The referee is you. Therefore you are cheating yourself, your team mates, and the ‘spirit of the game’. While that sounds a bit hokey, if you consider in any sport we play where it is not professional, we are, in theory, playing for fun. The clue is in the word ‘play’, as in, not work, for fun. Of course it’s true that we’ve all experienced times when someone, either ourselves, or the opposition, has forgotten this, and has taken the particular activity a little too seriously. However with Ultimate, playing in this self refereeing ethos is one of the core principles. If you consistently go against these ideals you will find even your own team mates are not interested in playing with you.

Looking at the opensource community there is a similar attitude. The idea is to build up the best possible solution to a problem. Many eyes will see many bugs. Time and time again the best products, built the quickest, with the least bugs, are those that were built in an open source environment, with shared API’s, wikis and discussion boards to illustrate and share elegant solutions, workarounds and fixes to problems. Large companies such as Microsoft have become slowed up and inefficient from years of locked in proprietary software. Ericsson too, for all of it’s many successes, still moves at a near glacial pace, and it’s latest migration to a new operating system remains many financial quarters behind it’s intended release date. Conversely small nimble companies have been able to build new products rapidly and successfully, as demonstrated by the success of Whatapp, another partnership first developed on the Ultimate field.

This would also seem to be reflected in the nature of playing Ultimate. All you need is a disc, the rest can be worked out. The more players the better, but there is no minimum or maximum. This flexibility also parallels the nature of working online in distributed networks. Sometimes there are many online and active, at other times less so. The work continues at it’s own pace. It begins to seem to be a natural fit. If you operate this way when at work, you might also be drawn to a similar type of  variable, flexible, scalable activity when taking your downtime too.

With so many of the world’s leading tech companies and a thriving startup scene in Dublin, it makes sense to revive the Irish ultimate pickup scene too. With a particular emphasis on reaching out to both Irish entrepreneurs and also the many ex-pats who played in their own countries before moving to Ireland to work here. There are plans to create a Dublin Ultimate / Tech / Wearable  Meetup mashup. If you’re interested in being part of this new meetup drop us a line @SimonCocking.

Hopefully in the future we will be reading articles about the Irish Ultimate Tech scene, trying out new cool wearable devices they have invented in their labs!

 

 

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Dublin Growth Hackers, Entrepreneur, Growth Hacking, Marketing, Start Ups

Going going gone … Last Dublin Growth Hackers event, November Monday 3rd

Six and out

This will be the last Dublin Growth Hackers event. Book here 

Over the last 5 events in 2014 we’ve been lucky enough to have had a series of dynamic and engaging entrepreneurs come and share the secrets of how they grew their businesses. Clever viral tricks, and creative hacks to secure growth and success from limited resources.

In years to come you (may) hear people telling you about how they were there at one of these events. November 3rd is your next and final chance to be there at the last one.

Abbey Theater

As always the venue will be interesting, this time at the Abbey Theater. With a bar on hand to ensure the maximum potential for networking and getting the full value out of the evening.

The speakers, fittingly for the last event are dynamic people with great experience of how to grow and develop start up businesses.

Justin Mares

Justin Mares, co-author of Traction, the Startup guide to getting customers. If you go to the website of the book you can get 3 free chapters from the book too.

Alan O Rourke

Alan O Rourke will also be speaking too. The author of several successful marketing books on lead generation and conversion. You can check out his 30 days to sell slide share resource here based on his successful book.

Purple GH

Blacknight

The sponsor for the event is Blacknight solutions for Irish hosting and domain registration

 

 

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Ebooks, Entrepreneur, Innovation, Lawrence O'Bryan, Start Ups, Writing

BooksGoSocial.com : an Irish online success story

This is a great Irish tech success story. Nestled in the cosy environs of the Fumbally Exchange on Dame Lane is Lawrence O’Bryan’s bustling online business. Helping a rising number of people to realise their dreams of making a living from their writing.

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For everyone who has that book inside them, and has actually got to the point of writing it, O’Bryan has developed an online solution to give them the opportunity to make money from it too. A published author himself, with a long history in the publishing business O’Bryan was aware of the massive interest people have in telling their stories. Almost every one you speak to, with more or less seriousness, talks about a book they want to write.

O’Bryan zings with enthusiasm as he tells his own story and the evolution of his idea into the business that now keeps him so busy that he is scrambling to hire more people to help deal with the level of online interest. With hard to contain excitement he gave me the figures about 250,000 books self published in the US in the last quarter alone. Potentially 1 million within the next year, not even counting all the other English language markets, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some of South Africa

Bryan offers low cost, high value. Previously self publishing was called vanity publishing and was an expensive an option to follow. It was also seen as not a legitimate route if you were a ‘real author’. However the massive success of books like 50 Shades of Grey, and numerous others, initially self published books has shown that it is a perfectly viable and potentially very lucrative path to pursue. There are lots of authors out there making enough money to live on from their online ebook sales.

His website services4authors.com is for helping authors to sell more of their books. It gives a good, well written, no bulllshit overview of what it takes to make it. He doesn’t soft soap the risks, pointing out it is a difficult business to make a living from. The faq’s  page is useful too, answering many of the potential questions people might have. The fact that he has almost 300,000 followers on twitter suggests that he has tapped into something that a lot of people are interested in.

BookSales

The BooksGoSocial.com website is where the books are publicised, you can see the first page of the book, and decide if you want to read more of it.

It’s a great idea, and a classic demonstration of how, with the right idea, you can set up anywhere. O’Bryan has members of his team working from India and the US as well with him in the Fumbally Exchange. His enthusiasm was impressive, and one of his biggest challenges may be how to work out how to continue to scale the business without stretching himself too thinly.

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Edtech, Edupreneurs, Entrepreneur, European Pionneers, Innovation, Start Ups

Edupreneurs 3rd meet up : EdTech Hackathon coming soon

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This was the third Edupreneurs meetup event   . Held at the Bank of Ireland Enterprise Lounge, #2 Grafton Street

It was mc’d by Niall Kearney and was a great way to meet and listen to other people involved and interested in the edtech (Education Technology) sector.

Kearney also outlined the plans for an educational hackathon to take place in the new year, 2015. After the success of the recent hardware hackathon  it’s clear that there is a growing interest in more events, especially one with an edtech theme.

The speakers at this event provided an interesting balance of low tech and high tech solutions to problems and challenges faced in the educational sector.

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First up was Margo Fleming and her business idea booksplits  . Aimed at dealing with the problem of children having school bags too heavy to carry. Her solution is to cut the books in half and laminate each section.

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As a low tech solution to a clear problem the audience were very interested in her ideas on how she planned to scale and commercialise the idea. Fleming has already gained customers from both parents and schools, so it’s clear that there is an interest in dealing with the issue. The session took on the flavour of a Dragon’s Den grilling as the audience encouraged her to elaborate her strategy for growth and development of this idea. Still in the early phases of her idea Fleming was happy to take on board the constructive criticism.

It will be interesting to see how the business develops over the next 12 to 24 months.

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At the other end of the technology scale was Christina Luminea from thoughtbox  . Although tonight she was there to talk about the European Pioneers initiative 

Europioneers

This is an interesting European funded initiative, with up to €250, 000 available to develop a possible edtech idea over an eight month period. The next deadline is at the end of October, for the first 5 teams to be funded. However if that deadline is too soon, then the next one, for 10 more teams, will be at the end of February. This might be an ideal opportunity for some successful teams that emerge from the planned educational hackathon?

It was a useful event, with the next one due to take place in December.

 

 

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Entrepreneur, Innovation, Start Ups

Ireland needs to promote itself better : An evening with Niamh Bushnell

Dublin’s new startup commisioner, Niamh Bushnell has been blitzing her way round Dublin.

Tonight she was at the UCD Innovation Academy in Newman House, Stephen’s Green.

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She has been officially in the job for less than two weeks, and was ready to shoot from the hip in terms of calling it as she saw it.

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Bushnell was quizzed by the Innovation Academy’s director Johnny Ryan. First of all she gave a brief outline of her own background and experience. Moving to the US 16 years ago she had a range of relevant roles including as a consultant, investor, and mentor. When she saw the current job description she felt it was made for her. She felt that there is now much more of a buzz in Ireland in terms of start ups than there used to be, with more optimism and positive belief in what is possible. She said that Ireland was now ready for a role like this.

Bushnell described her job as to promote what is happening in Dublin. Not just to make things happen, but to publicise the things that are already happening. She felt that Ireland has a profile issue, as it does not talk itself up as much as other cities and countries do. Ireland also needs to help startups scale better and more quickly. There are a dearth of scaling mentors. She saw Ireland as being great at early stage development, but less so at entering bigger markets.

‘Go to the market and keep the Irish connection’.

There needs to be more of this to help grow companies that are global in nature.

Ryan then asked her if it was true that there were no KPI’s. Bushnell basically agreed with him, saying she had been given a lot of latitude to try things. She called her office a start up, and that she aimed to be as mobile as possible and not office based. He then asked her what was missing in Ireland?

A megaphone!

Bushnell then expanded on this, saying Ireland needed to market itself more, saying that this was really important. Spend money on good logos, and do work on having big visions. While Americans can sometimes too quick to over state the value to the world and civilisation of their latest ideas, Irish companies can sometimes do too little of this. She called for more of the ‘Big Vision’, something Ireland does not do enough of.

Ryan challenged her that perhaps the Irish were not good at selling. Bushnell disagreed and said that one to one the Irish were as good as anyone at selling, but perhaps lost context too quickly, and did not retain a global vision for their product. She also cautioned that to be told

your product is very interesting …

actually means, your product is dead in the water and they won’t be calling you back.

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Bushnell called for more tenacity, hunger, and chasing, chasing, chasing, and following up on potential sales, to be hungrier when it came to trying to sell your products and your company.

She feels Ireland is more connected and smarter. She would just like start ups to try and grow quickly, asking lots of questions, talking to people, and rapidly testing out their ideas. She didn’t feel that we are in a tech bubble. While there are some examples of overvalued companies, overall she feels the current situation is not like the first dotcom bubble and subsequent crash.

It was an interesting and entertaining conversation, with good questions from the audience, and an openness and willingness to be frank and engage with the challenges and issues faced in Dublin and Ireland. Bushnell seemed approachable and excited at the state of affairs in Ireland moving forward.

 

 

 

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