Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Belfast firm is well on way to bringing events software to a global audience

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IT'S Belfast born and bred - but with a definite US West Coast vibe. If you're taking a break from work in Scaboodle, which is based in Wellington Buildings in the city centre, you're more likely to indulge in some Nerf gun play than watercooler chat about last night's TV.

The new company's chief technology officer Michael Barr is evangelical about how they plan to bring its event software worldwide.

It uses software to get people to attend events and take part in activities -- and help any companies involved in arranging large-scale events to find out more about the people attending them.

Such companies can receive analytics about the people at the events so that they can be targeted in the future.

Scaboodle has already worked closely with Microsoft and mobile phone company Nokia, and it's providing a logistics system to the organisers of next month's World Police and Fire Games.

It already employs 16 people in Belfast though it's hoping to grow staff numbers here -- and sales and development is going to have an international focus.

"We'd like to expand in sales and marketing beyond Northern Ireland and even the UK and we have been looking at office space in San Francisco, Seattle and even New York," Mr Barr said. "Seattle is near Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, New York is handy for its time zone and San Francisco is a bit more awkward time-wise, but it's pretty much where all the tech things happen."

Scaboodle's mission of using the internet and social media to get people engaging in activities in the real world confounds one of the accusations levelled against social media, that it doesn't get people engaging with people in the real world.

"The whole point and where it came from was a desire to get people out doing things and enriching their lives," said Mr Barr. "They are out taking part in activities, where they can meet people through participation in those activities."

Scaboodle could become a meeting point if you want to arrange a night of XBox gaming or if you want to gather super-fit like-minded people to take part in a cycle down the Ards Peninsula at the weekend.

It's been up and running for around six months and Mr Barr said it had been getting "quite a lot of traction" since then.

They have talked to a number of large companies about the platform and the opportunities it gives. That ranges from drinks promoters and manufacturers eager to get a handle on people's socialising habits.

"We have been working with lots of divisions in Microsoft Ireland, MS UK, and MS Corp (Redmond, USA)," Mr Barr said.

"Primarily we deal with developer platform evangelism (DPE) who are the guys reaching out to technical partners and individual developers.

"We have also worked very closely with the marketing and advertising teams, gaming (XBox) and media teams, Windows 8 team, Windows Phone team, Azure team, etc. In fact, I'm not sure there is a team in MS we haven't chatted to yet."

Its analytics will be able to track who has signed up, what demographic they're in, and pinpoint the "movers and shakers" in a group of friends -- the people who'll take the initiative and plan the next group activity.

"Eg, if you're thinking of hosting a live music night, what demographic, who will buy Heineken and who will buy Bacardi?"

Mr Barr isn't currently thinking about the end game for the company. "We are thinking about growing the company and how we can get it on a global scale. We want to see this being used right across the world."

He added: "We're in a good position and we are sound financially and have taken on investment (see panel). We are in a good position as it stands to move across the US as it's a big expense to take in the right people and get the right partnerships."

His path into computers was not straightforward as he began with the study of biomedical science -- even though "from no age" he was able to programme a computer.

He is full of enthusiasm for the IT industry and small start-up atmosphere in Belfast and Northern Ireland.

"The current culture is fantastic. In Belfast right now it's a great time to be involved in IT," said Mr Barr. "You have the large tech groups like Allstate and CME, the stockbrokers and insurance specialists, and you have the smaller start-ups, so there's a huge breadth and depth of IT talent. It's in a great financial position, and it's not as expensive as it is to start up on the west coast, for example."

Some graduates will want to work in IT for a big company but others might want something different, he said. "They might want to get involved in a new start-up with a west-coast culture where everybody loves their work.

"We have frequent Nerf gun battles, a pool table and movie nights." And even if sales and development is in San Francisco, "software engineering will always be in Belfast, because the people here are the best in the UK, if not in the world".

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