The accidental technologist – Interview with Michele Neylon from Blacknight Internet Solutions

Michele Neylon was short-listed for the Internet Enterpreneur Award at this year’s Netvisionary Awards. He agreed to do an interview with me and this is the result:

Well firstly congratulations on your nomination and commiserations for not winning the NetVisionary. So, what to you is a NetVisionary, what was it like to be nominated?

It was a great honour to be shortlisted for the awards. There are quite a few awards in the industry every year, but the NetVisionary is the most transparent and important in my opinion, as you are chosen by your peers. Anyone who gets shortlisted should feel a certain degree of pride. Personally it gave me a great feeling of achievement. I was, of course, disappointed not to win this year, but no matter what I do moving forward I will always be able to say that I was shortlisted and
that in itself is a great honour.

Your educational background shows you taught English in Italy amongst other places. How much of an advantage in business is it to speak more than just one language?

The only time the languages come into play directly is when we are dealing with our non-English speaking clients and suppliers. At this stage we are dealing primarily with the English speaking market, but I would like to see us move into other market areas in the future, as I feel there is plenty of room out there. Having said that I would also feel strongly that verbal fluency and good language skills are essential in business. If you cannot communicate clearly with your clients, staff, suppliers and market I would see longterm success as being impossible to achieve.

Your business in based in Carlow and before that you were in Cork. Not a fan of big cities? Running an IT business from Carlow in a way is what the Government is trying to push and to stop people adding more pressure on Dublin. What are the advantages and disadvantages in running a business in Carlow or any small town?

We ended up in Carlow almost by accident. In some ways it can be quite frustrating at times, as the infrastructure in some areas can be a bit lacking. However it also has many advantages. Anybody working in Dublin has to deal with a certain degree of stress getting from A to B. Not so in Carlow. The running costs are also lower outside Dublin, which in a sector with high running costs is important.

How did you get into the IT area? Do you see yourself staying in IT or moving off into a sunnier climate to tend to a small vineyard?

Yet another accident I suppose. I had quite a bit of free time in college, even though I was actively involved in several the clubs and societies etc., so I spent my time messing about with computers. When the department needed a website for an event I was called in and the rest, as they say, is history. I don’t know what the future holds, but I can’t see myself working in another sector at this stage. A vineyard sounds like fun and maybe getting one in Sicily is something I might look at in the future.

Still on wine, what do you think of the free wine promotion for bloggers that Hugh McCloud did? Can you see more of this happening? Do you think it can work and balance things out and be benefit to all parties? Have you received any other offers?

I think the wine promo is a fantastic idea. I’m not sure how well it would work for other products and services, as wine is something with almost universal appeal. If you take a mature and honest approach to these kind of things then it can work to everybody’s advantage. I’m currently reading a couple of “techie” books that a publisher sent me based on the promise that I would write about them. The books cover topics that I am interested in, but I wouldn’t have bought them. The publisher knows that I will give them a balanced write up and they will get some PR from it. We all win. Unfortunately I haven’t received any other offers recently, but I’m always open to such things.

How important do you think blogs are both for business and for personal communications? Do you think they are a way to reach out to anyone worldwide with the same interests? The Irish blogosphere is still in its infancy, do you see it growing slowly or massively? 2005 seemed to be the year of the blog, when do you think this will happen for Ireland?

I think there’s a lot of hype around blogs at the moment. Once the hype dies down and the bloggers and audience mature it should become a very interesting platform for the dissemination of ideas and communication of concepts, developments or random thoughts. I’m a strong believer in the “right tool for the job” philosophy. Some people and companies can benefit from blogging or using other methods to interact with their clients and public, but it would not be appropriate for all of them. The other side of it is of course discretion and control. Business bloggers need to strike a balance between tantalising the public but not giving their competitors too much information.

What Irish blogs are your favourites? And non Irish ones?

I tend to browse blogs via RSS feeds from the various aggregators, although I do like to keep an eye on blogs written by people I know or who are working in areas that interest me. In terms of Irish blogs I simply love iced-coffee’s photos. Alan O’Rourke’s business blog is a good read, as are Ed Byrne’s, Piaras Kelly’s and Tom Raftery’s. There are quite a few international blogs that I read from time to time, but they are more topic driven than anything else. The only exception to that would be Darren Rowse’s blog that I follow religiously.

Blogs and blogging seems to becoming 24/7. When you have a thought or want to talk about something you just hit the blog. What about business? Is it gone from 5 days a week to 7 days or was it always like that?

It depends on the sector you are working in. In our line of work it is 24/7/365. Although I tend to wind down at the weekend I can never simply “check out” and I don’t think anyone else in the e-commerce sector can truly offer good service if they do not follow suit. The “traditional” working week is a concept that I respect, but not one that I truly subscribe to.

So how do you juggle it all? Do you subscribe to the getting things done way of multitasking?

The key is people. You have to work with the best, be they suppliers, employees or business partners. If you work with the best and set high goals you can achieve and succeed.

Are you a gadget freak like many of the techies out there or do you prefer to have your computer, your mobile and nothing else? What gadgets do you own?

I’m not really a gadget freak. I like quality goods that do what I need them to do, so you won’t find me buying the latest gadget laden phone for example. I can see the attraction of some of these gizmos, but I’m much happier with devices that are functional. I have a simple mobile phone, a reasonably good desktop pc and very little else. I don’t even have an mp3 player!

Anything you’re working on or that you’d like to work on?

We, as a company, have a lot of plans for the next year or so, but I’m not at liberty to discuss them at this juncture. On a personal level I’d like to develop some of my projects further, such as

How is Blacknight readying itself for the new .eu domains that are on their way?

The .eu is going to be the domain for the European Union. While .ie gives you the Irish “flavour” and .us is aimed at the US market, .eu is meant to cover all member states of the EU. At present we are entering the “sunrise” stages, which allow companies with trademarks and other prior rights to get the associated domains before the registry is open to the public next April.

At Blacknight we recently entered into an agreement with Ascio which allows us to register over 250 TLDs, including .eu as well as all the other EU country TLDs. It’s far cheaper to proactively register domain names associated with your business than worry about legal battles after the fact.

Everyone likes to predict the tech future. So what are the trends for the next 12 months and the next 3-5 years? Anything Ireland specific you’d like to mention?

I think the market is maturing. There is still a lot of ground to be covered, but as more and more businesses being to use the ‘net actively we should see some fantastic opportunities emerging. However I am very concerned by the government’s attitude to IT. There is a strong reliance on overseas investment, such as the Dells, Microsofts etc., and should those companies choose to move elsewhere the Irish economy would be very seriously damaged. Until such time as the government realises that they need to actually invest in infrastructure and promote indigenous companies Ireland’s economic future is at risk.

Michele Neylon is managing director of Blacknight Internet Solutions Ltd, an Irish hosting and domain registration company.

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