independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Killorglin man Kieran a big player in high-tech business

Kieran O’Keeffe and his wife, Deborah, at the Sunday Times award dinner in London.

KILLORGLIN'S Kieran O'Keeffe (44) could have been forgiven for taking a well earned rest when he arrived home for Christmas but the MobileWebAdz founder was online, keeping an eye on how his multi-national business was performing.

KILLORGLIN'S Kieran O'Keeffe (44) could have been forgiven for taking a well earned rest when he arrived home for Christmas but the MobileWebAdz founder was online, keeping an eye on how his multi-national business was performing.

Of course it didn't stop celebrations with friends and family and the London-based CEO certainly has reason to celebrate, as his mobile adverts network continues to expand on a daily basis.

Indeed, The Sunday Times has just listed MobileWebAdz in its prestigious top five fastest growing tech companies in the UK - for the second year in-a-row.

It's a formidable achievement in an industry that travels at break-neck pace and it's made all the sweeter by the fact that the company is the only one to make the top five in consecutive years.

It's recognition too of how the company's revenue grew 50 per cent this year to €43m. Putting this in context, 2012 revenue had already experienced a fourfold increase in less than two years.

Heady times indeed, but the former Killorglin Intermediate School pupil is quick to acknowledge just how his roots back home in Laharn provided the building blocks for today's successes.

"There's a successful business connection in the town with the likes of Brian McCarthy and Jerry Kennelly and perhaps that's how I caught the bug and I suppose I'm self taught at the school of hard knocks too," he said.

Kieran returned to the Intermediate School earlier this year as guest speaker at the school's annual awards ceremony. A pupil of the former Carnegie site on Market Street, it was the first time he had been on the new campus and he recalled his time at the school.

"It was the making of me; it was disciplined and the onus was on the academic and that stood to me. I suppose the technology era was only beginning to take hold at the time so that wasn't a factor."

Indeed, while Kieran's first computer was a Commodore 64, he reveals that he wasn't hugely interested in technology in his youth.

"I went to UCC and it was business management that became my speciality rather than coding, so I suppose it was the business bug I caught whilst at school and just growing up in Killorglin," he said.

At 24-years-of-age Kieran freelanced as an e-business and IT consultant for companies including Barclays Bank, Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn after moving to London. Three years later he set up MobileWebAdz which was supported by his wife Deborah, a Carlow woman, but reveals it was far from plain sailing at the beginning.

"We had six really tough years before we hit a hockey stick in 2009 and everything took off. The early years will stand to us though as we appreciate the success we have now and we understand real discipline and the value of money," he said.

While the UK and Ireland went into recession in late 2008, MobileWebAdz was just starting to take off. Kieran revealed just how the success came about.

"It was about the global market really and that's where we got involved at an early stage. If we spread ourselves around the world we realised that at least half of the markets will do well at any time," he revealed.

"The Far East was the hardest to crack and it took three long years of banging our heads against the wall but now it has proven really profitable. It was [Apple founder] Steve Jobs who really helped open up the market place. When he launched the iPhone he put the Internet on mobile phones and it was really the catalyst for the whole business ecosystem."

Headquartered in London, the company continued its rapid international expansion with staff numbers doubling to 75 thanks to new offices in Singapore, Argentina and Mexico in addition to existing offices in London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Capetown, Manila and San Francisco.

He is eyeing further expansion through another new office in Brazil to tap into the World Cup and Olympics markets and other future targets include China and Russia. So would he consider opening an Irish branch?

"We did actively look at setting up in Ireland last year but it doesn't seem to be happening in comparison to the big markets we have gone after like in South America and the Far East. We will always keep the Irish option open though," Kieran answered.

Fiercely proud of his Killorglin roots, he tries to get home as often as possible.

"I get home around three times a year but I hope to get back more often. I'm an Arsenal season ticket holder but the reality is that Kerry football is far more important than any premiership team."

And so he was back in Killorglin for Christmas, spending time with his mother Nuala and brother Brian - his father John, a former garda, died a few years ago.

There was time too to Skype his brother and sister in Chicago but then it was back to work and time to plan even more successes in an industry that just never sleeps.

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