We sat down with Peter to discuss his role at 8bytes, Ireland as a hub for startups and the future of tech.
What’s your role in 8bytes?
Day to day, I build out our clients' APIs, some Android apps and look after our existing client services. There’s a lot to do with such a small company, we’re all wearing a few hats between running the business and building great products.
Eoin is working on mobile apps, Adam is UX & UI, Brian is iOS and I’m primarily on the server side of things. We have a good overlap in skills but each of us has specialised in an area we enjoy.
What’s your background in this space?
I became interested in computers before I was 10 but didn’t learn how to program until 3rd year of secondary school when one of our teachers taught us during lunch over a few months. It didn’t really click with me at the time so I went back to modding my Xbox with friends and figuring out how we could play multiplayer Halo over a dial up connection! In 4th year of secondary school I did an internship in Trinity College Dublin in their theoretical physics department. I spent that time learning the programming language Haskell — which is a very difficult language to start with. That didn’t go so great but it was fun and it definitely sparked my interest compared to a year earlier.
I decided to study computer science in college and in third year, we had started 8bytes properly. We had a few clients, an office in Wicklow, it was going quite well. Then an opportunity at HubSpot came along. And that was my beginning in “software engineering” as opposed to more theoretical stuff through college.
This was the first place we were exposed to product thinking and how to build complete products — instead of the prototypes we were building for our clients. We met some really good engineers in there. They asked us all to drop out of college after three months to join full time. The guys dropped out and started their careers in Hubspot. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet so I continued on into my 4th and final year — probably the best year in college. We got to experience some really different, really interesting styles of programming in different areas of research. Such as game development, machine learning and genetic programming through AI.
I did my final year project using machine-learning algorithms to predict the price of electricity for Ireland more accurately than it was being done at the time. On the back of that, I was asked if I like to do a PhD. For a while was was pretty convinced I wanted to do the PhD but after looking into it in more detail decided to go out into the world instead. In the end, I went into industry and worked for Intercom for a little while.
Their work ethic and vision was brilliant and they have extremely talented engineers. But eventually I decided it wasn’t really for me at that stage in my career. At that point, I really wanted to go out and start something myself.
I chilled out for a couple of weeks and realised that 8bytes was what I wanted to do.
To you, what is the most exciting aspect of app and web development right now in mid 2016?
Building modular services that can be used by anything, rather than an
individual app or website. Services that can exist in other apps or can be an app by itself. Take Uber for example. Their strength is their platform rather than their app. These days you can book an Uber from within Google Maps and a variety of other apps. It makes it possible for your service to reach further and be used to solve more problems then you’d have thought possible.
I think iPad Pro is going to have a lot of sway in the coming years. Once it starts getting really good versions of excel and different accounting software, like Sage, I think there’ll be a lot of people who will find there’s not enough reasons to use Windows instead of just an iPad but we’ll see what happens there.
What part of an web/mobile app is the most important for the user: Design or function?
I like to think of products in segments where both function and design are completed one segment at a time. From an iterative point of view, function wins every time. Your product needs to be doing what you say it’s doing. However, if the function is perfect and the usability is terrible, you’ll still lose a lot of users.
You need to figure out what problem you are solving. If you can’t answer that, you can’t know what functions you’re going to need. If you don’t know what functions you’re going to have, you don’t know what your design is going to be.
How do you think Ireland will continue to churn world-class startups over the next 5 years?
It can be difficult to raise large amounts of money at decent valuations here in Ireland. That’s why people end up going to the likes of America; where they’re given a *perceived *insane amount of money for good valuations. When your idea is big enough, that’s when you need that kind of money. If some of that investment comes here after everything that’s happened with Brexit it will be great.
You don’t know what ideas people are going to have or if they are the right person to take that idea from the beginning stages to an actual viable business. If a person has the right team and the right idea they can achieve anything.
I love to see companies come and present to us with an actual way of making money. You hear of so many: “Oh, we have another chat app” or a random social network that will somehow do ads at some stage and “people will love it so much that we’ll get twenty million users in a month”. If it does happen, I hope you’ve raised a lot of money because you’re going to burn through it between marketing and paying developers. That’s when the huge money available in America doesn’t sound so crazy, it buys you time to figure out how you’ll make money off all of these users.
What do new startups entering the technology space need to be cautious of when entering the market?
Letting their ideas run away with them. A lot of people see a problem they’d like to solve and they come up with a solution and they start adding and adding. Then seeing all sorts of different problems and trying to solve those too and it all just spirals out of control. And eventually they lose sight of what they were trying to solve in the first place.
Keep your goal clearly in your mind and just work towards that.
There’s something that needs to be said to people who aren’t in software: software is never done. There’s always more to add, there’s a better way to do something, something new will come out. You just have to know if it’s of value to you or your business and the problem you are solving.
A thing you often see is people saying is: “That company is solving the problem I wanted to solve”. But maybe they’re not doing that good a job at it. Or maybe your solution *is *actually better. If its better — do it. You shouldn’t just give up. Compete with them. But don’t be a copycat.
For me, it’s controlling and owning our own business. Having that bit of control over decisions and not needing investment, we’re fully bootstrapped which is nice. I love being able to walk into our office on Harcourt Street and see what we’ve built together using nothing but laptops.
Comparing this to working anywhere else in Dublin, this is definitely what I’d choose. We get to work on unique products with a variety of clients in diverse markets, I love it!
My favourite thing about working in 8bytes is meeting people from such diverse backgrounds and markets and seeing how all of them are making their own companies. It just adds to our experience of how to build really good products.
The reason to work with us is that we know how to make a solid foundation for your product, key to your business in general. That is extremely important and it requires collaboration from the client as well. They need to be dedicated and have a clear goal. When your product is lacking in a good foundation, and lacking in a good goal, things get messy quickly.