New Tech’s Nearly New Notions

Moya Brennan of ClannadThere’s a tendency in tech to think its innovations are the result of new thinking.

Sometimes that may be the case but often old thinking is merely repackaged or rediscovered.

In a small economy like Ireland’s, starting and growing a business can be slow (or excruciating) if entrepreneurs are to rely on the domestic market alone.

That is why a whole slew of recent Irish startups have almost immediately launched internationally.

And the advice in Ireland to go abroad soon is now being dispensed in startup talks and workshops all over the country.

“At NewsWhip, we pursued this strategy, with some success,” CEO Paul Quigley wrote in a recent article on the Dublin Globe website.

Success, indeed, because NewsWhip just passed the 1 million sales milestone in 2014 — no mean feat for a company founded in 2011.

But what of that advice on shiny new tech doled out by shiny new technologists? Turns out it’s been around for a while.

A similar situation was faced 40 years ago by Clannad, the Grammy-winning group that has sold more than 15 million records worldwide. Their success, in turn, paved the way for Enya, who went on to sell 75 million records.

Founded in the early 1970s in a remote Northwest corner of Ireland, Clannad not only faced a small domestic market but one that wasn’t particularly receptive.

Speaking on a recent TG4 documentary, singer and harpist Moya Brennan recalled the difficulties faced by the group’s innovative approach to traditional Irish music.

“I remember people [in Dublin] saying we had a nice sound but we wouldn’t get anywhere singing Irish [or Gaelic language] songs,” she said.

Meanwhile, the introduction to traditional music of harmonizing, a double bass, bongos and other innovations did not sit well with traditionalists.

“Many Irish speakers had no time for us,” Brennan said. “Therefore we didn’t get much support in this country.”

“So, we went to Europe.”

But the 1970s were very different in Ireland. There were no affordable air travel, no regional airport in Donegal anyway, and the roads were appalling.

But the band persevered.

In moves that will still resonate with bootstrappers everywhere, Clannad had to tour the hard way. No jumping on a low-cost airline to be in your chosen market in a couple of hours.

They had to borrow their parents (only) car for two-to-three-week tours of the European Continent. This involved a very long drive from Donegal to catch a car ferry to either France or Britain. And then another trek to Germany where most of the interest lay.

But needs must. To find an audience, they had to look beyond the small domestic market. As NewsWhip’s Quigley might say, they did that with “some success.”

Image is a screen shot of the documentary. It will be available here until mid-April.