For online shopping giant Overstock, Sligo has exceeded all expectations and is providing the innovative pulse it needs to influence the future of retail.

On high ground above the harbour in Sligo, flanked by mountains and sea, the state-of-the-art premises of Overstock hums with activity. There is a lot going on. There are more than 75 technologists at work on everything from e-commerce to blockchain and fintech.

Throughout his whirlwind tech career that brought him all over the world, including tech roles at banks like ING and HSBC, little did Sligo native David Kenny (pictured above) dream that one day he would be leading such a diverse team in his home county. “People are seeing the attraction of the northwest, not just in terms of lifestyle but also as a place to grow and further their career.”

“Lifestyle is a huge factor, but what we are keen for people to understand that a move west is a step forward in your career. The key thing here is the opportunity to work on groundbreaking projects and absolutely grow your career”

Overstock is a billion-dollar online retail shopping site and technology company founded in 1999 in Utah. In 2014, Overstock founded Medici Ventures its wholly-owned blockchain subsidiary focused on introducing blockchain technology to existing markets to democratise capital, eliminate middlemen, and re-humanise commerce.

The company last year announced the creation of 100 new technology jobs for Sligo including senior roles in areas such as software development and testing, machine learning, and data analytics. In recent months the company invested €1m in making the move to the Westgate tech campus in the IDA’s business park in Finisklin, Sligo town. And now that very campus is home to a variety of e-commerce, fintech and blockchain activities and R&D.

Culture of innovation

While tech companies across the world are under pressure to recruit, Kenny explained that one of the key things that Overstock in Sligo emphasised early on was getting the right culture in place.

While Sligo and Salt Lake City, Utah, are very different places, what they have in common is a thriving local software industry and a wealth of opportunities for outdoors sports enthusiasts. Salt Lake City has its snowboarding, Sligo has its surfing.

But what sets Overstock in Sligo apart is the sheer diversity of activities that the various teams are responsible for. “For example, we have an e -commerce department, we have a blockchain accelerator and we have a financial services team working on Know Your Customer fintech products.

“There are literally thousands of companies around the world that integrate with Overstock to sell their products and we have teams working on everything from analytical dashboards to machine learning, data engineering and we have people from everywhere including the United States and Sweden who have moved here.”

Asked why Overstock selected Sligo, Kenny said that after lots of analytical studies, the decision was a gut decision based on factors like the local tech industry, local college scene and the quality lifestyle. All of these factors have served to help the local operation encourage senior staff to relocate to Sligo. “This is being helped by Ireland being more progressive in areas like visas and making changes to accommodate spouses with critical skills.”

Underpinning Overstock’s research efforts are collaborations with Science Foundation Ireland as well as a strong working relationship with Institute of Technology Sligo.

“There are a lot of very smart, talented graduates coming out of IT Sligo and we have many third year and fourth year students working on research projects. At one stage nearly 50pc of our staff were IT Sligo graduates.”

Lifestyle is also a huge draw for employees joining tech companies on Ireland’s northwest, with a more affordable cost of living allied with a plethora of outdoor activities including kitesurfing and surfing.

The start-up cluster is also growing and as well as being site lead for Overstock, Kenny himself is a co-founder of Frankli, a cloud-based performance management platform.

But crucially, Kenny believes Sligo needs to be seen as the place where senior, skilled IT people can further their career. “Lifestyle is a huge factor, but what we are keen for people to understand that a move west is a step forward in your career. The key thing here is the opportunity to work on groundbreaking projects and absolutely grow your career.

Emblazoned across the walls at Overstock are a set of values that embody trust, pride in production, life-work balance, inspiring others and achieving success through diversity.

“For such a small team we have involvement in massive initiatives across Overstock and there is a lot of autonomy,” Kenny explained. “And that’s why Overstock is thriving in Sligo.

“We developed these values because trust runs across everything we do as part of our culture and we encourage the team to take pride in turning ideas into software that is in production. We believe life has to come before work because if you get your life sorted, the work will fall into place. Another tenet of our culture is ‘challenge yourself, inspire others’ and we encourage everyone here to take on initiatives and bring in new projects. And in terms of diversity there is so much value to be gained from having different backgrounds, nationalities and ultimately diversity of thought.”

Main image: David Kenny, site lead, Overstock in Sligo. Image: John Kennedy

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 10 October, 2020

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