How Limerick helped WP Engine hack growth

WP Engine’s growth story in Limerick has been driven by a wish to help the community to thrive and grow with it.

More than a year ago I sat down with the founder of Austin, Texas-based WP Engine Jason Cohen and listened to him talk about how he went from writing a personal blog to somehow growing it into a global web hosting giant that serves hundreds of thousands of domains.

Cohen has form in building successful businesses and WP Engine was his fourth successful start-up. Another start-up Smart Bear, is a key tech employer in Dublin.

“We just felt that Limerick was at a scale where we knew we could give back to the community. And that’s a large part of it, helping people to develop and grow”

But one thing he was clear about was how Limerick, the company’s key European outpost, has contributed to the company’s stellar growth. His philosophy: “We didn’t want to that American company that is happy to take money out from revenues and not be putting it back into the economy.” He added: “Growth is one of our core values and we have a culture of growth” that focuses on people “earning right, learning, training and moving up the ladder.”

Tech talent in abundance

So zoom forward to a recent visit to Limerick and WP Engine is now at 70 staff and growing. I spoke with Paul Ryan, site lead at WP Engine about the role the city is playing in the hosting giant’s growth.

“We looked all over Europe and we looked all over Ireland and the UK and after looking at everything from Brexit to affordability and size, we just felt that Limerick was at a scale where we knew we could give back to the community. And that’s a large part of it, helping people to develop and grow.”

Ryan pointed to the strong talent pool that exists in Limerick thanks to the University of Limerick, Limerick IT and Mary Immaculate College. “Then there is the vast hinterlands of Limerick county, Kerry, Clare, Tipperary and even Cork.

“But the final answer when it came down to it was our reconnaissance of Limerick and the story of Limerick. This is a city that is growing. We can grow with it and be part of that growth and contribute to that growth. Yeah, we have a business to run but we also see ourselves as contributors to the community.”

Growth was rapid. The first eight employees came on board not realising even the name of the company except that it was some cool tech firm. Through a strategy of meet-ups across the city, very quickly WP Engine was up to 20 staff. When I met Cohen in May last year WP Engine was at 45 people in Limerick. Today it has 70 employees and is in sight of outgrowing its current location in the city centre.

“We work closely with the local colleges and we have access to a European talent acquisition team. But I would say 60pc of people we’ve hired in Limerick have been recruited through meet and greets. Another aspect of it has been seeing how staff have grown and developed in just a few years. Many of our senior people joined as junior people and through mentorship and training have climbed the ladder and are making a crucial difference.”

Limerick digital hub

Limerick’s heritage as an industrial city as well as driving global operations for giants like Dell, Jaguar Land Rover, Analog Devices and Northern Trust, has led to a substantial talent pool of engineers and managers.

Ryan is adamant that as WP Engine continues to grow it will remain in the city centre of Limerick. “Our question isn’t how big we expect it will be. It is how fast that will happen.”

He believes that there is an opportunity for Limerick to develop its own digital brand or quarter. “This is a strategy that Innovate Limerick is driving forward and we see an opportunity to capture the vibrancy of the businesses that are growing here but at the same time maintain the beauty and integrity of the city’s beautiful Georgian architecture. It is about sustainable growth too.”

Ryan concludes that Limerick boasts a broad spectrum of talent and a legacy in technology, engineering, financial services, life sciences and aviation that could only mean better times ahead for the city by the Shannon.

“There’s no reason why in the next few years Limerick could not be the start-up capital of Europe; if we went about it the right way, of course.”

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

Published: 20 December, 2019