Interview: Contrast – the guys behind Qwitter who have global ambitions

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You may not have heard of Contrast, but if you are on Twitter – and a lot of people are these days – you may well have heard of Qwitter, the little app that ignited controversy when it allowed you to see when someone unfollowed you on Twitter. Queue a heated debate on its contribution to the collapse of civilisation as we know it.

But there is a lot more up the sleeve of the company that created Qwitter. This Dublin-based startup developing Web apps both for companies and directly for users launched last year. The brainchild of Paul Campbell, David Rice and Eoghan McCabe – who were all freelance developers – now stretches to nine people spread between Dublin and Belfast in Northern Ireland – a fact which almost seems unremarkable these days, but which also just goes to show how times have changed.

So what’s their schtick? “In a sentence, we do anything related to web apps that is fun and/or profitable,” says ‘head dude’ Eoghan McCabe while we chatted at the Future of Web Apps Dublin conference today.

Why did they decide to create Contrast ?

“Because there was space for a company like ours. There needed to be a bit more going on in Ireland in the Web apps scene and we – among the other companies here – wanted to help give it a kick start. We also wanted to play amongst those companies that think globally, not just aiming at our home market” he says. That was one of the reasons they did Qwitter – to play at that ‘global web app’ level where it really doesn’t matter where you actually are, you can still use the app.

To that end McCabe doesn’t mince his words: “I’m not judging companies that want to aim at their home market – there’s a proven space there. But we want to be bloody successful on a global basis.”

The first projects they did were with Dot Mobi (Dublin based), Western Union and Vodafone. But lately they have been working with Comhaltas, a traditional Irish music organisation on their rich, digital archive of Irish music and cultural history. It’s handy then that David Rice had previously worked with a Silicon Valley company called HowCast which specialised in online video.

But, as I say, it was Qwitter which got them widespread attention.

As McCabe explains: “It’s a super simple app. It does very little but it had a big impact in the Twitter community. We’re admittedly not super comfortable with helping to make people a bit unloved when people unfollow them! But we made it for fun and because people wanted it. And it now as over 60,000 users and continues to grow. Qwitter was an opportunity for fun and a test of our skills. And basically, the buzz and kudos that Qwitter produced is what is responsible for our consulting busines now. Thanks to Qwitter we now have projections of cashflow going well into 2010.”

However, it’s not Qwitter which will be at the core of Contrast. It’s ‘money making’ application will be Exceptional (at GetExceptional.com). This SAAS tool for Rails developers now has 1,300 active users and is growing rapidly and has, after a fashion, helped put Ireland on the Rails ‘map’.

Says McCabe – who gave a well-received talk at FOWA Dublin about thinking unconventionally about web apps – “We’re spending the rest of the year rolling out a new interface and making contacts in other communities like .Net and PHP.”

So what does he foresee over the next couple of years? “It’s not going to be about the industries that have propped us up till now, like music, construction and media. Businesses will thrive in niches which deliver a clear value to customers. We believe in building businesses then building the app. Qwitter is ok because it was fun, but we knew before we built it that it wasn’t a business as such.”

And he’s realistic about the early-stage startup scene in Ireland: “Ireland is just like many European countries. Seed capital is often hard to come by. However, in the Web scene, it’s not that necessary. Startup costs will be small if you have a laptop and some mates to build something with. It worked with us and it can work for anyone – if they stay focused.”

  • http://www.sennbrink.se/bloggande/helglasning-i-vantan-pa-varen/ Helgläsning i väntan på våren | Sennbrink Konsult

    […] Själv har snöat in ganska hårt på vad Ginx har att erbjuda. I första hand ett verktyg för avkoda tinyurls men numera även ett sätt att följa grupper av människor snarare än individuella användare. Bland inläggen hittade jag intressanta artiklar om hur du motverkar minskad e-handel, att Facebook lider av att betydelsefull personal lämnar företaget, hur du bör uppföra dig i mikrobloggosfären (även på svenska), vidare till The Twitter Effect (tidigare Digg/Slashdot effect) och Qwitter. […]

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan_L/740025437 Jonathan L

    Eoghan and Des gave a fantastic talk at #fowadublin this morning. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the Contrast team will bring out in the future

  • http://www.sortmybooks.com aileen hannan

    you guys did a great job again – always love your talks – even though you always scare the shit out of me – nearly afraid to release our app

  • David G

    Interesting company, interesting products.

    Same to spoil it with the ‘I’m in a rock band. No really, I am’ picture…

    • David G

      *shame

  • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

    David G – I took the picture not them

  • http://www.contrast.ie Paul Campbell

    I think he meant the photo on our front page.

    One of these days I might just whip out my guitar…

    • Peter C

      I like it. Just blame Guitar Hero if anyone asks if you’re in a band, and claim you’re a Ruby Rockstar …

    • David G

      I did indeed and I’m just kidding :)

  • http://www.bytesurgery.com Robin Blandford

    Contrast’s was my favourite talk at FOWA Dublin. It’s good to be made think.

    -Robin.

  • Jules Morgan

    There’s no clear way to remove yourself from this service once you’ve given your email initially. I don’t like that at all.

    • http://www.davidlowry.co.uk David Lowry

      On each Qwitter email message there’s an unsubscribe link (which removes your details from the system).

      • Jules Morgan

        Ah cool, thank you for clarifying.

  • http://tripleodeon.com James Pearce

    The dotMobi reference should be to the developer site, http://mobiForge.com – where Contrast’s trademark style is slightly more evident…

  • http://twitapps.com/ Stuart Dallas

    In my experience Qwitter is unreliable at best. In the past month I’ve had just one email and it didn’t include everyone who had unfollowed me. It’s one of the reasons I created the TwitApps Follows service. It sends you a daily digest of follower changes and doesn’t try to “blame” any one of your tweets for it.

    http://twitapps.com/follows/

    Having said that I wish Contrast all the best with Exceptional.

  • http://www.web2ireland.org/2009/03/12/interview-contrast-the-guys-behind-qwitter-who-have-global-ambitions/ Web 2.0 Ireland » Blog Archive » Interview: Contrast - the guys behind Qwitter who have global ambitions

    […] Interview: Contrast – the guys behind Qwitter who have global ambitions. CrunchBase Information Contrast. Information provided by CrunchBase […]

  • http://www.toddle.com Alan O'Rourke

    These guys are definitely ones to watch.
    I cant wait to see what they come out with next.

  • John Peilow

    These guys had a good app and floundered with a lack of fore sight on the growth of the service. Unfortunately, like others in the past, they left a good idea slip with an unreliable app due largely to unexpected growth.

    They come across as amateurs trying to emulate 37signals without the talent but with the heart.

    After seeing this article I did some digging and comparing their blog to 37signals, I found the same drivle regurgetated 2 years after it was spewed on SVN.

    In short, I don’t see a future. Exceptional FAIL.

  • http://www.lgblog.co.uk Chris - LG Blog

    Qwitter *is* slightly unreliable, but I almost prefer it when it doesn’t work. The emotional impact and feeling of rejection of someone unfollowing you is disproportionately large…And I’m struggling to explain why this is the case

  • http://lallylogic.startitup.net Brendan Lally

    Qwitter may have had some issues but I’m sure its just a little toe in the water.

    Having meet Eoghan at Paddy’s Valley trip to San Fran (http://lallylogic.blogspot.com/2007/12/irish-startup-boys-coming-to-san-fran.html) I was more than impressed with his ideas/insight.

    These boys will go far

  • http://www.bjornsennbrink.se/bloggande/helglasning-i-vantan-pa-varen/ Helgläsning i väntan på våren | Björn Sennbrink

    […] Själv har snöat in ganska hårt på vad Ginx har att erbjuda. I första hand ett verktyg för avkoda tinyurls men numera även ett sätt att följa grupper av människor snarare än individuella användare. Bland inläggen hittade jag intressanta artiklar om hur du motverkar minskad e-handel, att Facebook lider av att betydelsefull personal lämnar företaget, hur du bör uppföra dig i mikrobloggosfären (även på svenska), vidare till The Twitter Effect (tidigare Digg/Slashdot effect) och Qwitter. […]

  • http://www.greyblogs.com/i-wish-i-knew-how-to-qwit-qwitter-twitter-unfollow-notification-service-is-back/ I Wish I Knew How To Qwit Qwitter. Twitter Unfollow Notification Service Is Back.

    […] under new management. Previously it was a group called Contrast that ran the service (here’s an interview we did with them), now it’s listed as being run by this Agora Technology group — which is […]

  • http://gadgetfee.com/?p=783 I Wish I Knew How To Qwit Qwitter. Twitter Unfollow Notification Service Is Back. « Gadget Fee

    […] under new management. Previously it was a group called Contrast that ran the service (here’s an interview we did with them), now it’s listed as being run by this Agora Technology group — which is […]

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