About The Team | Ciarán

I have been working on Plug, at least in spirit, for over 10 years. After university my main interests were at the intersection of community and environmentalism. I worked with my dad at home installing a wind turbine, solar panels and growing own food, and we organised meet ups through an organisation called GIY Ireland, a ‘grow it yourself’ network. At the same time I developed an interest in web technologies, having seen how powerful they had been at enabling organic communities to develop in the real world over the previous decade.

My first project online was a primitive version of Airbnb, where I listed private residential accommodation for a large folk dance and music festival in Ireland. Between 2010 – 2012 this festival, which attracted over a quarter of a million visitors over 3 years, was happening in my home town. Inspired by Couchsurfing.com, I designed a simple website in dreamweaver and advertised all over town to attract homes with spare rooms and couches. While finding the listings was not difficult, my main problem was collecting transaction fees, and after the first year when I basically worked for free I dropped the project, only to witness the rise of Airbnb over the subsequent years. After this I resolved to stick to my guns and carry ideas as far as I could.

After this I decided to work on a website for supporting local growers to convert their hobbies into businesses. It was supposed to be a sort of market-oriented social network, similar to Etsy.com but for food, mapping the networks of small businesses and food lovers through farmers markets and artisanal shops and restaurants. Called YouProduce, in truth this project was way too complex for my meagre talents. But through it I found a mentor and learned more about how web applications are put together. I taught myself to code in Ruby on Rails, and the experience led me into a career in web agencies, although not as a programmer, but as an account manager.

The Dunning-Kruger effect has always been a close companion of mine.

I have always been good at spotting the obscure relationships and hidden patterns behind things that seem unrelated, which made me a good technical account manager. I was quickly able to gather knowledge from one client in one industry and apply to another in a completely different industry. I loved to work on complex problems, but even more importantly, when I learned about or discovered solutions, I loved to deploy them as diversely as I could. Sometimes you can be working on two very different problems, and yet when a solution emerges for one it clicks something into place for another, often much bigger, problem. In very small ways I did this for small businesses and startups, helping them create their websites and digital strategies, specialising in search engine optimisation. But I had my real epiphanies later on.

Around 2015 I started learning about Bitcoin and the proof of work algorithm, and around the same time I started taking Brazilian dance classes in a style called forró. You cannot get more unrelated than those two spaces. But in a sense, both of them were emergent organic communities. After a few years of dancing I helped my teacher organise a small festival, and then weekly classes and parties where we would book bands and forró-famous teachers from around Europe and Brazil. We helped to support and grow this community for 3 years, creating 3 amazing festivals that brought a lot of joy to people’s lives.

It was the bizarre and eclectic combination of all of these areas that gave me my eureka moments, when I combined the problems of nurturing and cultivating communities as diverse as food networks to cryptocurrencies to dance, and the underlying rules – I use that word in the loosest possible terms – that support them. I was particularly concerned with how networks communicate, curate, and share information, on who gets heard and who gets amplified, how we identify the prominent people and weed out those who want to cause trouble or elevate themselves narcissistically.

I am also a voracious reader, and I love philosophy, math and science, and some books that deeply influenced me were Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse, and Linked: The New Science of Networks by Albert-László Barabási.

The core idea behind Plug revealed itself to me around 2016, but I had to sit on it for a long time as I didn’t have the bandwidth of abilities to push it forward alone. I tried to rope in some friends to very little success. In fact, the hardest part was building a solid team. Multiple attempts at recruiting cofounders failed and by the time we really came together, first with Liz, then later with our developers, I had completely exhausted myself and my resources. When covid-19 emerged it was, frankly, a respite, a ready made excuse for why I had never launched anything after talking the ears of so many people I knew, staking my entire reputation on this moonshot.

In the end covid gave us time to take stock and go back to the drawing board. We started a new company with a new founding team in October 2020.

My role in this team is as diverse as it gets. I am a self-taught designer, not by choice, and I dabble in every aspect of the project where we fall short on resources. Where I can I try to recruit contributors and future cofounders, and I spend many hours every month considering and developing legal and operational structure of our growing organisation, what tools we use, how we communicate, how we share ownership and how we plan to get new people involved.

I guess if I could express my purpose in a few words it would be to bring people together in open, safe and fulfilling public spaces, digitally mediated but embedded in the real world. And the whole ‘metaverse’ idea that is being thrown around at the moment sounds like Hell to me.

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