Interview: Paul Shepherd, MD of Coup Media and Online Influence

As a Welsh techie, you’ve no doubt heard of Oi Conference. It’s one of the fastest growing technology events in the UK and Europe, and it’s set to make a return next month.

The conference is the brainchild of Newport-based tech entrepreneur Paul Shepherd, who’s grown it from a small gathering for social media professionals to a key date in the tech sector.

Paul is also the founder and managing director of Coup Media, a tech agency that’s worked with the likes of Amnesty International, Lloyds Bank and the NHS. We recently caught up with him.

TD: Can you tell us more about yourself and what you do, please?

PS: I founded CoupMedia, a social tech agency, in 2010. We’re a UK top 10 ranked social and mobile agency (under 40 staff), and we host the Online Influence series of events, the next of which is in Bristol on October 16th.

At Coup, we’ve spun a number of tech products out of our incubator, including Tweview, our big data analytics platform for the movie industry, and StyleSwipe, our fashion selector app.

I also co-founded Hello Soda, a Manchester based software company that was featured on TechCrunch and has just opened Offices in New York. Finally, I co-own an events app business based in Chicago. Our first product, Dovetail (dovetail.events), launched this summer.

TD: How did the opportunity to acquire the Oi Conf come about?

I read a blog post by the founder explaining that the commitment had become too big and that he was winding it down so I made an approach, and we did the deal pretty quickly and painlessly. Touch wood – I think it’s my best bit of business to date.

TD: What’s it like been organising the conference?

PS: Stressful but great. We’ve made amazing contacts from companies like Airbnb, Twitter, Tumblr and Salesforce over the last year and seeing it all come together, and attendees having a great time, makes all the stress worthwhile. We’re getting better every time we do it (I hope), and I’m always grateful that people turn up.

TD: What else have you been working on?

PS: StyleSwipe and Tweview are the main focus right now, but there’s a huge project on the horizon that we’re pulling a team together for at the moment. We need to assess the viability before we invest too heavily, but if everything stacks up, we’ll disrupt a very old and rigid industry – and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do!

TD: What’s been your biggest success and your biggest obstacle?

PS: My biggest success isn’t work related – it’s having 2 sons who I couldn’t be more proud of. But professionally, I think that scaling the Online Influence Conference to 500 attendees from all over the UK is up there, although that’s just the start I hope and we want to 10x that over the next 2 years.

There have been plenty of obstacles, and there’ll be plenty more, but that’s the nature of road I’ve taken and it’s those constant challenges that make life interesting. The toughest was having our biggest client go into administration, owing us a lot of money when we were still a very young company, but we came through it and in a weird way it worked out really well for us. You have to roll with the punches sometimes even though at the time it feels so unfair.

TD: What are your thoughts on the Welsh tech scene?

PS: I think it’s starting to bubble up nicely. I spoke with two Fintech companies last week who are raising sizeable rounds, and I think there’s a diversity about the scene but we need a big success to shine the light on Wales.

I really think we need something pulling us all together too, and I very much hope Online Influence can play its part in that. I also think that government and education still don’t treat computer science anywhere near seriously enough, and until they do, we’ll struggle to create a sustainable scene from the ground up.

TD: What advice would you give to aspiring tech entrepreneurs?

PS: Do it! Don’t listen to people who say you can’t. Raise money while you can, be strong, dream big and don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who know more than you.