IT HAS been a hectic August for Allan Beechinor and Niamh Parker, the principals in the Altada artificial intelligence (AI) outfit tipped to be the next ‘unicorn’ but now the subject of intense scrutiny over the level of spending and need for investment. While the likes of the Business Post have led the way in highlighting the troubles at the company, the couple must be thankful to Tom Lyons et al at The Currency for offering them the chance to “set the record straight”.
The Business Post article in early August set the cat among the pigeons, highlighting gripes by employees, huge levels of spending and social media posts by the two founders featuring rented luxury sports cars and fancy hotels.
Of interest to the taxpayer is the significant investment to date by the State thorough Enterprise Ireland (EI), which has already ploughed in €¾m, with more to come. The decision by EI to back Altada may not seem surprising, given how sexy AI is for investors and the fact that Beechinor has a pretty impressive-looking CV, with links to University of Limerick’s AI programme and also a State appointment by hapless junior minister Robert Troy to the Enterprise Digital Advisory Forum.
Goldhawk thinks that a close look at the Altada boss’s track record might have sounded some alarm bells. For example, Beechinor has allowed a number of different companies to be struck off by the Companies Register for failing to file accounts. More significantly, one of those companies (dissolved two years ago) was Atlantic Digital Media Ltd.
Beechinor was a director and 50% shareholder here alongside Ger Cronin, who resigned in 2016. In 2018, the company found itself on the wrong end of a judgment for €8,200 from the Revenue Commissioners. There was also a judgment for a paltry €1,600 from Big Splash Marketing.
Happily, these hiccups did not feature in a near 5,000-word interview by Lyons with Beechinor and Parker in The Currency last week. The headline made it clear that this was an opportunity for Beechinor to “set the record straight”.
Early in the piece, he was asked about the “pile-on on Twitter” and the under-fire Altada CEO claimed: “I’m not sure what’s happening on social media. We’ve stepped back from that entirely in the last number of days.”
That is probably a good thing, given the tone of the tweets from both Beechinor and Parker when critical comments appeared online earlier this month from digital marketing operators – such as Greg Canty and Deirdre O’Callaghan (Big Splash Marketing). Both Altada suits overreacted, dismissing the complaints on the basis of “begrudgery” on the part of “so-called mentors and gurus”. The tweets were subsequently deleted.
Also no longer accessible, unfortunately, is an entertaining LinkedIn post from Parker when she was officially installed as ‘co-CEO’ of Altada. She boasted that “an amazing female leader” had told the Altada exec “she had taken on something she wouldn’t normally have believed she could because she saw how ‘I was stepping up’”. Wow, what an inspiration!
Back at The Currency, Beechinor was in full flight about his “high-growth, fast-scale company”, which had somehow found itself on the wrong end of “concerns about recession”. Happily, he has been getting “huge support” and the assorted investors “are still there”, while the relationship with shareholders is, indeed, “good”. On top of this, Beechinor and Parker are “managing” Altada’s creditors. Beechinor, meanwhile, understands: “As CEO, you’ve got to take the bullets, and take the hits, move on, and that’s it.”
Lyons also noted that Beechinor “sends me a nice text afterwards wishing me a safe journey home”. What a nice guy.