Robbie McGinley at home in Dublin.Irish Echo

Tech start-ups occur as long as the electricity is running.

And that’s 24/7.

But now and again a start-up is a stand-out, any time of day.

And Robbie McGinley’s deserves to be standing up.

Dubliner McGinley has his heroes in the tech world.

That said, he is quick to admit that he is not from the Mark Zuckerberg mold.

“I didn’t go to Stanford. I went to third level at 30, and again at 55. I have no sense of entitlement, just a sense of urgency,” he said during a recent visit to New York where he shared his vision for ZIPPITTEE.com with other delegates at a trade show, the Skift Forum, in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.

“The only code I know is the one for my bicycle lock. And it's my friend's bike which, in this sharing economy, he loaned to me.”

McGinley is joking of course. He knows quite a bit about code at this stage.

But to get to this stage he had to come up from the bootstraps, or perhaps his bicycle clips.

And now he has a vision, a plan, and a dream.

That works as well today in Ireland as has been the case in America since the get-go.

Yes, the Irish can have dreams, dreams that capture the imaginations of others, millions of others.

 “I’m living proof that you don't have to be a millennial to have a powerful vision for change,” McGinley told the Echo.

The second word in that sentence means a lot to him.

McGinley is a cancer survivor, having battled his way back from a very scary diagnosis in his mid-twenties to a point where he is now in his late 50s and reaching out boldly for business success at a time in life when many are starting to think of retirement.

“ZIPPITTEE is a big vision and it's got a solid base to it,” he said.

McGinley explains that ZIPPITTEE is essentially an online mechanism for investment in students so that they can travel overseas, debt free, as part of a first step to developing into global citizens.

But students are only the starting point, the first major grouping to benefit from ZIPPITTEE’s innovative presence.

Though he is Dublin-based, McGinley looks across the Atlantic for inspiration.

He wouldn’t be the first Irishman to do that, but he had an early link with the United States, at a time when most Irish people, unless they emigrated, depended for such a thing on television images and movies.    

“Sometimes I wonder where I get this constant fire in my belly and the connection with America,” McGinley said.

“And it can only come from my folks.

“When I was a kid in the 60s my dad used to travel for his company, Abbey Stained Glass (Dublin) to North America fitting his hand-crafted stained glass windows in churches in Fort Worth, Texas, Mobil, Alabama, Miami, and in St. John’s Newfoundland.

“And when he would come home months later, he would give us a slide-show of the steam-paddle ships on the Mississippi, the city skyscrapers, and of him working in his shirt-sleeves in the waist-high snow in Canada.

“So we naturally had an outward-looking view on our own futures.”

While his dad was away, McGinley’s mother, his “mam,” was busy building her own knitwear business from home.

“She kept every school kid in our community in school jumpers. She was an incredible operator, running the household on her own with four young lads, on her own,” he says.

“She roped us into ‘the production line’ helping to cook meals and sewing jumpers and cardigans, and steam-pressing the finished garments to have them looking their best before delivery.

“She always had her eye on investing in the next generation of machines to increase productivity.

“We just grew up in a team environment, with the focus on quality, customer satisfaction, and a ‘let’s do it’ attitude.”

That focus has lasted down the years.

ZIPPITTEE is a business idea yes, but one, according to McGinley, that is wrapped up firmly in a social impact mission.

“Businesses have for generations been mainly ‘with-profit’ and the absolute focus on return on investment for their investors,” he said.

“Lately, we’ve seen a social element creep in with companies integrating Corporate Social Responsibility where they share their success with all their stakeholders, including their local communities. 

“Yes, profitability has to be the cornerstone of any viable business enterprise with a CSR mission.

“Even religious communities engaged in social impact have the motto “No Money, No Mission.” In other words, you have to be confident you can see the social mission through to the end, and profits are the lifeblood to delivering that change.

“That brings me to ZIPPITTEE’s social mission. We’re not talking about ticking a CSR box. It goes much deeper than that.

“Our community of global travelers, we call them ZIPPITTEERS, will see examples of social exclusion first-hand, once they leave the comfort of their own homes.

“I did myself when I trekked in the Himalayas back in the 80s: lack of sanitation, poor access to education, polluted air in their homes from the smoky fires, high infant mortality rates. All of these stacked against the child’s chances of enjoying life’s opportunities.

“But I didn’t have the tools to change that. Now we do. We’re all connected through social media, and we’re giving our ZIPPITTEERS the platform and the financial tools to deliver the change.

 “We’ll encourage them to come up with solutions, cost them out, and pitch them online to the ZIPPITTEE community.

“Together, we’ll co-fund the solutions - a fixed percentage from ZIPPITTEE, and the balance crowd funded by our community. Projects will report back to the community, so there’s full accountability, and ownership of the solution.”

So why the social mission for what, at first glance, does look like a travel business?

Continues McGinley: “Some people wonder why the social mission is such a big motivator for me. 

“Well, first of all, we all answer to that natural instinct to make a difference. Sometimes though, life gets in the way.

“And the handy response is to throw a few bob into the basket. ZIPPITTEE is about building a profitable business that our travelling community and our workforce will be proud to belong to, because our mission goes beyond just maximizing the bottom line.

“There really has to be more to life and a working life than that.

“In the past I have worked on tech solutions in finance houses where the mantra was just return on investment. That wears thin after a few years, and employees leave - even if there’s unlimited pizza, and beers in the cooler.

 “Again, I can trace the roots of this view of things back to my childhood, when my dad used to send us to neighbors’ houses. He was a huge believer in community. And he’d get us to offer to do chores for the neighbors, but on one condition…..that we wouldn’t take money in return.

“The message was simple; sometimes we give without expecting anything in return.”

So what exactly is ZIPPITTEE? How does it work?

McGinley explains: “We’re building a clever smartphone tool that any of us can use to build up a travel wallet, either for our own use, or for friends and family. All debt-free.

“Now that might sound impossible, but sometimes it takes a fresh look at consumer purchasing behavior to uncover an opportunity. And that’s what we’ve done at ZIPPITTEE.

“It’s got massive scale, and smartphone technology means we can deliver that scale. At the moment, we can’t reveal our secret sauce because that could affect our intellectual property.

“But let me give you just one example of the travel opportunities it’ll unlock. 

“I’ve read research that around 21 million of the 23 million U.S. university students won’t leave America pre-graduation.

“And one of the biggest barriers is that they’re already up to their eyes in student debt. So they don’t have the disposable income to travel.

“And those who do travel, many of them are relying on their parents’ plastic. Employers are looking for world experience on CVs so 21 million students are straightaway at a disadvantage. Which is a shame, after investing so much in their education.

“The Obama administration has been making serious efforts to turn this situation around through its Bureau of Cultural Affairs.

“The ZIPPITTEE solution will help change things because it removes the financial barrier to travelling.

“And anyone who’s travelled knows how it opens our eyes to other cultures, and puts some perspective on our own place in this world of ours.”

How far along is the ZIPPITTEE project?

McGinley explains: “I had a really positive reaction in New York from those delegates at the SKIFT Global Travel Forum that I met.  

“The event pulls together leading names in the travel industry like Google Travel, Tripadvisor, Marriott Hotels, and the really exciting Generator Hostels brand (from Europe) who all share their insights into global travel trends.

“The SKIFT Forum is a huge homegrown success story for New York. Co-founded only four years ago by Rafat Ali, this year’s event attracted a thousand delegates to Manhattan for two days of discussions.

“That’s a great injection for restaurants, transport, hotels and local homeowners through AirBnb. And it’s a huge inspiration to us to continue building ZIPPITTEE.

 “Now we’re ready to start coding again. We can fund that two ways. Look to private investors who share our social mission, or go the crowd funding route. 

“Now crowd funding isn’t as new as readers might think. Just look at the Statue of Liberty. The French donated the statue back in 1884, and the cost of erecting it on the pedestal, including the cost of the site, was three hundred thousand dollars.

“The America Committee could only raise one hundred and fifty thousand. So Joseph Pulitzer ran a campaign in his newspaper “The World” and over one hundred and twenty thousand Americans donated the rest. And most of the donations were less than a dollar.  

“Which proves that ideas can be brought to life with the support of the community - and at very little cost to the individual.”

So how did McGinley conceive the idea of ZIPPITTEE?

“I remember watching Lehman Brothers implode, and seeing the employees pack up their belongings and their futures in the cardboard boxes.

“Little did I realize that the tsunami would come crashing across the Atlantic and wipe out my own flooring company eighteen months later, a business that I’d been building for the previous ten years.

“I had sourced my clients through architects and interior designers, and when their businesses closed down so did mine. 

“It’s a cliché, but I did lose it all. I had to re-invent myself. And that’s probably where the resilience and ‘let’s-do’ skills I inherited from my parents, kicked in.

“A few unsuccessful attempts later, plus going back to college to study digital strategy, and ZIPPITTEE was born.”

And now, the growing part.

“We see ZIPPITTEE’s smartphone solution fitting very neatly into the U.S. Bureau of Cultural Affairs mission by helping to plug the financial gap that prevents too many students from traveling abroad.

“And the beauty of ZIPPITTEE is that it enables funding that doesn’t involve debt.”   

More at www.zippittee.com, @zippittee, or contact Robbie McGinley at [email protected]

 

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This article first appeared in the Irish Echo. For more stories, visit their website here

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