I have just finished reading Start-Up Nation a new book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer....thanks Saul and family (Klein).
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I have just finished reading Start-Up Nation a new book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer....thanks Saul and family (Klein).
Friday, December 11, 2009
Image via CrunchBaseWe've invested directly in about 64 companies.
The current portfolio is listed alongside here.
The stats look like like this:
These can be further analysed as follows:
Of the 10 sold, 4 were at 10X or better; 3 were 3X or better and 3 were at a loss
The 12 closed were total write-offs for us.
Of the 42 still active:
11 have reached EBITDA breakeven - or better
31 have yet to get there.
Of these, 9 are pre-revenue.
Seed and angel investing are fundamental to the health of the start-up eco system. VCs provide the bulk of the cash but seed investors fund the bulk of the companies.
27 times as many companies are seeded by angels in the US than by VCs according to Basil Peters
More comment on Seed Summit here: http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23seedsummit
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
No one who was present at Seedcamp 2007 when Ryan Notz, founder of MyBuilder, made his acceptance speech could have failed to be moved.
Without any of the "Oscar gushing" , Ryan very simply explained what his mission to build his marketplace for builders and consumers meant to him and his family.
Here was a guy with real passion and deep knowledge of his industry.
A stonemason turned internet entrepreneur was always going to be a great press story - and so it proved.
It wasn't all that obvious, however, that Ryan would also build a really good business.
This he has done - or certainly is in the process of doing. The company has been profitable for a number of months now and is growing strongly.
Marketplaces are notoriously difficult to build successfully. It takes time to build critical mass and before reaching this point, your utility to both buyers and sellers is pretty limited.
Bringing the giant Travis Perkins/Wicks on board as shareholders certainly helped. They have been outstandingly supportive, contributing meaningfully to board debate and providing access to the right parts of the organisation. The direct involvement of Geoff Cooper, CEO and John Carter, COO has been meaningful and a great example of how a corporate partnership can be made to work for a small web start-up.
Now, MyBuilder welcomes 4iP to the fold. See Techcrunch 21 Sept.
4iP is Channel 4's
Channel 4 have dominated the TV landscape in the field of Home Improvement with such programmes as Grand Designs; Location, Location, Location; The Home Show etc.
The 4iP investment will be used to accelerate growth and to build out the strong team that Ryan is assembling.
"4iP (4 Innovation for the Public) is a significant new initiative designed to stimulate public service digital media across the UK. The 4iP Fund aims to deliver publicly valuable content and services on digital media platforms – this means supporting great ideas for websites, games and mobile services which help people improve their lives."
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Congratulations to Alex Chesterman, Simon Kain, Doug Munro and the team on the acquisition of Property Finder from News International and REA.
Ad spend is continuing to move away from print to the web, consumers are using the aggregating portals more and more - a natural role for the web, presenting all the properties for sale in one place.
However, the business model of the portals started to be threatened as newcomers recognised that if they could aggregate listings of properties for sale, then they could charge agents a price per lead rather than a monthly fee to list their properties.
The snag however is building consumer traffic at affordable cost - something Rightmove (with the help of their original owners, the biggest estate agency groups) did really well.
The big media companies (newspapers in particular) have a serious interest in this space. Property, along with jobs and motors, is a very big revenue category for national, regional and local newspapers.
Thus the considerable investment by News Int, DMGT (Associated, Northcliffe), Guardian Group, Trinity Mirror et al in the space.
Zoopla applied new technology and new thinking to its approach to this market - firstly by recognising that although the day to day money is in the buying and selling of properties, there are only ever about 1m properties for sale in the UK.
The UK consumer is interested in all 27m properties - at one time or another. Owning one is extremely important and the movement in its value, the method of financing it, the potential to release capital from it are all large economic factors.
Enter Zoopla's approach to buidling a large data utility to serve the whole market. A sophisticated and very effective algorithm for valuation, an ability for consumers to enter their own data to ensure the accuracy and a very well designed and functioning site have led to Zoopla building to a number 5 position in terms of unique users in little over 18months.
Zoopla's July traffic: Unique users - just short of 1m, with almost 11m pages viewed!
This has beeen achieved with remarkably little ad spend and has put Zoopla into the position where it could raise £4m earlier this year from Octopus, Atlas having initially raised £1.5m from Atlas, TAG and other LoveFilm alumni.
With the acquisition, together with that of ThinkProperty from GMG, Zoopla.co.uk will take over and integrate the propertyfinder.com and other websites, benefiting from an additional 3 million unique visitors a month and revenues of almost £7 million a year.
The combined group will power property partnerships with UK websites including MSN, Yahoo!, AOL, Guardian, Tiscali, Sky and Virgin amongst others.
The ability of small, nimble players to continue to disrupt evolving markets is once again demonstrated.
But if Zoopla is ultimately to be successful, it will have to continue to innovate and keep its focus on the changing needs of homeowners, home buyers, estate agents and other service providers to this market.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
I would urge every technology start-up across Europe to try to be one of the 20 teams selected to attend.
Seedcamp Week is an intensive week-long event held in London every September.
Image via CrunchBase
The week is inspiring and invigorating and provides value well beyond the potential of the 50,000 Euros that gets invested in the winning five companies.
The experience that attending teams have had has propelled many past attendees from some really good ideas to real business with clearly thought-out goals and a Rolodex of amazing contacts which would normally take years to assemble.
As in previous years, the line up of mentors is really impressive. Already over 160 mentors are confirmed - many coming from the US and all parts of Europe.
Seedcamp is about accelerating - compressing into a week what takes months or years to evolve.
Some facts about Seedcamp will be illuminating to those not familiar with the extent of its activities.
Run 16 events (mini-seedcamps in places like: Paris, Kiev, Tel-Aviv, Berlin, Lubljana - 9 Geographies to date)
Invested over 1m Euro in more than 20 companies
Over 1000 advisors and mentors worldwide
Mentored 280 start-up teams across Europe.
A number of Seedcamp alumni have gone on to raise further capital and are emerging as strong and viable businesses. Some of these alumni will be at Seedcamp to share their experiences.
The track record of Seedcamp winners to date is pretty impressive:
11 of 14 have raised follow -on funding within 3 months after Seedcamp
11 of 14 have launched their product (a further 2 are in private beta)
7 have revenue
2 are cashflow positive
Apply on-line today!
Saturday, July 25, 2009
It simply does not exist here....
Image by libraryman via Flickr
Perhaps its flying out here with Ryanair that sets you up so nicely.
Why is it that the customer is made to feel that he/she is imposing, disturbing or disrupting the way in which things usually work?
Why is everything the customer's fault? Why does the French 'service provider' (they'd blanche to hear that expression) enjoy an argument so much?
All this makes me more determined than ever to re-inforce the guiding principles behind building great consumer brands - listen carefully to the customer - focus all energies on providing solutions and removing friction from processes. Genuinely try to delight the customer.
The lesson from Zappos (and others) must be pretty clear now. Customer service is a key differentiator in the competitive landscape in which we operate.
Fizzback - about whom I've written a few times in the past - is building a great business providing companies that really care about this stuff, smart efficient channels to accept feedback, interpret it and act on it.
Uservoice is doing similarly - for on-line services. See previous post re Uservoice here. .. 'suggestion box for the web'.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Nature Delivered Ltd (trading as Graze) has just announced a funding round of £2m led by Octopus Ventures.
We wrote about Graze in February
drawing attention to the truly innovative and potentially disruptive approach that Graham Bosher and his co-founders have taken to the distribution of food by post. Graham doesn't have deep food technology or distribution experience but he has leveraged his intimate knowledge of significant experience of designing, developing and running complex operations which give customers complete control and provides great customer service.
This was acquired in his initial development of DVDs on tap and later LoveFilm.
The business is experiencing very rapid growth and strong loyalty to the service.
Graze is naturally viral, with people showing others their Graze box at the office and handing out trial coupons.
All web marketers strive for virality or a way to promote it. In this case (like with Moo) the product itself is naturally viral - in the real world. Of course, Graze are pouting petrol on the viral flames and encouraging the blaze.
Now delivering over 80,000 boxes a month, Graze has the backing it needs to build a serious business. William Reeve is taking the Chair and the shareholder register includes DFJ Esprit, Arts Alliance and ourselves.
Certainly one to watch in my view.
If you are in the UK and want to try the service quote this code QKX412R and get a free box.
[from 20th to 24th July, 2009]
Another founder creating a potentially great business by thinking completely differently about an established way of doing things - and not being an insider in his industry - is Errol Damelin at Wonga.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
I wrote about it in connection with the month I spent in San Francisco and feel the momentum of collaboration has come, in no small measure, to London too.
A recent incident illustrated this to me very clearly.
I was analysing some data in a spreadsheet and wondered whether I could display the records (which contained post code) on a map. After failing to find some free software on the web, I tweeted my problem and sure enough within hours came the offer from one Andrew Bredon of Dealchecker - (whom I had never met)- he had a script lying around which he refined and after a couple of goes - voila!
I spend a lot of my time simply connecting people with one another and I know many others who do the same. This is what makes our own eco-system grow and strengthen.
Andrew's simple gesture - without any hint of quid pro quo - is another one of those small but important moments which make what we do so rewarding.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
So, will the fact that we are in part of the cycle where exits for tech start-ups are really hard to come by, be a positive thing for some good businesses in the making?
In boom times, it is difficult for founders and their backers to turn down some really juicy offers. Everyone's a winner? Not necessarily the company in question.
There certainly comes a time when new owners with greater resources, superior distribution or stronger brand can benefit the acquired business. However this often happens too early in the company's life.
Having to carry on independently may not have been the founder's or the VC's plan but could benefit the business significantly - the innovation is sustained, the focus shifts to revenue/earnings growth and cash conservation. This all breeds a strong and healthy culture for the business.
As much as we like exits, we do like building great businesses.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Cynics would say that winning awards are no indication of future financial success. That is undoubtedly true.
Skimlinks have clearly struck a chord however. At a time when publishers are struggling for ad revenue and are looking for additional revenue streams, the simplicity and ease of installation of their service is a real boon.
The awards list runs like this:
We wrote about Skimlinks earlier - here.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
In the words of one of the thousands of comments one can read about Tweetdeck, one stands out for me.
"Tweetdeck changed my entire Twitter experience."
Lets face it, there are still many people on the planet who can't see what all the fuss is about. What is the point of Twitter? Who wants to know what you are doing right now?
Tweetdeck goes some way to making sense of it all.
Just like the browsers and then the search engines made sense of the web in that they helped to navigate and find what you wanted from the millions/billions of pages out there, so Tweetdeck is providing its users with a 'controllable' Twitter, a useful Twitter and an insightful one.
The user expereince has been awesome and provoked huge adoption and great stickiness but now, with the latest release, Iain and his team - Tom, Reza, Nicola,Sol - have blown the commentators away.
There are simply too many great new features to enumerate here. Top of the list for most users will be the ability to sync across desktops, laptops and iPhone - across the cloud.
Unlimited columns, auto language translation of incoming or outgoing tweets, spam buttons - these are just a few of the new features.
Read lots more ...or just go to Tweetdeck and download version 26
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
When you are setting out to change completely the way in which an industry works, sometimes its best not be an expert in that field.
Experts sometimes know too much about how things work, how things are done, how its been done for years.
When Errol Damelin first set out to change the way in which unsecured lending was done - he started with a blank sheet of paper.
It was case of "what if customers could apply for a loan, be verified and risk assessed in real time and the money transferred to their account instantly?" And of course, the service operates 24X7 from anywhere. If that could be done, wouldn't this meet a need and be an awesome service?
This is not easy - even now, no-one else does it.
Jonty Hurwitz joined him and they set about building this. Still not a banker in sight.
Since the funding round for Wonga was announced a couple of days ago, people have been asking - 'how does a company that's been trading for just less than a year raise $22m from some of the world's leading VCs - in this market.
The answer clearly is that Wonga have built some impressive technology, is serving its customers exceptionally well (they get a net promioter score in the 80's!) and is addressing an enormous market.
Errol and Jonty have built a great team too - dedicated to ensuring that their product remains cutting edge and obsessed with great cusomter experience and service. Congratulations.
Of course the APR debate will rage but its clear that this is an entirely inappropriate measure for the very short term loans which they make.
For my part, if the customer needs and loves the service then Wonga are doing a great job.
Some press coverage of the funding round:
Wall Street Journal
Friday, May 29, 2009
VisualDNA Shops allows bloggers and publishers of any size to connect and understand more about their visitors’ preferences as well as providing a new way to monetize their traffic, since a percentage of every purchase is paid directly to the website or blog owner. VisualDNA Shops draws upon Imagini’s proprietary recommendation engine that it is powered by millions of users, enabling suggestions to be drawn from like-minded visitors from all over the world. Given that Amazon alone has more than 96,250 digital cameras in stock, and the keywords “mobile phone” in Google nets 204 million results, this is also a tool that will help consumers navigate the seemingly endless choices by tapping into the collective likes and dislikes of global consumers on a scale never previously possible.
We have popped a phone shop in the sidebar of this blog. It took about 5 minutes.
VisualDNA Shops is also available as a Pro version for $2.99 a month. This comes with advanced analytics that allows site owners and bloggers to view the types of visitors that come to their webpage, as well as who they are and what appeals to them. The Pro version also allows for new products to be suggested to different types of shopper, and "Similar Site" analysis that shows visitors other sites visited by people with similar preferences. These shared links will directly enhance search engine optimization (SEO).
The tools for publishers - aimed at monetisation and enhancing SEO, traffic and engagement are improving all the time.
In TAG's portfolio they include: bit.ly, Daylife, Skimlinks, UserVoice, Webmynd and Zemanta
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We are pleased at TAG to announce the launch of microsyntax.org — a
non profit organisation to help shape and codify the use of structured syntax
within real time data streams - like Tweets.
Users are increasingly coming up with their own microsyntax and abbreviated Twitter grammar to make their Tweets more expressive. RT, @ and # are already part of the venacular.
The purpose of Microsyntax.org, is to investigate the various ways
that individuals and tool providers (like Tweetdeck)
are trying to innovate around this sort of microsyntax.
We hope to create a forum where alternative approaches can
be discussed and evaluated.
Stowe Boyd is leading the effort — charter funding from Betaworks and TAG —
details and the manifesto on the site, microsyntax.org.
Read Techcrunch on Microsyntax .... together with all the twitter-bashing comments .... :)
Sunday, May 24, 2009
We have joined the group of angels backing a simple to install, white label tool - Uservoice - which elicits Customer Feedback and Idea Generation based on “Ideas Anywhere” Approach.
Companies of All Sizes Now Have Easy and Affordable Way to Immediately Engage Customers in Two-Way Feedback Process
Baseline Ventures, Founders Fund Angel, Betaworks and TAG led the $800K angel funding investment.
A new white-label widget and ZeroLogin single-sign-on solution can be branded and deployed within minutes.
Companies can try the new tool at: http://uservoice.com/widgets.
UserVoice provides hosted community sites where people share their ideas for how to improve a product, service, process, institution, or city. Users vote up the best ideas to give a clear picture of what they want in a fraction of the time and expense it would take with traditional solutions (e.g., emails, surveys, focus groups). Additionally, with users organized around specific ideas, organizations can easily respond to them as a group and create ongoing dialogue around specific issues, which is much more effective than the classic newsletter. As a result, people feel heard and gain a sense of ownership in the solutions they come up with, thereby building a new kind of brand affinity.
UserVoice already has hundreds of paying customers in multiple vertical markets that run the gamut from technology, government, healthcare, education and retail. New customers include companies of all sizes including Intuit, NASA, Facebook, Xing, Nielson, Genentech, Blackbaud, University of Wisconsin, Animoto, Seesmic, StumbleUpon and TweetDeck.
Companies can also leverage UserVoice internally to crowdsource ideas from employees on various projects. This same feedback approach can be applied in a number of different vertical markets as well — university administrators can discuss funding issues with students; politicians can work with their constituents on new propositions; and rock bands can connect with their fans about what they'd like to see on tour.
Since UserVoice is easy to configure, any organization can integrate and launch within a day or two for as long or as little a duration of time as needed. The flexibility lets administrators generate an “ideas anywhere” solution to complement existing efforts or create new channels of feedback. UserVoice is optimised for fast, affordable deployments that don’t require a lot of planning or resources from IT departments, offering an end-to-end white label solution — branded, domain-alias, single sign on, and with open APIs for creating unique, custom integrations.
For more information on UserVoice, please visit http://uservoice.com.
For additional perspectives, please visit the UserVoice blog at http://blog.uservoice.com.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
A price comparison service that allows consumers to get cheaper mobile phone deals by monitoring their online bills was accredited by Ofcom on Thursday last.
That service is Bill Monitor. I wrote about Optimor, Bill Monitor's creator back in November 2008 when the Alpha version of the product (code named Karoosh) was being released.
BillMonitor’s price comparison calculator has been awarded the Ofcom price accreditation scheme logo for meeting the terms of a rigorous independent audit. The audit checks whether the information provided to consumers is accessible, accurate, transparent, comprehensive and up to date. BillMonitor is the first mobile price comparison service to have their calculator accredited by Ofcom.
BillMonitor uses advanced statistics to find the best mobile price plans for consumers across the five network operators 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone. The comparison engine was developed by BillMonitor’s team of mathematicians with scientific advisors from the University of Oxford.
Image via Wikipedia
BillMonitor’s service is available as:
- online Bill Tracking, where consumers supply their online billing account details and BillMonitor automatically analyses their online bills for a tailored recommendation; and
- a one-off Tariff Search, where a consumer can enter minutes and texts used, as well as overseas calls, picture messaging and data usage.
BillMonitor analyses historical usage patterns to predict future usage and can keep consumers updated on the money they could save as the networks change their price plans.
Ofcom research shows that 57 per cent of mobile users are more likely to shop around if there is information available to calculate the cheapest supplier based on usage and 50 per cent are more likely to trust an accredited price comparison website.
How much could you save?
The following three anonymous users who used the online Bill Tracking service demonstrate how BillMonitor can help consumers to save money.
Consumer A is a light user on a contract with more inclusive minutes/texts than she uses, paying on average £31.33 per month. Bill Monitor recommended that she switched provider to reduce her average bill to £16.34 (saving over £15 a month) and still leaving her free minutes most months. Without switching provider, she could still save £11.41 a month by changing price plan with her current provider.
Consumer B currently has a monthly contract with no add-ons. He calls and texts Turkey, France, USA and Greece and has roamed while in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Greece. He pays £83.96 per month on average. When BillMonitor analysed his online bill, it recommended that he switch to a different provider and use their free roaming add-on which would reduce his average monthly bill to £67.52 (saving over £16 a month).
Consumer C is rarely off the phone. He uses an average of 2179 minutes and 853 texts and pays £209.50 per month. By using Bill Monitor he managed to bring his bill down to £68.68 by changing price plan with his current provider and saved a huge £140 per month.
Since the OFCOM announcement, there has been tons of coverage in the major broadsheets and in the Sun and the Mirror. Clearly, Bill Monitor has struck a chord.
Stelios and Ofcom's chief can be seen on BBC2 working lunch tv program .
Traffic surge was large and persists throughout the long weekend, thousands of people trying on-line bill assessment in particular and leaving v positive feedback.
A funding round is currently being considered.
Monday, May 18, 2009
The Evening Standard's piece on Skimlinks' new Twitter initiative tops a round of pretty extensive publicity that Alicia has generated for her fledgling business.
Techcrunch, which has liked the business from the start, covered their latest sales milestone and funding here.
Her idea for monetising Tweets is simple and uses the Skimlinks technology to follow links via 19 affiliate networks through to many thousands of retailers:
The project, called good.ly, allows people to recommend items such as books, electronic items and clothes by putting a link on Twitter.
When a person clicks on the link, they go to the retailer's website. If they buy the item, a proportion of the sale price goes to a charity — currently Dogs Trust, a fund for rehousing, or Crisis for homeless people.To use the service, users log on to a shopping website and go to the page that shows the item they want to recommend. They then copy its webpage address into a text box at
When they press return, good.ly creates a message — or tweet — with the link on the Twitter website.
A commercial version of the system is being sold to publishing companies.
Chris Bond, W H Bond & Sons Ltd
Gary & Carmen Lewis, A1 Pharmaceuticals
Georgina Tarrant, The Great Outdoor Gym Company
Hunter Abbott, Now Group UK,
Karen Paterson, Patersons HR and Payroll Solutions
Marc Boyan, Miroma
Margaret Manning, Reading Room
Mike Tobin, TelecityGroup
Sara Murray, buddi [Great job, Sara!]
[BTW, Sara was an adviser to Seedcamp when it first set up in 2007]
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I just spent 3 weeks working out of
There is a lot happening on the East Coast in the web start-up scene.
Just as many of the digital media, real time web start-ups on the west coast choose to set up in
An example is Daylife, a TAG investment of some 4 years vintage. Its hard to imagine them based in a better place than
John Borthwick and Andy Weissman of Betaworks have an original approach to developing Digital businesses – or if you prefer, a new type of media company.
Veteran (or should that be founder) of the Venture Capital industry like Alan Patricoff is turning his Greycroft Partners towards digital media in a serious way and has already built a portfolio of interesting companies.
Sure, for deeper tech you’ll need to go to
Of course, the NY economy is so huge that start-ups are hardly noticeable. Not like SF or
On the other end of the scale,
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Put £100,000 into 10,000 startups - not £10m into 100!
There has been a lot of chatter about the Government's apparent initiative to make £1bn available for innovative early-stage companies.
Apparently, Lord Drayson, the Minister of Science and Innovation in the Department for Universities and Skills is driving this. The BVCA is keen to promote the idea through its influential contacts that this money should be channelled via the large established VC funds.
From where we sit, putting lots more money into the large funds achieves the
exact opposite of what I understand the desired the objectives to be.
What is urgently needed in the
encourage innovation - is funding at the very earliest stages.
One of the major drivers for Silicon Valley's success has been the readily available, quickly raised seed capital. Its not uncommon, even in today's funding climate to find start-ups funded with $500K in a matter of weeks by angel syndicates led by an agile tech VC.
There is more than enough capital available once companies have proven their
technologies, validated the market need and have real momentum. This capital
is NOT venture, it is development or growth capital.
The so-called funding gap has never been adequately filled and the growth in
size of the leading funds has forced them to move up the food chain and to
back relatively fewer pure start-ups.
We have all been wringing our hands at this gap for many years and in the current environment the gap is noticeably widening.
Seed funds are extremely difficult to make work effectively on the classic
2/20 model since it is important that seed funds invest in a large and diverse portfolio (in order to find the winners) while at the same time need to provide a lot of hand-holding to these companies (implying a larger organisation - more partners).
The BVCA’s position is interesting in that it looks at the whole issue
from the 'industry's perspective' – you can’t blame them for that – its their job. Its certainly not being looked at from the entrepreneurs perspective!
We at TAG have had terrific support from some of the large tech VCs but their ability to do many seed fundings is very limited. We need healthy and growing seed capital partners to join us in our quest to find and nurture the next world beaters.
One of the most important and effective vehicles for promoting entrepreneurship in the tech arena in recent years has been Seedcamp - the flood of applicants and the rising quality of these applicants attest to the strength of innovation emanating from Europe.
They are deserving of far greater financial backing.
Partner, The Accelerator Group (TAG)
PS: TAG is an early stage technology investor with 43 investments currently in its portfolio. We invest actively mainly in the UK but also across Europe and in the US.