Monday, November 29, 2010

Index Seed Investments

Following my post yesterday which presented an overview of Index Seed - 6 months after launch, I've been asked a few times to list the companies which we have invested in - that is, those which are not still in stealth.
Here they are:

Freejit is still in stealth but announced.
5 other announcements due soon.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

6 months on .....

There is a tiny bit of PR wisdom to which I have tried to adhere most of my working life: "refrain from talking publicly about what you are going to do, talk about what you have done".

When we made the Index Seed announcement, it was clearly necessary to indicate what we were going to do. This was so that entrepreneurs and fellow travellers had some sense of our plans and could propose working together.

Now, given that it is almost exactly 6 months since we announced that TAG and Index were getting together to launch Index Seed, it is time to review what we've done and how well or otherwise we've done it.

All the leading technology VCs do some seed stage investing, the questions to be asked are: how many do they do? what resources are applied? what are the processes involved in getting from A to Z ? (ie from trying to get a date in the diary to cash in the bank) and how involved are they once the investment is made?

We set out to invest in a style that blended the best of TAG’s angel and Index’s institutional approaches.

So, what has been achieved?:

  • We have an active investment committee comprising 5 partners who meet weekly to review potential investments. Saul Klein, Neil Rimer, Mike Volpi, Danny Rimer and myself (Robin Klein)
  • We are supported by a dedicated Seed Associate, Terrence Rohan, by Alex Gezelius (Associate at Venture - who has been invaluable to us) and by Thai Tran - a brilliant engineer who has been an EIR at Index and has acted as our Technology advisor.
  • We have backing from the full Index Partnership as well as the operations team including, Legal and Admin - Nicola, Andre, Sayula, Nina and Pet
  • We have reviewed over 750 plans and met with over 250 companies
  • We have made 12 seed investments so far in 2010 (5 in London, 3 on the West Coast, 2 in Israel, 1 in Estonia and 1 in New York). Many are still in stealth so will only be announced at a time to suit the company's needs.
  • Amounts invested have ranged from $100k to $1m
  • We have a standard seed term sheet, refined and made founder friendly, closing deals at minimal legal cost
  • Every investment has been made with fellow travellers including: Chris Sacca, Dave McClure, Quincy Smith, Ariel Poler, Simon Levene, Aydin Senkut, Marten Mickos, Robert Dighero, Stefan Glaenzer, Alex Zubillaga, Jerry Yang, Yaniv Golan, Avichay Nussbaum, Fabrice Grinda, Michael van Swaaij, Seedcamp, Redpoint, First Round Capital, Betaworks, True Ventures, Polaris, Ron Conway, Joi Ito, Matt Cohler
  • Together with the other investors interested in supporting the earliest stage businesses like Eden, Notion Capital, Lars Hinrichs at HackFwd, we have actively backed Seedcamp with investment and attendance at events

What we're still working on:

  • Consistently providing a definitive answer to founders within 3 weeks of our first contact. We achieve this often but not always
  • Encouraging founders to get pre-endorsed by someone we know

We are really excited at the volume and quality of new start-ups coming from all geographies and fully intend keeping this pace of investment going during 2011.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

KPIs - a really powerful tool

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
Albert Einstein, (attributed)
US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955)

Albert EinsteinImage via Wikipedia

Deciding on a set of KPIs is one of the most important things we normally do when starting to work to build the business with a founding team.
What to measure? how frequently? what to publish? and to whom? are all good questions to be thought about.

Key Performance Indicators are a fundamental tool, the dashboard by which the company is monitored, guided, controlled and managed. It is surprising how frequently this really simple device is not properly used.

In many traditional businesses, the monthly management accounts serve as the barometer of corporate health and comparisons to budget help to drive actions by the philosophy of 'management by exception'. This approach is completely out-dated and inadequate for fast moving web businesses capable of generating vast amounts of meaningful data in real time.

Distilling all this data down to the key numbers and tracking them against expectations is where the effort needs to go in setting up the set of KPIs that are going to drive the business.

No board should burden the management team with data requirements beyond those which are needed to run and plan the business, so an agreement as to the KPI set - should be sought as soon as possible.

Make sure that everyone in the senior team 'owns' one of the KPIs.  The big goals of the business which are agreed by the board should be represented at the targets against which the KPIs are measured.

I like to get an email containing KPIs at least once a week (preferably auto generated, untouched by human hand) and in some cases every day! I find this no burden at all - its easy enough to glance at the headline (in the subject line) and delete.

Some teams prefer to give non-execs access to the analytics or admin dashboards inviting them to look up the numbers when it suits.
For me this misses a very important point. That of being 'top of mind' for your board. Most NEDs sit on multiple boards and if you want them to think about your business and provide meaningful, helpful advice, contacts etc then its best that you keep reminding them of your existence.

You'd be amazed at how efficient your board meetings can become when everyone is up to date with the performance, has lived through the month's ups and downs through the KPIs and has a good idea of where the issues lie.
You will spend less time reviewing the month past and more time discussing the issues and planning the future.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Am I just naive? Or is this type of stuff just 'par for the course'?

One of the things I really enjoy about the early stage technology scene is its collaborative nature. Companies routinely compete and co-operate and "frenemies" co-exist pretty happily.
Lots of people give freely of their time and expertise understanding that we are all part of a larger eco-system with many mutual dependencies.
There is a time to compete really strongly - and this is normally done by being faster and smarter.

I was shocked recently by the behaviour of one of MyBuilder's competitors - namely MyHammer.
This German company, with operations now in the UK has behaved in a way that is frankly very difficult to understand or justify.
[I need to declare a direct interest in this matter as a board member and investor in MyBuilder]
Firstly, MyHammer registered the MyBuilder trademark in the UK - back in June 2008, AFTER MyBuilder had launched their site in May 2008. Clearly this was an 'own goal' on MyBuilder's part and is a lesson to all startups to register your brand as soon as possible.

Then,recently, MyHammer initiated a PPC campaign / new affiliate site, my_builder.com (ie my underscore builder),  just when MyBuilder's TV advertising campaign launched. See screen grabs below - 

Following a strenuous complaint by MyBuilder, MyHammer agreed to take down the offending site - no doubt having hoovered up a decent number of potential customers. I would also hope that they would hand back to MyBuilder their brand registration and URL - the goodwill in which has been built by MyBuilder at considerable cost and over a number of years.

I'm interested in what people think about such practices and how widespread they are. Certainly there is no board that I sit on which would sanction such an approach to competition.

This is the TV commercial which is helping to build the MyBuilder brand:

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Why we all love Wonga ... all who know it that is.

Image representing Wonga as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
Wonga.com (Wonga = English slang for cash) is a web phenomenon. It started offering small cash loans on the web 2.5 years ago, setting out to solve an important and pressing need that many have for emergency or instant cash in a very simple, clear, open WYSIWYG way - in fact, in a way which is entirely culturally compatible with the internet.

The regulations surrounding financial services are quite correctly stringent but have evolved for a very different era. They require all loans to be expressed as an effective APR (Annual Percentage Rate)  - even if the loan is for 14 days - or 7 or 30.
It also includes any application fee (Bank's generally call these 'arrangement fees' - in commercial lending) and transmissions fee (for same day - or in Wonga's case, instant transfer) to be included as interest within the APR.

An example. if you borrowed £100 to tide you over for 14 days, you'd pay back £120. Wonga charges £20 to process the loan, transmit the cash, collect it and take the risk of non-payment - all for £20.
Wonga explains the APR question nicely on its website.

This APR issue has made Wonga a controversial brand - loved by many hundreds of thousands but misunderstood by some - and an easy target for those not ever likely to use the service.

I have gotten used to the visceral reaction of some on the social web to seeing the Wonga TV ads (latest version is below) and the APR in the thousands - but every now and then I notice people from the tech industry rushing for the moral high ground and shouting foul.

Why is Wonga one of the stand out successes of the internet?
[Europe's fastest growing company, according to GP Bullhound's Media Momentum Awards and still growing at around 500%]
  • It solves a very real and large problem - not solved elsewhere with the speed, convenience, flexibility and honesty that Wonga does.
  • Its customers really love it!  With a NPS of around 79, there are very few brands that match it. I have been involved closely with some brands that elicited great loyalty and affection from its customers - none quite like this. 90% of respondents who had used another lender agreed that Wonga was a better service (30% ‘better’ and 60% ‘significantly better’).
  • The product is backed up by a determined customer service ethos which strives to be open, responsive and flexible to the needs of the customers - via a multitude of channels. 
  • Lending decisions are made in real time referencing over 3500 data points and analysed in Wonga's proprietary risk engine.
  • The technology which makes all this possible is world class.
Little known facts about Wonga.

  • To be a customer of Wonga, you need to have a bank account.
  • 99.7% of Wonga's customers own a mobile phone. 
  • 17% own an iPhone
  • Wonga sponsors Blackpool FC in the Premier League

Errol Damelin, Jonty Hurwitz and the team at Wonga are building a business to be proud of. I, for one am proud to be its Chairman.

Image representing Errol Damelin as depicted i...Image by Wonga.com via CrunchBase
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Friday, April 23, 2010

TAG and Index get together to drive Seed investing.

Image representing The Accelerator Group as de...Image via CrunchBase
The ecosystem has been alive with reams written about how active angels are becoming, how VCs have gotten too large, how companies need less cash and how the VC model is broken. And of course, there is the perennial complaint about the lack of early stage capital in Europe. [see links to some related articles below]

A number of the large US VC firms have made special arrangements or adjustments to their models, their PR or have re-emphasised their commitment to early stage and start-up investment.

Sequoia invested in or with YCombinator, Reid Hoffman joined Greylock, Andreessen Horowitz has been launched promising low friction, multiple investments in amounts ranging from $50K to $50m. They appear to have done 12 investments since August last year including 4 seed investments.

Super early stage investors with relatively modest fund sizes have emerged in the US - like First Round Capital, Union Square Ventures, True Ventures as have new institutional seed guys like Mike Maples and Jeff Clavier along with super angels -Aydin Senkut , Chris Dixon and the like.
Betaworks are building a different kind of incubator/investment company.

Whilst this is going on, we've seen very little from Europe's top tier-VCs.

Until now.

Index and The Accelerator Group (TAG) have announced a plan to directly address this opportunity.

Index will create Index Seed. In some ways similar to Index Growth which was announced in January 2008, Index Seed will benefit from clear focus, application of appropriate resources and a discreet pool of capital.

Index has invested continuously in seed since 1996 so this is no new space for them - on the contrary they are arguably the best tech seed investors in Europe. Inevitably, however, as the firm grew, the proportion of pure seed deals fell and with it the misconception grew that many deals were simply too small.

This will no longer be the case.
I will join Index as a venture partner - helping to lead the Seed investment activity together with Saul and with the support of Neil Rimer, Mike Volpi and Danny Rimer, (all partners in Index Ventures).

We will aim to make around 20 investments in the coming 24 months - with initial amounts from $50K to $1m. As TAG has done for many years, we will seek to invest alongside 'fellow travellers' - people with whom we have been investing for a number of years and the growing band of active angels in Europe and the US.

TAG will have co-investment rights in all seed deals but will have the freedom to invest on its own if circumstances dictate.

Some History:

Saul and Danny worked together first in 1995 in the US, while Saul was at Firefly & Microsoft and Danny was at H&Q (JP Morgan) and the Barksdale Group. As TAG, we worked with Index first in 2003 when they led the first institutional round of investment in our own startup, Video Island.....(which then acquired ScreenSelect, merged with LoveFilm)

We are co-investors in 14 companies (including Moo, My Heritage, Glasses Direct, OpenX, Stardoll, Moshi Monsters and LoveFilm). The introduction to these companies has been both ways - TAG's introduction to Index and sometimes Index inviting TAG's participation.

We know each other well and there is a congruency of purpose and values.

Despite this closeness, TAG has successfully worked, over many years with many other VCs such as Accel, Advent, Atlas, Balderton, Eden, Greylock, Octopus and Betaworks. Some of TAGs most successful investments like Wonga, Fizzback and Zoopla - as well as some emerging companies like Graze, MyBuilder, Bit.ly, Tweetdeck and FreeAgent - were made with these VCs and others.

A guiding principle for us has been that we never forget that we back entrepreneurs - the business is theirs and we are part of the support team - like their other team members. How much money? from whom? and when? is very much a team decision.

So, TAG will remain independent and Index Seed will seek to actively co-invest with 'fellow travellers' - large and small - at early stage.

There has never been a better time for technology Entrepreneurs.

It is thrilling for me to work closely with young, smart people who are - in many cases - genuinely changing the way in which people live or businesses work.

The leadership Index is demonstrating with its commitment to Seed and the eco-system in Europe and beyond is very significant and I am hoping its impact will extend far and wide.

Looking forward to hearing your views, comments, questions and will post again in week or so to expand on any topics.

For those unfamiliar with the TAG details - a short summary:

The Accelerator Group (TAG) is the father and son investment team of Robin (@robinklein) and Saul (@cape) Klein, which last year was recognized at Techcrunch Europa's as European investor of the year (http://bit.ly/2lhP3J ). TAG has actively invested seed capital in over 60 ambitious entrepreneurs with global ambitions in the last 12 years.

Some of TAG's 10 exits include Agent Provocateur (3i), Sit Up TV (Virgin Media), Lastminute.com (IPO), Last.fm (CBS) and Dopplr (Nokia) where we've had the pleasure to work with great European founders like Brent Hoberman, Felix Miller, Martin Stiksel, RJ, Marko Ahtisaari, Matt Jones & Biddulph, John Egan and Ashley Faull, Joe Corre and Serena Rees as well as superb seed investors like Stefan Glaenzer, Reid Hoffman, Joi Ito, Esther Dyson and Martin Varsavsky.

TAG currently has 44 active investments with some of Europe and the US top investors, including:

• Lovefilm (Index, Balderton)
• Stardoll (Index, Klaus Hommels)
• Moshi Monsters (Index, Accel)
• Moo (Index, Atlas)
• Fizzback (Advent, Sherry Coutu)
• Zoopla (Atlas, William Reeve, Alex Chesterman, Simon Murdoch and Sherry Coutu)
• Songkick (Jeff Clavier, Index, Stefan Glaenzer, Alex Zubliaga and Betaworks)
• Wonga (Balderton, Accel, Greylock)
• Tweetdeck (Betaworks, Ron Conway, ProFounders)
• Twitterfeed (Betaworks)
• Bit.ly (Betaworks, O'Reilly Alpha Tech)
• Erply (Redpoint, Index, Dave McClure, Aydin Senkut)
• Mashery (First Round Capital)
• Slideshare (Ariel Poler, Dave McClure)
• Amee (Union Square, O'Reilly Alpha Tech, Toby Coppel, George Coehlo, Amadeus)
• Graze (William Reeve, Octopus)

We've had a particularly strong relationship over the years with Index, doing more than a dozen deals starting from Lovefilm in 2003 and including Moshi Monsters, Stardoll, Moo, Songkick, GlassesDirect, OpenX, Netlog, MyHeritage, AstleyClarke. In some of these cases, TAG and Index co-seeded the company.

Saul founded Seedcamp 2007 and TAG has been active in supporting Seedcamp ever since, in addition to investing directly in Seedcamp teams like Zemanta, MyBuilder, Skimlinks and Erply. We have also actively invested in YCombinator companies for several years - companies such as Songkick, Habit Stream and WebMynd.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

FreeAgent powers ahead with Iris

Image representing FreeAgent Central as depict...Image via CrunchBase
FreeAgent Central, has agreed a strategic partnership with Iris, the UK’s largest private software house, opening up the significant accounting practice market to their award-winning online accounting software ‘FreeAgent’ and positioning the company for rapid growth.

Iris, which supplies software to over 60,000 business customers, currently dominates the accountancy practice software market with over 14,000 practice customers (a market share of around 50%).
Iris is a software giant in the UK backed by Hellman and Friedman the private equity house that took Getty Images private in 2008.

CEO Martin Leuw has been building IRIS into an exceptional business with revenues of £120m and profits of £40m in 2009. Their strategy has been to focus on sectors which they serve really well with appropriate products.

Its a real endorsement and validation for what Ed Molyneux and Roan Lavery, the founders and the team have built at FreeAgent that Iris selected them to partner and invest in.

Iris is also investing investing in FreeAgent, acquiring a minority stake and Phill Robinson, Iris’s Accounting Practice Solutions’ Managing Director, is joining FreeAgent Central’s board. 

Phill, well known in web circles, was formerly Chief Operating Officer and Chief Marketing Officer - Sales and Distribution at Salesforce.com and will be invaluable to FreeAgent Central as it looks to continue its rapid growth both in the UK and internationally. 

This is an important milestone for FreeAgent Central and will bring online accounting to the mainstream of the accounting practice software market. Accountants have a unique opportunity to help small businesses thrive, and FreeAgent will help them that to do that even more effectively by connecting them live to their clients’ accounting data. 
Users of FreeAgent become passionate advocates within days of starting to use the service and the FreeAgent team is  planning to build some powerful analysis tools for Iris’s practice customers too.
The FreeAgent product has been getting rave reviews for some time. This distribution deal will empower many more freelancers.

Existing investors, including The Accelerator Group and serial angel investor Christoph Janz, also participated in the investment round.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Major coup for Seedcamp winner, ERPLY

Investors in Seedcamp were universally impressed with Erply during Seedcamp week in London last September and then again during 'demo day' and 'investor day' at the end of 2009.
They were exposed again to 50 or so seed investors at SeedSummit in December 2009.
Now, following a visit that 10 of the Seedcamp finalists made to the US, Redpoint and Index have led a funding round which puts the business software start-up from Estonia firmly on the map.

This is an exciting development for Seedcamp and Erply.
For Seedcamp, this is an endorsement of its ability to find high potential companies and provide them with a global platform.
For Erply this round is a recognition of the strength of the product that Kris and his team have developed.

The press release follows:

Erply attracts funding from top tier investors for disruptive business software technology

Press Release: London & Tallinn, 23 March 2010 – Seedcamp winner Erply raises $2million from top tier US and European venture capitalists and angels in a Series A round.

Business software startup Erply today announced the closing of a $2 million funding round from Redpoint, Index Ventures and prominent entrepreneurs and angel investors Marten Mickos (former CEO of MySQL), Kenny van Zant (SVP & Chief Product Strategist at SolarWinds), Zack Urlocker (former EVP Products at MySQL), Aydin Senkut, Dave McClure and The Accelerator Group. The funding will be used to expand Erply’s customer base in key European markets and its upcoming expansion into the US. Satish Dharmaraj of Redpoint and Index Ventures partner Saul Klein will both join Erply’s Board of Directors.
The company, led by CEO Kris Hiiemaa, was founded in 2009 in Estonia by four experienced business software developers. Since winning Seedcamp in 2009, Erply has already seen rapid growth in new customers. Erply is revenue generating, profitable and has attracted a wide variety of customers, including car dealerships, toy shops and restaurants. 

Erply’s easy-to-use business software that enables companies to perform every business function, including bookkeeping, customer relationship management and stock control. Erply is built on the latest web technologies, so it is as powerful and secure as any business software on the market. As a result, small businesses can easily integrate Erply and rapidly scale-up their operations.

While the USD $39 billion market for comparable business software is currently dominated by major players like SAP, Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle, their offerings are too costly and complex for the majority of small businesses. In contrast, Erply’s business software is available for a small fraction of its competitors’ and an average €55 monthly subscription fee is a more cost-effective option for small businesses. Erply is additionally well-positioned for success: where its competitors’ market is limited to tens of thousands of big businesses, Erply has a potential market of 45 million small businesses in Europe and the US alone.

Erply co-founder Kris Hiiemaa believes Erply’s new investors’ experience will prove pivotal to building on the company’s impressive start: “The main value in this funding round is in the enormous insight, experience and expertise our investors bring to Erply. Individually, each VC and angel has an incredible track record of identifying cutting-edge tech startups with fast-growth potential and helping them flourish. It’s a very exciting time for us.” 

Redpoint partner and Zimbra co-founder Satish Dharmaraj: “Erply is to ERP what Zimbra was to email and collaboration. Having seen how rapidly Zimbra replaced Exchange and Outlook as an email solution for businesses for all sizes, I see promising synergies in the game change that Erply is set to do, and I’m thrilled to be involved with Erply.”

Former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos: “Similar to how MySQL made databases affordable for businesses all over the world, customers are already adopting Erply and recognising it as a great solution for their business software needs.”

Index Ventures’ Saul Klein: “Having seen at first hand the effect that Skype’s simplicity and pricing had on the telecoms industry, I’m delighted to support Erply as they try to do for business software what Skype did for telecoms.”

Erply Background Information
Erply (
http://www.erply.com) was launched in Tallinn in 2009 by four Estonian software developers.

The company is incorporated in the UK and has its headquarters in Tallinn. Since winning Seedcamp London in September 2009, Erply has grown rapidly and now is generating revenue and is profitable.

Erply gives companies the ability to manage their business (including critical data and operations, inventory, stock control and accounting) in one easy-to-use package.

Erply is already available in seven languages and is fully customised for each geographic location’s particular tax laws.

Erply has four monthly subscription options, ranging from a basic free version to a fully-functional Premium account which costs €99 per month.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Europe needs to learn to play nicely

Saul's latest inspiration to European entrepreneurs.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Skimkit is a major advance for publishers

Newspapers and other media have long felt that they have gone unrewarded for the enormous boost that their reviews of  product give to sales levels. A mention from an influential journalist or reviewer can shoot a book into the best seller list or a product into orbit.
Of course, writers need to be completely impartial when reviewing products and those journalists who are not, are very easily found out and no self-respecting editor would allow such bias - readers would leave in droves. The best reviewers are independent, even handed impartial - that does not mean that their publishers should not be rewarded for referencing the product or retailer in question.

In order to provide a real service to readers, a good reviewer should offer a link to the retailer or manufacturer, enabling the reader to buy directly.

Now publishers can do all of this with ease AND earn a referral commission - resulting in a win/win/win for the reader, medium and retailer.
All this happens in the background, without the journalist or the publisher getting involved in any of the grubby business of affiliate commissions. Retailers pay Skimlinks the affiliate commission and Skimlinks shares this with the publisher.
Skimlinks currently covers 23 different affiliate networks, 7500 merchants and over 100,000 products.

Finding a product and its deep link is really simple.
Whether the writer is doing a piece on 'the top ten red coats under £100', accessing a list of retailers that stock the Plasma TV they're reviewing, or reviewing the latest discount offer from their favourite skincare brand, Skimkit finds the products and produces the links to take the readers directly to the relevant products on the retailers website.
Skimlinks takes care of the all the commercials.

Skimlinks new tool, Skimkit is a significant advance. It changes little in the writing process and is extremely simple to use.
I expect Skimlinks growth to continue to accelerate with this initiative.

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