Category

Portfolio

Lost My Name on Dragons’ Den

By | Portfolio, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

newdragon

Ever wondered how much of a difference it makes going on Dragons’ Den?

Our portfolio company Lost My Name found when they pitched their magical children’s book to the Dragons whilst I was away on holiday last week. You can see the relevant section of the show in the YouTube clip below with realtime analytics super-imposed in the corner of the screen. At the start of their pitch they had 36 users on the site and by the end they were up to nearly 13,000, and they sold thousands of extra books. Additionally the longer term benefits of the brand exposure are still to come.

However, none of this comes without risk. It worked out well for Lost My Name who walked away with a £100,000 investment from Piers Linney at the highest valuation ever seen on the show, but that might not have happened. The Dragons might not have liked the company and even if founders Asi and David pitched flawlessly there was a chance that final edit portrayed them badly. We thought long and hard about these risks before deciding to go on the programme. Fortunately it worked out.

If you’re now wondering what it felt like to be there check out David’s story from the inside.

 

Congratulations to Appear Here

By | Forward Partners, Portfolio | No Comments

I’m stoked that Appear Here, brainchild of Ross Bailey and one of our portfolio companies has raised £1m in funding from a range of strong investors. Howzat Partners led the round with participation from Playfair Capital, MMC,
and a small number of strategic investors from the property industry. This funding is just rewards for a hard working team that deserves the success they’re getting. See the Telegraph and Techcrunch for more details.

Appear Here is a market place for short term lets on the High Street. This video tells their story.

They are also a great example of how we work with companies here in our offices at Forward Partners. We backed Ross last November when it was just him, a plan, and some encouraging conversations with landlords. Since then he and his team have been sitting alongside us in these offices and we’ve partnered with them to validate their assumptions, launch a v1 product in month 3, build traction and then raise their next round of funding. Having an up close view of Ross sell, hustle, hire and obsess over his product and customers has been a joy and a privilege.

Every company will be different, but the Appear Here journey is a rough a template for how we would like to work with other very early stage companies going forward.

We also invest in slightly later stage companies who work out of their own offices.

Makers Academy – one year old today

By | Portfolio | No Comments

Our portfolio company Makers Academy is one year old today. They have had a remarkable first year teaching people to code in twelve weeks (see this video I posted before for more details). As investors we are always asking people what they think about our companies and everyone loves Makers. The best feedback is from students, many of whom gush about their amazing experiences on the course.

Teaching people to code is a noble cause and these guys are nailing it. We’re proud to be involved.

Here are some of the highlights of the year (courtesy of an interview founder Rob Johnson did with trendsonline):

  • Placed students at salaries up to £35K. See a blog post here. (students go from beginners to professional developer in 12 weeks)
  • Changed the way top software agencies perceive junior developers and Makers. See blog post here.
  • Voted #1 place to learn to code by The Guardian
  • Secured partnerships with IBM, Mozilla, Skimlinks and Enternships to sponsor people to come on our course
  • Helped redress the gender imbalance in tech: the cohort graduating on Friday (today) are 45% women, which is far above the 10-15% UK average in the developer community

If you want a further read Rob posted his thoughts on their first year here.

Letters of Note published by Unbound

By | Portfolio | One Comment

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 13.49.06I felt a real surge of pride when I was presented with a signed copy of Letters of Note at the Unbound board meeting this week. First off, the book is beautifully constructed. A real joy to hold in the hand. Then the contents are amazing too, an incredible set of letters curated by Shaun Usher. Some are funny, many are moving, and all are very interesting. My favourite is a letter from John F Kennedy carved into a coconut husk which secured his rescue from the Solomon Islands during WW2 whilst my kids liked the letter Roald Dahl sent to thank one of his fans for capturing her dream and sending it to him in a bottle. He promised to “blow it through the bedroom window of a sleeping child”.

Unbound, one of our portfolio companies, is a crowdfunding platform for authors. The traditional publishing industry is failing all but the most popular authors and it’s great that Unbound is helping books like this to see the light of day and hugely gratifying that they do so in such style.

 

 

Neul powers new wireless network for the internet of things

By | Portfolio | One Comment

Neul - the Internet of EverythingWouldn’t it be cool if you could stick a $5 module into anything and have it talk wirelessly to the internet?

That’s what our portfolio company Neul (pronounced like ‘fuel’) is building, and they just announced the the launch of a city-wide wireless network in Cambridge, England, that connects devices powered by their modules to the web – i.e. an internet of things. The network operates in the spectrum that is freed up by the switch from analogue to digital TV, and their technology includes the modules that connect the devices and the software for operating the network.

We think this could be huge. Cisco and others are predicting that 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, and Neul’s technology is a key enabler. Using existing cellular networks is expensive and unwieldy as the modules are too power hungry to rely on batteries, the spectrum is licensed, and the network stack is optimised for voice traffic rather than intermittent bursts of small data. Neul’s modules can run for years from a single battery, operate in free spectrum and use the new ‘Weightless’ standard which is optimised for machine to machine communications. The network will be cheap to roll out too – the Cambridge network runs from only five base stations.

The first and most obvious application is smart meters but more exciting to me is the new applications that people will dream that are only possible with such cheap and low friction connectivity. My favourite idea is toys. I like the idea of being able to communicate with (or through) my children’s teddy bears from my laptop as they get ready for bed.

Taptu’s new iPad app

By | Portfolio | 2 Comments

image

Our portfolio company Taptu has recently pivoted from a mobile search proposition to the social magazine space.  They have had iPhone and Android apps out for a few months now but I have been waiting on their iPad app which came out a few days ago.

Reading news on my iPad is part of my morning routine and I have been a pretty happy user of Pulse up to this point, which I have preferred over Flipboard primarily because of its speed.  My only gripes with Pulse are the that you can only fit so many feeds onto a page and the limits on the content available.

Taptu solves both those problems.

The technology that powered the Taptu search offering has now been tuned so that any content source can be brought into a stream on Taptu and they can combine multiple sources into a single stream.  That means you can mix sources to create customised streams and have everything you need in the streams you can see on a single page (4 streams in portrait view, 3 streams in landscape).

I’ve set mine up to with dedicated streams for Facebook and Twitter and then a mixed stream for VC news and a mixed stream for premiership football news.

One of the neat things about they’ve done is allow people to share their curated feeds, or in Taptu parlance become ‘news DJs’.  The VC news feed I’ve got is one that was created by Scott Sage, an Associate here at DFJ Esprit, and the premiership football stream is one that Taptu curates.

The team at Taptu are going to help me curate my own stream with my favourite blogs, sites and Twitters.  I will let you know when it goes live.

The app has a few nice UI touches as well, in particular I like that you can view the full history of a stream and see how old each item is.  That helps you know how up to date you are and whether you have too many or too few sources curated into the feed.

My only substantial gripe is that there is no Instapaper support, which I’m told has been a common feature request since the iPad app went live and will be coming soon.  For now the ‘read later’ options are to email stories or bookmark them inside Taptu which creates a stream of saved stories.

Check it out.  Let me know what you think.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Great customer feedback for Zeus

By | Portfolio | No Comments

I wrote this post when I was offline and forgot to publish it when I got back to the office 🙁

——————

One of the joys of being a venture capitalist is taking vicarious pleasure from the success of your portfolio. Yesterday our portfolio company Zeus Technology received an unsolicited email from one of its customers which made everyone involved with the business very happy. I thought I would share it with you:

hi there –

i’ve just booted and configured a zeus load balancer on ec2. i just wanted to say i am stunned by how easy it was to get a not particularly straight forward configuration up and running. and the power of the zeus load balancer vs amazon’s elb is beyond a joke. zeus wins hands down in every respect.

consider us a customer!

cheers, simon

Zeus is on a tear and this sort of feedback is just rewards for all the hardwork everyone there is putting in.  I particularly like this quote for the way it focuses on the quality and ease of use of the product which I think is increasingly central to the success of any company.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Buy.at and advertising in the long tail – including on TheEquityKicker

By | Advertising, Content, Portfolio, Social networks, WAYN | 16 Comments

BuyAt logo

I have been thinking for a while now that I should start experimenting with advertising on TheEquityKicker – and the observant amongst you who have visited my site rather than just reading me in a feed will have noticed that there is now a banner for Lovefilm in my left sidebar. This is an all portfolio affair as the ad is an affiliate link from buy.at and we have also invested in Lovefilm. Because it is an affiliate link it is performance only – i.e. the advertiser (in this case Lovefilm) only pays if they get a new customer (in this case defined as someone signing up for a free trial).

All money I make from advertising on this blog will be donated to charity. In the first instance that will be a nightshelter scheme operated by churches where I live in North London (or rather the charity that runs it). The NightShelter provides accommodation for homeless people during the post Christmas winter months. It is a worthwhile cause where I have volunteered for the past couple of years and if/when the money starts flowing I will post some photos so you can all see what you have helped with.
I am making the move into monetisation for two main reasons. Firstly if there are advertising dollars to be had it seems wrong to just leave them on the table, and secondly it will be fun to experiment with the different options available.

As I say I have been thinking about doing this for a while, I got around to doing it now because of a cool new widget coming from buy.at that we hope will help push the affiliate advertising model much further down the long tail of websites. (Today I have put up a simple banner, but the widget will follow soon.)

The drive at buy.at to push monetisation further down the long tail isn’t only about blogs, it extends to social networks as well. Last week buy.at announced a deal with travel focused social network WAYN. Through this initiative the ten million WAYN members will be able to promote products on their own profile pages and get a cut of any advertising revenues generated. It is early days, but this is could be huge and I will write more on it another time, but this just might be the way to unlock the advertising potential of social networks.

For full disclosure, we also have an investment in WAYN.