Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Pastures new...

This is just a brief post to let anyone who looks at this blog that I've been lured away to the other side (dark side? light side?) and am now working as CEO for Tangentix helping them bring their exciting technology through to market. I remain good friends with EV and the great people there and continue to work as their representative non-exec director on the board of EoSemi too.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Product/Company Name/Domain Generator

Why build it?

I've spent far too much time watching teams struggle with how to name their products- it's something that seems easy but is actually fraught with problems so some time ago I set up a checklist of the 8 things I thought you should check. The worst of these is often the domain name- most good ones have gone- so here is really simple tool to produce a bunch of suggestions quickly that can go straight into a domain name bulk service for checking.

How to use it

To use this tool simply start tying lots of "First bits" (based on known words, sounds letter patterns or adjectives), and lots of endings you like in the second. The page will constantly update the third output column with a list of candidates you can then use to copy and paste into a domain name service like this one.

Nothing is stored so do keep the lists you make by copying and pasting them somewhere on your own computer.

First bitsSecond bitsOutput

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

New Venture Capital Jobs at EV


EV has recently been awarded several mandates for new funds, bringing funds under management to c. £85 million with the capacity to invest up to £2 million in SMEs located across the UK. As a result, three new positions have arisen within its existing EV Tech team; an Investment Director and an Investment Manager are now required to cover the North West and Yorkshire regions, as well as a Fund Administrator to be based in the Yorkshire region.


Candidates for the Investment Director role will have previously worked for a technology VC house and will have an investment track record. They are likely to have a science-based first degree and MBA and/or ACA qualification as well as being FSA Threshold Competent. The role will largely be based at EV’s Manchester office.


Candidates for the Investment Manager role will have a science-based first degree and could have a background in technology transfer, corporate finance, technology analysis or previous spinout company experience. Experience in working on medical products/ innovations would be advantageous. This is an entry level role into technology VC investing and will be based in the Yorkshire region. In both cases, applicants must have the following key attributes:-
  • Financially and technically competent
  • Commercially aware with a sound level of judgment
  • Sound project management skills
  • Proven analytical and problem solving abilities
  • Able to manage duties with some guidance and/or technical assistance from Fund Manager
  • An effective networker able to positively promote EV and its fund under management and build a strong contact base with regional intermediaries and deal referrers
  • A sound communicator, both written and verbally
  • Able to build good relationships with investees, clients and contacts
  • Energy, enthusiasm and a keen interest in the early stage technology space


The Fund Administrator will provide support to the EV Tech investment team in all areas of financial management and control, in particular, to ensure the efficient planning and execution of day-to-day administrative functions of the investment team within the business. The role will involve collection of data, maintaining of databases, report writing and basic accountancy/ fund management work. Candidates must have strong Excel modelling skills and ideally have an accountancy qualification. Relevant experience in the financial services sector is not a requirement but would be useful. The role will be Yorkshire-based. This is an outstanding opportunity to join a growing and independent specialist fund manager. Attractive package including benefits

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

RisingStars Portfolio Seminar

I really enjoy the RisingStars Portfolio Seminars: it's always great to see gathered together the portfolio company directors and to see the value they get from talking to each other. Jonathan opened proceedings pointing out that there are differences between some of the doom-and-gloom in the current Private Equity market compared to some of the solid progress recently in the RisingStars portfolio. In particular pointing out that the increase in valuations for RSGF1 over the last 6 months is unusual in the market. Second up was Julie Meyer, famous for founding First Tuesday, and now CEO of Ariadne Capital spoke about entrepreneurs with some really interesting quotes. Some key trends she highlighted included:

  • A move to smaller A-rounds due to the lower cost of getting started- e.g. £1m.
  • Changes in the way early-stage companies align to their ecosystem. In particular startups are taking advantage of "largeco's" inability to take advantage of the changes from social networking generally.
  • There are categories left to be built- not all done
  • Speed of innovation becoming ever more important
On market entry Julie pointed to Spinvox as pioneering an increasingly important approach. She described the way that they had engaged directly with consumers, building 100,000 users, before then engaging seriously with the mobile operators. A particular observation that resonated with me was about exits, where, despite the general downturn in deals, she sees that "M&A is the new R&D". That where many larger companies have been decreasing in-house R&D, they are now looking to get a faster competitive advantage by looking at acquisition of technology companies as a potential solution. An idea that was new to me entirely, was to wrap up the ideas of increasing consumer power, citizen participation, individual entrepreneurship can be wrapped up in an idea of "Individual Capitalism". She suggested that this had some implications for the need for companies to think a little differently about their key employees. She described the audience as "Super-glossy VC backed stars"- um! Finally, Julie highlighted some of their recent work. In particular:
  • bview as their local directory play
  • gnuTrade- a blend of gaming and financial market trading
  • Monetise, a mobile payment play.
  • Near, virtual world retail.
  • Qire, a Liverpool based enterprise voice messaging play
  • SliceThePie, an unsigned artist music site.
Julian Viggars, our Head of Technology opened up by cheering us up with some economic facts of life- thanks Julian! But within the data were some interesting gems:
  • UK companies are cheap to acquire at the momement due to the exchange rate
  • Tech acquisitions have dropped less than others (17%)
Whilst last seminar we were largely speculating over the effect of the market changes on our portfolio, Julian observed that we'd seen some of those effects come through in practice. In particular, the increasing importance of cash, on extending cash runway, and on making solid product progress had been anticipated and were now observed. Julian provided some detailed numbers on the fund progress, which obviously are private so can't be repeated here, suffice it to say that it was great to see the collected progress in terms of fund-raising and commercial traction for the portfolio generally. Julian showed his conviction in believing that now was a good time to invest in technology companies. Some years ago, Alison Kibble the CEO of Femeda, introduced what was then an early-stage investment, so it was great for her to come back and explain the progress that the company had made with their disposable home treatment for one of the most prevalent medical conditions; female urinary incontinence. She was able to report a staggeringly positive response to their medical trial, although I wouldn't have minded if she'd found a better example of the support she's had from investors than posting adverts for the trial in our office toilets! She was able to illustrate well the way in which the large FMCG companies are interested in the way that Femeda, and companies that ilk, can move much faster towards new products being on the market, and hinted at the potential for a corporate transaction to take the product to a global market. Finally, Alison finished up by describing the desperate stories from the comments on the company's blog which illustrated just how far the product can go to improve people's lives. Ben Hookway is one of our "serial entrepreneurs". He provided some war stories from NextDevice, the issues they faced with selling their mobile UI software company into the handset value chain. In particular the difficulties of taking the decision to sell at that time. He pointed out how important some key aspects of the exit process had been:
  • It's vital to have clearly documented any reliance and usage of opensource code.
  • Mentor had purchased as a third option, after playing with software deal, or investment.
  • Ben admitted to being a bit seduced by the earn-out on the table from the acquisitor. Although as part was pre-paid it worked out OK, he'd be much more wary another time.
  • Ben counselled to watch for the way the options appear to narrow as the deal proceeds. The people he had to deal with changed and increasingly it can become the only deal in town- very tense. One way of mitigating this Ben suggested was vital was to make friends with the person tasked to do the deal on the corporate acquisition team, don't rely on your existing internal champion.
  • It felt like they were approaching a finish-line, but "you gotta take a holiday" because this is the start of an intense process of trying to make the product work for the corporate. You find out just how un-bought-in the vast bulk of the company is going to be- they've not been involved. It's political and tough to get things moving in the largeco. It took 3 months to get a part number, without which the sales guys couldn't actually get any of the sales people to work on it.
  • Ben provided plentiful advice on how to deal with some of the internal politics- expectations you have no knowledge about have been set internally- "a tough world".
  • Finally, with a knowing grin, Ben advised not to try and change the company culture to be more like the start-up. You've got to embrace the experience. He's really enjoyed it, but now...
Ben described his next role, as CEO of Vidiactive- more of this later... In the question and answer session, Stuart McKnight observed the gradual return of some of the top tier investors during Q2 who had been quiet in Q1. Julian responded that we've seen an increased level of interest, but still a little shaky and uncertain. Jonathan observed that he'd seen an institutional realisation that technology had been a bit neglected in the rush to increase Private Equity funding. "Attitudes have changed", he observed.

Friday, 3 April 2009

First,ten BUT...

Seth Godin's latest post "First, ten" highlights a classic start-up mistake, but for me misses an important step.
He suggests that you find ten people to use your service who "trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you...", that, " if they love it, you win. If they love it, they'll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat."
Seth Godin makes a key point here which we've seen many start-ups, large and small, all miss: if you require that your business grows virally, then all that spend on launch and PR is wasted if you do so when the product is not yet good enough to be viral by itself. That's not to say that PR etc. can't be great when you want to pour some petrol on that fire, but you're better saving up that fuel for when the fire is already spreading by itself.
However, I'd have to suggest some qualifiers. The test is not those "first ten", but whether those first ten start to "spread the virus" by themselves. That might well mean that they need to be considerably more than ten so that you can measure and understand them, but it certainly doesn't have to be ten thousand. Key to that viral spread is the communication from an existing user to a new one, and that's a tough barrier because the user chooses it, not you (how many different ways have you heard Twitter described?). My view is that Seth Godin's definition of the "first ten" might prove a little unrepresentative- they're clearly going to listen, and therefore give you the chance to communicate much more sophisticated and subtle ideas, you can "teach" new things, or even "un-teach" perceived wisdom. You could also get those first ten to think about what the service could mean to their lives and how they might use it, and it will be much more memorable. So I would suggest that the "first ten" test is necessary but not sufficient.
137/365:I hated school...My suggestion, based on our portfolio, would be to aim for a larger group of people, grown gradually, and iterate the product, messaging and experience to the point that you start to see that demand is spreading "all by itself". Then go and get the petrol can!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Guardian interview with Mike Wheatley CEO of Ensembli at SxSW

Jemima Kiss' inteview with Mike explaining Ensembli:

A business plan checklist for VC funding

This post will doubtless expand as people make suggestions, but I have meant for some time to get round to posting a checklist I can refer people to look over.

Have you removed as many superlatives as possible and replaced them with numbers/facts (e.g. changing "Joe has been a leader in user-interaction design for many years" with "Joe has lead user-interaction design projects for BigCorp, and SmallHouse for 10 years and produced the interaction for the WebThingy service used by 200,000 people a month.")
How would your customer describe the problem that your service/product solves?
How do your customers solve that problem now, and how will they solve it in the future without you?
What do your customers pay to solve that problem today, what will they pay for your solution?
How will you to teach each of your customers about your solution to the point they will buy and how much will that cost (don't forget to allow for those that never get round to ordering/paying)?
How will your competitors react to your early success? How much will it cost them and how long will it take them to catch up?
How long has it taken other companies entering this space to build up customers?
Have you identified a clear route to market, is there a beachhead market segment you have in mind, in what way is this different from the mainstream?
What more must be done, what will it cost, and how long will it take before the product/service is ready to generate revenue?
What have the team done before (illustrated with numbers where possible)?
What other businesses have made good money and/or exits working in the same problem space? What steps have you taken to learn from the people who did that?
Please suggest some more!