Our MD, Nick Clark, went to the latest Hot Topics event. Here’s his summary:
As an agency we have great experience of working with high growth technology companies and we spend a lot of time understanding their business challenges and consult on the best comms strategies to support their growth ambitions.
We mostly speak to companies after they’ve been funded and need to define messaging and build awareness for their proposition, but it’s also important to understand the motivations of investors as well as the numerous challenges early stage start-ups face before even picking up the phone to us. So the opportunity to attend the Hot Topics London event was too good to pass up.
It started with a short but insightful presentation from the Chairman of Skyscanner, Margaret Rice-Jones, who gave advice on how to secure early stage funding. As well as asking start-ups to think about why they need the money and whether they can self-fund through the early stage, she also advised that not all VC money is equal. Start-ups need to do as much due diligence on the investors as the investors do on them – are they the right fit and what support will they provide.
Then followed a panel session hosted by the Chairman of MOO, Simon Calver and including investors from Accel Partners and Balderton Capital, a government adviser and some interesting corporate investment perspectives from the Director of Corporate Development at Sky. As well as the usual thoughts about ensuring you’re solving a real problem (one of the panellist mused that anyone can create a social network for dogs but do we need one) and giving careful consideration to the market opportunity and valuation potential, a lot of the discussion focused on teams and personalities. Pretend to be a 24 year old Californian seemed to be the best piece of advice.
One thing everyone agreed on, and something that was present throughout the session, was an overriding feeling that there’s no better time to seek investment. There’s significant capital in the UK right now from home-grown investors as well as money coming in from the US and Asia in particular. This is being supported by corporates that are realising that they need to partner with, or acquire, entrepreneurial talent and ideas in order to stay fresh and ahead of competitors. The panellists clearly favoured the VC route but it’s clear that angel investors and crowd-funding are growing dramatically as well. Indeed, crowd-sourced and peer-to-peer funding is expected to exceed VC funding in the UK for the first time this year.
And we even witnessed this first hand as the 80 attendees were able to vote on which of three start-ups that presented at today’s session received a cheque for $250k from Qualcomm Ventures. The winner was a tethered drone that’s powered and controlled from the ground called Fotokite, meaning that users can take aerial images without worrying about crashing their drone into a tree. Does my vote make me an early stage investor? Obviously not, but it was a great opportunity to see what VCs are faced with when being pitched to by entrepreneurs.
It was left to Saul Klein, currently of Index Ventures, to end the session discussing a range of topics from how London has become one of the global powerhouses in tech investment (when asked why the UK is successful his simple answer was that we speak English but we’re not American), the support from the Government (the UK is the only G8 country that has an entrepreneur visa) education (children are the future but current employees are the immediate issue and need to be re-skilled for the digital age) and why he’s leaving Index. Saul’s responses were thought-provoking and clearly based on years of experience. He has a glittering career with many claims to fame, the highlight in my opinion being the person who launched the Fantasy Football League in the early 90’s when at the Telegraph.
As Saul said, too much is written about founders and not enough about teams. Entrepreneurs are often visionary, ‘go it alone’ types but investors buy people and teams are stronger than individuals.
Essentially, if you have a good idea that solves a problem (if dogs don’t need social networks, how about cats?) and you’ve built a great team, go looking for money as it’s there, in spades.