What’s the outlook for mobile app startups and investors in 2017?

“There’s an app for that”, or some variant of the phrase, is now one of the most common responses to anyone raising a complaint or bemoaning a problem, however small.

Rise and fall of man

The extreme sense of entitlement coupled with the profound idleness that characterises our age has created a market for apps which manage or assist with our dry-cleaning, our sex life, our tampon subscription, our polyphasic sleep-mapping, our pets’ bowel movements…I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the murky depths of the App Store there’s an app for communing with the dead – or perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Black Mirror.

The last decade has seen the rapid and unstoppable emergence of the mobile application. And it’s not just quick-on-the-uptake millennials who are enamoured with this new way of being, by now nearly everyone is a smartphone-toting app addict.

But is this set to last? And what’s the outlook for mobile app entrepreneurs and investors?

The general consensus from anecdotal reports is that mobile app companies are finding it more difficult to raise finance. This requires some unpacking. Thanks to a report from our friends at Beauhurst, who track the funds raised by thousands of seed, venture and growth-stage companies, we can see that the amount invested in mobile apps in the UK reached its highest ever level of just over £560m in 2016 (that’s up from £67m in 2011 and circa £275m in 2015).

Mobile app deal numbers and amount invested 2011-2016
Mobile app deal numbers and amount invested 2011-2016

So what’s the problem? Clearly, there are enormous (and increasing) amounts of capital still being ploughed into the app industry by investors. But hold on, there’s a nuance to this.

The crucial change which gives credence to the consensus is that the stage of the app companies raising money has changed. In 2013, 70% of app companies who raised money were seed stage, but by 2016 that number had dropped to 62% with more investors opting for the more proven venture and growth-stage companies.

So from this, we can see that for early stage app companies the prospect of raising finance has indeed become marginally harder. However, the amounts being invested into the sector are still growing at an impressive rate so for apps good enough to compete, there’s still a world of opportunity.

With thanks to Beauhurst for permission to use their data. You can read their article here

Latest Success Story: Repairly get their investment fix

Repairly is one of the latest company’s to come off Angel Investment Network’s funding line. The company is now gunning to fix the technology repair industry having closed a £265,000 seed round.

Repairly is disrupting the billion-dollar technology repair services industry by offering collection and delivery on broken tech. Their mission is to make it ridiculously simple to get your phone, tablet or laptop repaired.

Repairly 3

The introduction of Repairly means that people no longer have to go to the expensive Apple Store or inconvenient corner shops – customers don’t even have to leave their desk. Repairly collect, repair and return within an average of 2 hours and 6 minutes.

Fraser Williams, co-founder and CEO at Repairly, says: “Over 32,000 phones get broken everyday in the UK alone. People don’t know where to turn when this happens. Repairly turns people’s negative experience into a positive one, and if you can find delight in a phone repair, you can find it anywhere.”

Richard Edwards, the other co-founder, says: “We ensure busy people with broken technology are back up and running as soon as possible…We saw how much technology had advanced but the support for that technology was lagging behind. People were waiting for up to 2 weeks without their phone. That seems crazy in today’s technology-reliant society.”

The business was started in 2015 after Fraser Williams dropped out of University. Richard Edwards was an early team member of the online cleaning marketplace, Hassle.com, which was acquired by Rocket Internet in July 2015.

Repairly is a graduate of the UK accelerator programme Virgin Media Techstars. The seed investment came from well-reputed investors including someone whose previous company, AddLive, was acquired by Snapchat, Richard Fearn, Daniel Murray (CEO, Grabble), Richard Pleeth (Ex-Google).

Richard Fearn comments: “Repairly’s business is growing quickly into a large market, with strong unit economics and great customer reviews.”

Exciting news for Repairly; and everyone prone to breaking their smartphone!

Is Growth the Best Measure of Startup Success?

Startup Growth & Traction
Growth gets a lot of attention in the startup world. A lot of attention. If you Google “startup growth“, you’ll find a plethora of articles, blog posts and tools all suggesting that growth is the most important measure of your startup.

Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, asserts that “The only essential thing is growth“.

In some sense, this attention is well-deserved. But it is often misunderstood and taken out of context.

Growth is, of course, important. Growth is a telling measure of your product/service’s popularity; and, as such, strong growth metrics are invaluable when you’re trying to raise money from investors.

But growth can, and often does, flatter to deceive. And this is something both entrepreneurs and investors should be wary of.

Entrepreneurs need to be careful because “…many founders hurt their companies by focusing on growth too soon“. This is what Sam Altman, the founder of Loopt and President of Y Combinator, wrote in a recent article on the topic of growth.

His reasoning is simple: if you focus too much on early growth and not on actually building a product people love, then at some stage you will encounter the leaky bucket problem where the customers you worked hard to onboard, leave in droves ne’er to return!

But, if you focus on building a great product then you will have better customer retention and, as a result, growth should become increasingly easy as word-of-mouth spreads.

Consider the example of AirBnB who worked and iterated for years before they got the product just right; and then it spread like wildfire because people loved it.

Equally, investors need to be careful because there are often more telling metrics indicating the potential for success of a particular company. An app, for example, may have achieved 100,000 downloads in its first week, but if 95,000 of those users had stopped using the app by the second week, then the impressive early growth suddenly appears deceptive.

So there we have it. Growth should always be important, but it is also important that entrepreneurs and investors espouse a more nuanced attitude to it than believing it to be the ultimate measure of potential and success.

The Lean Startup Revisited – Does it really work?

The so-called ‘Lean Startup’ methodology, coined by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries, has come into vogue in recent years and aims to address the problem of heavy cash outlay during the early stages of your business. In other words, it advocates proving your concept as far as possible without building the finished product. It aims to take the financial risk out of building a startup (as far as that is possible!).

The Lean Startup for Entrepreneurs - Does it really work?

The lean startup methodology is all about experimentation, feedback and iteration. Or to use the vernacular of a school science teacher: hypothesis, evidence, synthesis and improvement. The idea is that rather than spending hours and hours writing a ‘perfect’ business plan, keeping your ideas hush-hush and finally launching a fully developed product in the hope that investors and consumers will be won over, you test hypotheses by collating customer feedback from your MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

The Lean Startup Experimentation Loop

For example, you could throw up a landing page selling a product/service that, as yet, does not exist, and measure the popularity and interest in it. By this means, you can calculate whether the idea is worth pursuing and how it can be optimised; or whether you should ‘pivot’ or iterate, or change the concept entirely. For more information on what lean startup means, you can visit www.theleanstartup.com/.

But in this post I want to address the question of how far this lean startup method has proven itself as viable. Ted Ladd is a professor and entrepreneur who has conducted research on this question and recently published his findings in an article for the Harvard Business Review. Click here to read the full article.

In a nutshell, he concludes that while the experimentation and customer feedback produced by following the method does impress investors and presentation panel judges, it does not necessarily indicate subsequent success. He states a number of possible reasons for this:

– Too much feedback erodes entrepreneur confidence
– Method may produce ‘false negatives’ when there is no clear rule in place to stop testing and start scaling. In other words, entrepreneurs are experimenting so much that they always end up with negative results.

This leads him to say that while the lean startup method has considerable benefits for entrepreneurs, it is important that the testing and experimentation on a micro-level is combined with a broader strategy. That way, only the priority areas are tested; and time and confidence are not wasted testing every aspect.

He ends his article with the following:

“The popularity of the lean startup method is well deserved. But, as is true of any business process, the method must be tailored and employed with reflection and constraints, not blind allegiance. Just like the new ventures it creates, it will improve as researchers and practitioners propose, test, and incorporate refinements.”

Food for thought…

Angel Investment vs Venture Capital – Which would you choose?

VC's vs Angels
This morning I read a great post by Venture Spring. Venture Spring is a hugely well respected ‘venture development’ company which “helps Fortune 500 companies innovate like startups” according to their company mantra. The article is about the differences between venture capital funding and funding from angel investors.

Startups are often all too eager to take one option over the other based on their own preconceptions. It’s important to realise that one may be more suited to one type of startup over another (and vice versa. So, understanding the points of difference could be crucial to the way in which you approach your fundraise; and how your company ends up being run down the line. So it’ll be worth your while familiarising yourself with the key points…

You can read the full article on their site here. (It’s a 5-10 min read).

Or, I’ve summarised the key differences for you here and (added in a few that they missed!):

Angel Investors:
– are private individuals investing their own money
– can make quick decisions regarding investment
– can be flexible in the amount they invest
– can provide expertise, contacts and support as well as capital
– can feel personally attached to your business
– can be as hands-off or hands-on as you require
– can qualify for tax breaks like SEIS and EIS
– do not have to be given board positions

Venture Capital Firms:
– are whole companies that invest in startups
– are run by professional investors investing money from corporations, individuals, funds and foundations
– take board positions and have a strong say in how the company is managed and grown going forward
– invest much larger amounts than angel investors
– do not usually invest at seed stage
– generally invest not less than £1million
– take a longer time to make investment decisions and broker deals

What’s your take on the issue? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter

Success Story: Data Science marketplace Pivigo secures investment following rapid growth

Pivigo (http://www.pivigo.com/), a data science marketplace and training provider based in London, has announced the successful closing of its funding round with investment secured from high profile consortia including Angel Academe, Craigie Capital, Dubai-based Dunamis Ventures Ltd and London Co-Investment Fund, the Mayor of London’s early stage business fund.

Angel Investment Network is delighted to have made a significant contribution to this success story through its introduction of Dunamis Ventures Ltd.

You can view the full press release on the Pivigo blog here

Now that they are fully funded, they are well placed “to reach a much larger audience, help connect more people with each other and work with companies to gain value from data…” as Founder and CEO, Kim Nilsson, puts it.

We can’t wait to see the progress they make!

AIN on IntelligentCrowd.tv

Xavier Ballester, the co-director of our brokering division, appeared on Intelligentcrowd.tv offering some pearls of wisdom to investors and entrepreneurs alike, including:

– How we evaluate startups worth working with
– Why we exchange part of our cash success fee for equity shares in our clients
– Recent exits and hot prospects including Brightnorth, Superawesome and What3Words
– How we raise money for our clients

Check out the interview below:

Proposal Tip of the Week

What’s the point of a proposal? Why use sites like Angel Investment Network? Why not just send your full business plan to people you want to invest?

Well, for a start, not everyone has the contact details of a large number of investors just sat in their inbox. Networking/Connection sites like Angel Investment Network hold the key to advertising your latest business venture to thousands of prospective investors so that you can find the right ones to suit the nature of the project. That sounds a little sales-y, I know, but it’s important to understand in order to realise the significance of the short proposal instead of the full-blown business plan.

When you’re marketing an idea to thousands of people, not just in the fundraising community but anywhere, you cannot simply take it for granted that people will actually take time to consider your idea; in any marketplace thousands upon thousands of ideas are competing to grab the attention of the onlookers. Precedence is not always, and certainly not necessarily, defined by merit, but rather by the ability to capture attention.

Don’t think ‘I know my idea is brilliant, so why wouldn’t investors read my business plan? They’d be stupid not to…’ That attitude will help you raise the square root of nothing. Think instead ‘How can I make it so that investors literally cannot wait to get their greedy paws on my business plan and start properly digesting my idea?’

Here’s where your short proposal comes in. It is meant to be pithy and concise. Something that can be easily understood and result in them wanting to know more. It is the first rung on the ladder towards them investing; and that can often be the hardest part – getting them to step onto the ladder. Once they’re on, of course some may fall off on the way to the top, but at least you’re beginning to win them over and it becomes progressively harder for them to get off.

As such you should consider your proposal as a ‘hook’, to use Nir Eyal’s term, or in internet-speak a CTA (call-to-action). In your proposal make them love your idea enough to take the next step. Tell them the best bits. Don’t swamp them in superfluous detail.

Proposal Tip of the Week

Tip #4 “How big’s the itch and is it spreading…like a rash?”

To continue the itch metaphor from proposal tips #2 and #3 (which dealt with the importance of giving a clear explanation of the itch you scratch and how you scratch it), in this post I’d like to touch on the size of the itch and how it’s growing.

For those of you beginning to find my strangled metaphor tedious, I’ll stop. I’m talking, of course, about the market your business operates/plans to operate in.

It’s no use solving a problem – even if you solve it unbelievably well – if it’s a problem only extant for a single hermit on the remote island of Tristan de Cunha, then it’s great for the hermit, but not a viable business (unless he’s sitting on pots of gold).

The problem you solve has to be one that a large and growing number of people suffer from without a solution; and are willing to pay for.

The more statistics you have to indicate this, the more prospective investors are likely to give your idea credence! There are plenty of websites available to help you with this, so don’t skip this bit…