Impact Investing Interview #3: How what3words are Changing the World

My first project when I joined Angel Investment Network back in 2014 was to organise a pitching event in central London. We selected five of the most exciting UK companies who were fundraising; we had no specific agenda to include impact companies – we just wanted innovation! We prepped them to pitch to 150 investors whom we had specially invited from our network.

what3words was one of those companies.

Mike Lebus & James Badgett, the founders of Angel Investment Network, had already invested in what3words’ seed round – so they were keen for Chris Sheldrick, the CEO and co-founder, to put in a good performance.
chris what3words impact

He obliged. His understated charisma perfectly complemented the visionary nature of the project – dividing the globe into 57 trillion 3×3 squares and giving each a three-word “postcode”.

I was thoroughly impressed. The investors appeared less so, preferring to engage the other companies (some SaaS products and a few apps) in conversation during the post-pitch drinks. This lack of impact baffled me. I asked some of them what they thought of what3words – it was a cool idea but apparently, they couldn’t see its application.

Four years later they must be kicking themselves!

Since closing £600k through Angel Investment Network, they have gone on to raise $13.8m across several funding rounds with Intel Capital leading a $3.5m Series A; and Aramex International leading a $8.5m Series B. Their most recent round was a corporate one with German car manufacturer Daimler buying 10% of the company in January 2018.

And that application problem?

Well, I’ll let you read for yourself in my interview with the what3words team below.

Prepare to have your mind blown…

The Interview

Part 1 – About what3words

What’s your mission?

We are on a mission to make the world more efficient, less frustrating and safer. Our goal is to be a global standard, giving everyone and everything a simple, accurate and reliable address they can use whenever they need it. what3words impact 7

We want businesses, governments and services worldwide to use 3-word addresses to become more efficient, and improve their customer experience.

At the same time, we look forward to showing how better addressing can reduce businesses’ environmental impact, ease pressure on crowded cities, fuel economic growth in developing nations and save lives.
what3words impact 3

Who are your clients?

Our 3-word addresses are now used by over 650 businesses, government agencies and NGOs across over 170 countries, and by sectors including automotive, e-commerce, logistics, automotive & mobility, travel & navigation, post, national infrastructure, events, humanitarian, disaster response and emergency services.

Our customers include Mercedes-Benz, who are about to launch the world’s first car with built-in what3words voice navigation. Drivers will be able to say a 3-word address and navigate to a precise destination, anywhere in the world.

Global logistics giant Aramex has integrated what3words to optimise its last mile operations in the Middle East and South Africa. Many other couriers and food delivery customers are using 3-word addresses, including Domino’s Pizza in Saudi Arabia.

National postal services in 10 countries to date have adopted what3words, giving over 200 million people an accurate and reliable address, many for the first time. Many of our customers are innovative future-facing companies including DXC Drones and IBM’s #AccessibleOlli.

Our humanitarian partners include the United Nations, who have adopted the what3words system for its disaster response and recovery app UN-ASIGN, alongside the Red Cross. Other NGOs include Gateway Health in South Africa, who are using what3words to address township homes on the outskirts of Durban, and who have trained local ambulance drivers to use 3-word addresses to reach pregnant women faster in the township areas, saving lives.

(Remember that application problem?)

What stage are you at?

what3words started in March 2013. A team of three managed it through its early development and funding. We now have over 70 employees across the world and we’re growing fast.

what3words can be easily integrated by businesses, governments and NGOs into apps, platforms or websites, with just a few lines of code using our online API or SDKs. Our free what3words app, available for iOS and Android, and the online map enable people to find, share and navigate to 3-word addresses is available in 22 languages. 3-word addresses can be switched instantly into any supported language, and even looked up in one language and shared in another.

what3words impact 4

Our newest product, 3WordPhoto, allows people to easily label photos with a 3-word address and share them in any language. This means that a simple photo, shared in a message or on Twitter, can give a precise location.

We have already had great success integration our system with voice input with specific automotive partners, and intend to roll out voice capability into our own products in the future.

What is your business model?

what3words is free for individuals, and qualifying not-for-profit and humanitarian entities.

For business use, we sell licenses for our products including our API and SDKs, and services such as very large-scale batch conversion of 3-word addresses to GPS coordinates or vice versa.

How much funding have you raised to date?

To get to where we are today we put a lot of energy into seeking out the right investors to bring the business credibility, contacts, experience, and knowledge as-as well as funding.

We are incredibly lucky to have a range of industry-experts backing what3words, all drawing upon extensive expertise, following successful careers in the automotive, technology, venture capital, and challenger sectors.

Earlier this year, Daimler acquired a 10% stake in the business, following the announcement that Mercedes-Benz is about to launch the world’s first car with built-in what3words voice navigation. Our Series B investment round was led by Aramex, with other notable investors including Deutsche Bahn and Intel Capital.

What’s next?

Within the next year, we will launch our 28th language, allowing 3.8 billion people to use 3-word addresses in their home language (that’s 51% of the world).

We also expect to open more local offices to add to those we’ve opened in Mongolia and South Africa.

Our growth plans involve more global integrations to add to Daimler, Aramex and the UN, along with focused local market activity targeting all sectors within one country or region, creating an ecosystem in which 3-word addresses become a standard.

An example of this is Mongolia, where what3words is already used for post, e-commerce, taxis, banking, fast-food delivery, tourism and microfinance.

Part 2 – What3Words on Impact

What does “impact” mean to you as a profit-driven company?

We believe that companies should do good by doing business. We want to make our system as accessible as possible – what3words is free for individuals, and qualifying not-for-profit and humanitarian entities.

The practical impact of what3words is very clear: we give everyone and everywhere a simple address. Providing a simple way to communicate the location of homes, remote areas and disaster zone enables social and economic inclusion, the delivery of mail and facilitates emergency responses, registering to vote or opening a bank account.

We recently conducted global research and discovered that an astonishing 33% of people are open to trying an entirely new form of addressing.
what3words impact 2

Can you give me an example of how what3words is used in the UK? And in the “developing world”?

The what3words technology is being used all across the UK: from a number of police forces to the emergency response teams at Glastonbury, delivery companies and Black Tomato a luxury travel company.

But it’s not just companies benefiting from the technology; individuals in the UK are using what3words every day to meet friends at festivals, organise running clubs in Hyde Park, planning hikes in the Peak District, communicate the location of injured animals on farms and to guide guests to their AirBnB entrances.

We are enabling everyone, everywhere in the world, whether they are in cities, on remote islands or even in tents on the Mongolian plains, to have a simple and reliable address.

An example of this, as mentioned above, is the fast developing country of Mongolia – remote and nomadic in culture – who have adopted what3words as their official addressing system. Now, for the first time, Mongolians are able to receive mail, register for a bank account and receive food deliveries – all by using a 3-word address. Similarly, we have been adopted by countries such as the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, and Nigeria as a recognised form of address.

Do you support any charities?

what3words is, and always will be free for not-for-profit and humanitarian entities. We are used by diverse humanitarian partners, and it’s powerful to see our technology supporting those in need. We were used by the Mexican Government to aid disaster relief during last year’s earthquake, and are being used today by the Red Cross, NATO and the United Nations to provide humanitarian aid.

We are also used by a number of smaller nonprofits – one of our earlier partnerships which still remains incredibly special to us is Gateway Health. The Gateway Health Institute provides healthcare and community services in disadvantaged areas across South Africa. They run programs to deliver medicine, supply emergency transport for women in labour, and identify hot spots for human rights abuses. But many of these programs struggle due to the lack of reliable addressing.

Gateway Health uses 3-word addresses in the township of KwaNdengezi, near Durban. The what3words grid system means that every part of the township – including homes, community centres and facilities like water pumps – already has a pre-assigned and fixed address.

what3words impact 5

Once a home knows its 3-word address, its residents can share the location accurately and reliably. Medical services can identify where pregnant women live and provide them with essential pre-natal care. Should any complications occur during labour, ambulance crews also know exactly where to go, to provide life-saving assistance.

What is your current biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is that we’re trying to effect a huge, global behavioural change. People have been using street addresses their entire lives, without questioning them. They get lost, packages go astray and billions of people worldwide have no address at all but, until they’re challenged to really think about it, some people don’t inherently feel there’s a problem.

We’re overcoming that challenge by refining how we clearly and quickly demonstrate the problem, finding examples (and there are so many) of when poor street addressing frustrates individuals and costs companies billions. As soon as people see how poor addressing affects them personally, they immediately see the need for our solution.

What are you most proud of/excited about for your business?

The Mercedes-Benz partnership was a huge achievement, and the announcement at CES was an incredible memorable moment for us. The process was also especially fast – taking only 6 months from inception to integration – and there are already over 700,000 cars on the road which are what3words enabled.

what3words impact 6

Because poor addressing affects so many industries – from navigation to travel, logistics to events – it’s exciting to see the tangible impact that our technology brings, and the room for exponential adoption. Bad addressing is so universal that our potential partners and use cases are unconstrained.

So where does what3words come on the Impact Scale?

The vision of this company is extraordinary. Four years ago it was so extraordinary that many of our investors could not see its application and potential impact. The what3words team’s execution over the past four years has made a mockery of that.

Here is a company that can count itself among the most innovative to come out of the UK tech scene in recent years. Who knows what the future holds for them but I’d put my money on good things!

Angel Investment Network’s latest project SeedTribe, which focuses on angel-led crowdfunding for impact companies, was built to help companies like what3words get off the ground and change the world. You can view latest impact companies here.

I hope that what3words’ story can inspire budding impact entrepreneurs and investors to build impactful companies.

Impact Investing Interview #2: Netflix for Independent Films

Last month, I published our first ‘Impact Investing Interview’ with Work For Good who are revolutionising the market for corporate charity donations. Since the publication of that interview, Work For Good is now overfunding (accepting pledges until 30th April) on SeedTribe (Angel Investment Network’s impact-conscious crowdfunding platform). Thanks to those of you who contributed and shared!

For those new to impact investment, the post starts with a concise definition of impact investment, its benefits to investors and its ability to bring about positive and lasting change in the world.

The purpose of this series of interviews is to edify and entertain investors and entrepreneurs with an interest in impact and socially responsible investment/entrepreneurship.

Today’s interview is with Dean Fisher, the Director of Bow Street Media whose latest project ‘Film Ahoy‘ is bringing a socially-conscious angle to online film distribution. It’s an enormous market but often considered ethically-bankrupt.

Film Ahoy is working to change this…

The Interview

Part 1 – About Film Ahoy

What’s your mission?

Our mission is to create an alternative film distribution platform for both consumers and filmmakers. The product we’ve been developing will change the industry and offer great alternative programming. We plan to launch the platform soon with the aim to be online on mobile and eventually on smart TV’s.

Who are your clients?

The digital distribution market has now outgrown the physical distribution market. On one side, our clients are consumers who watch films online; and on the other side, content providers and filmmakers complete our client base.

Norjmaa_poster_awards impact

What stage are you at in your business?

We have developed the technology and the website is ready to go live. We have also got on board an advertising partner who can start selling advertising on the site. So far we have secured over 150 titles to the site and will continue to grow the films on offer. We are going to soft launch the website and then start marketing it to consumers to build traffic and awareness for the Film Ahoy brand.

What’s your business model?

We acquire and place films on the Film Ahoy platform where consumers can watch them for free. All they have to do is watch 2-minute commercial breaks every twenty minutes. If they don’t want to watch the commercials, they will pay £1 per film to own the title and be free of commercials. All revenue is split 50/50 with the filmmakers. We will also generate additional revenue through ad placements on the site.

How much funding have you raised to date?

We have raised £67,500 through SEIS.

What’s next for your company?

We are launching the site in the next couple of weeks. There are a few tweaks being done by our developer next week and then we are ready to go. All of our marketing materials are in place and ready to go live. Each film’s trailer will also be promoted on the web through social media and advert placements. (Here’s a link to the new consumer advert).

Once the site starts to build traffic, we are going to produce the app for IOS and Android. We also have some options to put the site on Smart TV’s which will give the consumer every chance of using the platform.

Part 2 – Film Ahoy’s Potential Impact

impact

What does “Impact” mean to you as a profit-driven company?

We will generate 50% from all advertising and pay per view revenue. We can also generate revenue from Google adverts, product placement, merchandise and the sale of statistics on how many times each film is viewed. The overheads of running the company are quite low so we feel we can turn this into a profitable business in a reasonable time frame.

What are the metrics you will use to track/measure your impact?

We have targets each year on how many views we are looking to achieve. We can assess our progress on a month by month basis. Our reporting system gives us the stats we need to monitor our progress. We can also what campaigns will help drive traffic to the site.

How do you go about choosing and confirming the films to list on your platform?

We attend film markets all year around. The three key film markets are Berlinale in February, Cannes in May and the AFM in November. At the markets, we meet with as many content providers as possible. These can be in the form of filmmakers, sales agents who represent films or distributors. So far we have some signed deals with a large number of companies. They provide us with multiple titles which we curate by initially watching the trailers and the films. At the end of the American Film Market, we had received over 1000 films.

What is the vision for the company?

The vision for the company is to launch in the UK first of all. We want to focus on building the brand and making the platform the go-to place for free independent films. Once we have established ourselves in the UK, we will then move into the US market.

Can you tell us more about the need for Film Ahoy in the film industry? What do you see as the biggest challenges in the film/media industry at the moment and how do you hope to address any of them?

The market has many subscription service providers for every genre. We feel we have a different angle and will appeal to both consumers and filmmakers. For consumers they do not want to subscribe to every service available and some people cannot afford monthly fees. Film Ahoy is an easy-to-use, no-commitment service. Consumers will put up with adverts if the content is free.

We don’t feel that an independent film should be £9.99 to purchase online. Independent films need to be more competitive and priced accordingly. When iTunes came out tracks were £0.69, this took away the need for people to download illegally as it was easier to purchase the track then look over the net and download a virus. Pricing films at £1 to own means that independent films can be competitive.

The industry is becoming more and more challenging. Hollywood Comic book films perform consistently but independent films have to fight to find their voice. We have got the support of the industry and many companies have signed up to provide content. For filmmakers, they can use Film Ahoy as an additional revenue stream. We will also be encouraging people to promote their films on the platform which will drive traffic to the site. Eventually, people will be making films just to go up on Film Ahoy which will give us unique content.

What is your current biggest challenge and how are you seeking to address it?

We feel we need a reasonable marketing budget to grow the company and create awareness for the brand. If we do not raise as much as we hope the growth of the company will be slower.

What are you most proud of/excited about for your business?

We feel this model can really shake up the industry. Cynical people would say how can you compete with Netflix or Amazon. The marketplace is big enough for new players and services which gives the consumer an alternative viewing experience. We feel that Film Ahoy can break into the market and become a global brand.

Interested in Impact Investment?

If you want to find out more about Film Ahoy and their current fundraising round, visit their pitch page on Seedtribe.

Do you anyone who might consider using Work For Good for their business?

Do you know anyone interested in impact investing?

Please consider sharing. You’ll be doing good!

Impact Investing Interview #1: Work For Good

What is Impact Investing?

Impact investing is when an investor backs a business which has a social and/or environmental mission at its core.

This is not the same as philanthropy where investors expect no returns on their investment other than the reputation boost; and an impactful business is not the same as a non-profit.

Impact investments are made, with financial returns in mind, into businesses targetting profitability alongside their social mission.

An impact investor is, therefore, someone who chooses to support great businesses aiming to do good and make money, rather than just turn a profit.

The decision to be an impact investor is an empowered choice which has already enabled many world-changing businesses to do great things. The rise in awareness of the key social and environmental issues of our time has started a shift in the way many investors view the desired outcome of their investments. More and more want their financial outlay to have an impact as well as generate returns.

What are we doing to help this movement?

Angel Investment Network recently launched Seedtribe to attract more of its investors into the impact investment space.

Seedtribe is an angel-led, crowdfunding platform when everyday investors can invest from as little as £1000 into opportunities backed by angel investors and curated by the Seedtribe team. Investments can be made directly through the platform so the process is as seamless as possible.

impact

We are confident that this new model will help impact businesses complete their funding rounds quickly so that they can focus on bringing their benefit to the world.

We are delighted to have Work For Good as one of the first impactful businesses on the Seedtribe platform.

Who are Work For Good?

UK annual charity income is around £20bn, but only 2% of this comes from businesses, as the process is complex, costly and lacks transparency with many legal and tax impediments. Work For Good’s platform removes these barriers and has created a market for corporate giving.

Work for Good makes it easy for businesses to give in a way that’s good for them and charities – by doing what they already do. By giving through the Work For Good platform, they can impress their clients, inspire their people, and be a force for good in the world.

impact

Liv Sibony recently took charge as the Head of Crowdfunding at Seedtribe and brought Work For Good onto the platform. (Liv previously founded and sold Grub Club, a platform aimed at helping chefs build a reputation and an income by hosting pop up dining experiences.)

She sat down with Danny Witter, CEO & Co-Founder of Work For Good, to get some insight into the problem of corporate giving and the Work For Good solution…

The Interview

What’s your vision for the company?

To make business giving the norm and to unleash the giving power of the business world. Business giving makes up only 2% of all charity income in the UK which is a disgraceful figure. We can not rely on the giants of the business world to do it for us, The FTSE 100 charitable donations are down 25% from 2013 to just £1.2 billion in 2016, so why not create a culture where the other 5.7 million businesses support causes just by doing the work they already do? If 5% of SMEs gave one day’s revenue, it would generate £208 million annually.

It also improves the bottom line for businesses (68% of SMEs believe their company’s donations to charity had a positive effect on their company’s profitability and 37% of SMEs claim that giving to charity helps to attract new clients) and improves employee morale while raising vital funds for charities.

For charities, especially the smaller, local ones who have less capacity to market themselves and seek donations, we will create greater visibility and support for them to grow their efforts and allow businesses to match with charities that are local or relevant to them.

We don’t think this vision should be limited to the UK either, we strive to see people working for good across the globe, and are delighted that we’ve now received trademark protection across the US and EU.

Can you tell us more about the meta-trend of purpose in business, as you see it?

Investing in good causes grows your business too. In fact, many companies are using it as a major part of their business strategy – TOMS’ ‘One for One’, Warby Parker’s ‘Buy a Pair, Give a Pair’, and Bombas socks ‘One pair purchased = One pair donated’ are just a few using ‘giving back’ as part of their marketing strategy. Cause-related marketing is not just a fad, it’s the response to consumers buying with their own values and in mind.

Consumers increasingly care about where their products come from and how businesses behave, and we see lots of marketing around sustainability and responsibility, and now, giving. The trend is deepening fast, and when in January Larry Fink, CEO of the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock, published a letter saying that firms that lack a social purpose “will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders” it marked a watershed moment in the importance of authentic corporate responsibility. This applies from global behemoths to sole traders, and Work for Good is particularly focussed on SMEs that have less resource to do so.

For all the personal graft no business was ever built by the founders alone. Just as it takes a village to raise a child it takes a community of stakeholders to build a business. Without loyal customers, reliable suppliers, supportive investors, engaged communities and dedicated employees you have no business. Today, these constituencies want more from the companies they interact with. They are as interested in the story behind the business, the purpose the drives it and the positive values that underpin it. It is no coincidence that B Corp businesses, exemplars of the purpose-led commercialism, have been shown to grow 28 times faster than the UK economy. The giving mechanisms on our platform can also allow for a company’s clients/customers to choose the charities to which they donate. It gets everyone involved and motivated.

Why is it currently so difficult for businesses to give to charities?

The mechanisms currently in place just do not create a marketplace for business and charities to find each other and make transactions. It’s not just as simple as seeing a charity you would like to support, and then donating. Charities often do not even have a payment portal on their sites. The days of writing a cheque are long gone. Charities also find it hard to cut through the noise to create relationships with relevant businesses who may be interested in supporting them.

Work for Good is encouraging businesses to give in a smart way that is good for business, specifically by linking donations visibly to what they do, and talk about it with pride and authenticity in a way that will engage all their stakeholders, and inspire other businesses to follow suit.

However if you link donations to sales and talk about it you get caught by the charities acts, which prescribe that you have to bilaterally negotiate a commercial participation agreement with every charity you might give to, and the charities have risk of paying VAT on those donations.

As such it is painful to implement, and many charities have minimum annual donation requirement of up to £100,000 a year before they’ll negotiate a CPA with a business, which excludes virtually all SMEs.

Work for Good has solved this, the combination of the terms a business signs with the platform and the terms signed by any charity jointly form the CPA, allowing businesses to give to as many charities as they like in a few clicks, in any size, and without having to engage the charities direct, with both parties being entirely compliant. There is also no VAT payable by the charity.

What does “Impact” mean to you as a profit-driven company?

It’s a way to merge the profit-generation that people already strive for with the purpose of producing a specific benefit to society. We want to maximise that impact potential for businesses.

For us, the amount of money going to charities via our platform is the metric we concentrate on most. We believe that good business should have a positive impact on society. Our mission is to create a culture of business giving and therefore an increase in the amount of donations charities receive from SMEs. We also believe that giving has a positive impact on a business’ bottom line – two-thirds of businesses we surveyed reported higher profits when they incorporated giving into their business strategy.

Interested in Impact Investment?

If you want to find out more about Work For Good and their current fundraising round, visit their pitch page on Seedtribe.

Do you anyone who might consider using Work For Good for their business?

Do you know anyone interested in impact investing?

Please consider sharing. You’ll be doing good!

7 Positives for the UK Startup Scene from the Autumn Budget

Yesterday the Chancellor unveiled his budget plan for the UK.

The main headline was that we can expect slow growth (around 2%) for the next few years. And that Brexit seemed to be the principal cause of this. A gloomy budget indeed.

But, as ever, even in the murkiest river a nugget of gold can be found. With a little sifting, I’ve found some positive news for us spirited folk on the startup scene.

The sifting was very boring. I’ve tried to set out my findings as clearly as possible. So, you can enjoy the gold without getting your feet wet! You’re welcome.

The Treasury conducted a survey called ‘Patient Capital Review’ which set out to consider how to support innovative firms in getting funding and achieving scale. The conclusions drawn are positive and will be a boon for early-stage companies over the next 10 years.

These conclusions resulted in an ‘Action Plan’ in the budget which aims to unlock £20bn over the next 10 years to support growth in innovative firms.

The main points are as follows:

1. Tax Breaks (EIS & VCT)

– EIS allowance for people investing in ‘knowledge-intensive companies’ will double from £1m to £2m each year.
– ‘Knowledge-intensive companies’ can receive twice as much EIS & VCT investment each year. That’s a move from £5m to £10m.

(Check out a previous post for more info on the benefits of EIS.)
SEIS & EIS budget
Result: An estimated extra £7bn of investment.

2. Government-backed Co-investment Fund

– A £2.5bn Investment Fund incubated in the British Business Bank will be established to co-invest with the private sector.
Result: An estimated extra £7.5bn of investment.

3. Backing Fund of Funds

– The British Business Bank will invest in a series of private sector fund of funds.
Result: An estimated £4bn of investment will be unlocked.

4. Backing Fund Managers

– The British Business Bank will continue to back new and existing fund managers through its existing Enterprise Capital Fund.
Result: An estimated extra £1.5bn of investment.

5. Backing overseas investment into UK

– The Department of International Trade will support overseas venture capital into the UK.
Result: An estimated extra £1bn of investment.

6. Support for Regional Investment

– The British Business Bank will establish new investment programmes to support business angel groups outside of London. This will complement existing programmes like the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund and the Midlands Engine Investment Fund.
– £21m is budgeted to expand Tech City UK’s reach across more regions.
Result: Unlocking of investment potential outside of the London hub.

tech city uk budget (1)

7. Other

– British Business Bank to investigate supporting Women Entrepreneurs getting access to equity investment
– £2.3bn increase in R&D spending
– £1m Games Fund to support video game development
– Helping Pension Funds invest in innovative firms
– Qualification for Entrepreneurs’ Relief will no longer de-incentivize accepting external investment

I hope all that makes sense.

It’s pleasing to see that, in difficult times, the government recognises the importance of supporting the innovation sector as a key driver of our economy.

If you want more detail on this Action Plan in the budget, I’ll be at the UKBAA National Investment Summit on 28th November. Keith Morgan CEO of British Business Bank will be leading the discussion on the Chancellor’s proposals.

You can get tickets here

Hope to see you there!

Startup Investment – How do you get good deal flow?

Investors are all looking for a startup investment they believe will be successful. That much is self-evident. Of course, some investors will be looking to invest in companies in which they are interested or experienced. But ultimately, everyone is linked by the shared ambition to back winners.

So that begs the question – How do you pick a winner?

Pick an investment winner

The answer to this comes in three parts: the first is to do with Deal Flow and will be discussed in this post; the second concerns Deal Evaluation which was discussed in a previous post; and the third part is to do with Due Diligence, which will be covered at a later date.

Deal Flow:

One of the most important factors in successfully picking a winner is to have a large and varied number of deals to choose from. Naturally, the more deals you can get eyes on, the more astute you will be when it comes to picking good ones to invest in. That statement comes with a slight caveat – the deals you view have to be of a reasonable quality for you to learn anything valuable.

So where can you find a constant stream of deals of reasonable to high quality?

Network, Contacts & Friends:

The traditional way to do this is through your contacts. If you’re acquainted with people in the startup/investment community, whether they be entrepreneurs or investors, it’s highly likely that they’ll send deals your way. Especially if you ask them. (Silicon Valley in the US is basically fuelled by referrals).

The more you get involved in conversations the more you’ll be included in further conversations. For instance, if a friend or investment broker, sends you a deal, even if you know you’re not going to invest this time around (for whatever reason), it’s still worth responding to them and thereby keep the conversation open by demonstrating your continued interest and engagement.

Many of our investors on Angel Investment Network say that carrying out Due Diligence on companies vastly increased their networks by the simple virtue of having conversations with the right people (even if most were via email!); and as a result, they all started coming across increasingly better opportunities.

In other words, the more you build and nurture your network within this sector, the more you will be exposed to better investment opportunities.

Angel Investment Sites:

Using your network, as set out above, is the traditional way, but it still holds just as true. However, since the digital networking boom with the rise of sites like LinkedIn, it has become easier to broaden your professional network in less ‘organic’ ways. You no longer have to know someone to know them.

It is now easier than ever to expose yourself to quality investment deals and startup contacts online, and in so doing expand your personal network as never before. And you are, no doubt, aware of this as you browse this content on a site called Angel Investment Network!

Further to this, when you actually invest in a startup not only are you casting yourself in a very positive light to the company you invest in, but also to whoever was involved in brokering the deal, other investors you spoke to during your Due Diligence and to friends of the company you invested in. Once you’ve done this, you can guarantee that an increasing number of deals will come your way a) from the fact that you’ve expanded your network in the right way and b) from the fact that people know your serious and not a time waster.

Paul Graham says the following in support of this in a talk he gave at AngelConf in 2009 called ‘How to be an Angel Investor’;

“The best way to get lots of referrals is to invest in startups. No matter how smart and nice you seem, insiders will be reluctant to send you referrals until you’ve proven yourself by doing a couple investments. Some smart, nice guys turn out to be flaky, high-maintenance investors. But once you prove yourself as a good investor, the deal flow, as they call it, will increase rapidly in both quality and quantity.”

(Paul Graham is the guy who founded Viaweb (the first SaaS company) which was acquired by Yahoo in 1998 for a reported $49million. He then founded Y Combinator which has funded over 1000 startups since 2005, including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, and Reddit. So he knows a thing or two about this.)

Startup Pitching & Networking Events:

The final string to your bow when it comes to receiving good deal flow is, of course, networking and pitching events. At these events, you’ll be able to both see deals pitched directly to you and to discuss them and network with other investors and entrepreneurs. You can learn a great deal and expand your network over complimentary drinks and nibbles.

There are tonnes of these events especially in startup-focused cities. We hold a pitching and networking event biannually. For information please send a quick email to info@angelinvestmentnetwork.co.uk.

Summary:

Ultimately, it all comes down to expanding your network and maintaining positive conversations with people in the industry. To recap the best ways to do this are:

– Startup events

– Angel Networking sites

– Investing

And in all cases, it’s the value of the interactions you make that will dictate the positive influence on your network and concomitantly, the standard and consistency of deal flow that gets referred to you.

Video Interview: What’s the difference between Angel Investors and VCs?

The difference between angel investors and venture capital firms always seems to confuse entrepreneurs.

In truth, the difference is fairly clear-cut.

Who are they? What do they look for? How can they help? How much are they likely to invest? These are all key differentiators.

As an entrepreneur looking for funding, it’s important to understand these differences. Your choice of who to approach and when could have a significant effect on the efficiency of your round.

Xavier Ballester, the co-director of Angel Investment Network’s brokerage division, explains more in this recent interview. He’s talking to our friends at Linear, a specialist prime broker and award-winning hedge fund incubator based in London and Hamburg.

Enjoy!

Prefer to digest your content in written format?

I wrote an article on the topic for Angel Investment Network’s Learn centre. You can read it by clicking here.

How do investors evaluate startup pitches?

An angel investor’s task is to predict the potential of a company based on early indications and very little else. There is no infallible process for doing this. This is the risk investors face; and the fear they must overcome to invest. Only then can they give themselves a shot at the returns available from a shrewd investment.

Your task as an entrepreneur seeking finance is to mitigate and alleviate that sense of fear and so lower each investor’s risk threshold. The two basic ways of doing this are:

1 – Demonstrate that the perceived risks are smaller or more easily overcome that they initially appear.

2 – Set out a credible vision for the success of the business such that the returns outweigh the risk.

This, you might argue, is easier said than done. And you’d be right.

In my experience, entrepreneurs who understand how investors assess deals, find it easiest to raise money. It’s part of the reason why people who’ve raised money before find it easier to do it again.

SO THIS BEGS THE QUESTION, HOW DO INVESTORS EVALUATE STARTUP DEALS?

As I touch on above, this is a hard thing to get right for investors – a company may tick all the boxes, but still fail down the line. But this is often a matter of luck and down to factors beyond the investors’ control.

In their evaluation steps, investors can take measures to ensure that the companies they do go into have the best chances of success.

So here’s a simple evaluation framework that we recommend to investors on Angel Investment Network. We base this on our own experience from 12 years’ hand-selecting startups for our brokerage division. Companies we’ve worked on include: SuperAwesome, SimbaSleep, Novastone, What3Words, Opun and Cornerstone.

Two of these were just named in the Independent’s Top 10 startups 2017.

A SIMPLE EVALUATION FRAMEWORK:

1. TEAM

A team for inestors

We interviewed Jos Evans who has made a number of successful investments through us. Jos gave the following advice:

“Everything comes down to the quality of the founders. If the people are excellent they will succeed regardless of whether the initial business idea works. Meet as many people as possible and cross check your network for people who might know the founders of a company you are considering investing in.”

This is sound advice from someone who is making a career from angel investing.

It is the people behind a company led by the founders and validated by their advisory board that will optimise its chances of success. If the founders are relentlessly resourceful they will find the iteration that makes the company a winner.

In their due diligence, investors spend a long time researching the founders’ backgrounds. They also often try to spend time with them on the phone and, if possible, in person. The qualities that come across go a long way to giving investors confidence and lowering their risk threshold.

Similarly, the strength of the company’s advisory board can be a very strong index of potential:

1 – It reflects well on the founders if they have managed to persuade impressive people to back them.

2 – The fact that impressive advisers have backed the idea lends credibility and validation to it.

3 – The financial and social clout of high- profile board members means that the idea will struggle to fail. propelled on by a strong support network, companies tend to find a way.

2. MARKET

Which is the more significant indicator of success – the team or the idea/market? This is an ongoing debate between investors.

Renowned US investor, Ron Conway, believes, like Jos, that the team are the foundation. The idea is liable to change, but the team’s motivation, talent and competence will remain to drive the project to success.

Other investors argue that great founders in a bad market are far less likely to succeed than bad founders in a great market.

But to polarise these two points of view misses the point a bit. Good founders will find good markets – otherwise they are not really good founders.

So, in your pitching docs you need to make sure you give clear details on the market opportunity. Are you pitching a scalable opportunity in a market of sufficient size and growth trajectory? And are you doing it at the right time?

Here is the advice we give to investors when they evaluate the market section of a pitch:

“…you want to research the market to ensure the opportunity is or will be as large as the founders claim. If your findings confirm theirs then you can feel comfortable that a) there is a significant market and b) the founders know what they’re on about!”

Remember, your pitch/business is as representative of you as you are of it. In trying to sell your pitch to investors you need to sell yourself and vice versa.

3. TRACTION

Investors want a startup investment to have as much real world proof of concept as possible.

What better way to give confidence? If you can exhibit positive feedback, high user retention, growing revenues, etc at an early stage, it proves the venture (as far as possible!).

The more traction a company has, the more ‘proven’ it appears and thus the less likely it seems that it will fail. When we remember that persuading investors is about lowering their risk threshold, it’s clear how important traction points are. Traction points instil confidence in the vision and its execution.

They are as close to evidence as an early-stage startup is likely to get.

An obvious concern for early-stage companies is that they feel they may lack traction. They are especially likely to feel this way if they are not generating revenue.

So what constitutes traction?

Traction is anything that validates your business. This will depend on the business: sometimes it will be revenue; sometimes it will be downloads or subscribers; sometimes it will be page views or awards.

In their efforts to provide traction points for their startup, entrepreneurs often make the mistake of relying on ‘vanity metrics’. For instance, an app may have had 100,000 downloads in its first month. But if 97% of those users never use the app again, the initial metric flatters to deceive. Most investors will work this out very quickly.

So the traction points you choose must actually prove the value of your business or they will undermine your pitch.

The best way to think about this, I have found, is to work out what your North Star Metric is. North Star Metric is a term coined by Growth Hackers to describe the one authentic value which shows that the business is doing what it set out to do.

4. IDEA

The points above help qualify the idea itself as valid. But we should not underestimate the effect of gut feeling when it comes to an investor’s initial assessment of an idea.

The timeless human fondness for the ego means that an initial gut feeling can have a powerful effect on the ultimate evaluation of the investor.

If an investor feels that an idea is good, they want to be proved right.idea for investors

So when an investor first reads about an idea, if they think it is a real solution to a real problem in a real market, they are likely to pursue the opportunity. They want to vindicate their instinct.

This is a classic example of cognitive bias. This is the term used in psychology to describe when it is hard to undo your initial judgment because your brain will keep finding evidence to support that judgement.

It’s why the hotel industry focuses so hard on the initial impression it creates in the lobby. If the atmosphere and décor feel high-end and luxurious and you are handed a complimentary glass of champagne, your whole stay will be filtered through the lens of this initial assessment. If the lobby is grubby, your bias will lean in the opposite direction.

This can be capitalised on by entrepreneurs. When you set out what your business actually does, do so in such a way that plays up to this bias. Make a clear and powerful first impression.

How?

The visual impression of the design of your pitch deck is very important. But so is the clear articulation of your value proposition.

We tell investors to assess whether the business is offering a real solution to a real problem. So, entrepreneurs should set out their idea using this ‘Problem/Solution framework’.

Here’s a quick example of what I could write for Angel Investment Network:

Problem: The startup industry is huge, but access to finance and investors remains difficult for entrepreneurs…

Solution: Angel Investment Network’s platform connects entrepreneurs with 130,000+ angel investors from around the world so that they can realise their potential and grow a lucrative and successful company….

The principal value of the service comes across clearly and concisely.

5. WHAT DO OTHER INVESTORS SAY?

We have seen how the advisory board can be considered a metric of sorts for future success. It follows from this that other investors can be invaluable sources of insight.

Many investors say it takes away a lot of the stress if you can share the experience. That’s why syndicates, both official ones and groups of like-minded friends, are so popular. Others may have spotted some key index of potential (success or failure) that one investor on their own may have missed.

If you already have investors on board, it is, therefore, a good idea to ask them if you can share their contact details with prospective investors.

This transparency is likely to give investors confidence in you. And allow them to allay any fears they may have by talking to people who have already invested. One caveat to this is that a prospective investor may point out a flaw that the existing investor may have overlooked!

Summary

There are many factors that any individual investor may take into account when they evaluate an opportunity. This article has aimed to cover the most general and universally useful for entrepreneurs.

But you should expect each new conversation to be different. Every prospective investor wants to see whether you are a good fit for their personal investment agenda.

On that note, it is worth saying that you should never take it personally when someone decides not to invest. It is a) a huge waste of emotional energy and b) pointless. There are so many reasons why someone may choose not to invest. One of our entrepreneurs once became despondent because a good investor had withdrawn. Little did they know it was because of a divorce!

Rejection is also a good opportunity to get candid and constructive feedback from people with real expertise – sometimes what hurts the most is the most useful in the long run.

I originally wrote this article for Toucan.co blog. It was well received so I thought I would share it again.

Women in Tech: Success & the Future…

We recently learned that Pivigo is one of 15 of the UK’s fastest growing tech companies founded by women selected to visit Silicon Valley.

The trip is part of an initiative to build ties with the US tech scene. The other firms heading to Silicon Valley include:

All are showing an annual growth rate of at least 118%.

Pivigo is a data science marketplace founded by the remarkable Dr Kim Nilsson. Their mission is to connect “…data scientists and businesses across the world…to revolutionise the way we work, live and stay healthy.”

Dr Kim left her role as an astronomer on the Hubble Space Telescope to complete an MBA and pursue a career in business. The move was a good one.

Since she founded Pivigo in 2013 the company has:

  • Raised nearly £1m in funding (£300k through our investors on Angel Investment Network!)
  • Become the world’s largest community of data scientists.
  • Completed over 80 data science projects to date. (Clients include KPMG, Barclays, British Gas, M&S and Royal Mail.)
  • Started Europe’s largest data science training programme S2DS (Science to Data Science). The programme supports career transitions of PhDs and MScs into data science roles.

pivigo data science women

Kim’s transition from academia to top founder is part of what makes her story so impressive and why, no doubt, she was a good choice to meet with executives from Apple, Google, Instagram and LinkedIn. Sherry Coutu CBE, the founder of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK, and the London Mayor’s office made the selection.

This link building through the UK’s most talented female founders comes at a time of high interest in the role of women in the growth of the European and UK tech sectors. Figures reported by LinkedIn and Founders4Schools show that:

  • Female-led companies have helped add £3bn to the economy over the past year.
  • The number of female-led companies with turnover of £250m+ grew by 14% in the same period.

But what about women business angels?

Despite the flourishing community of female founders and executives, only a small number are using their business acumen to invest in small businesses.

As a result, the UKBAA in partnership with Angel Academe, a network of female business angels, is conducting new research. They want to understand the barriers perceived by women about angel investing. The survey is being hosted and analysed by the the CASS Business School in London.

This research is also part of a their new Europe-wide project called “Women Business Angels for Europe’s Entrepreneurs”. The project will enable them to review the situation in Europe as well as the UK.

UKBAA logo women
The results will give important insight into how, as a community, we can engage more women in angel investing. Off the back of the research, the UKBAA plans to develop a programme with the goal of doubling the number of female angel investors in the UK over the next two years.

If you’re female and involved in startups, please do your bit for this iniative and fill out the 10 minute survey here.

Thanks!

SEIS and EIS Tax Relief Explained with a little help from Star Wars…

SEIS and EIS are the given acronyms for the generous tax breaks the UK government offers to investors in startup companies. (Seed) Enterprise Investment Scheme. The company must be UK registered and meet certain eligibility requirements. Eligibility is a great way to incentivize investors because it reduces their risk. Dramatically.

As it’s May the 4th. As in May the Fourth be with you. As in Star Wars Day. I thought it appropriate to share an article I wrote explaining the benefits of SEIS and EIS with a few lame Star Wars puns thrown in. You know, to keep it, well, Light.

**This article is relevant for companies registered in the UK only. However, companies registered outside of the UK may find it useful as there may be similar tax breaks offered by their local government.**

What are SEIS & EIS Tax breaks?

Investing in startup companies is generally much riskier than buying shares in much larger more established companies, although the returns are potentially much larger. As a means of offsetting this risk for investors and thereby incentivising them to invest, the UK government offers two attractive tax breaks known as SEIS and EIS (the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme; and its parent the Enterprise Investment Scheme).

The tax breaks are very generous to investors and have been instrumental in helping the startup industry grow in the UK. As a result, investors now place high value on companies that have qualified for SEIS & EIS.

Because of this, we recommend that all UK companies raising through our platform seek ‘advanced assurance’ for SEIS/EIS if they think they will qualify. As a general rule, if you consider your company early stage then you probably qualify for both, or at least EIS.

What’s SEIS?

HMRC gives the following overview:

“…[SEIS] is designed to help small, early-stage companies raise equity finance by offering tax reliefs to individual investors who purchase new shares in those companies.”

Startups who qualify will be eligible to offer up to £150,000 in SEIS shares to investors.

What are the principal benefits for investors?

  • SEIS is incredibly generous and investors will get 50% tax relief per tax year on investments up to £100,000. (Relief is given each year, but the shares must be held for at least 3 years)
  • Investors will also get Capital gains exemption on the disposal of assets
  • There is a ‘carry back’ facility which allows investors to treat shares as if they were acquired in the previous tax year. Hence the relief can be claimed for the tax year before the investment.

Example:

Angel Investor Skywalker invests £100,000 into ‘Force for Good’, a ground-breaking social enterprise startup which qualifies for SEIS. For the given tax year, Skywalker has a tax liability of £50,000. Because of his SEIS shares he gets 50% of the value of his investment in relief, so £50,000.

This means he pays £0 in tax rather than the £50,000 he owes in tax. This situation is irrespective of how well the company does.

If the company does well, Skywalker would also qualify for exemption from Capital Gains tax (up to £100,000) on the profit provided it is reinvested.

If the company folds, Skywalker will still receive his £50,000 in tax relief meaning only half his initial investment of £100,000 is at risk. When the company folds, he will also be given loss relief of 45% of the ‘at risk’ capital. 45% of £50,000 is £22,500.

So if the company folds, Skywalker will only have lost £27,500 even though he invested £100,000. That’s relief of 72.5%!
SEIS

Does your company qualify?

N.B. These tax breaks are only available to UK based companies; investors do not need to be UK resident but must have some UK tax liability against which to set the tax relief.

For a company to qualify for the SEIS scheme it must meet a number of qualification tests. The list below is not comprehensive as the rules in place are often quite detailed and nuanced, but it gives a helpful, broad picture:

  • Permanent UK Base- your company must have a permanent UK office or the owner must be a UK resident. This must remain the case for three years from when SEIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must not be listed on the stock exchange at the time the SEIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must have fewer than 25 full-time employees at the time the SEIS shares are issued.
  • The gross assets must not exceed £200k at the time the SEIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must be early stage in that it must not be continuing a trade that is more than two years old at the time the SEIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must not have raised money through EIS or VCT schemes in the three years prior to the SEIS share issue.
  • The funds raised must be spent within three years.
  • Your company must be independent i.e. it must not be controlled by any other company or anyone associated with that company.
  • Your company must not be a member of a partnership

To get formal approval of SEIS eligibility you need to fill out an SEIS1 form and send it to HMRC. Download the form and the notes here.

EIS

What’s EIS?

EIS is the parent of SEIS. The principle is the same – to encourage investors to invest in early stage companies by offering them a generous tax break based on the sum they invest.

When the scheme was launched in 1993 the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Michael Portillo, said;

“The purpose of Enterprise Investment Schemes is to recognise that unquoted trading companies can often face considerable difficulties in realising relatively small amounts of share capital. The new scheme is intended to provide a well-targeted means for some of those problems to be overcome.”

EIS is less generous in terms of relief but it is easier for companies to qualify for and there is a larger quota available for eligible companies to offer investors. 

Startups are able to offer up to £2,000,000 in EIS shares.

What are the benefits for investors?

  • Can invest up to £1,000,000 a year in EIS shares.
  • Investors will get 30% tax relief per tax year
  • Any gain is exempt from Capital Gains tax provided the shares have been held for at least 3 years.
  • Loss relief via tax liability upon disposal of shares for a loss
  • Capital gains tax on assets can be deferred if the gain is re-invested in EIS shares
  • ‘Carry back’ facility so the shares can act as tax relief for the previous tax year

Example:

Angel Investor Vader invests £100,000 into ‘Death Star Inc’, a highly disruptive Fintech startup which qualifies for EIS. 

For the given tax year, Vader has a tax liability of £50,000. Because of his EIS shares he gets 30% of the value of his investment in relief, so £30,000. This means he pays £20,000 in tax rather than the £50,000 he owes in tax. This situation is irrespective of how well the company does.

If the company folds, Vader will still receive his £30,000 in tax relief meaning only £70,000 of his initial investment is at risk. When the company folds, he will also be given loss relief of 45% of the ‘at risk’ capital. 45% of £70,000 is £31,500.

So if the company folds, Vader will only have lost £38,500 even though he invested £100,000. That’s relief of 61.5%!

Does your company qualify?

To qualify for EIS your company must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Permanent UK Base- your company must have a permanent UK office or the owner must be a UK resident. This must remain the case for three years from when EIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must not be listed on the stock exchange at the time the EIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must have fewer than 250 full-time employees at the time the EIS shares are issued.
  • The gross assets must not exceed £15 million at the time the EIS shares are issued.
  • The funds raised must be spent within three years.
  • Your company must be independent i.e. it must not be controlled by any other company or anyone associated with that company.
  • Your company must not be a member of a partnership

The full criteria and guidance on how to apply for advanced assurance can be found here on the HMRC website here.

SEIS-EIS

Summary:

If you’re an early stage company registered in the UK and you’re raising money, you really should get advanced assurance for both SEIS and EIS. It can seem a little complicated, but in effect, all you need to do is submit the correct forms to HMRC and let them work out if you qualify.

You can be sure that all your competitors will be doing it – investors are far more likely to invest in an early stage company if they have the guaranteed risk mitigation that SEIS and EIS offer.

This article was originally written by Oliver Jones for Angel Investment Network‘s Learn centre. You can view the original and other similar articles covering all topics related to startup fundraising and investment here.

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