Looking Back & Looking Forwards

Looking Back

When we reflected on the year at the end of 2020, a few things sprung out: the sheer chaos inflicted by the Coronavirus, or COVID, as we now call it. It caused all kinds of new problems – with new startups emerging to solve these problems.

Redundancy and furlough led to the talent pool increasing and the quality of start up teams increased, a key predictor of startup success.  Productivity jumped as people found new ways to save time, skipping their daily commute and switching meetings to shorter Zoom calls. 

Whilst 2020 was devastating on a personal front, there was no shortage of innovation. So where does that leave us towards the end of 2021?

The Antisocial Networks

Whether it’s Brexit, anti-vax debates, or anything in any way political, it’s clear that social networks are incurring serious strain in their never-ending challenge to chase engagement. Facebook’s recent rebrand ‘Meta’ makes logical sense to deflect some of the focus away from it. 

Facebook’s commitment to the metaverse has led to considerable interest in the space, with key investors coming out as hugely bullish, even if very few people can clearly define what the metaverse is, or will become. So what is a metaverse, anyway?

According to Andy Liu from Unlock Ventures “It’s the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, where augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain-based environments enable people to develop and live in new ‘worlds’ — a fully immersive experience to express themselves, connect, interact, conduct commerce, and experience a whole new reality.”

One of key questions on investors’ lips is will the metaverse be dominated by the Metas and Microsofts, or more nimble startup? Eitherway, expect an onslaught of new metaverse startups emerging in the new year.

Good COP, bad COP?

COP26 had some clear outputs from cutting methane emissions to curbing oil and gas exploration, protecting forests and shifting from coal to clean power. Whether COP26 went far enough or not to keep the goal of a 1.5 degree temperature rise by the end of 2030 is still for discussion.

 However, in the words of AIN’s Head of Impact and CEO of SeedTribe, Liv Sibony, 

If you’re looking at predictions, one thing I would say is that big companies and governments are now committing to much higher standards of environmentalism, and that demand will stimulate growth/the market for start-ups offering environmental solutions, especially in the B2B space’. 

Whilst it’s too early to see the direct impact on start up innovation, it will certainly be interesting to see the startups that step up as a result of COP induced changes in legislation. 

Are we WFHing?

As the COVID pandemic started to recede, only to spike again with Omicron, one of the things that became clear is that no one knows where they are going to be working. 

There was the colour coding your bookshelf stage, the pimping your home office with external mic, light and webcam, and then the ‘pingdemic’, with those in shared offices in particular, waiting to be pinged. 

In short, we’ve tried a lot of different ways of working over the last year, and the one thing that we can agree on is, well, it’s hard to predict where we’re going to be working next year. 

Whatsmore with escalating inflation and a spiral in wage demands, there’s a clear war for top talent emerging. How to attract and retain top talent is going to be clearly front of mind for startups in 2022. 

Diverse Investing

According to Nadine Campbell, Ace Entrepreneurs,in the UK while just 5% of founding teams have two female founders, research has also shown that only 1% of venture-funded startups have black founders. In the USA, black startup entrepreneurs still received only a tiny fraction, 1.2%, of the $147 billion in venture capital invested in U.S. startups.

With movements such as Black Lives Matter providing a catalyst for a growing number of new funds and outfits supporting underrepresented founders, there’s a growing acceptance about how diverse team are better rounded, have less blindspots and ultimately, are better positioned to achieve a higher valuation multiple. 

We see some positive steps in the right direction and challenge our whole investor community to think about what you can do to help accelerate this.  

In Summary

At AIN, our mission is ‘to connect the world to enable investors to back the great business of tomorrow’.

For us, it has been a strong year, we’ve launched a fund, AIV capital, enabling investors to back later stage, high potential companies, we’ve had record number of investors signing up to the platform, and a 15% increase in investor connections being made with entrepreneurs. 

Ultimately, it wouldn’t have been possible without you, our investors and entrepreneurs, and the AIN team for all their hard work. 

We know how hard it can be to switch off, but hope you get a chance to recharge in the festive period. See you in 2022.  

Tips from the Top: Transitioning from founder to leader, how to be the one in five

In the next of our Tips from the Top series, we speak to Ed Lowther who leads The Soke’s Founders Development Programme, a first-of-its-kind course designed to provide vital knowledge, understanding and skills to founders at the helms of fast growth businesses.

When Harvard Business School spoke to its 141 HBS alumni who led start-ups, they asked: “What does someone who aspires to your role need to know?” The research revealed that of all the possible areas to focus on, there are two essential areas that over 80% of the group unanimously agreed on.

At the outset, a founder needs to assemble a founding team – a series of vital decisions around choosing co-founders, appointing key talent, splitting equity, recruiting advisors, and managing a board. These are all vital, but highly demanding tasks that a founder must achieve alongside building their new business that if not done correctly can lead to early failure, no matter how brilliant the idea. Founders reach these decisions through a combination of instinct, experience and the use of trusted advisors or mentors, in combination with key skill development.

Secondly, for those looking for investment, or looking to invest, a founder needs to foster a critical set of leadership skills needed early on, that in turn helps to attract further investment and support the business on its path to success. What’s clear is that early development of specific leadership skills in communication and conflict management is where a founder can really differentiate themselves.

Whilst many founders may believe that they naturally possess the skills to successfully build their business to success, the reality is that few come to the fundraising table with the array of skills needed to successfully lead an organisation from an idea through the teething stages to growth and finally exit. This is particularly the case when founders are required to run a company not purely to satisfy their own ambition (management, creative, financial, or otherwise), but to meet the expectations of investors and other stakeholders, including staff.

So what steps can founders can take to improve their skills in communication and manage conflict with their co-founders or staff?

  1.  Your business is founded on a great idea – it does not mean all your ideas are great.

In business journals, strategy reports and insight magazines, much is made of creativity being at the heart of business success and growth. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is vocal in encouraging his employees to think creatively, eager for them to predict future trends and allowing them to share their ideas freely, to improve the prospects of the company. The stratospheric growth of Tesla suggests that his approach is bearing fruit.

For those at the beginning of this journey, the thought of fostering creativity can feel like a luxury, alongside all the other business demands. Innovation is however proven to create growth. Businesses at all stages need to remain nimble as their customers’ needs and demands change. How successfully a founder facilitates the communication of ideas around their business and across functions is a marker for future innovation and adaptability for the business idea to survive in the market. 

Create dedicated time for creativity and innovation as part of routine business operations, giving space for open communication between the founder and team members of all functional areas. Foster an environment for the team to be creative and openly communicative, without it all being founder-led, so that ideas are assessed on their own merit, whatever the role of the team member in the company.

  1. Learn to share through building communicative resilience

Once a founder has the fundamentals of their new business in place, the idea is taking hold in the market and revenue is growing, it’s an exhilarating time. Few businesses can grow rapidly through organic growth alone and therefore a founder must also accept the challenge of securing capital through external sources. It can be an exciting but risky time, with a number of factors that can damage a business just as it begins to succeed. Much of the damage comes from the amount of time that is needed, coupled with the energy required to be successful, which takes away a founder’s dedication to their clients. Customers can sense neglect, just at the moment a business wants to secure their lifelong loyalty.

At this moment, a founder will be at their communication limits, often exhausted by the sound of their own voice, as they describe the brilliance of their business, the financial plan and the superb team assembled to make it succeed, to yet another room of potential investors. The key skill to develop here is ‘communicative resilience’, a combination of sustaining a consistent and engaging narrative of the idea, clear understanding of the business strengths and challenges, and a willingness to answer penetrative questions designed to interrogate a founder’s financial shortcomings. This combination tells investors that you can share this with them and make it successful at the same time. 

Be mindful that you communicate the strengths of the business in a way that puts the business idea at its heart and that through additional financial support, this idea will flourish. The moment that investors sense that a founder does not want to share and is more interested in their own success irrespective of the idea, the fight for their funding is lost.

  1. Conflict is inevitable – fail to prepare for it, prepare to fail.

It’s likely that as a founder builds their team, they have been successful in recruiting a diverse team, all with unique skills and often varied or differing opinions. In fact, this diversity is often a key ingredient for driving a business forward as these individuals bring perspectives to the founder that they would not otherwise have seen, helping them grow the business successfully.

The differences in this team that exist through individual variances of cultural background, learning styles, personality and many more factors besides, overlaid with managerial expectations, accountability issues and communication styles, will inevitably lead to conflict. And at this point, the founder needs to establish a pathway that is neither a hierarchy of opinions, where ‘I win because I’m more senior,’ or that a conflict is simply ignored.  Without establishing this early on, conflicts cannot be resolved satisfactorily and can lead to increased stress and decreased performance in the team, which will impact business growth. 

Plan to navigate conflict by setting out a framework for all employees to identify and resolve issues between each other, building a culture that celebrates diverse perspectives with a way to manage the conflict that this diversity can bring. It will help shape the best outcomes for the business and build genuine trust and respect between team members, managers, and the founder.

StartUpBuzz

In the run up to the festive period, the AIN team highlights some of the companies that they are most excited about. With two companies shaking up the property market, a chocolate brand targeting the very top of the market, and a company that is revolutionising 3D printing.

Virtual View App 

During the pandemic, viewing properties has been difficult, at times impossible, but one of the lasting effects of it is more and people screening potential properties with virtual tours. 

Virtual View’s ‘Vieweet’ app helps amateur photographers create a 360 view, or virtual tour on an app. It’s useful for viewing potential property to buy or let, but other use cases span insurance, interior design and surveying. 

Key Facts

– Vieweet currently collects data on the 7% of the UK properties sold every month 

– Partnerships with some of the largest property sites including Zoopla

– Customers include some of the largest estate agents, such as Purple Bricks and Countrywide

‘The thought of them already collecting data on 7% of UK properties sold every month before turning on the revenue taps showed me just how confident the founder is. The levels of data they can gather on each home will help further stimulate several other industries’ Xavier Ballester

Find out more about Virtual View App

PropertyLoop 

Continuing the property theme, PropertyLoop is an end to end lettings platform. Making life much easier for property landlords. It’s also the world’s first commission free letting platform. 

Landlords typically spend thousands on unhelpful agents just to find a tenant. On PropertyLoop, landlords list their property only once, the listings then are posted on to hundreds of portals including Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket. PropertyLoop verifies renters identities, as well as sorting tenancy agreement, deposits and renewals.

There’s also a ‘Smart’ tools service where tenant report any issues with the property online, where it is automatically sent to relevant, qualified contractors who bid for the work. Property Loop takes care of all the access, proof of work and invoicing so that landlords don’t have to. 

Key Facts

– Multi excited founders 

– sold one of London’s biggest retail estate agency chains, taken care of $1 billion of property every year. 

– 95% of the market still being dominated by High Street Agents, the ‘Blockbusters’ of the Property Market

Total Addressable Market – £1.7 trillion rental market

‘Having spoken to a number of landlords about PropertyLoop each of them said they would be crazy not to use it. Everything to do with the running of your property under one roof and free is definitely a problem being solved!’ Xavier Ballester

Firetree

Firetree

There’s expensive chocolate, and then there’s Firetree – chocolate is priced at a price point that you wouldn’t really expect to see chocolat at, more the territory you would expect to see a fine wine.

Firetree is a new chocolate brand positioning itself at the top of the end of the market, and therefore avoiding the competitive mid-market with the likes of Cadbury and Mars. Chocolate is roasted in its shells using a slow chocolate craft production process to ‘optimise their complet taste characteristic’.

Firetree believe they are the only serious player who can capture the top of the market with an experienced team that combines both mass market and high end chocolate experience. 

Key Facts 

– Set for £1m in revenues in 2021

– Retailers include Harrods, M&S and Ocado

– Vegan, Dairy-Free, Nut Free, Halal and Kosher Certified. 

‘ I tasted them and know just how delicious they are. My wife is a big chocolate snob and says she has never tried a better chocolate. Firetree could be the brand to take over the super premium category.’ Xavier Ballester

Find out more about Firetree.

Wayland Additive

Wayland Additive

Wayland Additive have overhauled additive manufacture (3D Printing) of metals, making it faster, more reliable and allowing for the printing of larger structures than has commonly been possible. 

Wayland aims to create metal Additive Manufacturing (“AM” – 3D printing) machines to sell to  industrial organisations, including in the aerospace and medical industries. With highly advanced tech created from the worlds of scanning electron microscopy and electron beam lithography. 

As a result of these innovations the machine will offer higher productivity, unparalleled process monitoring and control, and versatility in materials.

Facts

– First client signed in N. America (£850k) and working with the MOD

– £29m pipeline of opportunities

– Raised £2.1m of a £3m round backed by Longwall Ventures

To hear more about Wayland Additive, reach out to Ed Stephens directly ed(at)angelinvestmentnetwork.co.uk.

Keen to hear more?

If you would like to see what other companies are up to on Angel Investment Network, or are interested in raising funding yourself, you can find your local network here.

SixtySecondStartUp with CheckMates

In this week’s edition of #SixtySecondStartUp we catch up with Leah Zabari, founder of CheckMates, an app to connect you with anonymous support during difficult times.

  1. What does your company do?

Checkmates is a mobile app designed to help individuals connect with anonymous support during difficult times.

Checkmates uses algorithms and a dating app “swipe right” style in order to help the individual find profiles they can relate to.

Our focus on imagery and metaphors to describe each user’s story erases the need for potentially triggering language. Therefore putting the user in control of their information and how they would like to receive support.

  1. Why did you set up this company?

In 2017 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although she received fantastic treatment and support from the NHS and Macmillan cancer support, I really struggled as a carer and a family member to find the support I needed. I was receiving therapy at the time but what I really wanted was to meet someone who was going through the same thing, someone I could relate to and who knew how I was feeling.

This sparked my idea of Checkmates; and the more I went through my vision and values for Checkmates, the more it became evident that this was a platform for everyone; loneliness and the need for support and help is not just an issue for children. Statistics show this to be an increasing worry for older adults. Everyone needs to be heard and listened to, and to feel supported.                                                                                                                                                     

The MyCheckmates App
  1. How did you get your first customer? 

We are currently undergoing a testing period of our first version of MyCheckmates app with our community. Until we have refined the last final details we want to make we haven’t launched our paid feature Checkmates+. We are aiming to launch MyCheckmates to the world mid 2022 after our upcoming seed round.

  1. We knew we were onto something when? 

We did a lot of market research before we began developing MyCheckmates; we shared a survey asking everyone if there was a time in their life they would have used MyCheckmates had it been available; this had a 100% positive response. The following question was asking them to share what the challenges were they were facing, the answers left me speechless. 

Everyone was going through such different experiences and yet everyone felt alone. Addiction, bereavement, mothers with daughters battling eating disorders, unemployment struggles, breakups/divorce, nurses suffering mental health issues due to their work through the COVID 19 pandemic.

No matter who you are, everyone needs support, everyone needs to be reminded they are not alone.

  1. Our business model: 

MyCheckmates is working on a freemium model meaning a basic version of the app is free for all, however a paid version with many more features is available and strongly encouraged in order for users to get the most tailored support to their needs.

We currently have a monetised weekly mental health check-in newsletter and a biweekly podcast breaking down the stigma around emotions.

MyCheckmates has huge room to expand into many different areas of mental health; including mindfulness and meditation features within the app, and in person events to find support within small communities, both of which we are working on currently.

  1. Our most effective marketing channel has been: 

Social media! When Checkmates started out as scribbles in my notebook one of the first things I vowed was that the service Checkmates was offering was to be accessible for all. This has mainly shown itself in the form of a free version of our app but has also come through in other aspects of the company’s profile; such as its community services. All our social media is free, interactive and allows everyone to feel like part of a team. We share resources, testimonies and tips and tricks to check-in on your friends mental health as well as your own.

  1. What we look for when recruiting:

Enthusiasm, honesty and flexibility. As a startup things change all the time, we are a small team currently doing a little bit of everything; filling in gaps when needed and constantly learning new skills in areas some of us haven’t studied since highschool! 

With our app having such a huge focus on mental health we want everyone in our team to be passionate about improving the services that are offered to those struggling. We are a business, but a business created to help our users. Passion and a desire for positive change has to lie at the forefront of all decisions.

  1. The biggest mistake that I’ve made is:

Assuming I needed a technical co-founder before I could get started. 

As a solo founder the first thing you read online is *ALERT ALERT* you need to find a technical co founder to be taken seriously. This is not true, being a non-technical solo founder isn’t easy, don’t get me wrong, but I was the one with the ideas and vision so why not get started straight away? If partnership is the right thing to do then I strongly believe it will happen. Working with business partners; whether that is investors, co-founders or employees you work closely with does not work unless your personal relationship is solid too. You have to have the same vision and trust each other; you can’t fake or force either of these things.

  1. We think that there’s growth in this sector because:

In total, 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes, or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty five million people.

5.0% (1 in 20,) of people in the UK (2.6 million adults) reported that they felt lonely “often” or “always” between 3 April and 3 May 2020, about the same proportion as before the national lockdown due to Covid-19. Of those asked, 30.9% (7.4 million adults) reported their well-being had been affected because of their loneliness in the past seven days. 

This figure is ever growing, especially with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. As well as the heartbreak and isolation that the pandemic has brought many individuals more broadly, the social distancing measures and the limitations of household bubbles has denied many people the opportunity to meet new people and find the support they need.

  1. We worked with AIN because:

We are about to embark on a first fundraising journey that will allow MyCheckmates to be taken to the next step and start providing support to the people that need it. We have all the ideas, the passion and the projection. All we need now is just a little extra help from investors to make this happen. When Drummond got in touch it came at the perfect time with our BETA launch, it is a fantastic way for us to be able to share MyCheckmates with the people who can help make this happen.

Keen to hear more?

If you would like to see what other companies are up to on Angel Investment Network, or are interested in raising funding yourself, you can find your local network here.

#SixtySecondStartUp with Society

Up next for #SixtySecondStartUp we have Matthew Billington, Co-founder of Society. Matthew noticed that student usage of Facebook was falling off a cliff and set up a startup to help student societies manage their members with their own branded apps.

What does Society do?

Society is your own branded community app in an instant. With over 1,700 clubs with group chats in over 217 Universities in the UK and worldwide, Society is now the fastest growing app at University for clubs and societies.

App features include push notifications direct to all your members for instant alerts and updates for events and announcements. It has your club’s calendar of events, an instant searchable network, personal profiles, direct messaging, group chats, free e-tickets and much, much more. And, it’s completely free for students. 

The Society App

Why did you set up Society?

When I entered my 4th year as a dental student at King’s College London, I soon discovered that being elected President of the KCL Dental Society of 800 members came with its fair share of problems. Engagement was falling and falling, Facebook was becoming increasingly outdated especially with freshers. Year on year, we were seeing a progressive decline in engagement with university students.

With popular event booking platforms such as Eventbrite and Fatsoma, having high transaction fees, I wanted to create a platform with the lowest possible ticket transaction fees for students, whilst remaining free for free events. WhatsApp groups were also a terrible way to manage a society and events. 

How did you get your first customer?

After engaging with Presidents from other dental schools I soon discovered that nearly every new President of a university society is in the same boat, re-creating the wheel, each and every year.

I originally came up with the idea of the Dental Society app to have a profound and positive impact on committees and society members at all 16 dental schools. Helping committees to save time through automating event management, certificates, ticketing/e-tickets for events, whilst having the committee displayed and available for all members to directly contact through the chat. 

We knew we were onto something when?

Suddenly, the Presidents of King’s College London Medical Student Association wanted to use the Dental Society app. Then 18 months ago when the app was re-engineered and relaunched as “Society” for all student clubs, Aston’s African Caribbean Society wanted to use the app. That’s when we experienced exceptional growth from 12 clubs to 800 clubs to now over 1700 clubs in the last 18 months.

Our business model:

Society co-founders chose pre-monetisation to maximise and prioritise viral growth without friction. Over the next 12 months, we are proving multiple revenue streams to find optimal ways of aligning monetisation with viral growth.

Our most effective marketing channel has been:

Word-of-mouth with students. The new academic year saw more than two hundred Society Ambassadors attend Freshers Fairs at Universities across the UK to promote the Society app to clubs, societies and students. All ambassadors wore the Society hoodie while spreading the word about the features and benefits of the app. The awareness campaign was a huge success.

Society Brand Ambassadors

What we look for when recruiting:

Insanely great people with ideas and raw talent, passion and energy that don’t need to be managed. They have to believe in the Society app, our vision and be fun. 

The biggest mistake that I’ve made is:

Not immediately realising the full potential of the Society app as an instant community app for absolutely everyone in the world. ESN UK is set to digitise the student exchange experience with their new Society App partnership. Formally the Erasmus Student Network, ESN is the largest student-led organisation in the world in over 1,000 Higher Education Institutions in 42 countries.

Together with Society App, ESN UK are launching a new app specifically for their members to help them to develop skills to a higher proficiency. As seen in The Daily Telegraph, the ESN partnership presents a global opportunity for the Society app and is one of the pathways to having a world-wide presence in 2022 with student brand ambassadors in every country.

We think that there’s growth in this sector because:

Significant traction has been made in the new academic year post covid lock downs. In the last 90 days, clubs have doubled and grown by 100% across 1,700+ Clubs, now also with 1,700+ Group Chats. Memberships have grown by 130% and engagement has grown by 700%. Over £50,000 has been collected via Society Pay, the in-app payment gateway. This exceptional growth since launch only 18 months ago, means the Society app has already cornered 13% UK market share and is expected to double in 2022.

The app’s success reflects UK University only, excluding parallel, international and enterprise markets. There’s still time to invest in the Society app (EIS approved) this year to support the team growth of student brand ambassadors and react native developers, which will allow greater scale and global ambitions to be achieved. 

We worked with AIN because:

AIN was highly recommended and we found AIN to be one of the best ways to reach and communicate with potential investors.

Keen to hear more?

If you would like to see what other companies are up to on Angel Investment Network, or are interested in raising funding yourself, you can find your local network here.