7 software due diligence considerations

By Roger Planes, CEO Silicon Rhino

Investing in tech startups can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a tech background. Investing in new ideas, market opportunities and teams can be exciting, and should remain the most important deciding factors when considering an investment. Here are a few points to focus on from a software due diligence perspective.

Documentation

Documentation is hardly at the top of the priority list of many early stage companies. While the tech team may know all the ins and outs of the project by memory, it will be much harder to onboard new developers or take over the tech if the need arises.  Projects and quirks in the systems should be well documented.

At the very least, any startup should have a set of documentation to allow someone else to pick up the project if the key people became incapacitated.

Roadmap

Early stage startups usually fall into the trap of prioritising features due to customer feedback or potential deals in the pipeline. Ask for a 12 month roadmap to understand how the product will evolve going forward. 

Having a roadmap in place will serve as a general direction, but understand tech startups operate in an agile environment so feature prioritization may change to best achieve market fit.

Resourcing

The convention of a tech startup needs to have a tech team is being challenged. So long as there’s access to reliable resources to build the product, a product can easily go to market whether the team is in-house or not. What matters is how well the company is able to explain the relationship and access of the resource and how these resources are prioritised.


Leveraging third party systems

Early stage startups should focus in building and iterating the core of their product first and foremost. When resources are not widely available the team needs to prioritise what should be built by the company itself versus what third party tools can be integrated into the system. Payment processors like Stripe or Braintree are one the best examples for a product that takes payments but isn’t part of the core offering. Make sure the team is focused sharp in the product USP and integrate other tools to help speed up development.

Customer Data

Another advantage of using third party software is delegating the regulatory requirements and storage of sensitive customer data like credit card and payments. While you shouldn’t expect developers to be experts in data security, the team should be aware of the current laws, their obligations and have plans to improve security in the product roadmap if it’s not as robust as it could be.

Architecture

There are infinite ways to architect a technical product, and all of them have their pros and cons depending on budget, resources available and product availability. 

The most important pitfall to look for is the opportunity for a single point of failure. An example of this would be having your whole test stack plus storage in a single server or virtual machine. In case of failure or unavailability (it happens) this would mean the company and their customers wouldn’t access any data while the incident lasts. Distributing the technical stack between different services or microservices will lessen the risk in case of disaster.

Disaster Recovery

Technology can sometimes be unpredictable, so every tech team should have at least a disaster recovery plan in case there are problems with the hosting of the platform or some external services. Asking about backup location and periodicity, how long would it take to relaunch the tech stack in case of failure will give you an understanding about how much the team is thinking about disaster recovery.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list but should highlight the common areas you should have a high level view over for potential additions to your portfolio (and potentially reviewing these points on your existing investments). All these areas can be relatively easily overcome in the early stages of a company. If these questions throw up something unexpected that gives concern, please speak to a trusted advisor. 

Next Steps

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How to close your funding round before the end of 2020

We’re very excited to announce the first edition in our series of guest articles from our partners SeedLegals. SeedLegals automates the legals to help companies close funding rounds faster, and hire, manage and allocate equity to their team.

CCO Adam Blair explains legal considerations to help you close your fundraise before 2020 is out:

And just like that, it’s almost the end of 2020! We hope you’ve had a successful year up until this point, considering the year it’s been…

At SeedLegals, many founders we speak to are now thinking about how to scale their business in 2021, and beyond. And what’s the best way to scale? Securing funds so your business can grow. 

With the end of the year fast approaching, you’ll want to be getting everything sorted before the Christmas break, so here’s what you need to know… 

Seasonality in UK fundraising

At SeedLegals, we’ve observed three main spikes in the fundraising calendar:

  1. The first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the end of the tax year (April 5th), and particularly for SEIS and EIS rounds. The reason for this is investors are keen to get deals closed to ensure that they receive maximum tax relief in the current tax year.
  1. The following is the run-up to the summer holiday season. Traditionally (at least prior to Covid-19), many investors use August to pack up and take some time off. If a deal isn’t done by the end of July it won’t be closed until September (or even later), hence the pre-holiday rush. 
  1. And lastly, the run up to Christmas. This can be a frantic time of year for both investors and founders, with lots of fundraising activity and investment. There’s nothing quite like getting a deal closed and all the paperwork done before the festive break! 

This is great news for founders, particularly this year as a result of the pandemic. Deal volumes were lower than usual earlier in the year, and we are now seeing a significant uptick in activity from investors to make up for this. 

SEIS/EIS

Over 30,000 UK companies have now received investment over £20 billion since the introduction of the EIS Scheme in 1993 (HMRC). In the 18/19 tax year alone, funding via the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) totalled over £1.8bn. 

The SEIS/EIS schemes allow investors to claim tax relief on the money they are investing into your company. Investors are able to claim Income Tax relief at 50% for SEIS investments, up to £100,000 each tax year, and 30% for EIS (max £1m). 

It’s worth noting that SEIS/EIS allowance can be claimed for both this tax year OR the prior tax year (known as carry-back). If, for example, your investor invested £50,000 SEIS/EIS in this tax year (2020-21 tax year), they can claim income tax relief against their tax payable for this tax year OR they can carry back to the previous tax year (2019-20).

SEIS/EIS Advance Assurance 

As a founder, the first step when fundraising is typically to apply for SEIS/EIS Advance Assurance. Many investors will only consider investing in a company that’s received SEIS/EIS Advance Assurance, as this gives them confirmation that they will receive tax relief on any potential investment. 

To get approval for your company, you’ll need to line up one or two initial investors to add to your application to demonstrate interest, and then you can apply. 

If you’d like to find out more about SEIS/EIS, you can read more here.

The importance of the Term Sheet

Once you have investors interested and committed to investing in your business – you’ll need to send them a summary of investment terms – called a Term Sheet. 

Term Sheets are where a large amount of negotiation can happen as they include details on the valuation, but also things like vesting schedules, reporting requirements and even founder salaries. 

What we often see at SeedLegals is once a founder has the first signature on the Term Sheet, it’s generally easier to get subsequent investors on board and close the round. 

SeedLegals data shows that on average companies close their funding round approximately 30 days after unlocking their term sheet. 

Advanced Subscription Agreement

An Advanced Subscription Agreement can be issued to new investors at any time and allows investors to subscribe for shares in an upcoming funding round, in exchange for giving you money now. 

In these cases, no valuation is set. Instead, your investors will receive their shares (generally at a discount) when you close your next funding round. 

An Advanced Subscription Agreement is a carefully worded, easy to understand document which complies with SEIS and EIS legislation – read all about it here.

Instant Investment

Instant Investment allows you to close a small (or smaller) funding round, raising only what you need or just the investment you’re able to get right now, and then top that up anytime, within limits agreed in the initial funding round.

Let’s say you want to raise £500K but you only have £300K of investors lined up. Rather than spending weeks or months finding the remaining £200K, you can close the round now, but set the deal terms to allow you to top up another £200K anytime within the next 12 months (for example), at the same or higher valuation, with no further investor consents needed.

This enables you to close the commitments that you have now, with the flexibility to continue raising in the new year, or maybe even during the next peak in the fundraising calendar…

So, there are a number of strategies that can be used to allow you to take in investment before the end of the year. Which are you going to choose?

About SeedLegals

We’re the operating system for your company, and we’ve already transformed the way more than 15,000 UK and French startups run their businesses.

Want to find out more? Head to SeedLegals or book a call with one of the SeedLegals experts, who will be happy to walk you through the best option for you.

Digital Addressing startup OKHi raises £1.4M with support from AIN

OkHi, a Kenyan/UK startup addressing system for emerging markets, has raised more than £1.4M, supported by Angel Investment Network, the world’s largest online angel investment platform. 

Headquartered in Nairobi and registered in London, OkHi is solving a problem that affects 4 billion people and costs businesses billions every year. The company was co-founded in 2014 by Timbo Drayson, who was at Google for 7 years, where he led the launch of Google Maps across emerging markets and built Chromecast. OkHi’s pioneering technology enables any business to collect an accurate address from their customer, verify it and navigate to it without getting lost. Its primary focus is to solve address verification for financial services, an endemic problem that holds back financial inclusion across emerging markets.  

The story has been getting widespread media coverage in the tech media press in the UK including titles like UKTN, Techround, UK Tech Investment News and Growth Business. It has also been picked up in African media including Disrupt Africa, Tech In Africa and VentureBurn.

Backed by the co-founder of Airbnb Nate Blecharczyk and chairman of Twitter Patrick Pichette, OkHi has powered millions of uses of its addressing system. The company recently launched in Nigeria with Africa’s largest banking platform, Interswitch Group, to solve address verification in Nigeria and beyond. The round took only two months to complete. OKHi is now deploying this investment to double the team’s size, win the  Nigeria market and grow the business beyond Africa. With scalable products solving a global problem, OKHi is on a clear trajectory to Series A.  

According to Timbo Drayson, “A physical address should be a human right. Whether it’s opening up a bank account or getting an ambulance to your door, every person on this planet deserves access to these services. This raise is a vital stepping stone to unlock our growth into Nigeria as well as explore new markets across Africa, Middle East and Asia. The Angel Investment Network was instrumental in our fundraising success and has really helped us on our Mission to enable half the world without a physical address to “be included.” 

According to Ed Stephens, who led the raise for Angel Investment Network: “This start up really ticked so many boxes for our investors who really bought into the company’s vital Mission. We were inundated with interest with more than 180 inquiries on the table. OKHi’s digital infrastructure helps to answer a genuine need for people without a formal address to get access to services that can help transform their lives. The team’s credentials were impeccable in their experience as entrepreneurs and addressing so we look forward to seeing the huge success of this company as it grows to help millions of people across the globe get better access to services.” 

Looking back to help you launch forward


Propelia is a UK accelerator that has worked with early stage founders since 2012, developing the concept of ‘Pilot Rounds’ in the pre-seed space. A Pilot Round that essentially identifies and connects founders with aligned investors, to enable them to quickly leverage SEIS capital to fuel, test and iterate strategic market assumptions over the next 6 months.

It’s a shift towards ‘Founder Market Fit’ which is seeing new tools, frameworks and approaches currently being developed, to enable greater deal flow alignment and fluidity in the early stage space – where ideally everyone wins. 

Dan Simmons, Propelia CEO, shares his view of taking a different perspective for early stage fundraising:

Why understanding a founder’s journey through the 3 lenses of Projection > Planning and Proof can help you better evaluate the uncertain market problem now available to navigate and disrupt.

There are very few data points to help successfully plot the course forward if you are a founder or investor trying to launch into an uncertain market sector – particularly in these post-Covid times. This is why start up evaluation often revolves around incorporating and using future facing concepts and lenses like OKRs and NPS.

In truth for both parties this often feels like a ‘finger in the air’ exercise at best. A planning and strategic framework which can just about be used long enough in order to create and gain enough comfort to cross the line, move forward and often then quickly adjust as events invariably change on the ground.

Perhaps instead of looking forwards we need to to more frequently start looking backwards. Back into a better understanding and appreciation of the founder’s journey. Not just how they got from A > B > to their current pitch deck, but towards the consistent patterns of behaviour, exploration and also mistakes that have informed how they have arrived at a point where they wish to try and tackle an uncertain market problem and navigate with the associated risks.

Propelia has taken this approach with its founders since 2012. By doing so we have consistently found that when you truly look at a founder who has a nuanced and ongoing journey into their market sector, you commonly can discern similar signs, patterns and behaviours. These often enable both founder and investor to better assess whether the timing is now right to venture further and essentially invest in each other. 

Here’s some tools and tips that over the years we’ve found useful to hopefully better help you with a different kind of looking backwards evaluation:

TIP 1: PROJECTION

Too often when we talk about founders we refer to how they are disrupting the present. Almost every pitch deck in the last 5-10 years has featured commentary, speculation and projection on how their start up will disrupt their sector – often within the next 2-3 years.

However a new key element post-Covid has recently been added to and baked into the mix. That of the uncertain future. Seemingly the only thing that’s now certain is that this new feature of uncertainty will bear relevance and have to be factored in going forward.

Image © Propelia Ltd 2020

This can lead to a form of paralysis between founder and investors as they try and understand, incorporate and navigate this new terrain into their evaluation. 

It’s here where introducing a new horizon around the concept of the ‘Almost Now’ can prove to be very useful in breaking this deadlock. The Almost Now becomes like a whitespace of a horizon that can be projected onto and forecasted into that is suspended between the Disrupted Present and the Uncertainty Future. It is essentially saying this is the horizon around which we can now collectively meaningfully explore and evaluate, with the understanding that it will be inflected and affected constantly by changes in market conditions.

Interestingly it is founders whose journey opens up a unique path into this horizon of the Almost Now who find themselves most comfortable working and operating in this liminal space. For investors this is an immediate piece of feedback that if a founder can behave in this way addressing the Almost Now, then they are likely to be more adept and agile to work with when going forward.

TIP 2: PLANNING

Building on the above, any founder that has a journey that justifies them launching into a disrupted market sector should start to demonstrate and embody an understanding around a new framework that places the navigation of uncertainty as the key new function that informs future planning and strategy.

Like with PROJECTION above, founders with a deeper journey and understanding will be more comfortable baking in these two new functions into their plans and pitches. Equally founders without this journey will find this very uncomfortable and may demonstrate signs that they wish to only look forward via more traditional planning and strategy lenses and insights.

This new framework is emerging and impacting across all businesses and represents a real competitive opportunity for those start ups that are ready and agile enough to organise and execute in this way.

TIP 3:  PROOF

Finally, there are a couple very simple questions that as a founder you should be ready for and as an investor you can ask instead of things that would represent a traditional elevator pitch. Questions that quickly provide and demonstrate some PROOF that the founder’s journey might currently have relevancy, currency and influence over their market sector. 

These questions are:

Question 1  

Who could you now send a text to that is recognised as having authority over the market sector you’re looking to launch into that would i) immediately consider your question and ii) likely respond to you with their insight and input within the next 24 hours?

Question 2

Which email conversation in your inbox represents an ongoing dialogue with someone of influence that if it comes to fruition, could add immediate acceleration to your planning and strategy?


The 3 x tips above are just some initial ways to try and reveal insight into a founder that might be far easier to glean and assess by looking backwards, as opposed to consistently when approaching a new founder treating them as if they are essentially a blank slate and asking about future projections that both parties know are guesstimates at best. 

Just by being aware that there is this often underexplored terrain in the founder’s journey, that can start to be evaluated by simple lenses like the ones above. might mean that in these uncertain times, we can start better identifying, supporting and backing founders that are genuinely ready to cross the threshold in the unknown of the next stage of their venture.

Dan Simmons // Founder – Propelia – September 2020


Edtech startup BibliU raises more than £600,000 with support from Angel Investment Network

Edtech startup BibliU recently raised more than £600,000 as part of a Series A extension funding round, supported by AIN. The raise received widespread media coverage across the business, startup and education press.

London-based BibliU is a digital education platform that provides students with digital access to their textbooks and libraries across all their devices. The campaign funding round, an addition to its £6.5m Series A, was in response to a surge in demand due to COVID 19.  Completed in eight weeks, the funds will be used for new technical hires to support demand from Universities. The startup is scaling rapidly with 60+ new pilots across the globe. 

Founded in 2014, the company now has over 100 university customers including Oxford, Imperial, University of Phoenix and Coventry University. The company has digitised content from more than 2,000 publishers including: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press. The content is licensed directly to universities, who can then provide access to students and include the costs in their existing tuition fees. 

According to David Sherwood, CEO and co-founder of BibliU: “BibliU has seen rapid growth across the globe over the last few months, and we believe COVID has pulled the transition to digital learning forward by at least 5 years. We have always existed to assist universities with this transition, by providing an unmatched student experience in a cost-effective way. BibliU is the perfect intersection for universities that are looking to create a seamless distance-learning experience, and do so in a way that introduces operational efficiencies to their workflows. We’re thrilled that AIN was able to assist us in this rapid extension to our Series A, and are excited to see where this round takes us.”

According to Sam Louis from Angel Investment Network, who led the raise: “BibliU sits at a fantastic intersection of traditional learning structures and digital evolution. The business has broad reaching applications, a strong business model and most importantly, it delivers real value to its users. EdTech is a tough area to gain real traction and I think what BibliU has stands apart from many of the others which is why we’ve seen such great uptake from investors. The COVID lockdowns have now accelerated adoption of digital learning and hopefully this will lead the way for more sustained growth in the EdTEch space and of BibliU.”

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

#BehindtheRaise with WeCoffee

We spoke to Ben Carew, Co-Founder at We Coffee, about how to complete a successful fundraise, and also equally important, what not to do.

WeCoffee aims to provide flexible and affordable workspace for post Covid working, along with curated events.

Benjamin Carew, Co-Founder of WeCoffee

Tell us about WeCoffee:

WeCoffee was created to make working from anywhere something anyone could enjoy. 

By curating  a distributed network of free and unique workspaces and a community you can cowork with online and in real life, we believe we are well on the way to achieving this. 

Why did you decide to raise investment?

We decided to raise investment so that we could bring our unique and exciting model for coworking to the whole world. Something that mine and my business partner’s lifetime savings wouldn’t quite allow, at least at the speed with which we want to do it. 

People often ask why the speed and scale matters and for us we see a window of opportunity, while the world’s ways of working are changing, to allow a better social norm. 

We believe for too long the standards have been set by employers with outdated policies, or more recently landlords hijacking the term coworking only to supply fixed office space as a service. 

We want to make sure that the future of work will give power and choice back to the worker, ensuring a happier and more productive worklife. 

What is your top tip for anyone raising investment for the first time?

I’m going to be cheeky here and give a few:

  • Angel investors are people not ATMs, understand them and make them feel confident and safe with you by treating them how you would like to be
  • Be firm on your timeline, if you don’t have one set one 
  • Don’t be shy to check they actually want to invest, not just introduce you
  • Treat it as near to a full time job as you can. Maybe 50% off the time, as yes you need to run a business. 
  • As soon as you have a yes, add them to the term sheet. Its less scary to follow someone else
  • If VCs keep being really nice but don’t invest your probably too early. Save yourself the time and build more traction and try and do an Angel round or friends and family
  • Be flexible in what your raising, if you get half can you make a business or the next step? If double what would you do? 
  • Don’t be scared to say no. We met one total **** who was incredibly aggressive, wanted to force a board member who was an ex-founder removed from the company by their shareholders for negligence, thought WeWork’s IPO would go through and that only 8 banks failed in the 2008 crisis. We were very happy to not molly his coddle 
  • Lastly join WeCoffee as there are lots of us on or who have been on this journey. We are more than happy to help one another avod the ****, find the right investors and generally navigate the startup world. 

What attracted investors to your company?

You would probably have to ask them, but I think a big part of it was the total and utter passion that is born out of us as a team. We clearly know and love what we do, so if you believe in the idea that we won’t all work in an office 5 days a week, there is no better horse to back. 

My biggest fundraising mistake was…

It took me some time to realise that I needed to run it like any other business activity, as a structured process. I spent months pitching at intermittent events and meetings waiting for my angel to land in lap not realising what I was doing was practising.

I was at the wrong events, with no real investors; and worse meetings with the wrong people who were more interested in introductions than investing. 

Once I sat down, opened the round in SeedLegals, got all my deliverables in place, built a sales funnel and set a firm date to close the round then I was well on the way. 

Why did you choose to use Angel Investment Network?

I used AIN as it came across to meet my target investors (angels), as it had a wealth of investors that I could filter for by sector. Insanely helpful! 

If it wasn’t for you Angel Investment Network we wouldn’t have raised as much as we did.

Keen to hear more?

Try out one of WeCoffee’s online networking events to meet ‘creatives, marketing gurus, product creators, free thinkers, entrepreneurstech geeks, doers and dreamers’.

Sign up here for a 100% discount, i.e free entry.

#SixtySecondStartUp with Pharma Sentinel

We caught up with Rav Roberts, CEO of Pharma Sentinel to hear his plans for their new ‘Medsii’ app, which makes it easy to discover if your medicines have unsafe side effects, give allergic reactions or have been recalled for safety reasons.

Rav Roberts, CEO, Pharma Sentinel
  1. What does your company do?

    Pharmasentinel.com is a pioneering B2C2B healthtech, leveraging AI to provide our users with trusted, timely and tailored medicines and medical conditions (mental health, diabetes, skin conditions) news, information, alerts and related content such as video podcasts, live streaming.

    We also give 10% of our profits to patient-support charities such as Bipolar UK & the British Menopause Society, as chosen by our users. We launch with our consumer app called Medsii (medicines information for me) in 4 weeks time, yikes!
  1. Why did you set up this company?

    Our Chief Scientific Officer Nasir (a Co-Founder) used to work for the UK’s medicines regulator (the Department of Health) and noticed a big gap in the market for timely medicines information, e.g. drug safety alerts & recalls, clinical trial results & opportunities.

    I also suffer from Diabetes, as does my mother, and our research showed that 46% of the UK’s population (29 million people) take at least 1 repeat prescription for a chronic condition. It’s not all elderly people either, as 50% of women in their 40s do so.
  1. How did you get your first customer?

    We haven’t yet, already we have many friends and family who take regular medicines lined up to try the app. It’s completely free to use and has a very engaging ‘Twitter’ style interface, so why not give it a go?!
  1. We knew we were onto something when?

    When we realised the Total Addressable Market and Serviceable Obtainable Markets were huge; many people use Google (over 1 billion health related searches a day, but results include ads, links to blogs) and even social media for important medicines info, but that could contain wrong or misleading results; no one helps people by linking them to patient support group charities for help;

    No one provides personalised, relevant, trusted medicines & conditions info via easy to understand push alerts. I have used our product in testing to warn me against drinking grapefruit juice with one of my medicines as it’s extremely dangerous!   
  1. Our business model:

    1. We launch with our consumer App called Medsii (Medicines information for me), which will collect 1st party data on users in a GDPR compliant way (side effects, locations, medicines/conditions liked, followed, shared, saved) and which already has its own data, e.g. clinical trial results.
    2. We augment this 1st party data with 3rd party data.
    3. Our data platform runs machine-learning algos to identify patterns and predict future events, e.g. the probability of a drug that has passed a phase 1 clinical trial eventually being approved, and roughly when.
    4. We sell this data-as-a service to businesses, e.g. pharmaceuticals, insurance, financial analysts even companies like Unilever and Chanel (who will be interested in the skin condition data insight we’ve collected). Note that we also monetise our consumer App (subscriptions, in-app purchases and advertising (no drug ads though!).
  1. Our most effective marketing channel has been:

    Without a doubt, Facebook. Not only are billions of a target customers there, but we can micro-target them with custom and lookalike audiences and even better, they have people who walk you through how to do it really well! (Fiverr also has some great marketers on there).

    LinkedIn is really good for engaging with business people (for our B2B products) and Twitter is great for linking up with angel and VC investors, all over the world!
  1. What we look for when recruiting:

    Passion, integrity, evidence of continuous learning (even following people on Twitter to learn more about a particular subject), desire to help other people less fortunate and ideally EVIDENCE that they’ve actually done it (e.g. volunteering to help the elderly or doing a fun run to raise money for breast cancer etc).. We run a very flat organisation and we were all virtual even before Coronavirus hit! 
  1. The biggest mistake that I’ve made is:

    So many really. I guess my biggest was in my  first startup in San Francisco: We had a great product but I didn’t think about our go-to-market and distribution strategy, i.e. how to get and increase traction (users, usage) for our online gaming products.
  1. We think that there’s growth in this sector because:

    Even before coronavirus hit, more and more people were taking repeat medicines for chronic conditions and with people living longer, this means several decades. There has also been a large theme about fake news on social media, where millions get their medicines info from.

    But now with Coronavirus, people more than ever before want trusted, timely medicines and medical conditions information that is relevant & readable (unlike the patient information leaflets that come with their pills!).

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

Ruari Fairbairns is the CEO and Co-founder at One Year No Beer (OYNB), a platform focused on changing people’s relationship with alcohol.

What does your company do?

OYNB is a global alcohol prevention program, aimed at anyone drinking more than three glasses of wine a week. Our mission is to help people change their relationship with alcohol which leads on to most of them, fundamentally transforming their lives.

We are developing technology that will enable members to connect over the common goal of changing behaviour, such as caffeine, sugar, gambling, social media, ultimately empowering people to live life better. 

Why did you set up this company?

For years I worked in the city as a successful oil broker in London. That’s where two worlds collided, partying and being successful, and the more I partied the more successful I was.

After a few years of this lifestyle, I started to experience a number of health problems, IBS, anxiety, dry skin. I got introduced to something called Headspace and I started meditating on the train to and from work, and this is when I realised that alcohol was causing me more trouble than good. I approached my boss and said that I was thinking about taking a break from booze and he said that this would be committing commercial suicide!

Six months later I finally plucked up the courage to do it and when I finally did, I was blown away with the benefits – I got fitter, faster, healthier, a better husband, a better dad. I grew my oil broking business and reduced costs by 30%. My IBS and dry skin disappeared and there was no area of my life that didn’t improve.

I wanted to make people understand how big these benefits are, so I decided to create a challenge, and in 2016, we launched One Year No Beer, a 90-day challenge, and gave it away. It rapidly went viral and in the first year we got over 20,000 signups. This is how One Year No Beer was born.

How did you get your first customer? 

In our first year, when we set up the free challenge and promoted it via social media, we got over 20,000 members. It was only then that we realised what a huge impact we were having. One Year No Beer was having a positive effect on people’s lives but also on their wallets.

Our research with Stirling University verified that if we were to convert our business into a paid-for model – that people would actually be more likely to not only commit, but also to stick to the challenge. This was because generally, if you have skin in the game, you actually apply yourself – so we reinvested and relaunched as a paid for model in 2017.

We knew we were onto something when? 

In that same year (2017), I sent a tweet to a journalist and off the back of it we got a 10 minute feature on BBC World news in over 200 countries. That single BBC broadcast generated £70,000 of revenue for the business in 10 days so we quickly learnt that the success of One Year No Beer was going to be down to exposure.

In 2018 we launched our book. It went to number one in its category on Amazon and in that same year, we sent out an email to all of our members telling them that we were thinking about crowdfunding in six months’ time. After sending that email, I expected to come into a couple of replies but instead, I opened up my email the following morning to find 74 emails with people offering to invest and we raised £1.1M in just five weeks from our members alone.

Our business model: 

In a little over four years, we’ve created and grown an online business that has attracted customers from across the globe. Turning over £2.7M per year and supporting over 70,000 members in 90 countries across the world, and the business continues to witness 300% growth YoY.

We want to flip the drinking model on its head. From one of admitting you have a problem and having to go to a church or community hall and sit in a circle and talk about being stigmatised for the rest of your life, to one of positive change. We want all of our members to be able to say that they are out there, living a better life, proud of their life choices.

We are now the leader in preventative behaviour change, and our plan is now to diversify into lots of other behaviour change models, not just alcohol. We’ve realised that when people change their relationship with a negative behaviour like alcohol, they build self-worth. It’s that self-worth that creates the platform for them to further change other areas of their lives, so we are now diversifying into other vertical markets such as caffeine, sugar, porn, gambling and drugs.

Our most effective marketing channel has been: 

We use Social Ads widely but our most effective channels have been the extensive publicity we have received as well as word of mouth from our customers. 

What we look for when recruiting:

We have an incredible team who not only love what they do, but they also care deeply about the impact they are having on the lives of people who follow our challenges and remain part of our online community. It takes a very unique person to work as part of the One Year No Beer team because they have to be able to deal with emotions and difficult situations each and every day.

Not only do they have to be able to do this, but they also need to be able to think like marketeers and successful business people, in addition to all of the other elements of their specific job roles and I will always be truly grateful for each and every one of they as they are responsible for making our company the community that it is today.

The biggest mistake that I’ve made is:

I can’t wait to write my book – I’m going to call it the 1001 Things Not to Do in Business. These things have cost me an absolute fortune, after all this is my 6th start-up! The biggest lesson that I have learnt since being in business is: Surround yourself with good people who compliment your weaknesses – for me there are so many, so I need a big team!!! Jokes aside, we can’t all be good at everything so build a team that compliments you and you’ll go far!

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

The research that we conducted with Stirling University in 2017, showed that 93% of people had a drink when they didn’t want to, and 84% had experienced bullying from friends to drink alcohol, so we know that peer pressure surrounds our cultural relationship with alcohol. We want to challenge these cultural norms and help people to make better life choices. That is the fundamental principle of One Year No Beer. There are 2 billion people in the world who drink alcohol, and around 1 billion drink hazardously – all of whom are our target market.

We worked with AIN because:

We’ve previously raised very successfully from our own network and members. With our current raise we wanted to bring on investment from new sources but from people who share our vision. Angel Investment Network allows us to search investors and grow our presence further. 

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.

Green shoots of recovery post-Covid

Olivia Sibony contributed an article for the latest issue of CEO Today magazine on some research from the AIN platform that points to the continued interest investors have in sustainable startups. Contributing a double page spread Olivia discussed analysis carries out by AIN. Comparing the four month post-COVID period (Jan-April) with the four months before (Sep-Dec).

The research found ‘Renewables’ is now the 11th most popular keyword for searches, up from 14th pre-COVID, which was in itself a rise of 34 places year on year. Additionally ‘Greentech’ is now the 13th most popular keyword, up from 47th in 2018, a staggering increase.

Overall ‘Tech’ remained the overall most popular search term and the fastest riser is ‘Medtech’ up 10 places to 25th most popular category. With the world reeling from its biggest health crisis in a century, it’s no wonder this category is strongly on the radar for investors.

In the piece Olivia writes: “Innovative companies are fusing sustainable business ideas with deep tech to come up with tailored solutions to real world challenges. These are peaking the interest and passions of increasingly impact motivated angel investors. This is a trend that is accelerating, rather than slowing down post COVID. Global markets are also reflecting this, with ESG funds consistently outperforming traditional ones since COVID emerged.

Another interesting trend on the platform relates to searches for ‘agriculture’. This jumped four places to become the 4th most searched for search term in the post COVID period. Olivia continues: “Real fears around food security have been thrust into the spotlight during this crisis and companies helping to secure our food supply will become pivotal players. Investors are seeing the opportunity for huge innovation with ag-tech and smarter food production so we can use technology to be more sustainable for the land.”

She highlighted Hummingbird Technologies, an Artificial Intelligence business who previously raised on AIN. It provides advanced crop analytics to its customers by using satellite and drone data and proprietary machine learning algorithms. They allow customers to increase their yields, optimise chemical inputs, farm more sustainably and make earlier, more informed decisions.

Read the full article in the latest issue of CEO Today magazine

YouTube karaoke channel Sing King raises £550,000 via Angel Investment Network

The world’s leading online Karaoke channel, Sing King, recently raised £550,000 via Angel Investment Network (AIN). Sing King offers high quality karaoke content via its YouTube channel and has over 90 million views per month. The seed-funding raise took just seven weeks on the platform, with the original £400k target notably achieved within 4 days. The money raised is being used for launching standalone apps across IOS & Android as well as a web platform.

Founded in 2014 by Chris Michael, it is the only karaoke channel YouTube allows to operate due to licensing restrictions normally in place. The channel is run by a team of six full time staff from London. The business is approaching 7.5 million subscribers and has more than 2,300 songs, with dozens more added weekly.

Discussing the raise, Xavier Ballester, Director of AIN’s broking division said: “Sing King’s revenues are starting to be very impressive. They hit 7 million subscribers as we were working on the raise. The numbers speak for themselves and there was plenty of interest from our investor database, who saw the huge potential for the business.”

According to Jordan Gross, Sing King CEO: “Music has the power to transform lives and the beauty of karaoke is that it transcends age, language and culture. We have an opportunity to deliver world-class karaoke on a bigger scale. With our round complete thanks to Angel Investment Network, we will make karaoke more accessible than ever before. This includes mobile, TV and web – transforming moments of time into moments of joy, wherever and whenever.”

News of the raise generated a lot of media interest, including EU Startups, MusicAlly, Techround and Bdaily.