Majority of US startups very optimistic about the next 12 months

A majority of US startups (52%) are now ‘very optimistic’ about the next 12 months, despite 62% seeing business growth negatively impacted by the pandemic. This was a key finding of a new study of US startup sentiment 18 months after the start of the pandemic, by Angel Investment Network (AIN). The study of 1,205 US based startups found 76% expressed optimism overall with 19% quite optimistic and 52% very optimistic, versus just 24% who were pessimistic. It followed on from a similar survey we conducted of UK startup sentiment last month.

The results show the extent to which confidence has returned to early stage businesses Stateside, who are emerging strongly from the downturn. Of the 62% of respondents who revealed they had been negatively impacted by COVID, 37% had been ‘very negatively impacted’. Meanwhile 63% of those who had been planning to raise funds said they had delayed a raise as a result of COVID.

Top strategies to mitigate the impact of stalled fundraising were: Focusing more on networking, favoured by 46% of respondents, holding off launch plans (38%) and bootstrapping instead (32%), with a similar number delaying marketing.

Entrepreneurs were also asked what their biggest challenges were going forward. The top result given was raising investment (84%), hiring/recruiting the right talent (22%) and product development (22%). Ongoing COVID issues were a problem for 13% of those polled. 

US startups also believe more Government action is needed to encourage investment and help startups flourish. 57% favour making tax relief more generous to boost angel investment, 32% making R&D tax relief more generous and 22% lowering corporation tax. 70% of respondents are confident the US will retain its place as a startup hub.

AIN has seen surging growth on its platform with connections between entrepreneurs and investors up by 23% since the start of the year. Meanwhile revenues have increased by 40% to a new record, indicating the huge pent up demand from startups now seeking funding. 

According to Mike Lebus, founder of AIN: “It is encouraging to see how US startups have shown their mettle to ride out this really difficult period and emerge battle tested and with high levels of confidence. Many have been negatively impacted but have used their time wisely to build up their pipeline of contacts and bootstrap their businesses as far as they can go. RaIsing investment remains the biggest challenge going forward and as the world’s largest angel investment platform, we have been encouraged by seeing a record number of connections between investors and startups.” 

How did you respond to the pandemic?

  1. Focused more on networking: 46%
  2. Held Off launch plans: 38%
  3. Bootstrapped instead: 32%
  4. Delayed marketing: 32%
  5. Held off making hires: 27%
  6. Had to let staff go: 20%
  7. Relied on business loan: 19%
  8. Pulled back from R&D: 12%

What could the Government do to help?

  1. Make tax relief more generous to boost angel investment: 57%
  2. Make R&D tax relief more generous: 32%
  3. Lower corporation tax: 22%
  4. Offer more clarity on COVID restrictions: 14%
  5. Make it easier to provide VISAs for recruiting the right talent: 13%

What are your biggest challenges going forward?

  1. Raising investment: 84%
  2. Hiring/recruiting the right talent: 22%
  3. Product development: 22%
  4. Ongoing COVID issues: 13%
  5. Consumer sentiment: 12%

Behind The Raise with Porter

Gary Piazzon founded Porter after becoming frustrated finding a suitable hotel. He shares some of his key learnings from fundraising and his biggest mistake in this edition of #BehindTheRaise.

Tell us about Porter and how you came up with the idea

It was a nightmare, timely and stressful booking experience that led me to the idea of Porter; I visited one of the large online travel agents, entered my search criteria and was hit with a pretty intimidating 2,000+ results.

I wrongly assumed the hotels near the top of the list would be a great match for me. They were nowhere near where I wanted to stay and only appeared higher up as they were clearly paying a higher rate of commission.

That got me thinking, why see the results you’re not interested in?

Porter is designed to make booking a hotel simple and fun by learning about the elements that matter to users so it can assess the thousands of potential property options to help recommend the right places to stay.

In a nutshell, Porter simplifies hotel booking, by only recommending your best matches. 

Why did you decide to raise investment?

Raising investment was pretty much a necessity to really get things off the ground.

As we’re building a very technical platform leveraging various levels of machine learning and artificial intelligence, we needed to ensure we could attract the right talent, as well as pay the bills for hosting etc. so raising investment was really important from that perspective.

Beyond the technical aspects, it’s also been crucial in helping us raise some initial awareness of the site, and further we purposely targeted ‘smart money’ and ended up with a collection of very experienced, knowledgeable investors, all of whom have contributed advice, support and knowledge to the business. 

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

My top tip would be to ensure you have a clear story, and think about the traction you can show to demonstrate interest.

From a story point of view, I think it’s really important that when investors look at your pitch, or speak to you, they come away with a really clear understanding of what you’re trying to do, why you’re doing it, and how you’ll do it better than anyone else.

You should then be able to support this with some sort of traction that demonstrates people being interested. This could be in the form of users signing up to your pre-launch page, user engagement on your MVP, revenue numbers etc. 

What attracted investors to your company?

I’d say there were a few key things:

·        All of our investors resonated with the problem we’re trying to solve. They’d all experienced the frustration and wasted time of endlessly searching for the right place to stay when going on holiday. This immediately put us in a good position when discussing the business.

·        Secondly they recognised that there’s an enormous opportunity to go after, and the market has proven itself capable of supporting numerous large players. Globally, the online travel agent market is worth c£440bn, but in the UK alone, the market is worth around £35bn. That means, even if we were to capture 1% of the market, we’d be achieving £350m of revenue.

·        The final thing that attracted investors to our company was our strong founding team, and the interest we’d demonstrated through our pre-launch page. We built an initial team with experience spanning Development, UX, Product and Marketing and built a pre-launch waitlist of over 3,000 users. The combination of these two points gave our investors the confidence that we were the right team to try and tackle the problem. 

My biggest fundraising mistake was…

Initially failing to adapt pitches and conversations for my audience. I quickly learnt that different types of investors were looking for different information from our discussions, with a big difference between angels who were much more interested in the vision and team, versus VCs who were much more focused on the quantitative side of things. 

Why did you choose to use Angel Investment Network?

I was actually recommended to AIN from a fellow founder who has previously raised a number of rounds through the platform.

AIN was a no-brainer thanks to its ability to connect us with such a large number of investors. Not only did using AIN help us successfully close our pre-seed round, but it also helped us meet some really interesting industry experts.  

What is the main focus for Porter for the year ahead?

We’ve actually recently started raising our next round of funding to allow us to accelerate product development, grow our team and reach more people.

This is a really exciting time for Porter. As travel restrictions start to ease, we’re already starting to see an uplift in people wanting to travel. Our focus now is ensuring we’re best placed to help as many users as possible discover and book their best matched trips. 

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.

#StartUpBuzz


Each month our team selects some of the companies raising on Angel Investment Network that really stand out, as part of our #StartUpBuzz feature.

This month’s picks includes: Smart Container Co – real time tracking for beer kegs, Bx Technologies, a platform facilitating carbon offsetting by connecting corporates with farms, and ARQ, an investment platform for personalised wealth management using AI.

Smart Container Co

Enabling Transparency and a net-zero draught beer supply chain.

Smart Container Co turns traditional kegs into ‘smart’ containers, so that breweries, distributors and pubs can monitor the state of the beer inside, by combining a small waterproof IOT device connected to each keg (a KEGTRACKER), with their BEVEREDGE software.

It means that relevant parties can track the location, volume, temperature and motion for the liquid inside, reducing the risk of wasted stock, helping obtain more accurate shipping information, and gaining granular information about which product is being consumed where and when.

– UK patent pending 
– Chairman with 30 years experience including SAB Miller
– Piloting technology with Brewdog.

Sam Louis, Head of Consultancy, Angel Investment Network shared why he is most impressed by Smart Container Co:

“We’ve known the Smart Container team for a while now and have been incredibly impressed with their progress. What we like is that they have a product that integrates smoothly into an exceptionally large existing market, giving significant opportunity for fast scale.

Since we first spoke with them, they’ve built strong relationships with some of the largest brewers and keg owners in the world, all of which have approached them cold. The timing is also very good – the pandemic has meant pubs and bars have become increasingly open to technology, something that was previously a hurdle, and many breweries have seen strong profits from retail sales.

All in all, it sets the company in a very strong position going forward and we’re excited to see where they go next”.

Find about more about Smart Container Co here.

Bx Technologies  

Helping farms prove carbon emissions and offsetting – connecting farm to corporates.

Farmers are incentivised to maximise crop yields, but are rarely accountable for their carbon footprint. However, there is enormous interest in carbon offsetting from corporates to help them meet their ESG goals. 

Bx Technologies is the first two sided marketplace that connects corporations with farms and agriculture, reversing climate change through carbon offsetting and economic service investment. 

Bx Technologies use a farm management SAAS system with a trading platform powered by blockchain to create a carbon credit investing platform, allowing farmers to see both their carbon position and the profitability of their orchard. At the same time, Bx offers Ecosystem Service Investments for corporates, securing a long term supply of carbon offset tokens. 

– 1st SAAS client signed – paying $200k per year. 
– Expected to hit profitability by March ‘22
– Pipeline of over 12k hectares established 

In terms of what excites him about Bx, Sam Louis explains:

“We were drawn to Bx Technologies for a number of reasons, the first of which was the boldness of their mission – remove 500m tons of carbon from the atmosphere per year. They’re operating in an exceptionally important and exciting vertical, with the opportunity to make an incredible impact on the planet as well creating massive growth potential.

They’ve tied these lofty aims to a strong underlying business model, with profitability within sight, and they aren’t expecting any altruism to make their business work. They’ve aligned the incentives of all their stakeholders, making it genuinely robust model. All in all, it’s the type of business we love – exciting, impactful and pragmatic.”

Find out more about  BxTechnologies here

ARQ 

A wealth management app using AI personalised insights and comparisons. 

 ARQ is an investment platform that creates a personalised wealth management experience using AI and deep science. 

The intelligent tools rank your investments performance using huge quantities of data and gives insights that can be used to improve your portfolio. ARQ are making tools that are only available to the super rich to more mainstream investors. 

– A team with over 100+ years experience in financial services 

– ARQ are offering white label services for wealth managers 

– In house tech team behind leading fintech apps.

Xavier Ballester, Director of Angel Investment Network’s Brokerage Division shares why he is particularly impressed with ARQ.

“What I love about Arq is that I have this very issue: an Excel sheet with my various investments that doesn’t really give much insight after I have made my initial decision to invest. The beauty of this platform is that I can see my net worth and how my money is working for me and I imagine it will be a huge hit with financial advisors too.” 

Find out more about ARQ here.

Keen to discover other startups?

If you would like to see what other companies are up to on Angel Investment Network you can find them through your local network here.

#BehindTheRaise with SidebySide

It’s not actually exclusively startups that raise on AIN, there’s a growing number of funds too. We caught up with James D’Mello from EIS Fund SideBySide to hear about their experience:

Who are SidebySide?

SidebySide is run by a management team responsible for over $1.5bn in exits to date. We have worked with younger companies for a number of years and concentrate on adding benefit to help these companies scale from startups to larger, growth businesses. 

The UK management team is formed of our founder, John Bailye. Our Junior partner, Ben Ashworth. Our Portfolio Manager, Alicia Taylor, our portfolio company mentor, Sheli Gupta, and James D’Mello, who heads up our investor relations function.

John Bailey, Founder

Our investment thesis

Although we score third globally in an OECD ranking of the number of start-ups created, we don’t make it into the top ten when it comes to businesses that grow into established, medium-sized companies that have a lasting impact on our economy” – The Independent, referring to the UK in the OECD Global Rankings 2017.

This is our focus and why we formed the SidebySide Partnership. We want to help founders take their business to the next level.

James D’Mello

What types of companies do you invest in?

We invest in fast-growing technology-enabled businesses with £1-10 million in revenue. These more established companies will usually be at least several years old and typically have over 30 employees. We look for companies where there is evidence of a strong customer acceptance of the product and service offered, and where we believe we can add value to them in the long run.

Tell us about your portfolio

We invest in “tech-enabled” companies. That translates to companies who use tech to change the way we do something by a company that is looking to define the way future companies in their sector will operate. 

As an example from our most recent round. We invested in a company called Laundryheap.

Laundryheap offers door-to-door laundry and dry-cleaning services to consumer and business customers, including major brands. The platform allows users to have their laundry collected, washed, ironed, and returned to them in a guaranteed turnaround time of 24 hours.

One of the main reasons we love them is the fact that they are able to scale into new markets without the capital heavy constraints that have held back their competitors. Across its US and Asian markets, Laundryheap has seen particularly rapid growth since March 2020. In the US, where the platform is now operational in multiple cities, the business is reporting month-on-month growth between 50 to 100 per cent. As for the Middle East, where, customer growth is hitting between 60 to 80 per cent month-on-month.

What is it like raising investment as a fund? How is it different from raising for a single company?

Raising as a fund is very similar to raising as a single company, except, instead of talking about one company, we talk about many. Typically investing in 3-5 companies per round, there is a lot to talk about. We pride ourselves on the amount of time we spend with our companies each month, therefore can go into as much detail as a potential investor wants to go into.

What are your tips for raising on AIN?

Our first campaign with AIN received a lot of interest but the interest didn’t lead anywhere. We took things back to think about what we could do differently, One of the main things we changed was the points that we highlighted, less of the traditional X amount of revenue, aum etc – more of what made us different to other investment funds they may have seen. We were very upfront and frank with potential investors and made sure to schedule zoom/phone calls after speaking on AIN to allow them to meet us and ask their questions in a more conversational manner.

What are your plans for the funds? How are you deploying them?

We have invested in 6 different companies now over our last few deployments, in our most recent round we invested into a fashion marketplace that is changing the way retailers and brands sell their old season and discounted stock, a travel courier company that picks your bags/skis/golf clubs up and takes them to your holiday home/hotel for you so that you don’t have to worry about checking them all in and carrying them around.

How does SidebySide help startups? And what experience do you bring to the table?

Whilst a lot of UK VCs come from an investment banking/accountancy background, SidebySide is a team built from entrepreneurs and operator types. They have been responsible for founding, investing in and running over 30+ companies, one of which was founded and grown into a billion-dollar exit. The early mornings & late nights, the stress of running a company, the hurdles to overcome to scale your business, the team has been through all of it before, rather than just financed it and watched from the sidelines. We help the companies in our portfolio by spending time with them, a couple of times a month, going through whatever the company needs support on. 


Any tips about pitching investors over Zoom?


I used to love nothing more than speaking in a room full of people at pitch events/industry talks. When Covid hit, these events were all moved to Zoom, Which as I’m sure many of you will have experienced by now, Is a whole different ball game. It’s very hard to read peoples body language and facial expressions when there are 50+ people in a Zoom call, you also don’t know if anyone is laughing at your bad jokes if they’re all on mute! 

One of the main things I have tried to focus on and has seemed to work well so far is to try and concentrate on talking into the camera lens, it may seem like a small thing but it is the closest thing to eye contact you can do over Zoom. I also set out a couple of bullet points on my screen on a notes app to prompt me to go through set points on the call. 

Lastly, A great tip I read in a guide from Sequoia capital – One of the mistakes most people make is thinking because you have a 60-minute meeting slot that you have that persons attention for 60 minutes – Spoiler, You don’t. You should use the first 5 minutes to earn their attention for the next 15 minutes which in turn will interest them enough to listen for another 30 minutes.  


Where do you plan SideBySide to be in the next 10 years?

Unlike traditional VCs, SidebySide limits the number of companies that we invest in at any one time. We do this so that we can actually spend important time with each of them and make sure they have the best chance of success. So whilst most VCs would say in 5 years we want to have backed another 50+ companies – that is not us. We want to continue backing great management teams and working closely with them to help them scale their businesses to the next stage and become the type of company that defines the sector in which they operate. 

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.

Behind the Raise with Wealthyhood

Alex Christodoulakis is co-founder of Wealthyhood, the app ‘to turn you into your own wealth manager’.

Alex shares his story about Wealthyhood, how he raised investment, and his advice for entrepreneurs:

Tell us about Wealthyhood and how you came up with the idea

A few years ago, together with Kostas, co-founder of Wealthyhood, we wondered how we could invest our money on a monthly basis. We were busy professionals at the time and couldn’t devote much time to research or execute any sophisticated investment strategies, and of course not in the position to actively trade the markets.

So, we spent time trying to identify what was out there to solve this problem. However, we soon realised we weren’t alone in that. The problem was everywhere around us. There was a typical question among our friends, family and colleagues: “How can I invest my money? I don’t have the time or the knowledge to trade…”.

But how will they do that? 

Trading apps are usually too complex for beginner investors. They offer no guidance on how to get started or tools to create a long-term portfolio. They incentivise you to actively trade, by constantly notifying you for random price movements. Everyday investors get caught up on their emotions and end up gambling instead of investing. This was not the experience we were looking for.

So, we decided to build Wealthyhood to bridge the gap. Instead of just giving friendly advice to our friends, we decided to build a product that would guide long-term investors to build their wealth over time, by intelligently investing their money the way they want, with fewer fees.

It’s not only how our interactive guidance helps users to invest the right way, but also how we help them develop the right wealth-building mindset. You don’t have to be a millionaire nor an expert to have a successful and pleasant investing journey.

And this is how Wealthyhood was founded to become the first DIY wealth-building app for long-term investors.

Why did you decide to raise investment?

Unfortunately, Fintech is a very capital-intensive industry, even before you decide to spend aggressively on growth and marketing.

The initial costs have to do with securing regulatory approval and FCA compliance, even before you get started. And this is why we initially decided to raise some external money, alongside covering some operational costs and our plans to grow the team.

Apart from that, raising money from angel investors is a great way to validate your value proposition and showcase their belief in the vision of the company and the ability of the team to execute!

A successful angel raise doesn’t just get you money, but also access to the network and connections of your investors, so it’s a two-way process. The right investors can significantly accelerate our progress.

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

It’s always easier to approach angel investors, than early-stage VC funds. Start from your own network, pitch them your company and vision and then expand to your second degree connections, angel networks and of course the Angel Investment Network.

If you can’t persuade angel investors to invest in your company, then you should reconsider your pitch.

Always have a story to share; why you’re building this product, what’s the problem and why you’re the perfect team to  succeed!

Any signs of initial traction are a great validation that you’re heading to the right direction.

What attracted investors to your company?

I think it was a combination of different things. Probably the most important is the problem we solve. Our angel investors immediately acknowledged the gap between trading apps and robo advisors and the need for a DIY wealth building app for long-term investors.

Our vision to create the wealth-building app not for the top-1%, but for the 99% fully resonated with them.

At the same time, our investors had faith in the team behind Wealthyhood and us as co-founders. The first angel investors were people from our close network with strong  belief in our capabilities as a team. Then, friends of friends and finally professional angel investors, who got to know us better and believe in our determination and skills to execute.

Apart from that, we had already built some momentum, showcasing that we were heading in the right direction. We had more than 3,000 users signed up to our waiting list, over 10,000 followers in our LinkedIn and Instagram pages and had developed a community of 50 Wealthyhood Ambassadors across Europe.

Last, but not least, a few months ago we won 1st place on FinQuest Accelerator and are currently participating in the VISA Innovators Program, which for angel investors shows strong progress.

My biggest fundraising mistake was…

My biggest fundraising mistake was that we began by approaching early-stage VC funds, instead of angel investors.

This was wrong; it cost us time and money, but we soon realised it and switched our focus to angels, who were a much better fit for our stage and needs!

However, it helped us challenge our value proposition, improve our deck and positioning and make it more robust.

Why did you choose to use the Angel Investment Network?

Angel Investment Network was an amazing way to connect with the right investors for our company. It’s very time-efficient for founders and probably the best portal to share your story from a fundraising perspective.

It was first suggested by our advisors and we soon realised they were right to insist. 

Our number 1 focus for Wealthyhood for the year ahead is:

To build the investing experience we envision and make it publicly available through a web platform, iOS and Android apps. We’ve already launched a beta version of the product and are onboarding the first users from our waiting list.

Over the coming months we want to onboard the whole waiting list and give instant access to new users in the UK and EU!

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 fundraising yourself, you can find your local network here.

#Start-up Buzz

Each month on the Angel Investment Network blog we feature some of our start-ups making waves. Here are some of the ones to keep an eye out for in June:

Vitabeam

Vitabeam has developed a patented LED technology that mimics the sunlight spectrum to stimulate plant growth, extend shelf life of food and kill unwanted pathogens, such as bacteria and mould.

Vitabeam has £1.72 committed sales, a pipeline of £6.5 million, and has received 2 Innovate UK government grants valued at £640k. Tests have shown biomass increase in herbs as high as 54% from using Vitabeam. 

Learn More 

Mintago

Mintago helps businesses save on their workplace pension tax bill, whilst improving the ‘pension well being’ of their employees. Mintago helps businesses to structure their pension in the most efficient way using HMRC’s salary exchange scheme reducing NI contributions, whilst rolling out pension optimisation tools.

Founded by the founder of Perkbox, and with the team ex RBC, BDO and Atomico, Mintago is growing at 100% MoM and saved customers over £250k despite only launching in December 2021. 

Learn More

KiKaPay Digital Payments

KiKapay enables merchants to collect payments from customers in a manner that is typically 80% cheaper than card payments, by using their bank’s secure customer authentication process, and because it doesn’t require an app to be downloaded, KiKapay provides a frictionless solution. 

With open banking payments increasing ten fold in 2020 and 25 billion card transactions having been processed in the UK alone. KiKapay has brought onboard an experienced team with 75 years experience, including a partner at Deloitte and the ex Head of Advisory for European payments at EY.

Learn More

Behind The Raise with Ziglu

Up next, Ziglu, a digital platform bridging the gap between cash and crypto; Yang Li, Chief Growth Office, shares his story behind the company’s £6.1 million seed round:

Tell us about Ziglu and how you came up with the idea

Ziglu was born out of the realisation that both traditional and challenger banks were preventing their customers from having access to cryptocurrencies. With the rise of cryptocurrencies we could be seeing the biggest ever transfer of funds into a new asset class, and decentralised finance (DeFi) is providing unprecedented opportunities to grow wealth.

Yet the majority of consumers are unaware of the opportunities of cryptocurrencies and DeFi, or are confused by them, or have no affordable way to participate in them. To solve this problem, Ziglu has been designed and built to combine modern challenger banking features for everyday spending with safe, simple, affordable and insured access to cryptocurrencies. 

Why did you decide to raise investment?

We saw some remarkable early customer engagement and wanted to accelerate our customer acquisition, particularly to coincide with the amazing bull run we’ve been seeing in the crypto market. Giving ownership to customers also gives them a chance to benefit in our growth and success too and that’s at the heart of what we stand for.

Furthermore, our product and tech team had built an innovative but aggressive roadmap of features that they wanted to deliver. Fundraising has meant we can now deliver new features and improve customer experiences pretty much as fast as we can think of them.  

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

Don’t overly focus on how your product compares to competitors. Be clear about how your product truly delights customers. No startup has failed due to competition alone. 

What attracted investors to your company?

Ziglu has an experienced team with a proven track record of building amazing startups like Starling, Monzo, Wirex, Meituan, and a product that provides a significantly better crypto-investing experience for beginners and aficionados alike. This combination of a proven track record and a visionary product and proposition has proven to be very attractive to investors.

My biggest fundraising mistake was…

Worrying too much about the aesthetics of the pitch deck.

Why did you choose to use Angel Investment Network?

Angel Investment Network stood out to us because of its superb track record of assisting innovative startups to find strategic investors: investors that provide us with first hand advice about disrupting huge industries, broaden our network of partners and add significant value beyond cash. 

What has the funding enabled?

The funding has allowed us to significantly ramp up our marketing, build new features faster and accelerate our plans for international expansion. The team is currently very focused on Ziglu’s international expansion, with our first overseas launch slated for the second half of 2021.

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 fundraising yourself, you can find your local network here.

#SixtySecondStartup You’ve Got This

  1. What does your company do?

You’ve Got This is a talent marketplace for startups. We bring together experienced professional talent with the UK’s fast growing startup ecosystem. 

We’re making it quick and simple for hiring teams to find mission aligned team members with the sales, finance, product and sector knowledge they need now. 

We enable you to get to know each other on a project basis and hire on an employment basis when the time is right. 

  1. Why did you set up this company?

Covid has accelerated job losses but it’s also given us the opportunity to weigh up our priorities and how we allocate our resources. Many of us want to be more efficient with our time and to work on things that connect with our values and sense of purpose. 

At the same time more mission driven businesses are being created. Innovative startups and SMEs are looking for ways to bring on flexible diverse talent, and that is harder to find through traditional channels. 

They look for highly skilled individuals that can get them through the early years and establish shared values and trust before they hire long term employees. That’s where we come in. I felt there was an opportunity to use technology to help us find meaningful flexible work with businesses and become their early team members if there’s a fit. 

  1. How did you get your first customer? 

Our first customer came through our co-working space. They’re a startup in the renewables space. They had tried platforms like Upwork but couldn’t find what they needed; someone with specific qualifications, who could work part-time, come into the office a couple of days a week and become their first hire down the line. 

  1. We knew we were onto something when? 

We had a first degree connection with the first 50 professionals that signed up to the platform. After that we started to get referrals from individuals who we’d matched for conversations with businesses.

Similarly one of our businesses who we matched with a part-time Finance Director came and asked if we could connect them with a Sales and Marketing expert. 

Together with my CTO Stephen, we’ve built a platform based on customer insight and a roadmap that positions us well alongside platforms such as Upwork and People Per Hour. 

We’re now producing content for our user base on joining and building high performance teams. Our content has been reshared by NatWest business builder and venture capital funds.

  1. Our business model: 

We’ve looked to modernise the traditional recruitment model of upfront commission on annual salaries. Many of our startups find this prohibitive in the early stages. It’s free to search and start connecting with available professionals. 

We apply a service charge on the value of bookings made through the platform. We also provide the process for getting timesheets approved and payments made once work is complete. You can read more about our pricing on our website here

Based upon our conversations with our  business users, we’re planning to launch a pay monthly service with a discounted service fee and extra features for our regular users. 

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

The gig economy is growing rapidly, with 50% of the workforce are expected to be full-time or part-time self-employed by 2025. 

Automation is replacing the jobs of people who have worked in one sector for many years, pushing people to make a career change later in life.

There are 1.3 million SMEs in the UK (1-49 staff), currently spending an average of £6,000 per year on recruitment. This market is worth £7.9 billion. We’re looking at entering new markets in the future.

SixtySecondStartUp with HyperionDev

We caught up with Riaz Moola, CEO and CoFounder at HyperionDev. HyperionDev are aiming to close the global tech skills gap by enabling education as an accessible alternative to more traditional university degrees. Doing this through specialised mentored coding bootcamps, offered online and on-site at its Johannesburg and Cape Town campuses.


What does your company do?

At HyperionDev we teach people to code. Not give lessons. Teach.  Intense, immersive courses that get completed in 3 – 12 months (course dependent) with a unique human led mentorship that is built upon our unique codebase. A meld of automation and human touch that scales and works. 

At our core, HyperionDev teaches people the essential skills they need to find fulfilling, rewarding careers in tech. However, we do way more than just teach: over the course of 3 to 12 months, we immerse our students in a high-pace dedicated coding environment that takes them from total beginner to a job-ready industry professional.

Our meld of automation and human mentoring gives us the power to give each student in-depth and personal attention, but in a way that we can scale to students in over 40 countries. 

Why did you set up this company?

We didn’t go looking for a problem to solve, we found a problem that really needed solving. At university in Africa, a group of friends and myself were shocked at the extremely high dropout rates that affected not just our classes, but classes across the country.

We decided to do something about it: we started a mentorship program to help students to master the fundamentals of coding. We added mentor after mentor, until our network spanned dozens of universities across two continents. 

Later on, I realised the difficulties people faced with learning the skills that could get them rewarding, fulfilling careers – and so HyperionDev expanded to teaching people even outside of university.. 

How did you get your first customer? 

A government-run research group that carries out AI research actually approached us, saying that we were the largest trainer of the Python programming language in their region, and asked us to train for them.

We initially thought we’d have to raise money to do the training, and were surprised when they offered to pay us. In the end we charged 10 times less than we should have for the service!

We knew we were onto something when? 

We just didn’t have people stop signing up for our courses every day, and didn’t have a month where we didn’t make revenue from our online courses. At the start you think it a temporary, short-term demand, but when you see the continual interest, it feels like you’ve unlocked something completely new.

Our business model: 

There are essentially two, B2C online immersive courses that are cost effective, and accessible from anywhere in the world that we  built to scale. The courses, while cost-effective for students, are profitable to us as we grow. We reached profitability in Q1 2020.

Our Code Review base is a B2B SAAS product under the CoGrammar brand, used by tech companies and even other leading software schools internationally 

Our most effective marketing channel has been: 

Our alumni network – we still see word of mouth driving a huge number of new students. The network effects from this group has been critical to our growth.

What we look for when recruiting:

A-players. People who can work in an intense environment and are driven by our mission to create people who can take up the vacuum in the global tech skills gap.

The biggest mistake that I’ve made is:

Not realising that we could build a really good profitable business , as well as create awesome social impact, sooner.  You don’t need to be a non-profit to truly help people.

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

Nature abhors a vacuum! Every startup is facing the same problem, where to get talent. The group of startups is growing, the talent pool isn’t keeping up. Know what that is? We call it opportunity. And with that opportunity we solve real global socio-economic problems and make a difference in people’s lives. It is one of the best problems worth solving that we know about.

We worked with AIN because:

Networking is perhaps the most important part of any future-facing business or campaign. It’s what got us started as a grassroots organisation of coding mentors, and it’s what grew us into the continental tech education leader we are today.

You can only get closer to the success you envision if you surround yourself with the right people, with the same vision and goals: and the AIN networks are one of those alignments. 

 How are you coping with lockdown? What is your strategy?

We have moved to a remote first way of working, from a previous policy of a remote friendly. And the positive response had been fantastic. Execution and productivity are actually up.

Is there anything your business is doing to help in your community or with the wider crisis?

South Africa’s biggest problem is unemployment. The numbers are staggering. We are actively supporting communities directly with scholarships, education and the resultant access to the global shortage of coders in the market. The knock on effect is heartwarming to say the least.  

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.

Breaking the cycle – how female-led startups can succeed in 2021

Bumble’s recent IPO generated stellar headlines for making Whitney Wolfe Herd the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. However it was the exceptionalism of the story that made it so significant. Women make up about half of the global population but account for less than 5% of the world’s 500 biggest fortunes, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. 

In order to have more women at the top of the list there needs to be more investment and encouragement going into early stage startups. The UK has one of the most developed startup ecosystems in the world. Yet it falls down when considering the huge gender imbalance in the startups winning investment. Indeed research from the British Bank shows that for every £1 of Venture Capital investment, all-female founding teams get just 1p.

This matters from both a moral, fairness perspective but also from the end consumer perspective. According to research from Catalyst.Org, 67% of all UK Household consumption is controlled or influenced by women. However their needs are often unmet in a world where so many products and services are brought to market without the input of 50% of the UK. Across the country there are so many entrepreneurial women with brilliant ideas for gaps in the market to improve our lives, but these are likely to remain unfulfilled. The lack of funding opportunities and visible role models makes the ideas more likely to remain in heads. Not least because you can’t be what you can’t see. 

As a result of Covid, the situation has become even more precarious. Firstly investors are more likely to stick with more established businesses, more likely to be male-led. Secondly the bulk of domestic responsibilities (including childcare) tend to fall on women, simply meaning there has been less time and ability for many to focus on the all consuming life of launching a business. Home schooling has been a clear example. In order to shake things up and start to rebalance the situation we should focus on practical measures women can take.

Develop a wide network

Start-up investment has traditionally been a very closed world. Much of it stemmed and often still does from old school ties which tend to be stronger with men. This is then often reinforced throughout our lives. Platforms like Angel Investment Network, SeedTribe and crowdfunding platforms have undoubtedly helped to shake things up by democratising the world of early stage investing but it remains crucial for women to focus on building their own networks. Encouragingly there are a host of forums for women to network and create their own forums. This includes investment groups such as Angel Academe, which trains and empowers women to invest in female-owned start-ups and Ada Ventures which invests in under-represented founders; the Female Founders Forum, set up jointly by Barclays and The Entrepreneur Network (TEN), or more specialised groups such as Hatch’s incubator for first-time female founders and the Mayor of London’s Women in Cleantech group. Once you know groups are out there, you can then focus on the one or ones that are right for you. 

Being bolder in pitches and asks

Some research from Barclays revealed Britain’s female entrepreneurs are less likely than men to ask for business funding to scale up operations. We are also likely to be more timid in pitches. We need to be direct and ask for what we need to get a business the launchpad it needs. In my personal experience investors will buy into the vision and ambition. Remember investors are expecting to be asked for money. Tell them in no uncertain terms the amount you require, what you will do with it and of course, the share they can expect. You will be surprised by how positively your request will land.

Doing your homework on the investor

Switching perspectives so we can understand the right argument to make is one of the best and most simple steps we can do to boost our chances of investment. When I launched my start-up GrubClub I realised the importance and power of understanding different perspectives. I would then adapt my pitch according to the investor I was speaking to. Key to this was really researching each investor, including their background and interests.  This helped me understand the different reasons they might invest. It’s also helpful to ask the investor directly about their prior investments. This isn’t rude. It is a two way street. The investor will conduct Due Diligence on your company and you, and you should also feel comfortable to Due Diligence on them as an investor. However at the same time, it’s important to be flexible and open to other approaches, but never to the detriment of what is fundamental to your company.

Backing other women

In instigating change, we need to be the change we want to see. It’s up to women to support other women in the industry. This is the only way to disrupt an entrenched system. Having launched and sold my own business, I dedicate my time to supporting impactful entrepreneurs to grow in more sustainable ways. My strong conclusion is we need successful women to become investors themselves to shake up the system. If we can encourage more women investors, we will start to see the level of funding increase for female-led startups. This will in turn create a virtuous circle of successful female entrepreneurs who are likely to become female-backing investors themselves.

 However, support doesn’t just include fundraising. It is also about opportunities for offering mentoring or other support. The individual power we all have is far greater than we realise. Let’s be the catalysts for the change we need to transform the prospects for female entrepreneurs.

Olivia Sibony is CEO of SeedTribe and Head of Impact for Angel Investment Network