My journey into the unknown world of tech startups began in my early twenties. I was an aspiring product designer at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London when I first stumbled across the Internet for the very first time.
While studying for my A Levels (equivalent to high school) I worked part-time for a leading fine art auction house in London. After almost graduating from art college in 1994, my business partner and I founded iCollector Plc (www.icollector.com), which was the first B2C online auction platform world-wide, a good few months before eBay! The service enabled collectors across the world to search, view and place sealed bids online prior to live auction events.
By today’s standards, the website was incredibly basic and very very slow but what we had created was truly revolutionary. Very soon after launch the website received a great deal of publicity. Even Time and Forbes wrote feature articles about us!
While at iCollector, I traveled extensively throughout the world visiting auction houses, antiques dealers and art galleries to list their inventory on our website. Before long, hundreds of companies signed up and we eventually managed to aggregate billions of dollars worth of product listings, and I personally initiated a strategic alliance with eBay to list our live auctions (via a live bidding solution developed by the company) within a dedicated section of the site called “eBay Premier” (since discontinued).
In 1996 iCollector Plc successfully raised a substantial round of funding through an Initial Public Offering of company shares via the unregulated exchange OFEX. At the height of the dot com boom the company was valued at $100m+ and employed hundreds of people! Lehman Brothers were appointed prior to a full listing on The London Stock Exchange and life was good.
Just prior to the IPO, sentiment changed almost over night and consumer Internet stocks took a sudden tumble, and plans for the impending IPO were abandoned. Fortunately I had exited by this point. Instead of the planned IPO, the company was acquired by AbleAuctions Inc and continues to trade in the USA. Things worked out okay in the end but it was an incredible roller coaster ride!
So that is how my journey into the world of tech startups began.
After a successful exit from iCollector, I indulged my passion for motor racing by acquiring a majority stake in The Classic Tyrrell F1 Team as well as the rights to the FIA’s premier classic Formula One Championship with a view to establishing the first Masters series for ex-F1 drivers. Although it was a passion project, I learned a great deal, and more importantly, I had a blast!
After selling the commercial rights as well as my prized Tyrrell 012 Formula One car, I started yet another company that prevented IP theft of illegally downloaded content via P2P file sharing networks. The company was backed by record labels, movie studios and one of the world’s greatest ever Irish rock bands. The company remains in stealth mode.
After that, I was invited to cross the Sahara desert with Richard Noble OBE (the land speed record legend), which was an incredible experience. Starting from London, we drove the life-changing 5,000 mile trip in a convoy of three Land Rovers.
I then moved to Scotland to become an entrepreneur in residence at The School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, embedded within the ‘Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute’, and in 2008, while still at Edinburgh, I founded my next tech startup Vibio UK Ltd. It was a social commerce platform for people who enjoyed sharing their passion for trading unique and interesting items. After successfully raising a seed round of $1m+, I established a US subsidiary (Vibio Inc) and opened an office in San Francisco.
For several years I commuted between my dev teams in Scotland and California. Unfortunately this venture did not scale due to the US entity not being able to obtain “specialty occupation” visas for key British personnel. This meant that Vibio Inc was starved of vital skills and know-how at a time when the company desperately needed talent. Anyone who has tried to scale a business in Silicon Valley will know, one of the greatest challenges is talent acquisition aka recruitment. The Northern Californian ‘war for talent’ continues to be bitterly fought, and shows now signs of abating. At the time, this made not only recruitment, but also retention a huge challenge and eventually led to the demise of Vibio.
After returning to London in 2013, I founded 5350 Ltd (Fifty-Three-Fifty Limited) which was originally intended to help develop UK market entry strategies for Valley-based tech companies, hence the name (5350 is the distance in miles between San Francisco and London).
Since then I have moved away from this idea, and have chosen to shift focus. Today I’m actively pursuing opportunities within the ‘Internet of Things’ sector. I host IoT Meetups, co-founded a smartwatch app company, and operate a blog called WEB3//IOT.
I hope you enjoy reading my personal blog and please feel free to leave comments or get in touch.
Extensive Network – Within the tech clusters of London, Edinburgh and Silicon Valley (Software Engineers, Startup Entrepreneurs, CIOs and Investors).
Sector Expertise: Business Strategy, Go2Market Strategy, UK Market Entry Strategy (for US tech startups), Early stage Venture Capital, early stage B2B & B2C Web Startups, Ecommerce, Social Commerce, Social Media, Mobile. I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by The Internet Of Things (IOT) and The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT).
FitTech, WellnessTech, FinTech, Formula1, NFL, CrossFit
Social Media Profiles
Blogger: http://www.techinthecity.co.uk (Personal/Fitness/Tech)
Guest Writer: (Techcrunch) http://tcrn.ch/12uiY2Y