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 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 Forbes wrote a feature article about us!
I traveled extensively as my role was to encourage auction houses, antiques dealers and art galleries to list their inventory on our website. Before long hundreds of companies signed up and we aggregated billions of dollars worth of product listings.
In 1996 iCollector Plc successfully raised funding through an Initial Public Offering of company shares via the unregulated exchange OFEX. We then initiated a strategic alliance with eBay to list live auctions on the eBay Premier platform via iCollector’s real-time live bidding solution. 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.
Then the promise of vast life-changing riches started to evaporate and that fairy tale exit that every start-up entrepreneur dreams about looked uncertain. Sentiment changed almost over night and consumer Internet stocks took a sudden tumble and plans for the impending IPO were abandoned. Instead of listing on the London Stock Exchange iCollector was acquired by AbleAuctions Inc and continues to trade in the USA. Things worked out okay in the end but what a 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 semi-retired F1 drivers. I admit it was a vanity project but I learned a great deal.
After selling the commercial rights as well as my prized Tyrrell 012 Formula One car, I was invited to cross the Sahara desert with Richard Noble OBE (the land speed record legend) which was an incredible experience. We drove in a convoy of three Land Rovers’ from London. The incident-free but life-changing 5,000 mile round trip took over a month to complete.
After returning home from Africa, I decided to return to the world of technology and became an entrepreneur in residence at The School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, embedded within the ‘Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute’.
In 2008, while still at Edinburgh, I founded my next tech startup Vibio UK Ltd which was a social commerce network for people who enjoy sharing their passion for trading unique and interesting items. After closing 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, there was at the time, and still, is a serious ‘war for talent’ which makes the recruitment and retention of talent a huge challenge!
After returning to London in 2013, I founded 5350 Ltd (Fifty-Three-Fifty Limited) where I currently develop market entry strategies for VC-funded Valley-based tech startups that wish to enter the UK market hence the company name (5350 is the distance in miles between San Francisco and London).
Although I specialise in helping early stage companies develop product road maps I also enjoy working with established players to help them develop new market opportunities for both new and existing products.
Current projects: Aerospace and Defense (Structural Health Monitoring, Self-Healing Materials, Big Data, Analytics, Artificial Intelligence), Pharma (Advanced Planning & Scheduling Software), Auto (Planning & Scheduling Software for crash testing).
I hope you enjoy reading my blog and please feel free to leave comments or get in touch. If you are responsible for innovation within your organisation, I’d love to hear from you!
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).
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