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Hot start-up companies

Learn2Lingo.com

Thu 17 Dec 2009 |

Shira Rubin started Learn2Lingo.com last year. The recently launched online language school is now building on its successful trial period and seeking to gain key clients with language needs. Rubin tells us about her funding experience.

What’s the concept?
Technology is revolutionising the language industry. Learn2Lingo is an online platform for learning and teaching a language by webcam. The teacher and student can do it from anywhere in the world and we make it affordable to be taught by a high quality teacher without the need to travel, as often as users want. Lessons are also completely personalised. For example, international law firm Lovells deals a lot with clients in Germany while somebody else may want to focus a lesson on how to order a meal.

Why’s it unique?
There are a couple of others doing a similar thing. I think online language learning will be huge, with webcam becoming the way to learn and teach. We’re the only company in the UK to have partnered with language schools, so have a high volume of teachers as well as independent, experienced tutors. We’re also the only company to offer on-demand lessons, where you can view a tutor’s calendar and book a session.

Where are you now?
Prior to launch, we completed a trial with language schools. We were at the Language Show 2009 at Olympia and were the only company there to offer live tuition.

Where will you be in two years?
We aim to be the number one site for teaching languages – a marketplace for schools, teachers and learners. It’s specifically for one-to-one tuition. We also aim to have other sister projects that are not in this industry by replicating the platform.

Who’s backed you?
We’ve got five angel investors, two of whom are majority shareholders. Saul Rubin and Divian Mistry. Both are very successful and run their own businesses. They’re highly involved and have provided lots of contacts. We raised investment through the business angel network Envestors.

How much did you get?
£110,000.

When did you raise it?
February 2009. We started pitching for money in September 2008 – our first pitch was on the day Lehman Brothers went bust.

How long before the cheque cleared?
It cleared in April 2009.

What did it teach you?
The whole process taught us about investment in general. I had no idea before that. We explored all the other avenues of raising finance. The knowledge, expertise and support is equal to the amount you raise. It taught me about the legal process and structures of a company in terms of shareholders. I feel a lot easier going into it now. It gives you confidence in your idea because they’re backing it. The process of pitching a company is valuable. Angel investors highlight areas of weakness and focus on your strengths. You learn something new every time. Each investor looks for a different perspective and they’re quite probing. Our strategy from the beginning to now has changed quite a lot. The whole process was quite interactive. As a start-up it’s important to be flexible, agile and open to suggestions. I think the on-demand approach will be hugely successful but starting in that way is highly risky. We need critical mass quickly, and that would require a big marketing budget. We decided to strengthen the name and partner with language schools.

How has the money improved the business?
We’ve increased the size of the team and almost all of the team members have come through investor contacts. We’ve also strengthened and re-designed the platform.

Tell us something that would help another entrepreneur keep an investor happy?
Before you get investment make sure you have a good relationship with investors. Make sure it’s someone you want to work with. We had a long period of communication with investors from September and a strong idea of how each other worked. Be honest from the very beginning.

Why should we keep an eye on you?
We’re a cool company, fun and will be the way to learn a language.

Learn2Lingo.com
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Wahanda.com - The most comprehensive wellness site around

Tue 15 Dec 2009 |

Former head of search for Europe at Yahoo Salim Mitha and ex-MD of European Lifestyle at Lastminute.com Lopo Champalimaud set up wellness directory Wahanda.com in February 2008. They raised £1.4m from top-notch investors a year later and tell us why they are fast becoming the go-to site for wellness treatments and therapies in the UK and US.

What’s the concept?
Wahanda.com is a directory of more than 10,000 spas, salons, gyms, studios, therapists and wellness businesses. The community ensures the best providers bubble to the top. We then connect users to the business. Find, share, connect. Basic listings are free and we charge for premium profiles. Anything sold on the site we take a commission, including Wahanda vouchers, which can be redeemed in almost 500 locations.

Why’s it unique?
This depth of content has never been concentrated in one place, which makes it really powerful. The industry is not entirely comfortable with the internet, but we keep things super simple. As a result, lots of practitioners are ditching websites for Wahanda. The sites in the space at the moment include ones that are only focused on spas and are not directories; the leading one sells vouchers for 300 locations, whereas we have 4,500.

Where are you now?
We’re on track and were named one of the top 10 beauty sites in Elle magazine. In terms of the vision though we’re less than 20% of where we want to be. We’re getting around 150,000 unique users a month typically, but three to four times that in December as we’re running our Advent Calendar, giving away a prize each day with £10,000 worth of spa breaks, prizes and other offers.

Where will you be in two years?
Hopefully in more countries. We’re trying to build a brand and want Wahanda to be synonymous with wellbeing.

Who’s backed you?
Ambient Sounds Investments, a fund founded by the former Skype technology team; Stefan Glaenzer, an angel investor and the former chairman of Last.fm Wolf Hengst, the former president and COO of Four Seasons; Brent Hoberman of MyDeco and PROfounders Capital; and Jonnie Goodwin of Jefferies and PROfounders Capital.

How much did you get?
£1.4m.

When did you raise it?
February 2009.

How long before the cheque cleared?
We were going to acquire a business in November but at the last minute they decided not to sell, which turned out to be the best thing. We went back to the investors and they thought it was a great opportunity, so having got commitments in December we closed the funding round soon after.

What did it teach you?
It’s important to have investors you like and respect, and who bring value to the table. There’s a lot of money out there and it’s a time consuming process. You can learn a lot from rejection. It makes you think about what you’re doing and we made the business stronger. The other thing was we didn’t go to them and say ‘we want your money’, we asked if they’d look at our five-page summary and tell us what they thought, which is a really good way to assess interest.

How has the money improved the business?
The dynamic between the investors at board meetings is great. Brent brings leisure, hospitality and technology experience. ASI are strong on engineering and technology. And Wolf knows leisure inside out.

Tell us something that would help another entrepreneur keep an investor happy?
Communication is key. We provide monthly and quarterly reports, with an appraisal of what we’re thinking. Investors want to be helpful, so when we think they can be we get in touch. Nobody likes a bad surprise. Present any problems and what you feel the solutions are and then have a productive debate.

Why should we keep an eye on you?
What we’re building is really exciting. The market is immensely fragmented and dominated by single owner operations. But people spend twice as much on spa treatments ($60bn) as they do film and music combined.

Wahanda.com
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Whoseview.ie - Share your experiences

Fri 4 Dec 2009 |

Whoseview.ie won the best indigenous website at the Golden Spider Awards. Helen McCarthy tells us about her fundraising and why she believes her high hopes are justified.

What's the concept?
Whoseview.ie is a social review-based site. You can post reviews on various different services in a locality or products. You share recommendations with friends and the wider community, helping them make more informed decisions. Consumers are shying away from traditional marketing and turning more to their friends.

Why's it unique?
If you look at some of the other sites, they don't have a huge emphasis on the social aspect. There are so many review sites, but can you trust the reviewer? They don't give the same level of detail in the profiles. With us, you can vote on the trustworthiness. The second unique aspect, is that it's not exclusively about services - we're also plugging in product info via affiliates and customised feeds. There are a number of other functional features, such as being able to accumulate points as a form of online currency, which can be redeemed against special offers on the site. And our 'latest comments' is similar to what you see on Twitter.

Where are you now?
We only opened up to beta on July 17th and are still very much in the early stages. The money we got initially was €120,000, which has got us to this stage. We have a series of developments planned in the next few months. We're currently trying to raise another round. I work full-time, my husband Michael is part-time, and we have a development company that we've partnered with. The site covers Dublin and Galway so far, but we're adding other locations.

Where will you be in two years (ideally)?
Mobile will be a significant aspect of what we do. We're looking at the web as a stepping stone. Content is our core objective. We expect mobile to be the main product and would like to be the No.1 reviews based website in Ireland and the UK eventually.

Who's backed you?
An angel investor called Brian Long, who has been involved in a number of technology and internet companies in Ireland, the UK and the US.

How much did you get?
€100,000, plus €20,000 from Enterprise Ireland, Category 1 funding, which provides up to a maximum of €25,000 to get a concept off the ground. It's also a stepping stone to match funding, which will be part of phase two as we look at private investors.

When did you raise it?
In January 2009, although it took a while before we got the money.

How long before the cheques cleared?
We didn't wait for the money to come through, we continued self-funding with Lightbox Digital doing the development. We paid them at the outset and got the money in September.

What did it teach you?
It's all about networking. My husband had a good number of connections and until you're up and running and making money you're still unproven. Dublin's not a big place and we asked anybody we knew about technology start-ups. Brian was introduced to Michael at a function and after exchanging business cards we presented to him and a number of his colleagues. The backing of Enterprise Ireland helps in terms of credibility.

How has investment improved the business?
The money has primarily gone into development.

Tell us something that would help another entrepreneur keep an investor happy?
It's always good to get 'wins'. We set a number of targets that we wanted to reach, which are not necessarily all about revenue, such as winning an award, getting publicity in leading publications, and content partnerships and deals. We were shortlisted in three categories in the Golden Spider web awards. We communicate all of this to show Brian's seed investment has gone to good use.

Why should we keep an eye on you?
Customer reviews and people's reliance on them will grow in importance. Businesses will increasingly turn to it and social media to promote their offering and mobile will be key.

Whoseview.ie
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Three Sixty Entertainment Ltd - Bringing Peter Pan to life in virtual glory

Wed 11 Nov 2009 |

Colin Wilkinson and the Three Sixty Entertainment team achieved the near impossible. They raised £2.75m in the toughest economic climate in decades - from 58 angel investors. They brought Peter Pan to life in Kensington Gardens. And they out-sold the West-End big guns. Now they're going global.

What's the concept?
To brilliantly re-imagine classic children’s text as shows for an adult as well as family audience, and to launch these shows in the UK as a springboard to tour them internationally, in colossal, purpose-designed tented-pavillions.

Why's it unique?
We are using technology that no-one has used before on a truly inspiring scale (e.g. for the Peter Pan show we built a 400 square mile virtual model of London, then flew a virtual helicopter over the city ‘filming’ it with a 360 camera. We sent these files to Pixar who rendered them into extraordinary and ravishing detail. We project these videos onto the walls around the audience (360 degree) on a surface three times the area of an IMAX screen. It’s pretty mind-blowing.

Where are you now?
We launched Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 2009 and were fortunate enough to have enjoyed the second highest ticket sales in the West-End this season. We made £5.5m in the first 16 weeks of trading with very high profit margins. We will be showing at the O2 for six weeks at Christmas – and then starting a US tour in San Francisco in Spring 2010, then cloning the show for the Asia-Pacific market at the end of 2010.

Where will you be in two years (ideally)?
We will have at least six or seven clone shows of Peter Pan around the world – and have launched our next show in London. Turnover £35m plus.

Who's backed you?
58 business angels.

How much did you get?
£2.75m.

When did you raise it?
From Jan – April 2009.

How long before the cheque cleared?
Four months.

What did it teach you?
That where I look is where I go. We raised the money in the midst of the worst recession in financial markets in two generations (and we did it in half the time you’d normally expect a fundraising to take). But we were so confident of the proposition that we did not spend energy worrying. It sounds trite, but we focused instead on what we could do – and on searching out and presenting all of the hard data we could find that supported the business case; generating stories that we could use to create a positive, buying frame of mind in our prospective investors.

How has investment improved the business?
We were a start-up and would never have got off the ground without the cash.

Tell us something that will help another entrepreneur keep their investor happy.
In your information memorandum: 1. Make sure that all of the assumptions that build the business case are individually listed so that you can: 2. Present compelling, independent evidence that proves these assumptions are valid. This gives investors the confidence that your level of unstoppable enthusiasm is not a form of madness (or wishful thinking), but a genuine cast-iron, feet-on-the-ground conviction.
Know all your numbers and the key levers that create the difference between success and failure of the business. Be willing to flex the numbers around these ‘levers’ to show how a different outcome for each of these effects the bottom line.
Be sensible with the valuation of your business. Any avid viewer of Dragons’ Den knows how little credibility you get if you over-value your nascent company.
Finally, give every prospective investor a damned good listening to.

Why should we keep an eye on you?
Watch 360 go from strength to strength. We sold more tickets in London than Mama Mia over the summer – if we can replicate this success in different territories then we have the makings of a truly global phenomenon.
We are also finalists in the 2009 UK Startup Business of the Year award, and Innovative Business of the Year Award, sponsored by Visa. Watch this space.

Three Sixty Entertainment Ltd
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Boxwish Ltd. - Building social shopping platforms inspired by popular culture

Mon 19 Oct 2009 |

Fiercely ambitious former management consultant Tim Aikin set up Team Boxwish in 2007. Having raised two angel rounds he's looking to accelerate the growth of its social shopping concept.

What’s the concept?
We’re a new media start-up focused on building cool social websites and applications centred around elements of popular culture. Our flagship site Boxwish.com is a movie inspired social shopping site where people can find and buy products (like fashion and gadgets) seen in movies. We also recently launched Movie-Cupid.com - a dating site for film lovers.

Why’s it unique?
With our first site Boxwish.com we were the first company around to build a site focused entirely on the inspirational aspects of movies – like being able to get the fashion, use the gadgets, drive the cars, visit the locations etc. Since then we’ve grown a basic concept into a powerful association engine, which ties together shoppable content with elements of popular culture, such as movies, characters or people.

Where are you now?
We’ve just expanded the team to six people, relaunched Boxwish.com and are working on a number of other great products including a new type of advertising platform and an e-commerce marketplace. We’re also just about to open a new funding round.

Where will you be in two years?
If all goes to plan we’ll have quite a bit going on, including not just our own consumer sites like Boxwish.com but also running our different e-commerce and advertising platforms for other consumer companies.

Who’s backed you?
We’ve got a small team of excellent angel investors who have been a tremendous support. They include a former investment banker, a chartered accountant and the UK marketing director for a very successful e-commerce company.

How much did you get?
We haven’t disclosed the amount raised so far but it’s six figures.

When did you raise it?
We raised our first round in March 2008, completed a small second round earlier this year and are just about to open another.

How long before the cheque cleared?
The time from initial meeting to money-in-the-bank was actually very quick in both rounds. That said each had at least three to four months of prior planning and preparation put into them.

What did it teach you?
The key thing I learnt was the value that being both prepared and passionate have in convincing investors to back you. It’s not only about constructing a convincing argument for the merits of your product, the strength of your team and the rigour of your financial model, but also delivering it in a way that demonstrates you’ve got the passion and dedication it takes to put in the long hours required to execute.

How has the investment improved the business?
In lots of ways. Completing our first round allowed us to get the ball rolling and prove our initial concept. Our last round gave us the chance to expand the team, bringing on board really talented technical and marketing leads. It also allowed us to evolve our strategy to be even more ambitious than what we started with.

Tell us something that would help another entrepreneur keep an investor happy.
Two key things, honesty and enthusiasm. Keep them constantly informed of what’s going on, good and bad (if it’s bad make sure you follow it with what you’re doing to get things back on track) and in doing so be enthusiastic and passionate enough to make them an ambassador for your brand. If they invested in your business they probably have more than just a passing interest in your industry, product or service. Make sure you engage them in what you’re doing, share your plans and visions for the future, get them excited about you and your brand so that they’re telling all their friends and colleagues about it.

Why should we keep an eye on you?
Our flagship site, Boxwish.com was an exciting first step but we’ve got a really ambitious product plan for the next 12 months and a passionate and dedicated team to make it happen.

Boxwish Ltd.
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Studentgems.com - Skills marketplace to connect businesses to students

Fri 9 Oct 2009 |

We profiled Studentgems.com which was founded by Sue Harrison and Joanna Ward last year. Since then, they've raised a six-figure angel investment round. So, we caught up with Harrison to talk about the fundraising and progress to date.

What's the concept?
We’re a website where students can find one-off jobs and earn more than they would for waiting tables or pulling pints. And businesses can save money too. We had the idea when we were working on a project and needed some photography. Commercial quotes were £600 and we realised it would be cheaper to find a talented student photographer for half the price.

Why's it unique?
There are other places students can get jobs, such as job shops and recruitment agencies, but not typically where they use their skills, developing knowledge and talent. Equally, companies often outsource overseas to cut costs. And freelance websites expect professional freelancers to get in touch. So, there’s not a direct competitor, although classified jobs boards such as Gumtree and Craig’s List offer our biggest competition.

Where are you now?
We see our prime employer market as SMEs, but have sole traders up to Breast Cancer UK and Adidas using the system. We have 14,000 students registered offering 74,000 skills across 1,600 categories, and 3,200 employers.

Where will you be in two years?
We’d like to be a household name across the UK. If they need jobs doing Studentgems is a cost-effective resource. We’d also like to take the business over to the US.

Who's backed you?
Eight angel investors. It was quite a long trail. When we started we didn’t know anything about raising finance. Business Link introduced us to Wycombe Enterprise Hub, which is part of SEEDA (South East England Development Agency). They were fantastic, made us portfolio client and helped with the business plan, a Finance South East investor readiness course, and introductions to various networks. We then presented to three groups via a West Midlands-based network plus an Oxford-based network.

How much did you get?
A six-figure sum. Two investors also joined the board. We were happy to take investors who wanted an active role in the business. One is an ex-lawyer the other an ex-accountant.

When did you raise it?
About three weeks ago in September.

How long before the cheque cleared?
It took us about a year to finalise from the first presentation. We didn’t go from nothing to everything. We were picking them up along the way and wanted to get sufficient money to get on with running the business as fundraising is hugely time-consuming. We got pretty much what we need but left the round open as we still have some leads.

What did it teach you?
We were very aware we probably didn’t fit the normal mould for somebody starting a dotcom as we’re neither male nor 25. It taught us never to give up. You really do have to believe in what you’re doing. Everything takes twice as long as you expect. You can present to a group that’s interested and then the next week another group won’t be – there’s no rhyme or reason. We presented to gatekeepers, a hall full of people and a room of people. We had to gauge what would work best for us and go with that, making sure we spent the money where we were likely to get the best results.

How has investment improved the business?
We were able to get stands as seven or eight local Freshers’ Fairs in September which is quite expensive. Thousands signed up. So the money is going on marketing, building the team and enhancing the website – we have loads of developments in the pipeline.

Tell us something that will help another entrepreneur keep their investor happy.
Communication is key. Throughout the fundraising we kept people who said they’d invest fully informed of our progress and have a review each month. We also respond as quickly as we can.

Why should we keep an eye on you?
We hope you’ll see the emergence of Studentgems.com as a household name.

Studentgems.com
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PureSolo.com - The recording platform for musicians and singers of all abilities

Thu 8 Oct 2009 |

Ex-Goldman Sachs MD David Kaplan (CEO) and veteran musician John Thirkell (COO) started online music recording platform PureSolo.com in February 2007, got funded in May 2008, then launched in September last year. It announced a deal with major media company FreemantleMedia Enterprises to provide TV show The X Factor with an online karaoke platform this week (October 6 2009). See it here: xfactorkaraoke.puresolo.com

What's the concept?
The individual singer and instrumentalist have not been given the same online capabilities as bands. We’ve licensed well-known tracks to enable people to develop and record for themselves or the wider community. They can access high quality backing tracks at home for a very inexpensive rate. For £10 to £20 you can create your own CD.

Why's it unique?
My co-founder John picked up a trumpet at 13 but didn’t play with accompaniment until he did his Grade 8, yet we have the Berlin Chamber Orchestra as a backing track for individual musicians. In terms of online there’s no place but PureSolo to go for that. If someone wants to record and email to a teacher, friend or granny they can do it from a browser plug-in for the price of some sheet music.

Where are you now?
To be in the public market for a year, execute a deal we’re the right combination of satisfied and paranoid – 1% satisfied, 99% paranoid. It’s the beginning of our milestones. Ultimately people will see us as an enabler for jazz, singing or classical – a place for users to improve and share. Part of developing musicians is in the formal educational space. We expect to be incorporated into the Sing Up government-backed programme (www.singup.org).

Where will you be in two years?
We’ll be seen as an enabling platform for people to develop their music skills and use socially. We’ll have increased the number of X Factor-like deals, such as in jazz, guitar and classical.

Who's backed you?
The initial investment was from the directors, including myself. Investment went into the technology, research and securing licenses, then we went to the outside world. We spent time with private wealth individuals and angels, rather than formal venture capital. In the early stages they challenged the model and we evolved to take some risk out.

How much did you get?
We raised £1.1m from a small double-digit number of investors, but are keeping their details confidential.

When did you raise it?
May 2008. We were talking for over a year – the first conversation was general and conceptual. Then we had rough versions, hashing around ideas, then a formal offering document.

How long before the cheque cleared?
Raising money takes time from ideas to building trust in the management and belief that the project can be executed. These are important factors people consider as well as financials.

What did it teach you?
Plan ahead. You have to have a commitment and willingness to overcome obstacles. It’s hard work, but savour and love it, be passionate. When we look at great businesses out there like Spotify, it looks really glamorous, but we know how hard they’re working. I take my hat off to those guys.

How has investment improved the business?
It’s key to invest and spend to put money to the vision while striking a balance with the tough economic climate. It offers a little more flexibility in people and technology, paid our legal bills on licensing music, and got us in front of some very grown-up businesses. And they liked what they saw.

Tell us something that will help another entrepreneur keep their investor happy.
Honest, open, continual communication. We don’t have to write and post on a monthly basis, but if there’s a special development we keep them in touch with phone calls and invites to our offices. They trusted us with their capital so should feel a part of it.

Why should we keep an eye on you?
There are certain things we can do to make the platform even richer. And watch us in the education space.

PureSolo.com
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Sentry Wireless - Providing mobile security solutions

Thu 1 Oct 2009 |

Dublin-based mobile security solutions provider Sentry Wireless is on the cusp of seizing a tidy slice of the lucrative global anti-spam market thanks to its patented SIM firewall technology. Started by Matt Norton and Ciaran Bradley in late 2006, the company is making impressive inroads in Asia and its KidSafe solution is already giving parents peace of mind, enabling them to apply parental controls to their children's mobile usage. We caught up with Norton to find out more.

What's the concept?
We own the concept of the firewall on the SIM from which you can develop multiple applications, from parental control, to cost and expenditure control, as well as preventing SMS spam and enabling mobile payments.

Why's it unique?
It's patented award-winning technology. Sentry was named the most innovative mobile start-up in the Asia Pacific by the GSM Association (the association of mobile operators) following the launch of our parental control solution. We also won a Golden Spider award for usability. One of the main benefits of having an app on the SIM is it avoids integration with networks. It makes deployment more straightforward, mainstream and reduces risk.

Where are you now?
Geographically we're headquartered in Dublin and have an office in London. We've just completed a second round of funding and expect to complete a follow-on round by Christmas. We're going to live customer trials of our expenditure solution CallGuard in France and will trial our anti-spam product in Asia from October.

Where will you be in two years?
I would see us being more focused on anti-spam as it offers us the biggest strategic opportunities. I would expect significant deployment in the Middle East, Asia and India. We may have gone through Series A funding by then and be scaling up rapidly. We'll have approximately 50 employees where today we have 10.

Who's backed you?
We've put in our own capital, plus had a small seed round from angels and friends and family. We then secured significant funding from Enterprise Ireland, which has been an active shareholder and business partner. It's enabled us to leverage more than 30 offices it has globally and assisted with lead generation, sales follow-up and closing deals.

How much did you get?
I'd prefer not to say how much we received from Enterprise Ireland. It was significant though.

When did you raise it?
We took a relatively small seed capital round in 2007 and we'll complete a second phase of our follow-on round soon.

How long before the cheque cleared?
At the end of 2007 it took six weeks to two months. It then took seven to eight months to get the interim round over the line and will be 10 to 11 months before we complete. It's a reflection of the economic climate. Numerous investors have said that 18 months ago they wouldn't have hesitated and we'd have been about to get €1m to €2m virtually the next day. Even a year ago €100,000 to €200,000 would have been almost instant. Now even €25,000 gets serious consideration.

What did it teach you?
You've got to have a very clear customer proposition and have to find a hook to engage the investor. Not all will be interested, so you've got to knock on doors. You have to be ready from day one to follow-up as if you leave it three weeks after a pitch the deal will go cold. The business plan should still evolve throughout though.

How has investment improved the business?
It gives lifeblood to the business as an additional resource for a software house. It has increased our product development capacity and enabled us to scale up to mobile carrier grade.

Tell us something that would help another entrepreneur keep an investor happy.
Talk to them frequently, even when you don't have news. It varies for the investor, but for some it's every one to two weeks, others it's a quarterly presentation.

Why should we keep an eye on you?
We're going to dominate the anti-spam market. Sentry Wireless firewall will be on every SIM card.

Sentry Wireless
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Flexitimers.com - Flexible workers for SME employers

Tue 15 Sep 2009 |

The founders of Dublin-based Flexitimers.com Dervla Cunningham and Joy Redmond, would be the first to admit they could have launched at a better time. Conceived when the word recession still had a nostalgic quality and launched in the week after the recession was made official in Ireland in late September, start-up life certainly has its challenges.

Flexitimers was created to provide an alternative to recruitment agencies for the SME community. It also wanted to avoid the Elance.com and similar US models, which Redmond says results in the companies posting freelance jobs being bombarded with bids for the work, with the cheapest typically winning the business.

Cunningham had already set up and run two web companies - an e-business services company Zartis.com which was sold to US buyer Breakaway Solutions and Arekibo Communications, a web design consultancy. She often found it difficult to find the right people without paying recruitment agencies exorbitant sums, while Redmond has worked as a freelance market researcher for numerous blue-chip companies so had experienced the other side of the fence. "There was nobody covering it in Ireland," says Redmond. "There were agencies that would send out staff, but it would cost €800 a day."

At the time, the recruitment industry was still booming and companies were struggling to find the right people to fill available roles. Since then, of course, supply has far outstripped demand. But on the other hand, with flexibility at its core, repositioning the business as a recession-friendly alternative to taking on full-time staff was an obvious step. "There's a cap on headcount, but freelance staff is something more companies are looking for, while candidates are looking to supplement their incomes," says Redmond.

In addition to SME firms, the likes of Microsoft are among companies posting short-term positions on the platform, with Flexitimers' software matching candidates and companies. The offering has evolved too, with Redmond and Cunningham providing a more in-depth screening service. "We always wanted it to be a people to people business, not just an agency," says Redmond. "We've had a lot of hugely positive feedback and PR coverage, plus registrations of really high quality candidates or small companies offering flexible accounting, legal, IT, marketing and sales services."

By 2010, the screening service is likely to play a more significant role alongside the Web 2.0 technology and it's likely the pair will seek to raise some additional funds. They initially raised €100,000 from Enterprise Ireland, and utilised incubation and enterprise services offered by NovaUCD, the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre in Dublin, the South East Enterprise Platform Programme (SEEPP), Dublin Business Innovation Centre (DBIC), Dublin City Enterprise Board (DBEC) and Wexford County Enterprise Board (WCEB), where Redmond operates from. They also put in €100,000 of their own money.

It's clearly been a tough first year and serious revenue is still more a target than a reality, but with upheaval comes opportunity and Flexitimers may well live up to its name and adapted quickly enough.

Flexitimers.com
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iComplete.com - Everything small business needs in one place

Fri 21 Aug 2009 |

CRM software: Great if your business can afford it, but out of reach for the average small firm. So what's the alternative? iComplete.com thinks it has the answer.

iComplete claims to be the low-cost alternative to the likes of Salesforce.com Sage and 37 Signals; a 'dumbed down' version if you like, but actually very clever as it promises to simplify the complexities of advanced CRM systems. It's the creation of British entrepreneurs Stuart and Claire Hibbert and Kiwi Myles Hantler.

Like all good start-ups, the idea was the result of the market not meeting demand. Or at least not meeting Claire Hibbert's needs. She was running her own small beauty salon business and had no way of cost-effectively managing her customer relationships. Husband Stuart happened to be an experienced software entrepreneur and developer and along with sales specialist Hantler the trio developed the concept. The hope is that Claire was not alone in feeling the need - and that iComplete genuinely has the answer.

So what does the site do exactly? With an eye fixed on the future, iComplete is a cloud computing solution, storing data in the ether - or massive server farms set up to save people data storage nightmares. It enables users to manage their customer interactions and make phone calls via the web using Voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP). The service stores details of prospects, customers, phone notes, reminders and follow-ups, a built-in calendar and other information salespeople like to have at their fingertips when making outbound or dealing with inbound calls. Any fears about security should be allayed, says Hantler, by the fact the service is password protected.

And where you might pay £1,200 a year to use Salesforce, iComplete is a freemium model, costing nothing for storing up to 1000 contacts and then £15, £25 or £50 per month depending on the number of contacts stored with the premium offering having no limit. So, clearly more affordable for 1-20 employee companies, albeit lacking some of the bells and whistles of its established rivals. Hantler believes the company's main target users will actually be moving from paper or spreadsheet-based data storage, so will not find the diluted functionality an issue.

You could argue that the fact that this is the case also poses a threat to iComplete's success as likely users currently rely on free products so converting them may take a little persuasion. There's also a chance that Google will move into the space, with Google Voice and its other cloud services potentially providing an attractive alternative to spreadsheets. And in the US, the Zoho.com suite of business applications is evidence that the space could quickly become congested. iComplete also has the lack of understanding of cloud computing at the grassroots to contend with.

Hantler though remains confident iComplete will go places - and with good reason. Stuart Hibbert sold his previous software business, described as Europe's first e-billing application service provider, in 2004. Hantler was also a part of X200 too and they successfully worked their earn-out. The track record and finance the pair were able to invest into the development of iComplete, plus its potential to challenge beyond the UK and a significant target market will be important factors in it achieving its potential. Judges for Dell's Small Business Excellence Awards, which has made the company a finalist, clearly concur.

Hibbert and Hantler plan to raise finance from angel investors or a low-level venture capital outfit in the early part of 2010 to expand and are still tweaking the model having only gone live in April this year. It's likely a white label offering via directory or media sites plus an iPhone application will play an important part in generating the reach the company desires. If the site's progress to date is anything to go by iComplete has a bonny future.

iComplete.com
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