Mark Nagurski

10 things crowdfunding investors want most from digital media investments

Tim Brundle presenting at Culturetech

There was a lot to like about last week’s CultureTECH festival held in Learning Pool’s hometown of Derry.  So typical of Derry that our city’s event managed to combine both culture + technology.  Many attendees agreed it was the culture element that elevated the festival way above the millions of other web summits that every man, woman & dog hosts.  A lovely taster of some of the magic we expect to see for 12 months during 2013 when Derry becomes the first ever UK City of Culture.

I enjoyed listening to many of the speakers on Friday (especially Andrew Dubber (who advised us to invent the future rather than trying to predict it), Fiona McAnena, Sir Nicholas Kenyon and of course lovely Ben Hammersley) but the speaker who gave me the most insight into one of the topics I’m most interested in was Tim Brundle.  Tim is Director of Innovation at the University of Ulster where over the past few years he’s made investments of between £5k & £328m in over 60 tech companies & seen returns on investment of 0.8x to 42x.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that he knows what he’s talking about.

It’s a well known fact that everyone suddenly wants to be in digital.  According to this presentation, by the end of 2011 87% of the top 100 VC firms had digital media funds or portfolio investments.

For the purpose of this blog I’m going to share with you the 10 things Tim believes people investing through crowdfunding schemes are looking for in digital media investments.  While Tim was talking I thought about our own company and how attractive we would have been starting out if we’d been scored against these criteria.

  1. Business Model is first up and most important – people want to believe that they’re going to get money back.  Giving thought to your business model & revisiting it from time to time is something every business should do & I’ve written on this topic before.  For new businesses and teams seeking investment it’s incredibly important to spend time getting it right as a small change in your business model can make big differences in the shape of and priorities within your eventual company.
  2. Location – most people seeking a project to invest in via crowdfunding look for something that’s local to them.  With the internet I’m not sure why that would be.  Even if you’re close by you won’t be able to influence what they do – but I guess it’s something to do with local knowledge & familiarity.
  3. What Tim calls True Grit in a team.  I heard him say a few times during the course of the day that early start up success does not necessarily guarantee success in subsequent ventures and because of this crowd fund investors want to try out with newbies.
  4. Goes without saying investors look for a Smart Idea.
  5. More interesting is that they look for an idea that will generate a Big Splash.  This means something that people think can be rolled out quickly, catch on fast & generate rapid user adoption.
  6. Investors look for a product that is Beautiful – doesn’t everyone?
  7. Kentucky Windage – a term which originated in rifle shooting & is about compensating for your shot when using a hinky shotgun by trying to second guess where the bullet is going to go.  In this instance it’s about how people try to second guess what the route to market of a new product is going to be.
  8. Personalisation – people base attractiveness of the investment around what the product or idea means to them, how it appeals to them & how they imagine use of it would enrichen their lives.
  9. The product itself is quite low down in the list of considerations but crowd funding investors are interested in whether or not it appears to be Authentic and Real.
  10. The last one I like.  Does the idea or product have a Future & Enduring appeal.  Tim told us the well known story about Zhou Enlai’s take when asked about outcomes of the French Revolution 200 years earlier – of course he believed it was “too soon to tell”. 

I’ll leave you with this pic of Tim & me taken on Friday night after a fabulous day at CultureTECH.  We’re very lucky to have someone like this in and around the Northern Ireland investment scene and so accessible to companies starting out.  I know Tim has been a great help to many fledgling startup tech businesses and like me, he love, love, loves to see teams pitching.

I’ll finish by expressing my thanks to Mark Nagurski and the entire Digital Derry Action Team for giving us such a great event last week and for sealing the exciting twinning deal with London’s Tech City.

A blog about pride…

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Last night I attended the awards evening for SeedComp 2011 – a Digital Derry initiative to uncover the North West of Ireland’s most promising digital business ideas.  The process has been ongoing since late March & has resulted in 30 or so new business ideas emerging.  This type of competition is a fabulous way for any town to encourage & promote some innovation & entrepreneurialism.  The overall prize kitty last night was £10,000 and included a £1,000 prize for the most promising student idea – so it’s a very cost effective way to get some ideas moving in your community & get especially your young people thinking about starting their own businesses.  Most brand new ideas only need a tiny amount of money to get started.  We’re lucky to have our own Digital Champion, Mark Nagurski, in Derry to come up with competitions like this and then put in the hard graft to make them a success.  Definitely worthwhile if your town doesn’t already do something like this.

12 fledgling ideas were shortlisted at the start of May and the new promoters presented yesterday.  The judging panel included some tech industry veterans, one of Facebook’s senior executives, a couple of local entrepreneurs and a (friendly) VC.  A terrifying prospect and indeed one of the competitors shared with me at last night’s event that although he’s presented to both Steven Spielberg and James Cameron in his career so far, he was more nervous going into the room yesterday.

It was therefore with great pride that Paul & I witnessed our very own Breda Doherty pick up a prize as part of her new venture with her business partner Catherine Morris.  An all girl geek team.  What could ever be nicer?  Breda & Catherine met on the Invest NI/Digital Circle funded mission to this year’s SXSW event in Austin, Texas (thanks Matt!) and they’ve wasted no time in coming up with a new business idea & putting together a plan.  Their new idea has elements of the passion of the original Craigslist (Breda interviewed Craig Newmark at SXSW) and it uses Bill Liao’s homespun advice on marketing messages (Breda interviewed Bill in Washington DC); I’m hoping their relentless execution against plan will show that Breda has maybe even learned something from Paul & me along the way (good stuff only Breda!).  She’s certainly a different person today than the one who walked into the Learning Pool office in April 2008 to bring order to the chaos that existed at that time – more self confident, more informed about technology and investment, more assertive, more aware of how to get things done, more experienced, more of an all rounder…but still as sweet, still as stylish and still universally loved by her school chums, the whole of team lovely, our entire customer base and basically anyone who ever meets her.

Go Breda & Catherine – we’re all rooting for you & we can’t wait to see where this takes you.

Addendum to this blog (11 June 2011)

A few people have asked me why Paul & I are so supportive of one of our own star team members thinking about starting her own business…hmm…being a small business owner isn’t just about finding people & extracting your pound of flesh from them over the time they work for you.  It’s also about adding to your local community & giving back where you can, providing careers & challenge for your people and equipping them with the skills they need to go on & do something else.  Learning Pool is 5 years old this summer and we are lucky to have a high performing star team that’s the envy of many other companies.  But after 3 years in a job, people are entitled to try their hand at something else and if they go on to take a stab at being an entrepreneur themselves, Paul & I see that as a perfect 10 scored for ourselves – our work is done & we’ve achieved one of the things we set out to. 

The other day a local entrepreneur I met at a lunch told me how he’d had someone come in to arrange the desks in his company so that everyone could see each others screens – his reason for doing that – so that no-one would be on Facebook during the hours of 9-5.  What did I do – I just sighed a bit to be honest.  He wasn’t interested in what I had to say anyway.  Old fashioned companies with old fashioned opinions – think on.  Your days are probably numbered.

 

Mark Nagurski, Derry’s own Martha Lane Fox – 10 things the two Digital Champions have in common

This week Mark Nagurski started his new role as Derry’s first Digital Champion.  There’s been a lot of interest in and around the appointment and it’s become a whole lot bigger & more prestigious since Derry’s win of the UK City of Culture 2013 competition.  “Digital Champion” is a job title we’d never heard of 5 years ago but it’s becoming increasingly popular.  Other job titles of a similar ilk and in the same type of space would be Brian Halligan’s appointment as “entrepreneur in residence” at MIT or the appointment of Lloyd Davis as “social artist in residence” at the University of London’s Centre for Creative Collaboration.

Mark’s remit is to spend the next two years promoting the burgeoning creative digital sector in the North West of Ireland.

Now I realise that Martha’s job as the UK’s Digital Champion is on a much bigger scale than Mark’s but I thought it would be a bit of fun to spot some similarities between them beyond their shared job title – so here goes:

1.       They are both internet entrepreneurs and have been deeply steeped in the internet and what it means for business and society forever

2.       Neither of them studied a technology subject at university – Martha studied Ancient & Modern History at Oxford and Mark studied International Relations at the LSE

3.       They were both born in the 1970s so they’re both still “young”

4.       They’ll both talk to anyone

5.       They both write extremely well & are articulate in conversation

6.       They love starting things and are serial entrepreneurs

7.       Neither of them have sisters

8.       They are both grafters and will work their backsides off for a cause they believe in

9.       They believe in themselves and their own abilities

10.   They know what they’re talking about and command respect from their audiences and peers.

Good luck in the new role Mark.  I for one am delighted with your appointment and I can’t wait to see the success and opportunity you’ll bring to Derry and the NW in the next couple of years.


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