Interview: Skwibble, tell the greatest children's story ever told...their own!

Interview with Skwibble's Founder Birju Pujara.

Birju Pujara, Founder & Chief Skwibbler

 

1. Why did you become an entrepreneur? 

Well, it was never planned. By simply being at the right place at the right time, I ended up working at a friend’s start up. That was in the electronic cigarette industry, where we were one of only three companies. For the next 7 years, we took it from zero to a £22m business. When we got acquired in 2014, I worked for the corporate who bought us out and soon realised that, for me, the fun was over; I discovered my true love happened to be ‘the chase’ – building the product/brand from the ground up; so that’s what I did.

2. What are you like as an entrepreneur?

In my previous role, I quickly figured out what I was good at and, more importantly, what I was bad at. After that, I surrounded myself with the right people to ensure those ideas came to life. So I would say I’m collaborative! I like to bring together the best of everyone to create a ‘dream-team’ for that particular business/problem case.

3. What makes the story of your personal career interesting?

It would be the way in which I came into business – via the electronic cigarette industry. A revolutionary industry like this comes around once in a generation and to have been there from the outset, with zero business knowledge, and then turn it into a company that hired over 80 people in just 7 years was incredible! There was nothing orthodox about how we grew that company and still, in our biggest year, we grew 1000% from the previous year's sales –a truly thrilling experience.

4. What is your biggest professional accomplishment?

I’m sure there are plenty! Whilst this wasn’t the biggest, I remember the feeling it gave me most vividly: After our biggest year at the electronic cigarette company, we tied up a shirt sponsorship deal with Birmingham City Football Club. Now given that I am a Villa fan, it made it bitter-sweet, but seeing the brand we came up with in our small office plastered all over the stadium and people wearing T-Shirts with our brand on; I’d say that was my proudest moment – maybe one day I’ll sponsor Aston Villa and that can knock this off its pedestal! 

5. What is your biggest professional blunder?

Not starting Skwibble earlier. I thought of this idea 10 years ago, when my niece was born, but got so distracted with the other business, I parked it. Yes, the experience I’ve gained from my previous role has certainly made the proposition I have today stronger than it would have been, but I still always find myself questioning what if!

6. What is your dream for your company?

Quite simply, to be the solution for the problem. Having entered the parenting industry, I feel there are so many areas that Skwibble can tackle and improve and I’m hungry to do so on a global scale. In years to come, if I see children looking at their Skwibble Memory Book to see what they got up to as a child, it would be all worth it!

7. Who is your role model and why?

Given my long-term ambition of setting up a charity and solving some of the inequality in the world, I would have to say those Entrepreneurs who built incredible businesses and then devoted much of their time in improving the world are on the top of the list. I think my top 3 would have to be Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Manoj Bhargava. 

8. What motivates you?

The two major motivators for me are:

charity – building a successful product which can, in some way, improve the world is a huge motivator for me. We already have plans on how we can bring charity into the Skwibble proposition in the future. 

The success in building something from nothing. There is something special about taking an idea and creating something substantial from that. I always liken it to the idea of physically building something from scratch – there is a wonderful sense of achievement when it’s completed and there for the world to see.

9. Why crowdfunding and why with Invesdor?

I’ve always been keen on crowdfunding for Skwibble as I think it’s the right fit for the company. I envisage that we will need more funding as the company grows and the idea of having the product put in front of so many investors at such an early stage is great for exposure, if nothing else.

Invesdor stood out to me as the best platform for Skwibble, considering this was my first crowdfunding raise that I’d ever done. I found that as a ‘newbie’ they were great at helping you along the way to give you the best chance of success. It wasn’t just about giving us advice, but in many cases they provided the necessary tools too. 

10. Why would you invest in your company? Give three reasons.

There is a clear gap in the market for a product like this – parents at the moment are pushed to products that aren’t really made for them and therefore aren’t getting the great experience that they should be.

We appeal to a very captive, ever-changing and growing market: parents. 

Probably the most important of them all – it’s fun! It’s an exciting project to be involved in and, for much of the creative part, you find the biggest success when bringing your inner child out to play! It’s easy to be innovative when you enjoy what you’re doing! 

How FinTech can seize the Brexit moment

The UK government formally triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, signaling the start of formal negotiations for Britain to leave the EU. The opportunities and openings are there, so let's find them.

invesdor2.jpeg

The UK government formally triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, signaling the start of formal negotiations for Britain to leave the EU.

(Unless you have been living under a rock, you undoubtedly know this.)

In an anecdote that I swear is related, the humble kangaroo – the unofficial symbol of Australia – cannot jump backwards. It can only, physically, jump forwards.

So, let’s be kangaroos. Let’s find the opportunities and openings. They’re there. And if you’re a start-up in FinTech, it could start with the UK Digital Strategy.  

 

The UK Digital Strategy

The government’s long-awaited UK Digital Strategy was released last month and detailed how the UK will innovate and nurture tech talent to provide a robust post-Brexit infrastructure across many facets of the country. It contained several goals, including:

  • building a world-class digital infrastructure
  • helping every British business become a digital business
  • unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use
  • building a safe and secure cyberspace

FinTech – in its numerous and variable forms – will naturally underpin much of this, with the government looking in particular at solutions based in blockchain and artificial intelligence. Indeed, the UK is relying on FinTech to drive its post-Brexit economy and innovation. But government can be a notoriously difficult nut to crack, so what does the UK Digital Strategy mean in practice for start-ups looking to tap into these initiatives? Here are a few ways in:

 

FinTech Week UK 2017

A UK-government sponsored FinTech Week will take place in April, with the Innovate Finance Global Summit on April 10th and 11th. This summit “will convene the start-ups, investors, regulators and institutions shaping the global FinTech agenda.” With over 2000 expected attendees, 100 speakers, the inaugural Pitch360 demos and Innovate Finance’s 300+ member companies, the summit aims to bring the global FinTech community together in London. Apply to attend here.

 

Bank of England FinTech Accelerator

The Strategy lists the Bank of England FinTech accelerator as an essential component of its programme to create a robust financial infrastructure.  Created in 2016 to help harness FinTech innovations for central banking, the Bank of England recently chose two start-ups for its proof-of-concept programme, one in blockchain to demonstrate the synchronised movement of two different currencies across two different real-time gross settlement systems and one in AI to detects anomalies in financial transactions (it’s worth mentioning that neither start-ups are from the UK, but from the US and Canada). The Bank has announced that the next competition round will open some time this spring – follow their Twitter or LinkedIn accounts for updates.

 

Digital Catapult Centre

The Catapult Programme is “a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth.” Four Digital Catapult Centres across the UK are part of this, driving “growth in the UK economy through the practical application of digital innovation and culture.”

It runs a number of events, including open calls for applications on a range of innovations including IoT, data, retail and more. It also convenes what it calls “pit stops,” a highly focused open innovation activity designed to accelerate the growth of new ideas, which includes start-ups, SMEs, academics and innovators. The Centres are located in Brighton, Northern Ireland, NETV, and Yorkshire. Check out their website for more information.

These are just a sampling of the initiatives that will foster new technology and innovation in the UK. Across government, private and public sector, and investment, there are still a range of opportunities for start-ups in FinTech – and indeed, in any tech – to make their mark.

Onwards, upwards, and forwards.

 

Are you a start-up in FinTech, blockchain, and/or AI? Get in touch!

GayleObrien

About the author:
Gayle O’Brien started her writing career during Web 1.0 and still appears to be standing. After multiple stints in-house and agency side, her writing now focuses on start-ups, technology, and innovation. A dual citizen of the US and UK, Gayle divides her time between Massachusetts and south-east England.

What’s in store for Equity Crowdfunding in 2017?

The World Bank has estimated the equity crowdfunding industry will be worth more than $93 billion worldwide by 2025.  Given this staggering figure, we take a look at what 2017 has in store for the equity crowdfunding industry.

As 2017 rattles onwards, the world recovers from volatile year for the spheres of finance and politics.  Nonetheless, the equity crowdfunding industry continues to evolve in exciting and dynamic ways, with alternative finance democratizing investment. As equity crowdfunding continues to alleviate traditional barriers to investment, the World Bank has estimated the industry will be worth more than $93 billion worldwide by 2025.  Given this staggering figure, we take a look at what 2017 has in store for the equity crowdfunding industry.

 

Success Stories

The industry’s biggest success stories to date consist of the first successful exits, which entailed the suggestion by Massolution that equity crowdfunding is set to pass surpass VC investment in 2016.

At present, the current largest factor determining the spread of equity crowdfunding is regulation.  2016 saw witnessed its spread amid significant economies.  For example, as the JOBS Act’s Title III came into effect in June 2016 in the US, the next era of early stage companies able to use crowdfunded equities (up to a $1 million limit) was advanced. 

Subsequently to this, Indiegogo, the rewards-based crowdfunding platform, has declared its run into the domain of equity crowdfunding (it has amassed a staggering $1 billion to date for rewards-based projects).  At present, the US has 20 platforms in operation, but Indiegogo’s announcement heralds the beginning of a new era for ECF in America.

The US is now running neck-to-neck with the liberal regulation previously set by the UK and the rest of the EU.  Once its industry has expanded and the regulations continue to expand, the dominance of the industry will be complete. 

 

A Paradigm Shift

Another paradigm shift for the ECF industry has been the proliferation of investment aggregators. These businesses, like Access Invest, organize deals across the full spectrum of platforms.  These platforms herald the manner in which equity crowdfunding has begun to target retail investors and accommodate prospective investors more easily, in order to readily welcome those uninitiated to the industry.

Beyond the general approach of Access Invest are more specialized platforms like Connected Investors, which support real-estate prospects.  These companies that create an “aggregated crowdfunding marketplace” expose the services and potentials of equity crowdfunding to more investors than before, and help equity crowdfunding platforms reach even more customers.  Crowd Rabbit has likewise used this aggregation model, without restrictive fees, attaining revenues through other means.  These businesses and this innovation reflects the democratic nature of equity crowdfunding as a whole, and their proliferation should be encouraged as the landscape continues to encompass different investor types and new terrains.

As most investors typically wait five years before seeing returns from equity crowdfunding, the next few years look set to provide some fascinating exits, as the industry continues to assert its viability.  When Camden Town Brewery was acquired by Anheuser-Beusch In Bev, the biggest drinks company in the world, once it had raised £2.75 million via Crowdcube, the sizeable returns of equity crowdfunding are no longer in doubt.

While we await the final assessment of 2016 growth for equity crowdfunding, these signs indicate excellent growth for 2017. With more advanced crowdfunding services, improved regulation and more exits than before, this is a dynamic era for the equity crowdfunding industry.

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RichardWiltens

About the author
Richard Andrée Wiltens is a commentator within the fintech sector, who has written for an array of international investment platforms. His career has spanned from investment banking to financial technology firms, backed by an education in economics and finance.

How BlueJay turns your smartphone into a radio station

How did the idea of BlueJay Music come about, and what challenges and learnings have come out of the development journey? We talked to father-and-son team Peter and Sam Shore to find out.

BlueJay is an app that enables users to live stream a playlist of their favourite songs directly from their mobile device to anyone – from close friends to an audience of thousands – in a real-time and interactive environment that includes group chat. The start-up is currently fundraising on Invesdor. But how did the idea come about, and what challenges and learnings have come out of the development journey? We talked to father-and-son team Peter and Sam Shore to find out.

Peter Shore has worked in the telecom, media and tech sector for more than 30 years. His varied and successful career includes spearheading several start-ups and tech companies in Australia, and an eight-year stint as Chairman of Arqiva, the UK's owner of television and mobile phone infrastructure. He is currently also a Director of Cellnex, the largest independent owner of mobile telecom assets in Europe.

His son, Sam Shore, originates from Sydney and has been based in London for six years. Sam’s career background is equally diverse – a former professional footballer, his business background is based in finance and technology advisory.

 

“I always wanted the challenge of a start-up”

However, he knew that a long-term career in finance was not for him. “Finance felt a little like being on the outer rim of where the real action was,” he said. “I was always interested in the opportunity and challenge of running a smaller start-up business. I knew that it was really only a matter of time before I made a change.”

As a pair, both have been interested in the capability of new technologies to fundamentally transform businesses. “We had seen it across many industries,” said Sam, “and it was clear that the improvements in software development, moving large quantities of data around, and the ability to process huge amounts of information would provide many, many opportunities.”

 

Crowdsourcing playlists

It was while both were working together on a project in San Francisco that they became involved in a discussion about how most music listening today – even online – is done alone, without social engagement or the ability to share the experience in real time. “At first the idea was about crowdsourcing playlists for physical parties,” explained Sam. “But it soon morphed into an idea of crowdsourcing a playlist for a global party.”

As the pair researched the idea’s viability, what started as a simple proposition immediately brought complexity, including grey areas around licensing and the technology required to deliver the solution. But they rose to the challenge and the product evolved, resulting in a patent application for their developed technology, which turns a smartphone into an internet radio station.

“It led us eventually to design more of a radio type service where you can set up, in principle, an unlimited number of personal radio stations with an unlimited number of listeners, listening together and engaging socially with each other,” said Sam.

It took a few months to specify and design the product to optimise the customer experience and make it sensible from a commercial viewpoint. They began building the product in India, but eventually moved the development to and completed the project in Australia.

Peter explains why. “Whether you build in India, Australia, Eastern Europe or the UK, I think there’s always a trade-off between costs of development, the amount of management overhead and the complexity of communications these different options throw up,” he said.

 

A new dimension to online music

The result? A new dimension to online music. With BlueJay, users can live stream a playlist of their favourite songs from their mobile device to anyone – from close friends to an audience of thousands – in a real-time and interactive environment that includes group chat. The product is now live and available on the iOS and Android platforms. “No other product today allows you to run your own radio station from your pocket,” said Sam, who is also BlueJay’s CEO.

 

Fundraising with Invesdor

BlueJay is raising money to accelerate its growth and has many product developments in the pipeline. “For example, we’d like our users to be able to source their playlists from anywhere and not just their song files,” said Peter, “and we are working on that.”

BlueJay was introduced to Invesdor at pitching competition TechPitch 4.5, of which Invesdor is a partner. “The first few meetings were very straight forward, which is what we are like,” said Sam. “It was an easy decision to partner with Invesdor."

Currently well into its funding round (with over 70% of the target goal achieved), BlueJay has clear goals for the money in mind. “We are really focusing on two things: 1. building the user base and 2. continuing to improve the product and customer experience. That’s going to take up the vast majority of the funds,” said Sam.

In the meantime, Peter and Sam are running a lean business model where most of the key functions – such as development and marketing – are contracted to experienced companies, enabling the BlueJay team to ramp resources up and down depending on need. “Over time we will probably appoint more full time staff, but we are very happy with our current relationships,” said Sam. “The CEOs of the technical development and marketing companies have joined our Advisory Board; our Board is extremely strong for a company of our size and provides tremendous advice to the management.”

“BlueJay is exactly what we look for when partnering with a start-up for an equity crowdfunding campaign,” said Henrik Ottosson, Senior Advisor for Invesdor UK. “The team’s experience is varied and vast, their passion is palpable, and the technology is ground-breaking. They will go far.”

 

 Find out more about BlueJay’s campaign here.

Are you a start-up who wants to fundraise with Invesdor? Get in touch.

GayleOBrien

About the author:
Gayle O’Brien started her writing career during Web 1.0 and still appears to be standing. After multiple stints in-house and agency side, her writing now focuses on start-ups, technology, and innovation. A dual citizen of the US and UK, Gayle divides her time between Massachusetts and south-east England.

How to spot a profit opportunity, part 1

Both newcomers to the investment game and experienced investors understand there is no perfect alchemy to choosing the perfect startup or business. How then, to establish the next big profit opportunity?

profitopportunity

Both newcomers to the investment game and experienced investors understand there is no perfect alchemy to choosing the perfect startup or business.  Whether you are assessing startups or more established companies, the promise of success cannot be determined by any single factor.  How then, to establish the next big profit opportunity? With vying companies pitching their prospectuses with enthusiasm and a wealth of online financial advisors, for both novice and experienced investors, this is a tricky task. However, the below traits, while not conclusive, may be helpful for uncovering the next big thing.

 

Market Need

First and foremost – look at the market need of the industry in which the company operates, and determine whether the business or service will resolve a problem without a current solution. The importance of establishing market need for startups was reviewed by CB Insights and KPMG, who researched over 100 startups’ reasons for failure.  The prevailing reason, responsible for 42% of the companies’ failure, was a lack of market need.

This striking statistic suggests that independent research is necessary into the industry – look at their competitors, stories of failure from within the industry, assess independent surveys and studies. The marketing materials of the company will doubtless paint their place in the market positively, but to invest with confidence demands objective, neutral insights into where the company stands.

 

Strategy

Next, look at the strategy the company looks to pursue – which is comprised of its ownership, its management, and its exit plan.  Any company that fails to fully educate prospective investors on these structural components does not have a sound strategy.  Though it may seem overly ambitious, it’s not inappropriate to ask about the exit strategy, the company’s plans/timetable/pathway towards this. 

Likewise, if you’re a hands-on investor, then feel free to request more information about the makeup, background and experience of the team.  Startups are the sum of their teams’ talents – they demand both a strong vision and capable employees.  Similarly, researching the ownership structure is well within your purview, as it’s important to understand there is no controversy over ownership, whether copyright or otherwise, and to make sure there are no threats to a stable investment.

 

Risk

Lastly, understand the risks that are inherent when looking to invest in this particular type of company and industry. Traditionally speaking, there are several ‘buckets’ of risk that impinge on the success of startups.

Firstly, the ‘company’ bucket, demanding investors look at the risks tied to the company’s founders and expertise. Next, assess the industry’s risk – consider whether their service is sustainable in the long term?  Within tech startups especially, there can be insurmountable barriers when it comes to both regulation and technological advancements.  Then, look to the financial risks – the timing of the company’s raise, what their likely valuation will be, and whether, in the long-term, IPO is possible or even likely.  Evidently, it would require a fortune teller to predict the state of the industry in the five to seven years by which your investment will be liquid, but by following the above steps you at least shore yourself up against some of the risk.

The above criteria are but a few available to help determine profit opportunities.  Market need, strategy and risk are valuable considerations when discussing the company’s structure and the nature of the individuals attached to it.  Informed investors are the most successful ones, so be sure to seek independent financial advice, and make sure to revise all prospectuses provided to you with heavy scrutiny.

 

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RichardAndreeWiltens

About the author
Richard Andrée Wiltens is a commentator within the fintech sector, who has written for an array of international investment platforms. His career has spanned from investment banking to financial technology firms, backed by an education in economics and finance.

Interview: BlueJay Music, the social radio app

Invesdor UK sat down with BlueJay Music, the social radio app, to discuss the company's origins and trajectory.

BlueJayMusic

Invesdor UK sat down with BlueJay Music, the social radio app, to discuss the company's origins and trajectory. For more information on BlueJay, remember to also read the pitch.

 

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Can we start by talking about BlueJay’s founders – your full names and your respective professional stories/backgrounds (especially as they relate to BlueJay)?

Full names are Leonard Peter Shore and Samuel Jordan Shore.

Peter Shore, chairman

Peter Shore, chairman

Peter:
There’s two of us. We are a father and son team. We founded BlueJay together and have both been working on the business for about two years.

I’ve been based in London for ten years and have been in the telecom, media and tech sector for more than 30 years. From 2007-15 I was Chairman of Arqiva, the UK's owner of television and mobile phone infrastructure. 

I started in the industry in Australia, where I was eventually the head of Telstra’s consumer business and a director of Foxtel, the Pay TV business.

I was also Chairman/CEO of a number of start-ups and early stage, listed tech companies in Australia - including Hostworks, Unwired, and Uecomm and I was Chairman of Lonely Planet from 2004-07.

I am currently also a Director of Cellnex, which is a listed company in Spain and the largest independent owner of mobile telecom assets in Europe.


Sam:
I’m the CEO and have been working full time on the business for two years.

Sam Shore, CEO

Sam Shore, CEO

I’ve been based in London for six years, but originally from Sydney. I have a background in finance here in London for three years and I also undertook some technology advisory work. Before that I spent around 5 years playing football professionally.

I felt that working in finance was a little bit like being on the outer of where the real action was – where real businesses were being built and run, and after a few years I knew that it was really only a matter of time before I made a change. I was always interested in the opportunity and challenge of running a smaller start-up business.
 

How did BlueJay come about? Was there a particular experience that led to a lightbulb moment or to you spotting the market gap?

We had both been very interested in the capability of new technologies to fundamentally transform business. We had seen it across many industries and it was clear that the improvements in software development, in moving large quantities of data around and in the ability to process huge amounts of information, would provide many, many opportunities to give things to customers in new ways that they would really enjoy.

We were both in San Francisco working on a project with someone we’d known a long time when we became involved in a discussion about music and the lack of an ability to listen to music together, and to have some social engagement.  At first that lead to ideas about crowd sourcing playlists for physical parties.

But it soon morphed into an idea, if you like, of a global party where people could crowd source a playlist. The complexities of that and the challenge of licensing in a grey area led us eventually to design more of a radio type service – where you can set up, in principle, an unlimited number of personal radio stations with an unlimited number of listeners – and can listen together and engage socially with each other.
 

Once you had the idea, where did you start? (Canvassed opinion, built an MVP, etc.)

It took a few months to specify and design the product to optimise the customer experience and make it sensible from a commercial viewpoint.

We also began building the product in India, but eventually we moved the development. Whether you build in India, Australia, Eastern Europe or the UK, I think there’s always a trade-off between costs of development and the amount of management overhead and the complexity of communications these different options throw up.

We eventually completed the project with a team in Australia.

It was a complex product that broke new ground – we researched patent rights worldwide and we have proceeded to apply for a patent for the process of turning a phone into an internet radio station.
 

What is BlueJay’s core proposition?

The core proposition is that BlueJay adds a new dimension to online music. A user can live stream a playlist of their favourite songs from their mobile device to anyone – from close friends to an audience of thousands – in a real-time and interactive environment that includes group chat.
 

What value does it offer to its users that they can’t get elsewhere?

Most music listening today – even online – is done alone. There is no real listening together or social engagement.

And no product today allows you to run your own radio station from your pocket.
 

Tell us a bit about its development, especially the app and the licensing negotiations

The development took longer than we would have wanted but as explained above it was complex and resulted in a patent application. And licensing is a complex process – we will license in jurisdictions other than the UK, but we would hope to be able to do that in a relatively straight forward way as we fit the requirements of a webcast service.
 

What is the status of BlueJay right now? (Customers, employees, development) How are you hoping to scale and grow, and what is your go-to-market plan?

The product is now developed and available on the iOS and Android platforms. We are raising money to accelerate the growth and, of course, there are many product developments in the pipeline – for example, we’d like our users to be able to source their playlists from anywhere not just their song files – and we are working on that.

We have a very lean model where most of the key functions are contracted – such as development and marketing – to companies that are very experienced in these areas – and we can ramp the resources up and down depending on what we need. Over time we will probably appoint more full time staff but we are very happy with our current relationships. The CEOs of the technical development and marketing companies have joined our Advisory Board. This Board is extremely strong for a company of our size and provides tremendous advice to the management.
 

Tell us how you came to meet Invesdor and what the process of working with them has been like.

We were introduced to Invesdor via a common friend. The first few meetings were very straight forward - which is what we are like.  We had both had fundraising experience before. We didn’t feel the need to spend a long time agonising over the decision to use Invesdor.
 

You’ve just announced a £300K fundraising round. What will you do with this funding if you achieve it?

We are really focusing on two things – build the user base – and continue to improve the product and customer experience. That’s going to take up the vast majority of the funds.
 

You have a unique view into the start-up ecosystem in the UK amidst Brexit uncertainty. Have you felt the impact of this? Is the UK still a good place to be a start-up?

I think for us right now, it remains ok. People are still emotionally engaged in music – they are still going to want to listen and share – and it’s a product we can launch worldwide from here, so we have a big and diverse market. For the time being the UK and London still seems fine. I guess we just don’t know what impact Brexit is going to have in the medium term
 

Anything else?

Thanks for talking to us. 

 

Keep reading about BlueJay at Invesdor.com/bluejay