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This article was published on January 3, 2012

What UK startups need in 2012

What UK startups need in 2012
Paul Sawers
Story by

Paul Sawers

Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check h Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check him out on Google+.

With 2012 now well underway, it’s almost time to stop looking back with a wistful eye on 2011, and instead glance forward to see what 2012 might have in store for us.

We’ve already taken a quick peek with a bunch of forward-looking pieces, covering things such as what 2012 holds for companies such as Google, and broader trends encompassing social media.

Here, we catch up with 13 UK-based startups to get their thoughts on 2011, and what they’d like to see in 2012.

Rich Brown, Great Little Place

We covered Great Little place (GLP) back in October, a crowdsourced startup that’s seeking to help the world find hidden gems (restaurants, bars etc) in their area. Co-founder Rich Brown says that successfully crowdfunding the venture to the tune of £10,000 was the company’s single biggest success of 2011, and the subsequent Web development it enabled.

“We’ve known since starting that we would need a clever website that made it easy for people to find and share great little places,” says Rich. “2010 was mainly about working out what form that product would take, and 2011 has made it possible. It was incredible to feel that we’ve built support that meant we could raise £10k from the public, and from that we’ve been able to design a site that does what we’d hoped we’d be able to do. Up until now GLP has very much been laying the foundations for what’s to come, and it’s great to feel it’s coming together.”

With that in mind, looking forward to 2012 – what is GLP’s one major goal for the year ahead? “2012 will see the launch of our product proper, with a fully functioning site and app to follow”, says Rich. “This is where GLP turns into a real business, and we’re providing genuine utility to our users. Our major goal is to get the site out in the first quarter, build a real noise around it, and start being financially viable enough to make this our full-time pursuit.”

I asked Rich if there was anything that could be done to make their lives as a startup easier in 2012 – this could be at governmental level (e.g. tax breaks, travel allowances), or elsewhere.

“One of the major challenges we’ve had to overcome is, coming from non-tech backgrounds, getting into the tech community and finding people who can build and push our vision – such as getting a CTO,” says Rich. “We’re delighted to have come across someone brilliant, but I think more could be done to unite the brand & product guys and the tech guys – maybe a service that allowed each to find each other. “We need to get people all over the world engaged in the idea, and adding great finds”, he says. “We also need to remain innovative – keep pushing and try new things.”

James Tabor, Bertie and Bean

Bertie and Bean, the UK-based online children’s clothing exchange, first came to our attention last month, and we featured the company on New Year’s Day. “We are targeting a March 2012 launch, but are yet to finalise it” says co-founder James Tabor.

He’s seeing 2012 as the year it will get funding on board and really start to push its platform to the UK masses. “In 2012, Bertie & Bean will be celebrating Christmas by gearing up for our first January marketing push, which we believe will be a key time to promote the service”, says Tabor. What about the funding it hoped to secure following its appearance at Oxygen Accelerator? “Our book is currently open and we expect to complete our round in the early part of 2012,” adds James.

Peter McCormack, Bantr

Bantr is the social network for football fans, which we first reported on in August just as the UK 2011/12 soccer season was about to kick-off. Peter McCormack says that 2011’s biggest success was getting its product live: “Despite all the bugs with the live launch, it was amazing that we built and launched the product in 3 months”, he says. “Essentially the development team fitted 9 months work into 3 months by never leaving their machines.”

Looking forward to 2012, Peter has a good idea where his startup’s focus will lie. “We want to develop our mobile product”, he says. “We are close to understanding what the desktop product needs to be, but now we need to support our users on the move.”

In terms of the company’s biggest challenges looking forward to 2012, Peter says: “Raising our next round of funding. We believe we have built a product which the market needs, we have a core base of users, we now just need to grow that base.”

Steve Callanan, WireWax

WireWax is the taggable video technology platform that we first covered back in September. Looking back on the year gone by, what does co-founder Steve Callanan think was the single biggest success of 2011?

“2011 was an incredible year for WireWax”, says Steve. “We spent the first few months convincing investors to take a look at what we were doing, from Seedcamp Berlin to VCs in New York. But it was in July we received our first round of investment from Passion Capital. Within weeks we stepped up from two, to a team of brilliant guys. We also roused the interest of some major international brands and produced some incredible taggable video projects with the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Rip Curl and Nike.”

Looking forward to 2012, Steve is anticipating a big year ahead. “Early 2012 will be big for WireWax,” he says. “During the last 6 months we’ve been working on some major changes and some incredible technology – our big hope for the year is to let the world go crazy with it and have people create there own amazing interactive video experiences. We can’t wait to see what users will do.”

“The biggest challenge for us in 2012 is letting the world know we exist”, adds Steve. “There’s no point having the greatest technology in the world if nobody ever uses it. Playing a clever and strategic marketing game is just as challenging as building the technology.”

But is there anything that could be done to make their lives easier as a startup? “What’s being done with TechCity is already a huge improvement on government support for tech startups and there’s still much further to go”, says Steve. “We look forward to helping shape that initiative and seeing what it can offer to all tech startups.”

Rich Martell, Floxx

UK entrepreneur Rich Martell is still in his early twenties, but released three location-based apps last year. It’s full-steam ahead for his company Floxx, in 2012, but what does he feel was his single biggest success last year? “2011 was our first year in business”, says Rich. “So our biggest success has been growing the team from just me in January to now having 6 full-time staff in our own office. We released 5 apps/sites last year and raised $500k of funding.”

Looking to the future, it seems that Rich has growth in his sights. “I’d like to expand the team further but not unnecessarily so”, he says. “Our aim in 2012 is to get 6-figure user numbers and maybe even start to find ways to generate revenue.”

Rich also says he’d like to see a reduction or even elimination in National Insurance for the company. “It’s around 20% of our monthly burn”, he says.

In terms of specific challenges they face in the year ahead, Rich continues: ”

The app market is becoming much more competitive. There is a lot of stuff out there that will do the same. The biggest challenge is to remain innovative and excited about producing great looking and working products as always. A big challenge for us always is hiring the best people for the best price we can get them at.”

Tim Morgan, Picklive

We covered UK startup Picklive a couple of times last year, for example when it launched its real-time social fantasy cricket game. I asked Picklive’s Tim Morgan what was the single biggest success last year.

“It sounds strange, but product stability”, says Tim. “The type of live gaming we do is highly volatile and very hard to stabilise. We had fairly frequent product outages in 2010 which is a double whammy when the customer has to wait a full day before they can play again. We don’t have these any more. Nobody has offered social gaming using live data before, so there isn’t a book you can buy on how to do this type of stuff. It’s a credit to our engineers.”

Looking forward to the year ahead, Tim says he wants to continue to spread the good word about his company. “Picklive is like sports/tech best kept secret”, he says. “It’s revolutionized fantasy sports. More people need to know about it.”

I also asked Tim if there was anything that could be done to make their lives easier as a startup in the big, bad tech world. “To be fair to the government, it has created a marvelous environment for startups to succeed,” he says. “The research and development tax credit is particularly helpful. If Facebook would work with smaller gaming companies rather than opening up gambling to only a select few behemoths, that would be marvelous too.”

Alexis Dormandy, Lovethis

Alexis Dormandy from, a platform that lets you garner recommendations from people you trust, says that the biggest success from 2011 was “hiring a very strong team”, but wishes that they’d given up on things that didn’t work a little quicker, whilst he also noted that getting inexperienced/average people on board is a false economy, no matter how cheap.

Looking forward to 2012, Alexis says that the big goal is to launch a new version of their product, and he also pinpointed some key things that could make their lives easier this year too.

“I’d like less admin,” says Alexis. “When you add up all the non-customer/product activity required – VAT, payroll, tax planning, companies house, insurance, bank accounts, arranging credit, office, broadband, paying bills, share options, trademark, legal – a lot of time is spent doing admin that has nothing to do with either getting customers, making a product or making money. It’s a huge overhead, and in a small startup, most of it by its nature needs to be done by the founder.”

Ali Ahmed, Lutebox

Lutebox is a social entertainment hub which launched in alpha back in September. I asked founder Ali Ahmed what he felt was the company’s biggest single success in 2011.

“Although I’d like to say that our biggest achievement so far has been to launch our alpha – which is usually the toughest thing to do – our biggest success for Lutebox has most likely been to sign Sony Music as our launch partners”, he says. “This has not only given us considerable momentum, it has helped in securing investment from angels, and also given us leverage and credibility, especially at an early stage.”

What about 2012? “Our goal is to take Lutebox global in 2012 with the fully functional beta”, adds Ali. “And to continue to build our userbase by offering people something they love to use.”

As for what could be done to make their lives easier, Ali had some thoughts on the issue. “The regulation around the Enterprise Investment Scheme could be revised to better reflect the reality of how startups actually raise finance at an early stage,” he says. “Even the new SEIS scheme does little to address the root issues around eligible shares being only ordinary shares.”

Ali says that Lutebox’s biggest challenges this year relate to growth and recruitment, he says:

“As an early stage startup we’ve got tons of challenges headed our way in the new year, but perhaps two of the biggest will be to scale our user-base, and hire the right people to really drive forward the business.”

Jasper Westaway, Onedrum

Jasper Westaway from Microsoft Office collaboration tool OneDrum reckons that launching the product to market was its single biggest success last year, and 2012 is all about gaining traction, closing deals and starting the revenue-building process. “We’re in pilot at several global top 5 consultancies and we need to close those license deals,” he says.

As for what could be done to make their lives easier in 2012, Jasper echoed the sentiments of Rich from Floxx regarding having to pay National Insurance tax, whilst he also added that bringing San Francisco closer to the UK would be a major boost too.

Alex Chesterman, Zoopla

Zoopla is a UK property listing service, and Alex Chesterman, founder and CEO, says that last year was big in terms of growth. “In 2011, we doubled the size of our business in terms of user traffic, the leads we generate for our customers and our revenues,” he says. “We now get over 350,000 home movers in the UK visiting our website daily and deliver over 20 leads per minute to estate agents across the UK.”

As for what 2012 may bring, Alex hopes to capitalize on its success so far and continue on an upwards trajectory. “Our key goal for 2012 is to continue to grow rapidly and take market share from our competitors,” he says. “We have recently announced a merger with the Digital Property Group to more effectively challenge the dominant market leader, Rightmove, so successfully integrating our businesses following the merger is a major goal for us in 2012.”

Niall McEvoy, Teamer

Teamer, the sports club management platform, recently hit 1 million users and is growing fast. Was this the biggest success of the year? “Hitting the 1 million member mark was a big milestone for us, but there was more,” says Niall. “We also launched our iPhone app, reached the top 3 in the sport iPhone app charts in 4 countries, and we now have active users across 4 different continents, providing a real platform for accelerated growth in 2012.”

Niall added that he hopes this accelerated growth will see his startup double the member base, to more than 2.5m people. I also asked Niall if there is anything he thinks could be done to make their lives easier as a startup in 2012.

“I think the growth funding environment remains strong for solid and scalable Web investments, but the early stage seed environment remains weak, as private investors are increasingly thin on the ground,” he says. “But that is a factor of economic weakness as much as anything else. The government has gone a long way to making it easier for private investors and entrepreneurs to get really strong tax breaks on startup investment, better than in many comparable countries. It’s up to entrepreneurs to put in the hard yards – investment doesn’t find you, you find investment.”

Jessica Butcher, Blippar

Blippar has been an ever-present on The Next Web’s radar throughout 2011, ever since Jessica Butcher gave us a demo of the augmented reality app at the Inspire Conference in London. And in fact, it today announced a new round of seed funding from Qualcomm, acting through its venture investment arm, Qualcomm Ventures.

“Blippar has had an incredible rollercoaster year from zero – business plan musing in the pub in April, through to hero – finishing the year as a profitable business with a client list that includes some of the biggest consumer brands in the world,” says Butcher. “Within 8 months, we have established our position as the default ‘lens’ position within image-recognition AR for marketing.”

Indeed, it was a massive year for Blippar as Butcher notes, securing some big collaborations along the way. Looking forward to 2012, I asked Jessica what their one big goal for the year ahead was. “Global growth and consumer-adoption,” she says. “But if we’re allowed more, high priorities include an improved consumer experience – particularly for Android users – and many more great brand blipp experiences.”

Jessica also noted that 2012 could be made just a little bit easier if bigger companies could pay their invoices on time, whilst she highlighted some of the other big challenges ahead this year.

“Keeping our technology relevant and exciting for consumers will be one challenge”, she says. “We fully expect that the novelty and ‘wow’ factor of augmented reality will diminish as consumers see more of it, and we need to ensure that we work with our brand partners to make the content and ‘reason to blipp’ compelling and relevant, to ensure the mass adoption of smartphone image-recognition as a consumer-behavior.”

Adam Baker, Blottr

People-powered news service Blottr went from strength-to-strength last year, and the last time we caught up founder Adam Baker, he was launching the platform internationally.

So…what were the company’s key moments in 2011? “Two events stand out for me,” says Adam. “The first was raising our first outside financing round in May. The other was the riots in August, which was the catalyst for Blottr being recognised as a credible people-powered news service and catapulted the site to mainstream attention.”

The company’s growth saw traffic rise from 200,000 uniques a month to nearly 2m, and this led to some interesting learnings, mostly around bandwidth, which resulted in intermittent service shortages for a week in October. “That taught us to performance-test more rigorously”, says Adam.

Looking forward to 2012, what is Blottr’s one major goal? “To maintain our consistent growth trends and keep improving across all metrics – traffic, engagement, quality of content, UX and revenue,” says Adam. “We’d love to achieve broad mainstream awareness in 2012 too.”

Adam also noted a few external factors that could help improve life in his startup. “As the ecosystem grows, especially in London, the support mechanisms increase too, which I feel is a hugely valuable resource,” he says. “To be able to connect with like-minded people in similar situations, and those who have experienced success and failure, enables everyone to share and learn. This year, I noticed the number of networking events for tech-related startups increased and I believe a focus on improving the quality of these events will help nurture and bring together the startup community with the common purpose of developing great UK companies.”

“Blottr plans to scale aggressively in 2012 and choosing the right countries to launch into is critical”, adds Adam. “A focus for us, rather than a challenge, is to work more closely with traditional media, many of whom see services like Blottr as disruptive and a challenge to their longer term existence, which is not how we view it. We believe working together for the betterment of the public interest will provide an engaging, well rounded news agenda.”

Roll on 2012…

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