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From grey matter to something that matters

Written by Lex Deak on Friday, 03 June 2016. Posted in Start-up Diaries

Building a thriving business requires both inspiration and perspiration. Lex Deak, founder and CEO of OFF3R, explains how the spark of an idea can become a startup that burns bright

From grey matter to something that matters

In my experience, the purest and clearest vision of a new venture comes right at the moment the idea forms in one’s mind. Like a cerebral big bang, the idea occurs and evolves in huge scale and detail within a few moments. The synapses in one’s brain subconsciously piece together fragments of knowledge, network and opportunity to give the creator a clear picture of the problem and what needs to be built in order to solve the problem. But this is the easy bit.

Assuming the idea wasn’t conceived after one too many at the pub, the next stage involves planning, research and further exploration into the feasibility of the idea. In many cases, the journey ends here, as one discovers that the idea may be sound but not commercially viable or, more often than, not that somebody else has already done something pretty damn similar. Then you face the fun decision of whether to imitate and tweak or to take your hat off to the sharp cookie that’s beaten you to it.

OFF3R was born under the name tendr and the idea came quite simply whilst daydreaming. It’s when we are daydreaming that the mind is free to wander creatively and this is where many solutions are found. Innovation lives at the point where spheres of knowledge overlap and you need to be in the right frame of mind to access this properly. For some it happens in the pub. For others it’s up a mountain. For most of us though, it’s when you encounter something frustrating and decide to fix it.

What did I know about that needed fixing?

Not long before I came up with the idea behind OFF3R, I had recently launched a new business in partnership with Quintessentially called QVentures, an invitation-only investment club for the most liquid and sophisticated investors in the early-stage equity market. In starting the venture, I soaked up loads of knowledge about the alternative investment market, about how to operate a platform and all of the pain points involved.

As a technology entrepreneur, I had hoped that QVentures would operate almost autonomously via an online platform, enabling us could scale out quickly and in line with the advantages that technology-driven businesses allow. With an average investment size of £160k per investor per deal and a network of just under 400 members, it quickly became clear that QVentures was a network based on real-world relationships, personal account management and trust. But whilst this evidently enables it to create real value, it was clearly not going to be a technology business.

It’s good to talk

At around the same time, I remember feeling overwhelmed with the number of new investment platforms that were emerging – from equity to debt- and property-based platforms. It felt that the alternative investment space was becoming harder to navigate for investors seeking greater returns and better deal flow. Through my experiences with QVentures, I had built friendships with many of the leading platform owners and spent time talking through the shared challenges and opportunities we faced as entrepreneurs in the sector.

So, after much chin-wagging, it was clear that there was a genuine need for aggregation. Rather than just flooding investor inboxes, there needed to be a dedicated channel that allowed investors to easily stay abreast of opportunities from multiple platforms. A seed was sown.

Having brokered over 30 deals myself prior to and subsequently via QVentures, I observed that the first communication made to an investor is key. The message needs to be ultra-concise yet possess all of the key detail. At this stage, the process is pretty much a binary consideration; the issuer just needs to know whether it’s of interest or not. A no is fine as long as it’s a quick no – time is ultimately the most precious commodity for any of us.

Lastly, as an avid reader of the technology and enterprise press, I noticed an increasing number of Tinderisations hitting the market. Entrepreneurs were adapting the UI of Tinder and applying it to their verticals; this offered a simple and familiar method for their users to scan the high-level detail of a whatever they were selling. I remember thinking how lucky some businesses were to be able to build such a simple and effective tool into their product, then quite flippantly I considered what it might look like to present an investment opportunity in such a succinct way. As I started to ask myself questions, I found that the answers arrived pretty quickly and that I was started to get more and more excited about the prospect.

Let’s get on with it then

The idea for version one of OFF3R came together through the realisation that there was a need for aggregation of investment opportunities, that it was important to build a clear and concise channel for this and that the UI was friendly and mobile first. I very quickly sought the advice and support of platform owners, stakeholders in QVentures and industry influencers and set about finding the best talent to bring bring a minimum viable product to life. And, within three months, OFF3R was born. 

About the Author

Lex Deak

Lex Deak

Deak is one of the UK’s leading experts on investment. In June 2015, he launched OFF3R, the world’s first mobile crowdfunding aggregator. The platform has been heralded as the ‘Tinder of crowdfunding’ and helps users discover and track the best opportunities across 30 leading platforms. Deak is also the founder of QVentures, a private investment company that has raised over £35m for 30 companies and has 60 satellite offices around the world.

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