Blighty has a thriving tech scene. But without a little prior knowledge, it can be difficult to know who the real movers and shakers are. Luckily, EB is on hand to deliver a bite-sized guide to the most influential people on the tech start-up scene today
As a new year dawns, thousands more businesses will be throwing themselves at the mercy of the UK tech ecosystem. In recent years, London has spawned some of the greatest entrepreneurs of a generation. We’re here to tell you about them and other key influencers who know the difference between survival and failure.
As there are too many to reasonably name in a single feature, we’ve decided to spread our power list over the next few issues for your delectation. So kick back, relax and prepare to be inspired.
The tech faces
Michael Acton Smith
Acton Smith came up with his first business idea with university pal Tom Boardman. Together they grew gadget etailer Firebox.com to a multi-million pound business, before Acton Smith left to found online games company Mind Candy. Its first game, Perplex City was a hit among gamers, but a flop financially. But the entrepreneur was to hit the big time with second offering Moshi Monsters. The online kids social network now boasts more than 70 million registered users in 150 territories worldwide. The Moshi merchandise has proved a real money-spinner for Mind Candy: it is now possible to purchase everything from Moshi branded wrapping paper to a Moshi Monsters album (which just went gold – no mean feat considering it had zero promotional airplay.)
Wendy Tan White
The computer science graduate began her career programming assembly control systems before founding website building company Moonfruit in 2000. With Tan White, her husband Joe White and close friend Eirik Petterson at the helm, Moonfruit weathered the economic storm of the early 2000s. Having scaled back back for a couple of years, Moonfruit re-emerged stronger than ever and by 2012 had build 5 million sites and 230,000 online shops. The company was sold to Yell for £23m in May 2012.
‘Queen of start-ups’ Bindi Karia was the UK VC and emerging business lead for Microsoft for nearly five years before announcing a move to Silicon Valley Bank. As you might imagine, she is one influential lady. She’s been a permanent fixture of the Wired UK Top 100 Digital Power Broker list from 2010 to 2012, was named one of the IoD’s Six Most Connected Women in the UK and spoke at TEDxAthens 2012. As if this wasn’t all enough, Karia was one of the mentors on BBC Three’s Be Your Own Boss.
Meyer first burst onto London’s bustling tech scene in 1998 when she co-founded business network First Tuesday. After selling the company for a princely $50m (£32m) in 2000, she spearheaded a new model for financing entrepreneurs by setting up investment firm Ariadne Capital with 60 entrepreneurs as founding investors. Since the company’s inception, Meyer has led investment rounds worth £300m and advised tech behemoths such as Skype, Monitise and Zopa. She’s not just good with numbers, either: in her 2012 book, Welcome to Entrepreneur Country, Meyer sets out her vision for an entrepreneur-led Britain in 2020.
Gowers is the founder and CEO of Everyclick, a loyalty and fundraising technology company. To date, Gowers and her team have raised more than £3m for charity. The company’s latest development is Give As You Live, which can turn every purchase made online into additional funds for any shopper’s favourite UK cause, without asking anyone to spend a penny more. The entrepreneur’s philanthropic endeavours were recognised by none other than HRH Queen Elizabeth in May last year, when Gowers was awarded an OBE.
Even if the average member of the public doesn’t know the name Errol Damelin, they’ll certainly be very familiar with his oeuvre. As one of the early pioneers of the online payday loan, his start-up Wonga has revolutionised how we see consumer lending. Not only that, but Wonga shouted Tube transport for every New Year’s reveller in London in 2010 – definitely the sort of techniques needed to ensure your business is an indelible part of the UK tech culture.
Most famous for founding Lastminute.com with Martha Lane Fox in 1998, Hoberman’s current business, Mydeco.com, a furnishing site, keeps him busy. He has also flexed his investor muscles as one of the founders of Profounders Capital and has recently joined the board of mobile music recognition service Shazam. A nod to his more artistic side, Hoberman is also a governor of the University of the Arts, London.
Marsh is highly decorated; he’s got degrees from Harvard and Cambridge and spent three years at Index Ventures, the venture capital firm behind Skype and MySQL. His enterprise onefinestay helps people find a little taste of home in a strange town by matching them with high-end properties whose owners are away. Additionally, Marsh’s bow has more than its fair share of extra strings – for example, writing for tech, media and politics mag The Kernel.
After the success of eCourier.co.uk, Bregman took a more lateral approach than his co-founder and decided his next start-up should be based around delivering people rather than post. Transport app Hailo helps match customers with cabs and raised $17m in its series-A funding in 2012. If that’s not impressive enough, in the Times ‘100 to Watch in 2012’ Bregman was judged to be more influential than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
What this entrepreneur doesn’t know about events is not worth knowing. Having held a senior position at Ticketmaster, Cohen started and ran the international division of dating site Match.com – one of the world’s largest dating sites. He launched ticket reselling company Seatwave in February 2007 as an alternative to grubby street touting. Now an angel investor and mentor, the tech whizz is a mentor at Seedcamp and a sponsor at Devcamp. It goes without saying he is a huge sport and music fan. Lucky, that.
Three wise, bearded men meeting and bonding over a mutual love of beer, beards and London’s start-up technology ecosystem. This kicked off the journey toward Digital Sizzle, the celebrated BBQ and bonding network event for the tech community that has been attended by some of the Roundabout’s biggest stars – such as Mind Candy founder Michael Acton Smith. With their fingers’ firmly on the pulse of technology happenings in the UK, these lads are veritable mines of information and are extraordinarily well-connected.
Describing herself as ‘Spanish-blooded, Aussie-born, London-headquartered and San Francisco-based’, Navarro is a truly international tech champion. Her enterprise Skimlinks helps online businesses raise income using affiliate links and has won a whole host of awards including best new business at the NMA Effectiveness Awards in 2009. Not only has she revolutionised the way content producers make their living, but she’s also put together a pretty convincing treatise on why Buffy of vampire slaying fame is perhaps the archetypal entrepreneur.
This affable chap is so well connected that his Twitter followers count among them none other than US president Barack Obama. Barrett is behind several start-up schemes that provide help and guidance to young entrepreneurs, including the Make Your Mark With a Tenner campaign (now called Tenner). He’s also responsible for the UK’s hi-tech trade missions to New York and Silicon Valley. The former Butlins redcoat’s raison d’etre is connecting likeminded people – and he does it with a smile and grace second to none.
Online-shopping delivery service Shutl claims its founder and CEO Tom Allason had his first taste of entrepreneurship attempting to make fake IDs. Perhaps not the most showbiz start but he’s made up for it since then. Not content with flipping the world of couriered delivery upside down with Jay Bregman with their start-up eCourier.co.uk, Allason turned his sights on delivery for the e-commerce market with Shutl and achieved plenty of recognition, netting the Guardian’s Breakthrough Technology Award in 2011 and start-up of the year at the 2012 National Business Awards.
To say Yiannopoulos divides opinion is an understatement. When finally given the boot from his column at the Telegraph (it wasn’t the first time), the outspoken hack founded The Kernel when he couldn’t find a publication he wanted to write for. Celebrating its first birthday back in December, The Kernel is now the go-to location for news on technology, politics, media and a bit of pop-culture thrown in for good measure. A controversial figure, perhaps, but Yiannopoulos firmly cemented his position of power when named one of 100 most influential people in the UK’s digital economy by Wired two years in a row.