Tag Archives: Rocket Internet

Finding a tech co-founder is like trying to get married

26 Sep

Keep CalmBeing the “business guy” trying to find a tech co-founder is tough, that’s well known. However, I think I underestimated just how tough it really is in practice until I began to try and find someone myself.

Ever since I was a Seedcamp finalist, the main feedback I’ve had for my startup, Satago, when I’ve been talking to investors, has been “it looks very interesting, but we wouldn’t invest unless you have a technical co-founder”.

I don’t blame them. The argument of course is that you would be wary to invest in a technology-based company where nobody in the company knows the code. You need to have someone in the team that can fix a crashed server at 3am, or burn the midnight oil to hit a new feature deadline.

To date I have been using a contractor to build Satago, and whilst he is very good (one of the best developers I’ve worked with to be honest, but sadly based very far away from me in Russia) the fear is that without the large chunk of equity that a co-founder would be working towards, he could just down tools, and then Satago would grind to a halt.

To everyone that asks me how the cofounder search is going, I tell them it is like deciding you need to get married in the next few months, but you’re still single. One probably could find a mail-order bride quite quickly, but it would most likely be an unhappy marriage and end badly. Instead I need to try and do some high-throughput dating (slutty much?), and find someone that I can have a lasting relationship with (well, at least for the next 3-5 years).

So far I have been jilted at the altar a few times. I have very high standards, and so the potential co-founders that I am attracted to, and want to get on-board, are of course very high-calibre. When you’re a talented tech guy, you’re never short on offers and so far my almost-co-founders have decided each time the other iron in their fire is hotter for them. It’s starting to hurt my feelings.

I'm a guy, but you get my point...

I’m a guy, but you get my point…

Asides from reaching out to my own network, which includes some very talented technical guys, and networking my ass off, I have also listed my “co-founder wanted” plea on a couple of UK/European websites, including WorkinStartups. What’s been encouraging, is that the people that have got back to me have have usually said that I am about the most credible startup that they have seen on there.

So what are my and Satago’s credentials?

Raised £30k on Seedrs (60 investors!) to build my MVP.

Have a working MVP with beta-testers using it, and very good feedback from them.

Finalist at Seedcamp in Berlin (this has been the main filter for people that have contacted me – if it’s good enough for Seedcamp to look at it’s good enough for them to look at too).

Interest in Satago at Government-level (two meetings at Downing Street to-date).

Downing Street

Me at Downing Street to discuss Satago and late-payment to small businesses.

I just got very close to a term-sheet from a Tier 1 VC fund for a seed-investment, but after many meetings with them they decided I was too high-risk as a solo non-tech guy. That I got so far with these guys was great validation in my mind.

Lastly, some really cool top-secret things coming next month!

I worked for Rocket Internet for 2 years (that’s either, “nice, he’ll be good at business execution” or “herp, derp, evil German cloners! Fetch the pitchforks!”) and an MBA from Oxford University (that’s either “cool, useful degree from a good university”, or “begone foul-MBA, for ye are pure evil and do not know what a startup is”). I also have a PhD in Genetics, and while not especially useful for a internet startup, it does mean I too can hack code, just not computer code (ok, really I’m hoping it appeals at an intellectual nerd-to-nerd level). Also, I’m fairly certain I’m not an obnoxious guy, so hopefully it’s not my personality putting people off!

I’ve looked at a couple of these founder-matching websites, but they seem to be a bit US-focussed, and of course I seem not to have made the grade for the..uhhh…. “illustrious” FounderDating.com.

I do have a few good networking opportunities in the next couple of months so maybe something will come from that. I’m also thinking about organising a couple of founder speed-dating events in London and Berlin next month. I’d select 10 high-quality, credible “non-tech founders” with more than just an idea in their head and invite any tech guys that are looking for interesting co-founder opportunities.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this and you’re interested in helping me tackle the problem of late-payment to freelancers and small businesses, please get in touch (Berlin, London, Oxford or Scotland – all good to me). Satago is built with Java, with Tapestry framework and PostgreSQL database. Of course one thing I have found (and I expected anyway) is that most of the young, entrepreneurial developers are PhP or Ruby guys. Most Java experts (at least the ones I’ve spoken to) are from banking and already very well paid, so it’s quite a leap for them to consider a startup. I’m not committed to staying with Java – I’d prefer to stick with it since it’s already working well, but for the right co-founder of course we could move to any language.


Leaving the Rocket ship

29 Jun
Rocket Berlin Bear

Rocket Berlin Bear

After just over a year working at the headquarters of Rocket Internet in Berlin, yesterday was my last day.

When you’re always travelling at rocket-speed, it’s quite difficult to jump off a moving vehicle, but jump I have.

In total I was at Rocket Internet for about 21 months, but given the amount I learnt there I’d say it was more like 3 or 4 years in any other “ordinary” job. It’s been a fascinating time, from my first 8 months working in London launching a specific venture, to my time in Berlin where I had a role that allowed me to see nearly everything that was going on in the Rocket universe.

Rocket has a lot of detractors, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine what it’s like from the outside looking in, but I’d say its reputation has improved over the past year. Perhaps it is more a grudging respect that, whilst we’re not aiming for innovation, we really have entrepreneurship nailed down pretty well.

This recent article in Venturebeat gives one of the best analysis of Rocket that I have read. It was always amusing for us on the inside to be reading speculative articles about Rocket Internet, but this guy has a closer relationship to the firm and as a VC, rather than a random blogger, he has a slightly better perspective. Be sure to read the comments too.

I hope over the next few months to blog a little bit about what it was like at Rocket Internet, to maybe address some of the mis-conceptions.

So what’s next? Well, in a rather unusual twist for someone leaving Rocket Internet, I have decided not to start or launch a “ecommerce startup incubator”, and instead will be launching my own startup, Satago, in London.

Pic is my leaving present from the Finance department at Rocket, one of the most thoughtful leaving presents I’ve ever had!

We apologise for the interuption…

22 Apr

It’s been over a year since my last blog post. Naughty blogger.

The reason for my silence has been a kind of self-imposed personal stealth mode, as I worked on a few things.

Not that I expect the blogosphere has particularly suffered from my absence… nevertheless I would like to get back to blogging my thoughts.

To summarise, the two main events in my professional life have been:

  1. I moved to Berlin, Germany to work at the HQ of Rocket Internet.
  2. I raised some money through Seedrs to build the MVP for the startup idea I developed during my MBA.

I’d like to blog about aspects of both. There’s lots to say. Until I get back up to blogging speed I’m going to repost a couple of posts I published on my personal blog a few years ago that I think are still interesting/relevant.

What I did after the MBA

11 Mar

It’s been a while since I did a blog post, so I thought I should really write a quick update on what I’ve been up to since finishing the MBA last September.

So I was trying to get my own little start-up idea going, but, as I’d already blogged about, I was rapidly running out of runway. Then, seemingly out of the blue, via a classmate, LinkedIn and Skype, an opportunity came along that was too good to turn down.

If I could describe my ideal job (if I was not starting my own company), it would probably be something along the lines of “working for an investment fund, helping them start Internet companies”.

…so I am now Venture Development Director at Rocket Internet, helping them start their Internet companies in the UK. I think that worked out quite well then. 🙂

Rocket Internet has a particular reputation and it’s fair to say it divides opinion. Its critics describe it as a “clone factory”. Here’s a recent article in Wired, “Inside the clone factory“, where one of the fund’s founders gives a rare interview. Make you own mind up.

All I can say is – it’s fascinating being on the inside. I cannot imagine it would be possible to get a better lesson in Internet startup execution. Even Rocket’s most vocal critics would be hard-pressed to deny Rocket are masters of execution.

So does that mean I’ve abandoned my own entrepreneurial ambitions? Of course not! Sometimes it only takes an unexpected spark of inspiration to get me thinking about it all again. What I do know, is that I ever do get back in to another startup of my own, I will be immeasurably better as an entrepreneur thanks to the Rocket experience.