Six months after launching our Founders’ Network Slack group, we’ve seen many of our inspirational members forge new friendships, enter business partnerships and share knowledge and connections with other entrepreneurs on the programme.
And the pace is picking up. With more than 260 founders (and counting) from across the UK chatting online in over 40 channels, the conversation continues to grow as Tech Nation steps up its mission to help founders across the UK imagine, start and grow a digital tech business.
To demonstrate the power of connections, we’ve spoken to three pairs of founders who offered to shed light on the serendipitous encounters they’ve had since sliding fresh-faced into our #newmembers channel.
First up are London-based founders Stuart Megarry and James Birch. Stuart is co-founder at Koala, an online trip operator founded by Hui Wang that he initially helped to design before moving to work on it full-time. James is one of three co-founders of travel insurance startup Pluto.
The pair met when, as is customary for new Founders’ Network members, Stuart posted a message introducing himself and Koala, which “empowers solo travellers through tech and provides unique trips”. The startup wants people to share experiences and travel with others, matched using algorithms, instead of their friends.
“It’s very lonely and tough being an entrepreneur, so I think there’s a need in the market for natural support and bouncing ideas off people,” says Stuart. “I think Founders’ Network very much has that vibe about it.”
The post was seen by James, whose insurtech startup aims to make travel insurance more appealing and trustworthy to young people. He was instantly intrigued and, perhaps unsurprisingly for somebody who races motorsport in his spare time, moved quickly to find out more.
“After seeing Stuart’s post, I thought these guys are literally the perfect fit and synergy for what we’re trying to do,” he says. “We had just started to think about our partnerships strategy and identified businesses in a few different areas, including travel, so I reached out for a coffee and a chat.”
Being based in central London made it convenient for the entrepreneurs to meet up and seal the deal. When booking a bespoke trip – whether a chicken wing-tasting experience in East London or a four-day trek in Spain’s Asturias – Koala’s customers would have the option of taking out travel insurance from Pluto.
Being co-located in the same city helped James and Stuart get the partnership off the ground. But, as Founders’ Network members Carly Britton (co-founder of Babble) and Halil Ozdemir (founder of SportivePeople and LookinWell) discovered, geographic boundaries are no barrier when it comes to forging a business partnership.
The two founders, who are based 220 miles apart (in Plymouth and London respectively), met when Halil posted a Slack message asking for advice on live video streaming. Carly, who is experienced in the field, responded. As the conversation unfolded, the pair discovered a mutually beneficial opportunity to partner that would see them promote each other’s platforms while offering their users exclusive discounts.
“Founders’ Network has given me the opportunity to connect and partner with Halil,” says Carly. “I have to travel a minimum of two hours to get to any relevant networking events, so we would probably have never met.”
Babble is a female-only app aimed at connecting women who are looking for instant travel recommendations and advice from other women based locally. Carly came up with the idea when travelling on holiday in Iceland, where she struggled to quickly find tailored recommendations from review websites.
SportivePeople and LookinWell are websites with social networking and marketplace functionality that focus on sports, and beauty and wellbeing respectively. Users can create profiles, follow professional teams (or look up beauty companies) around the globe, search for jobs and sign up for services. Carly says that there’s a “great link up” between Babble and Halil’s websites.
“We are in early stages but have some great ideas, so it’s very exciting,” she says. “Our users are always looking for recommendations, which ties in nicely with Halil’s products. As we’re building up our communities of women across the UK, we can spread the word of SportivePeople and LookinWell through blogging and sharing them on our social media accounts.”
Halil agrees. “Babble and its target markets are complementary for my platforms, as we are for theirs,” he says. “That’s why we plan to offer our respective users 10% off when making bookings and purchases on each other’s services.”
Sharing is caring
Although Founders Network’s nature makes it a natural place for partnerships to blossom, the vast majority of interactions in our Slack group see founders impart their knowledge for nothing in return.
That was the case when Here For You For Them co-founder Dana Dyksterhuis joined Founders’ Network. Her venture, which she co-founded with Jen Armstrong, is a “mindful movement for happy, healthy households” and offers a suite of resources including mindful stories, activities, tips and advice to parents, children and families.
Dana, who has former experience in running a Seattle-based startup, moved to London on a Tech Nation Tier 1 Exceptional Visa two years ago. She says that, although there are similarities in the weather between The Emerald City and London, its startup funding landscape is tangibly different.
“Seattle is smaller but I feel is more established when it comes to the community of investors and entrepreneurs compared to London, which is still growing,” she says. “There’s loads of momentum here, people are incredibly helpful and it’s all exciting to be a part of – especially as I’m finding my feet again.”
After Dana posted a message seeking advice around approaching investors, Tech Nation facilitated an introduction to William Britton, CEO and founder of AutonoMe which helps people with learning disabilities gain independence by accessing videos via their phones or tablets. William, who is based in Bristol, is a SetSquared incubator alumnus and has successfully raised two rounds of seed funding for his startup.
“Will helped me a lot by giving advice, going through steps and explaining how it all works based on his previous experience,” says Dana. “I think I perhaps made a mistake in the beginning in that I was aiming too high and reaching out to the wrong people.
“When you’re going through this phase, and I can probably speak for most founders, you just feel so vulnerable and it’s easy to wonder what you’re doing wrong and question why you’re not getting traction with investors in meetings. In that sense, it’s really important to reach out to the community.”
Recalling his experience of investing, William says that his “most difficult” first investment round took between nine months and a year, versus just two months for the second round due to already knowing investors.
“It can be quite lonely being an entrepreneur, so it feels nice for me to give back advice,” he says. “Founders’ Network is good when you want to chat to someone about a problem like investment because you can scare your team into thinking your company has financial problems and have to be careful about disclosing certain points. Tech startups tend to be bootstrapped, so it’s especially the case.
“It’s also nice to have that network of support when you’re working from a small office or spare bedroom and you’re rarely engaging with people on a daily basis.”