Made in Manchester: How Wakelet scaled to the US

Avatar, March 28, 2019 3 min read

It’s been over five years since technology entrepreneur Jamil Khalil left his full-time job at Airbus to focus on content curation platform Wakelet.

The founder and CEO started the company with a couple of friends after struggling to keep track of relevant information online in both his personal life and at work – and wanted to create a better way for people to save, share and consume content online.

The Upscale and Pitch@Palace alumni company has since become known as one of Manchester’s most successful tech scale-ups, raising £3 million of investment and relocating its growing team to Manchester Science Partnerships’ tech incubator at Manchester Technology Centre late last year.

Success across the pond

Jamil reveals that Wakelet had more than 3 million users worldwide in 2018, with over half of them based in the US, and says that number is growing every day.

Organisations currently using the platform include Harvard University, FC Barcelona, Coca Cola European Partners, Atlanta Hawks and the Guggenheim Museum. Jamil says Wakelet has also become the “go-to edtech tool” for thousands of US schools, colleges and universities.

“The traction we’ve had in the US has been amazing and it’s something we’d love to replicate in the UK,” he says.

“We’ve already made a start with the platform being adopted by several schools and universities across the UK including the University of Cambridge, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of East London, even though schools and universities tend to shy away from new things here.”

Wakelet’s popularity in the US market inspired the company to launch a new ambassador programme, allowing highly active and passionate community members to be officially named as ‘Wakelet ambassadors’ and help spread the word. The platform now boasts over 400 community members across more than 35 countries and over 100 ambassadors.

Support and collaboration

Despite the success that Wakelet has enjoyed so far, Jamil is very candid about the challenges he faced trying to secure initial investment in the UK and says that Manchester’s digital and tech ecosystem could be more collaborative and supportive.

“Starting a company in Manchester has its advantages – good transport links, easy access to three universities and professional talent – but it’s no Silicon Valley,” he says.

“The tech scene is improving and a number of incubators, accelerators and workspaces are springing up across the city, but it’s fair to say that the North West’s tech scene could be more supportive and collaborative than it is.”

Challenges of investment

Jamil stresses that he “had to fight for three years” before finally securing investment. “I must have met with over 100 UK investors and the majority really liked the idea but weren’t willing to invest at an early stage,” he explains. “American investors have a completely different attitude when it comes to funding early stage tech companies.”

The entrepreneur says US investment, alongside capital from UK-based angel investors, allowed Wakelet to focus on product development and build an engaged community of users without the pressure of needing to drive revenue immediately.

“One of the big differences between investors in the US and the UK is that the Americans are able to see the potential of a platform and support it without expecting it to start making money straightaway,” he says.

“They have the foresight and patience to allow teams to focus on building a strong and growing user base before they look to introduce revenue – it’s why US tech companies are so successful. Of course, every business wants to generate revenue but timing is key and trying to do this too early is not the right thing for us.”

Looking ahead

Jamil insists Wakelet will retain its Manchester roots while continuing to focus on the US market, as the entrepreneur says US schools have been extremely quick to welcome Wakelet into their classrooms.

“We’re often too quick to narrow our vision to fit with the status quo, to fixate on revenue straightaway with a provincial attitude preventing us from collaborating and sharing knowledge,” he says. “Broadening your horizons and looking to the US can open up a range of opportunities, not only for investment and new users, but also an opportunity to transform your mindset.”

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