Shoreditch Originals: Digital Start Ups

The tech crash of 2000 was a bit of a weird one. It was the fall at the end of the steep rise the IT stock market was enjoying up until then - the official bursting of the dot-com bubble, with some companies dying a painful death and others surviving to show just how fit they were (Amazon comes to mind). But it was also an unleashing of energies once contained in City offices - with entrepreneurial spirits scattering into every dark corner of then-affordable Old Street roundabout to start working on their own pent up ideas for digital corps.

This type was epitomised on TV in the show, Nathan Barley, where the title character ran a website called Trashbat ("an urban culture despatch") from Shoreditch, though the site was registered in the Cook Islands so its web address read "trashbat.co.ck". In reality, the now so-called Silicon Roundabout (a term that actually started out as an in-joke but was coined nevertheless) is a tad bit more prestige than it used to be thanks to the frantic profit-making going on behind the facades of its still industrial buildings. 

Despite the ironic birth of the area and it's dub, the following fourteen years saw fledgling tech start ups flock to it with serious intent. The cluster metamorphosed into 'Tech City', an alias more inclusive of offices set up further out in Hackney, and is now the hub of internet entrepreneurialism in London with over 5000 tech companies in the wider area (there were only 15 in 2008).

Even Google wanted a piece of the cake; in late 2011 it bought a seven storey building to be known as Google Campus and used expressly for workspace and networking - a cultural hub for speakers, hackathons, product demonstrations and more to flourish. 

Companies like Last.fm have come and gone,  others such as Yammer have been bought out by the likes of Microsoft, but the tech start-ups that are still at it - they are the pride of digital Shoreditch and the surrounding area. Here are a few great local examples of standing strong on your own two feet in the big bad world wide web:

EDITD

EDITD blends fashion and technology into a innovative cocktail; delivering the latest statistics on style trends to some of the biggest fashion brands in the world. Headed up by Julia Fowler and her husband Jeff Watts, in 2009 they moved their lives quite literally across the world, from Sydney to Shoreditch, in an effort to pursue their business idea - and it paid off. 

Down under Julia was a successful designer for a fashion brand. While there, she clocked onto a burning problem for the retail industry; the style trends that they depended on were simply predictions and guesswork, and ones which often cost them hugely. Although each brand and store had their own set of statistics for the hottest products that people were buying from their own stores, there was no cross-industry data detailing what people were buying everywhere, in every store.

This is what led the fashion designer-cum-entrepreneur to start up the first data and statistics service for the fashion industry, with her tech savvy husband taking care of the infrastructure, in Silicon Roundabout's Old Street. The fashion-tech empire now provides data on which exact patterns, colours, cuts and materials are flying off the shelves at the fastest rates to some of the biggest names in the industry, including Gap, ASOS and Banana Republic. EDITD prides itself on giving clients a head start - good news for the shops but perhaps not so good for bargain hunters!

 

Hailo

Hailing down a black cab can have a bleak outlook, often leaving arm-flailers sodden with puddle splash, voicelessly in despair and generally feeling like there is no hope in the world (or at least on that particular street corner). Fear not though, Hailo is here. 

Launched in East London by Jay Bregman and Caspar Woolley, it's been 'here' (in the capital) and in what are considered large world cities since 2011. An easy to use app that matches up passersby with in range black cabs using GPS on their iPhone or Android devices; this invention was so simple it was genius. 

However the founder pool of internet entrepreneurs and cabbies has faced stiff competition from the likes of Uber since its launch, which recently began offering black cabs - ever so slightly stepping on Hailo's turf. This in turn prompted the people at Hailo to apply for a private hire license to add mini cab and executive services to their roster; a knee jerk response that has invited the rather aggressive disdain of recession-riddled cabbies, who enraged by the perceived betrayal, attacked the Hailo office as recently as May 2014, vandalising the premises and forcing a staff lock-in.

Nevertheless, the app continues to gain traction as for the first time it spreads outside of London and into the rest of the UK, and its users put convenience over behind-the-scenes politics.

 

Seedrs

Seedrs is a crowd-funding investment platform, launched to help businesses gain seed funding in the early idea stage in order to provide them with a steady launch pad. But it has a vital twist - potential investors pool their finances in return for equity, a model that gives this portal the upper hand.  

CEO Jeff Lynn, a stateside corporate lawyer who also has a background as the chairman of a UK seed investment fund, took his experience from Silicon Valley across the pond. Having seen a disparity for European entrepreneurs who found it extremely difficult to gain seed investment while starting out, he was inspired to head up Seedrs with co-founder Carlos Silva.  

Seedrs not only benefits business founders hoping for a lifeline, it also opens up the investment game to public Joe - people from all walks of life can log on to the website, find a project they like and put in as little as £10 investment which they will receive back if the target is not reached. And they can do so confidently as all the companies featured are vetted to ensure their pitches are genuine - allowing a straightforward way to discover new start ups, even if you don't invest!

Practicing what they preach, the people behind the platform even listed themselves on their own site last year, crowd-raising £500,000 for international expansion; a bid which was successful and so saw the company become the first cross-border equity crowd-funding platform. Past investment successes (beyond themselves) include companies such as GoCarShare - a marketplace for empty car seats, Ready Steady Mums - personal training for mothers, and Bird Cycleworks - a UK based bicycle manufacturer.  

 

Secret Escapes

A members-only club of boutique hotels and upmarket holidays, Secret Escapes is a start up built upon the digital-trend of curation - handpicking products to give users that sense of exclusivity. With flash sales that offer discounts of up to 70% off for email-subscribers, this really is the worst-kept secret in luxury travel, racking up five million members since it's inception in England's own tech city. 

Banging together the heads of Tom Valentine (ex-eBay and Seatwave), Troy Collins (founded cruiselinefans.com) and Alex Saint (co-founder of travel price comparison site DealChecker) was destined to result in an e-commerce hospitality business. And oh are the hoteliers happy it did - with occupancy rates at 4* and 5* establishments increasing substantially in low periods where empty rooms were once a problem.

Founded in late 2010/early 2011, the company has attracted funding from major venture capital firms and investment from leading digital entrepreneurs. Ever since, there has been a do not disturb sign on the boardroom door of the directors who've been uniting noggins again in the hope of doing justice for the good faith shown in them. 

Unsurprisingly then, last year witnessed Secret Escapes take on the market in Sweden, and this year sees it acquire online and mobile hotel booking start-up, Berlin-based JustBook, as part of its continued expansion into Europe.

 

Bossa Studios

Ever wanted to try your hack-hand at surgery? Or perhaps destroy neighbouring towns with your very own B-movie monsters? Indie games developer, Bossa Studios, brings these gory fantasies and other interesting specks of imagination to virtual life for gamers to try out.

Surgeon Simulator gets players to operate on the “world’s unluckiest patient”, transplanting hearts, kidneys, teeth and even eyes - while regularly killing him of course. And BAFTA wining Monstermind lets you and your friends create your perfect town and then unleash B-movie mayhem to destroy each other. Pixel lovers will also embrace 8-bit games like ‘Deep Dungeons of Doom’ and wizard fans can join forces in a Merlin co-operative fantasy-adventure game that's on Facebook. 

Talking of the social network, Bossa began life as a Facebook-focused developer founded by Henrique Olifiers and has since placed their games on various platforms including the iPad and consoles, with their ethos being ‘our games will be wherever we believer our players love to play them’.  

In a hugely competitive market, the studio pitches itself ahead of the others by encouraging its creative team with a free working environment and ‘game jams’ held over a two day period every month - where the staff get together, dream up new game ideas, make them, and sometimes release the game onto their website for the world to trial. 

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