It’s that time of year again – 50 young data driven entrepreneurial teams are refining their pitches

BY JANE KENNEDY

Lesley Eccles at EIE15

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It’s that time of year again – 50 young data driven entrepreneurial teams are refining their pitches and preparing to take to the stage in Edinburgh in front of an investor audience at this year’s EIE.

EIE is Scotland’s Premier Tech Investor Showcase and highlights the most innovative data driven companies seeking funding. Since its launch in 2008, almost 500 companies have completed the investor readiness programme hosted by Informatics Ventures and gone on to raise in excess of £750MILLION in seed and follow on funding.

Leading TalentSpark, I’m always fascinated by successful founding teams – and the people who are the driving forces in the business, particularly in those early stages. In the run up to #EIE20, I wanted to revisit 20 previous EIE participants.

As a keen advocate of our #TSbookclub, which we launched to share the best learnings from starting and running a business, I’m currently transfixed by ‘Billion Dollar Fantasy’ – the story behind the Fanduel and Draft Kings rivalry. Leafing through Albert Chen’s book I found a great picture of Lesley Eccles speaking at EIE15.

In those days I wasn’t involved ‘backstage’ and, like many others, attended the event solely with the intent of hearing the founders of the young businesses pitching their ideas. But at EIE15 Lesley wasn’t attending to pitch; as an EIE alum she was there to update on the company’s progress and I can vividly recall her taking to the stage to announce that Fanduel had just reached two-billion-dollar turnover, to rapturous applause.
In an earlier guise FanDuel had initially pitched at EIE as Hubdub; a news-prediction site which let users bet with virtual money on the outcome of key events — e.g. an election. Users loved it and the product saw huge levels of engagement, but monetising the activity proved a challenge.

In a classic pivot, after noting that sports were one of the most active categories on Hubdub and fantasy sports was a significant market, Hubdub became Fanduel – taking advantage of the growing rise in popularity of smartphones and associated apps.

Having identified the limited opportunity of Hub Dub, the team received the endorsement of its existing investors and continued to build a new product and a new market. The meteoric rise and subsequent tribulations of the business have been well documented, but where are the founders now?

On the strength of their previous business growth success, Nigel Eccles (based in the US) and Rob Jones (Edinburgh) raised $4M for Top tier US investors to build Flick – a platform to bring together an audience of podcast listeners who want to engage on a deeper level with the content, creators and communities building around the broadcasts. Whilst still in its infancy, the company has already defined a product/market fit and is seeking to expand its user base.

Also, still in Scotland, Fanduel’s VP Technology Chris Stafford has taken a slightly different path – Chris now runs the technology consultancy Amber 80, giving the benefit of his experience to companies of all sizes, from start-ups and scale-ups to large corporate entities.

In 2018, from her base in New York, Lesley Eccles launched Relish to transform the relationship advice space with the first-ever personalised relationship training app. In an age where many have a more intimate relationship with their phone that their partner, Relish makes it easy to build a happy, healthy, more connected relationship. Like her husband, whilst being US based, Lesley has chosen to build out her development team in Edinburgh – taking advantage of the breadth of talent and reduced operating costs. A champion for the importance of creating the right company culture and taking time to choose the right investor, Relish raised a £2.2M seed round in the latter part of 2019 and attracted investment from Trinity Ventures and Bullpen Capital.

Also, in 2018 – and stateside – previous Fanduel CPO, Tom Griffiths co-founded Hone; a training platform for the world’s next generation of leaders. Hone aims to solve manager and soft-skills training for modern, distributed teams allowing businesses of all sizes to easily source, manage and deliver best-in-class live online group training and measure the impact on their organisation, raising a $3.6M seed round at the beginning of 2019.

Time will tell if the Fanduel Founders will scale their new entities to the heady heights of a billion dollar valuation, but it’s great to see that their entrepreneurial spirit is still there in droves.

Jane Kennedy is Associate Director at TalentSpark- a group of specialist startup consultants who work collaboratively to deliver essential talent, employer branding content, and business services to pre-investment, high growth startups and scale-ups in Scotland. Jane is also currently seconded into the Informatics Ventures team to help deliver EIE20.

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