This week, I was fortunate enough to speak with Rose Lewis, Co-Founder of Collider and key speaker at the upcoming ad:tech London event. Collider is a leading accelerator dedicated to fuelling the next generation of marketing and advertising tech startups. Rose and I chatted about why alignment is key when considering funding options, why big companies need to learn to embrace more failure and why you should never ask Rose what she thinks of your idea…
So, Rose, what’s the story behind Collider? It’s quite a niche and there isn’t really anything like it in the UK, so I’m curious to know how it came to be?
Well, my background is in venture capital, particularly within the media and technology fields. I started working with startups back in 2008 when the first big European accelerators like Seedcamp were just picking up steam. I became a mentor for some of their early stage companies and saw first hand the value that these programs were giving. I decided that I wanted to bring this concept to London and so I looked to find a market opportunity around a specific vertical.
And what made you chose advertising and marketing technology specifically?
I chose ad tech because I felt that London had just the right ingredients to be really strong in that sector. The advertising market in London was, and still is, streets ahead in many respects compared to other EU countries.
I certainly agree - it feels like London is a real hub of innovation, there are so many interesting ad tech startups coming out of this city right now. But why did you feel that picking just one vertical was necessary?
Being a strong vertical accelerator allows us to give so much more to our startups. Firstly we can find really specific investors - smart advertising or marketing people with valuable industry expertise. Secondly we can provide real customer penetration. By being so specialised, we can go into large organisations like Unilever and target the right people; the right customers for our startups. Access to customers is really crucial to the success of a new company and it’s a key focus for us at Collider. Actually it’s something I felt was really missing from many other accelerators out there.
I’m currently in the process of starting an ad tech business myself. I’m very fortunate in that there are various funding options available to people like me – from very affordable startup loans to various types of accelerators. I was wondering if you have any advice for people just beginning to think about their early funding options?
What I will say is that most young businesses fail because they run out of money and, in effect, time. So you as a founder need to think about what you can do to get your product and your client base to a point where you can sustain and start to scale as quickly as possible. Good funding is really all about creating choices for you as a startup. Ask yourself can a loan allow me to do everything I need to do?
The word accelerator really does mean that. It’s all about helping you and your company to accelerate as fast as possible. Collider can fundamentally help you to accelerate quickly because of our highly specific vertical… well I suppose I would say that… but the thing is we do take equity, so that’s another thing to consider.
By sharing equity with Collider you know that our interests are aligned. You know that we want you to succeed and we want to help you grow. It’s really all about alignment. As one of our startup founders recently described it, “Collider is like a co-founder” and when you think about it that way, you’d give a founder more than 16%.
And during your time in this industry have you noticed any shifts in investment trends?
The industry is changing for sure. I think in the near future there will be fewer accelerators to be honest. Vertical accelerators have a big role to play but the more genetic ones, you wonder how much shelf life they have because, as you say, startups have so many options today.
I see from your website that often Collider works with quite big national brands, which is obviously fantastic for coverage, scale etc. But I know from experience that these big guys can be pretty bureaucratic and slow – a stark difference to the agile startup model. Do you have any advice or insight into how to get a slow moving giant to be an early-adopter?
Indeed, they are very different worlds. We worked with Unilever on our first program back in 2013 and actually it was fairly slow and laborious. But to give them their dues, they were incredibly open and keen to improve. They asked us, how can we make this better?
So we worked with them and came up with a five-point-plan for how to work with and get the best out of startups - from small process tweaks like changing payment days to more intangible things like changing their work focus. We found that typically they were very focused on planning things to perfection and we shifted this to align more with the short and nimble process of startups. Just not being afraid to try things and to learn and importantly to not be afraid of failure.
In fact, the Unilever Foundry was something that came out of this work that we did together. The Unilever Foundry is now a place where they can say to their employees ‘you know what, it’s ok to fail’ – and that freedom is where real innovation comes from.
And as for the startups themselves, what do you look for when you’re selecting a new intake?
Collider looks to support anyone who can help brands and agencies identify, understand, engage with and sell to their consumers – so it’s pretty broad. But the most important thing is that we are the first money that goes into a business. We are investing in a founding team who have built something that’s not yet proven, so really what we’re investing in is the team themselves. The idea will evolve and change but if the team is strong we can be confident in the end product.
We interview hundreds of startups over the year and what we’re really looking for is people who have a passion for their idea, the skills to make it happen and a clear vision of what they are creating. People who are thinking big, thinking about their market and thinking about where their business will go.
So in our final minutes, I’d love to hear your perspective on the Loop.London platform.
It is an ad platform that rewards users with a free charity donation every time they watch an advert. Users simply choose which charity to donate to and then watch at least 14 seconds of the ad.
So, I’ll start with the simple question, what do you think?
I think don’t ask people that question! People will just be polite and tell you it’s lovely, but what are you going to learn? What I think is irrelevant to you.
Ha – well fair enough! OK, so more specifically, the charity angle is a big focus for me. It’s the driving force behind the idea and it’s what motivates me to build this business. But I have been advised to downplay the charitable aspect in more corporate environments, such as an accelerator. What would you say to that?
A much better question! Well, I quite like the charity thing and I think it absolutely needs to be central to your business. In fact bring it in earlier in your pitch, talk about how people are searching for small ways to find more purpose in life - these types of charitable trends you’re tapping into.
But because of what it is, the scalability might be questionable. Yes your proposition is about charitable donations, but also think about how the overall format can be scalable outside of this. The charity option is one route but what about other ways that your blueprint of rewards-based ad watching can be used. It’s this sort of thinking that makes you attractive to an investor.
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