As a Brit myself, I’m immensely pleased that a support network for European start-ups is finally coming together.
In my mind, the start-up panel during Future of Web Apps conference back in Feburary was a key point for all of this – it was during this event that Saul Klein (Partner at Index Ventures) talked about some of his plans to get such a support networking going, and from that he created Open Coffee and now Seedcamp.
At the time I dismissed his plans as ‘yet more VC waffle’ but I’m happy to eat my words as I have very much been proved wrong. In fact I can’t think of anyone who’s done more work in the last 12 months to put Europe on the start-up map than Saul, and so for that he should be congratulated.
Back to Seedcamp, I’m still trying to work out what to make of the twenty candidate start-ups that are competing for the 5 final places (which each include €50k/$68k of support).
Sadly, this is where the fun ends. The twenty pre-selected startups are profiled on TechCrunch, and for me leave a lot to be desired.
A quick run through the list shows that most of the ideas seem to be copy-cat setups of existing plays. I guess the idea here is that ‘being local’/’non US-centric’ will be their USP – however that’s hardly defensible against a more established player looking to expand abroad.
Some examples of “Me-Too’s” pitching for Seedcamp funding include a personal finance tool, a Digg for ‘bargains’ (a ghastly affiliate link magnet by the looks of it) and a concert ticket search engine (isn’t this already a crowded space?).
Another “me-too” venture looking to operate in a saturated market is The School of Everything, which lists classes and teachers. I have friends working on at least two different plays in this space, both of which are a lot further ahead.
I have some personal reservations about the fashion social-network for 12-17 year old girls – I think it’s crass to commercially pitch to this demographic, certainly under 15’s. I’m not saying that no child should see an advert online but propositioning an entire site explicitly to 12-17 year olds (to the absence of anyone over the age of 18) AND to do so with a direct advertising revenue model seems questionable to me. Their site design looks horrid too, unless they’re going after Goths.
Finally, the mind boggles as to what Edinburgh-based Project Playfair is about, who write “Our game is hypernumbers which will do to numbers what hypertext did to text”.
Swedish entry Tablefinder looks to be a blatant copy-cat of US-based OpenTable. I just noticed that OpenTable are now operating in the UK too, and their established service is hard to knock. However being a more local operation might help Tablefinder beat OpenTable on biz dev as clearly signing up enough restaurants to use the service to achieve critical mass is the key to success. Once you achieve that critical mass, the service biz-dev’s itself as restaurants come to you to sign up rather than you having the chase them.
BuilderSite I like if only because it attempts to address a genuine problem in the UK, which is finding reputable trades-people for domestic building work. The attraction of working on higher paying business and retail contracts, lack of industry regulation and massive skill shortages make it hard to find trustworthy builders, plumbers and the like. My only concern here is revenue model – if it’s ad supported than those ads fall outside of any trusted/rated USP (thus why would I want to click on them?). And if people pay instead to be listed then that deflates a lot of community-rating potential as you can’t list your own preferred handyman, etc. The domestic end of the UK building industry is very much cash-in-hand still so taking a cut of the job if paid for via the website would be a fools game as you’d never see the money (I notice the site description says it’s transaction orientated – eek!).
OpenEra is interesting if only because it’s property (what we call ‘real estate’ here in the US) orientated which is a hot market right now in Europe. Sadly they don’t have a website and so it’s not clear specifically what they are working on.
“yeah, but who are you?”
However, as any good (read: rich) VC will tell you, it’s 25% the idea and 75% the executable team – and of course we know little about that for any of these companies so far.
There are a number of ‘content markets’ and ‘content analysis’ startups listed – but who knows what these products are? If anything the importance of the team comes into play even more here as the initial idea has to be sound if it’s to be a winner – and of course they’re going to reveal what that is at this early stage.
I’ve included the urls of the startups I’ve mentioned who have listed their site on the TechCrunch entry. I’m sure through the wonders of vanity search results the more switched on founders will be checking up on who’s writing about their projects – I’d love to make contact with any of them to help them in any way I can and to find out how the Seedcamp experience goes for them. If that’s you – drop me a line!