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Hey, welcome to my about page. πŸ‘‹

 

The first thing you should probably know is I love startups!

 

I'm totally addicted to the energy and excitement that comes from launching and growing a business in massively uncertain circumstances. Changing the odds and winning.

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Why?

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  • I grew up playing strategy games online (Starcraft, Planetarion, etc). Executing upon a startup mission is like playing a massively competitive high-stakes game.

  • The team camaraderie that emanates from pursuing a common objective in the face of extreme adversity creates deep, long-lasting friendships.

  • I'm insatiably curious. Startups are fast-moving, dynamic entities that provide a consistent outlet to productively acquire knowledge. 

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Brief Bio

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I've been founding and growing startups online since 2009. Two of them I sold, the first in 2012 and the second in 2019. Both of them I drove to find product-market-fit and high-margin revenue traction quickly.

 

The first of these businesses became a top 1,000 most visited website globally 16 months after launch, and the latter hit a $4M run rate in its first year.

 

These were all in the roles of CEO/COO, so my core skillset is being a driving force of taking endeavors from zero to one and building the infrastructure to support continued growth once product-market-fit has been achieved. 

 

This can largely be broken down into:

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  • Mission evangelising

  • Hiring & team building

  • Sales & Marketing

  • Ops & GTM Strategy

  • Product development

  • Networking 

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Before this, I worked in syndicated finance at HSBC Investment Bank.

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Full breakdown below. πŸ‘‡

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Startups

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Co-founder & CEO

2019-2021

Well Plaid 

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Adcovery

(acq. by PEPSIA)

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Co-founder & COO

2013-2019

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Wahoha

(acq. by Super Genius)

Co-founder & CEO

2010-2012

B2C Gaming. After selling Adcovery, I jumped headfirst into gaming (from adtech).

 

The industry captured my interest and imagination, so I wanted to go deep. Plus, there was a burning hypothesis lurking inside me that I *just had* to test.

Namely: if we re-engineer real money gambling slot games to be legally skill-based in the US, will traditional slots players play them? And, if so, to what degree?

Thinking: if the appetite is there, the TAM is huge and GTM strategy a blue ocean...

Why? Traditional gambling slots are a $50bn+ market in land-based casinos and illegal online in all but a handful of states.

Conversely, our skill-based format is legal online across most of the US. πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

 

Here's how the experiment went down:

βœ… Did '10,000 hours' learning new industry.
βœ… Organised founding team + go-to-market capital.
βœ… Hired go-to-market executives and board.
βœ… Conducted legal research to map out game format.
βœ… Verified legality with top US law firm.
βœ… Built demo game 'Spin Trivia'.
βœ… Upgraded demo game to alpha version.
βœ… Secured approvals from Apple, Facebook, PP.
βœ… Conducted alpha testing via TestFlight.
βœ… Upgraded alpha to beta version.
βœ… Built 'launch party' email list.
βœ… Conducted beta testing via App Store.

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Beta Results: 

  • D1: 28%, D28: 4%. Deep engagement of 24hrs+.

  • Avg. Engagement Time: 1hr 30mins

  • Implied payback window of sub-3 months.

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B2B AdTech. Launched an 'ad content recommendations' platform in 2013. Shortly thereafter, we experimented with targeting ad blocking users.

This was in reaction to the discovery that a large portion of our target audience (millennials) used ad blocking software and also needing a compelling unique selling point in the marketplace.

This proved an extremely effective product strategy. The business grew fast and became very cash generative so we skipped raising a seed round to keep focused on product and sales.

Went from nothing to a $4M run rate in the first year. πŸ“ˆ

In 2015 ad blocking became a 'big issue' in the industry. This is when we announced our solution publicly after two years of R&D with beta partners. By this time we had invented a best-in-class (and now patented) ad blocking circumvention technology.

We worked with the IAB in the Ad Blocking Tech Lab (helping define best practices) and contributed millions of dollars to our publishing partners' bottom line.

 

Clients included TheLadBible, UniLad, The Chive, Men's Fitness, COED, Warner Bros., Bored Panda, Viral Nova, Uproxx, Ranker, CinemaBlend, Rant Media, WhatCulture, CheatSheet, Wimp, Screenrant, Heavy, Boredom Therapy, A Plus + hundreds more.

By 2016 it was clear we had reached a ceiling within our total addressable market (see my AdExchanger op-ed).

 

We'd been preparing for this outcome and explored an ambitious push into a more holistic solution.

 

To do this we built a prototype intended to help publishers improve UX and RPMs on both their non-ad blocked and ad blocked inventory (via an opt-in method).

 

The mission of the product was well-received by publishers but the resource requirements were to high to entice more broad adoption beyond basic testing.

The company was bootstrapped. We ran a relatively lean operation (peak team of <30) and mapped out quick high-ROI opportunities to do this.

 

The business was acquired by PEPSIA, a French ad tech company, Q1 2019, and rebranded as Adcovery.

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B2B AdTech. Wahoha was a content recommendation-powered traffic amplification network.

 

Publishers would install our widget on their site, and for every 1 click they received on their widget, they would receive 2-3 visitors back from our network.

 

If that makes no sense and sounds like we were breaking a law of physics, here's an explainer video!

 

This was a very attractive proposition, so the service grew really fast. 

All clicks passed-through wahoha.com, which acted as a content hub and facilitated the 200-300% traffic return rate for publishers. 

 

Within 16 months of launch the site became a top 1,000 most visited domain in the world. πŸ‘€

We provided our service to around 1,200 websites with heavy male millennial audiences in North America and Europe and sold advertising campaigns to brands wanting to reach a young male audience.

 

AdultSwim, truTV, Demand Media (Cracked.com), CollegeHumor, DailyMotion, Crave Online, OMG Facts, ChaCha, Ranker, VideoBash, HealthGuru.com, Coors Light and Robinsons drinks were among the many companies and brands we worked with.

Wahoha hit its peak 18 months in and it soon became pretty clear the business wasn't going to scale any further.

 

Why? We had saturated the male millennial humour/clickbait vertical. The model didn't fit as well with other verticals where the content wasn't as viral or clickable.

 

Although we were processing a lot of traffic, monetization opportunities were fairly limited since most clicks were used to balance the traffic exchange between our publisher partners.

Wahoha was bootstrapped from start to finish and we managed to run the entire operation with less than 10 people in the team at any one time.

 

We decided to sell the platform in Q3 2012 and found a buyer very quickly with Super Genius, a US marketing company.

Side Projects

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FancyDressCostumes.co.uk (shuttered)

Co-founder & Director

2012-2014

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Chief Tinkerer

2012-2013

QuickMoneyAnswers.com (research project)

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WhatPoll? (shuttered)

Co-founder

2009-2010

B2C Ecommerce. The intention for this side project was to create a business that would generate a stable and passive income stream that we could use to fuel more ambitious (and higher risk) business ideas.

As the name suggests, it was a specialist e-commerce store for costumes.

 

At the time, many of the other e-commerce stores in the space didn't show off their products very well; so we were intending to take advantage of this with product page features that gave better outfit inspiration and practical advice to customers (which we did). It was also a significantly growing market year-on-year.

We invested pretty heavily in the project and hired an outside firm to manage our SEO. Unfortunately, the latter decision became a major problem. Black hat link-building techniques were used by the SEO firm and the website domain got banned by Google (by a 'Penguin' update).

Via in-house efforts identifying and reversing the SEO firm's black hat activities we managed to get the ban overturned. But, by that stage we had no more time available to put into the project so it didn't progress to the point of financial sustainability.

Many lessons learned here. 😜

As part of our in-house push to overturn the Google ban we decided to pursue a strategy of increasing backlinks and citations from reputable media sites.

So, we interviewed costume designers for films and tv shows such as The Walking Dead, Elysium, Jobs, Pacific Rim, Evil Dead, Under the Bed, etc. 

 

And, produced satirical newsworthy costumes, such as a 'Shoreditch Hipster Zombie' and a 'Horse Burger Costume' during the 2013 horse meat scandal. Organising all of this was good fun!

We sold off the assets of the business in 2014.

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B2C Media. Set up a US consumer-facing financial help site to run some long-tail search engine discovery experiments in the wake of some big Google updates and the then-emerging trend of native advertising-powered arbitrage business models.

Context: At the time we were running FancyDressCostumes.co.uk and building Adcovery; both projects would benefit from this research.

Most of the content was initially in a 'question and answer' format, dealing with topics such as credit cards, pensions, insurance, mortgages etc. Hired and trained a small team of writers to produce the content.

Later I introduced more 'clickbaity' slideshows and experimented with various layouts, content, headlines, ad placements etc to optimize ROI.

For the Adcovery alpha test we arbitraged traffic by placing Adcovery content recommendation widgets on a bunch of low-yielding RPM sites and directed all traffic to QuickMoneyAnswers.com where the RPM was much higher. This resulted in a profit that covered the cost of the fact-finding project.

Pulled the plug to launch Adcovery into its beta phase, with a vision to improve user experience in the content recommendation space. πŸ˜‡

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B2C Media. A website that I co-launched in November 2009 to spark conversation and voting around a variety of niche topics.

 

Users would vote up or down on things in lists about movies, restaurants, historical facts etc. It was the first product I launched online and super fun.

The idea was to build up a loyal community and then monetize via contextual display and affiliate advertising partners.

Usage of the website exploded in December 2009 when we utilised the recently released Twitter API to enable sign up and voting via Twitter accounts.

 

Our first content hit was a poll that let Twitter users vote for their favourite tweeting celebrity. Voting would tweet their vote and @ mention their chosen celebrity.

Hundreds of celebrities from A-list all the way down to Z-list noticed quickly (because their mentions were spammed by people voting!).

 

Eager to win they encouraged their followers to vote via tweeting the link. This alerted even more celebrities to the poll and the effect kept compounding. Traffic to the website exploded! πŸ’₯

We followed this up with numerous polls that were engineered to 'go viral' on Twitter and social bookmarking sites (Fark, reddit etc).

These initiatives brought in a lot of traffic but ultimately the website was not sticky enough to encourage visitors to hang around for long periods of time or return later.

 

Driving traffic via a 'viral poll' strategy was a very time consuming and 'hit or miss' activity, depriving us of capacity to experiment with iterating the experience to make it more sticky.

My next business, Wahoha, started out as a project to drive a steady stream of traffic to WhatPoll? - with a view that we could use this to figure out our user retention and growth strategy with more traffic predictability and for a minimal recurring time and financial cost.

As it turned out there was a big demand for Wahoha from publishers. So, it became a pivot and we ran ahead with that business instead.

'Real' jobs

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HSBC Investment Bank

Syndicated Finance (Loans Agency)

2007-2010

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Summer Intern

2006

Mizuho 

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B2B Finance. Fresh out of university I joined HSBC's Corporate Trust and Loan Agency department. I was excited about my future working in the global financial industry and was fascinated by everything that made the market 'tick' at a local and macro level.

Soon after joining the big '2008-09' crash hit and banks largely went into 'survival mode'. The infectious culture of innovation, optimism and 'unstoppable growth' that attracted me to industry in the first place evaporated precipitously.

After walking passed Lehman Brothers on a lunch break in September 2008, noticing folks streaming out with cardboard boxes, I decided that I needed to take control of my own destiny and build my own business.

Despite having just a matter of months worth of experience under my belt I held onto my position at HSBC during a time when around one third of financial workers in London were laid off.

 

This gave me precious time to save and launch a business idea (WhatPoll? - which pivoted into Wahoha) and I resigned once it was generating a minimum viable cashflow to support my living expenses - 'ramen profitable'. 🍜

I operated a portfolio of syndicated credit facilities with drawdown capacities of $50m-$1bn.

 

These included RCF, Term, Mezzanine, CAPEX, PIK, Bridging, and Murabaha agreements in multiple currencies. Clients included a mixture of blue-chip and smaller privately held companies. One of these was the largest by participant volume in the department.

With numerous clients either failing or struggling across various industries during the 'credit crunch', I learnt some solid business lessons on the risks associated with over-leveraging, market volatility, supplier dependencies and cashflow management. πŸŽ“

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B2B Finance. Intern placement with the Mizuho Loans Agency team in between my 2nd and 3rd years of university. This really opened my eyes in various ways. It was 2006 and the financial markets were booming.

Education

BA (Hons) History

2004-2007

University of Derby

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After leaving school, I wanted to better understand the world in which I lived politically, socially, and economically. 

 

So, I decided to study history at The University of Derby, which had excellent professors.


 

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Fun fact

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World's Largest Orchestra

Keyboard player

1997

I once successfully participated in a Guinness World Record event!

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Alongside 2,211 other musicians from the Kent County Music Service in the late 90s, we broke the world record for 'World's Largest Orchestra'! 

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This record is now held by Gazprom's Fund for Supporting Social Initiatives with 8,097. 

Writing

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Founders' Hustle

Newsletter

Launched just after the first pandemic wave in 2020, Founders' Hustle is my newsletter covering the ‘hustle’ of entrepreneurship and building startups.

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So far my writing has been picked up and distributed on outlets such as Inc and MSN.

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