Breaking America: It all started as a joke…

Rich Martell

FloxxImage122 200x300 Breaking America: It all started as a joke...“The thing is, in America, it just seemed ridiculous — I mean, the idea of having a hit [record] over there. It was just something you could never do.”

The above is a statement George Harrison made when reminiscing about The Beatles’ first trip to the US in an attempt to ‘break America’. Granted, I’m trying to make an impact on the US tech scene rather than release a number one album, but the whole process is just as daunting.

How do I begin to explain Floxx?  When I started the website FitFinder as a joke amongst friends I had no idea it could lead to all of this – just eighteen months later, I’m preparing to jet off to the USA to meet with some of the world’s top tech investors.  FitFinder was closed by my University (UCL) for ‘bringing the college into disrepute’, which could very easily have been the end of my story. However, fate had other plans; I received a message from Doug Richard (Dragon’s Den), who subsequently invested in me, and Floxx was born earlier this year.  Since then we have received further investment from the likes of Kevin Wall, and have released a number of very successful location based apps.  In order to take the company to the next level I need to secure some more investment – next stop, America…

The southern part of the San Francisco Bay area was first dubbed ‘Silicon Valley’ over forty years ago. Compare this with our neck of the woods, Silicon Roundabout, which has been known as such for only a few years. Although this makes my mission something of an uphill battle, in some ways it’s also the ace up my sleeve. The same people that label the unflinching optimism of Silicon Roundabout as naïve would probably level the same criticism at my own optimism and passion. However, the fact that start-ups from the area are gathering serious momentum (and revenue) and the government showing interest with its Tech City scheme means that it is becoming increasingly evident that small, disruptive start-ups are making a genuine impact.

So why go to the US?  If the atmosphere here is as optimistic and nurturing as I am suggesting, why seek funding overseas? Although there are plenty of sources of funding here, many of them are still on the other side of London, mixed in with the ad agencies. Though the physical distance between Shoreditch and the West End is a small one, the ideological one is huge. VC firms here are very concerned with revenue, and are sceptical about taking gambles. This is not a criticism, and many would argue it is simply good business sense, it is just how things are done in London.

Compare this with Silicon Valley – Google’s first investment came after a ten-minute demo on someone’s front porch. Mark Zuckerberg knew the importance of building a user base before monetising. As the fictionalised Zuckerberg says in David Fincher’s The Social Network, ‘we don’t know what it can be, we don’t know what it will be, we know that it is cool.’ US investors seem more willing to fund start-ups based on their belief in an idea, a product or a team. Whether this is because they’ve seen young entrepreneurs take ideas from disruptive seeds to multi-million dollar companies, they have more faith in their gut feelings or some intangible leftover faith in ‘the American dream’, I’m not sure yet.

By no means does this mean I consider the US an easy option; I’m fully aware that without a business model, projections, ways to get traction etc. we won’t get a look in.  We have been hard at work on our latest product and all our pitches, and we hope we are ready for everything people can throw at us. We will be travelling around America for fourteen days and, if all goes to plan, we will be meeting with over twenty angel investors, VCs and various other early adopters and tech enthusiasts.  Obviously there’ll be some people we’ll be able to talk about and others we won’t.  We are hoping to go much deeper than just meeting people; we want to find out where the tech hubs are across the US, who the key influencers are, and try to get our heads around what has made, and continues to make, the US and UK tech scenes so different.

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