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Dear Theresa, love from Tech

Dear Theresa, love from Tech

Dear Ms May,

It’s us, the tech world. We know you’ve been busy recently, what with your whirlwind prime ministerial campaign and now moving in to your new home at number 10. We know against the current political backdrop, it’ll also be a while before you get a chance to read this – from the looks of things, you’re going to be quite preoccupied steadying the boat as the country contemplates its future role within Europe and beyond.

But as a sector full of budding start-ups and pioneering entrepreneurs, we’d be lying if we didn’t tell you we’re nervous. Banks and investors are already pulling funds out of the UK left, right and centre, and Berlin is waiting in the wings to snap up our talent. It may simply be a matter of waiting until the dust has settled to find out what the real impact of this upheaval has been, and we are a resilient bunch, but it’s a sad fact that some of us will not survive this.

We’re always up for a challenge, and we’ll work hard to keep our economy thriving and ensure the UK stays at the forefront of technological innovation for generations to come – but we need your help. A few promises to allay fears while you tackle some of the bigger fish will do just fine.

Image courtesy of Kristoffersonschach on Flickr

Image courtesy of Kristoffersonschach on Flickr

Please, reassure our talent

It’s no secret you’ve been vocal about your views on immigration as former Home Secretary – you were strict with foreign students applying for work visas here and have considered high entry requirements for those from outside of the EU previously. Then again, you were also instrumental in developing the Tech Nation Visa Scheme.

What we ask is that you consider the position of our current EU entrepreneurs and employees facing an uncertain future – they need to know that they remain welcome and that they can continue to develop their businesses and careers here for the long-term. Even with the best will in the world, we simply don’t have enough STEM graduates coming through the system to keep up with demand, so we must embrace foreign talent.

Reconsider the Snooper’s Charter

You put the Investigatory Powers Bill forward with good intentions to help tackle threats to national security – that in itself is, of course, no bad thing. But when that is coupled with authorising the state to bulk collect UK citizen’s personal data across every digital device they own, it’s something that few technology companies would condone or indeed want to be a part of.

Technology is a sector filled with unknowns, mysteries and jargon – the least we should be able to promise our users or customers is that their privacy is secure with us.

Allow us to abide by EU standards

In a similar vein, Europe is very particular about the way their citizens’ data can be used and stored due to privacy concerns – something that led to the collapse of the Safe Harbour arrangement last year and is bringing its replacement, the Privacy Shield, under intense scrutiny.

If the UK leaves the Union, the legislation will no longer directly apply – but unless we abide by the same standards, we will experience many of the same challenges currently being faced by the US and it could take years for us to rebuild these relationships. We’ll find ways to cross borders of course, but it’s just one extra hurdle.

Encourage diversity

Your gender shouldn’t define you – you’ve worked hard to get to your position and are extremely qualified for your new role on the global stage. Yet there’s no denying that you have navigated what is an extremely male-dominated sector, and for many, will represent a world of possibility as one of the few that ‘made it’.

Technology is an industry that faces similar challenges in diversity, all the way from the classroom, where few young women are opting for STEM subjects, right through to the boardroom. Help us reach minorities and let them know they all can and are very welcome to take leading roles within the digital economy.

We know you want to just get on with the job, so we won’t keep you any longer, but we hope you’ll take these requests into consideration to give the industry the best tools with which to face the fight ahead.

We wait with bated breath,

Yours sincerely,

Tech

You can read an abridged version of this letter in City AM’s Letters to Editor, 15/07/16

London Technology Week – PR Tips for Tech Brands

Next week the capital will light up as plucky Silicon Roundabout start-ups and tech heavyweights alike swarmed to London Technology Week 2016, Europe’s largest gathering of tech events.

After the popularity of our seminar last year, our Technology & Innovation team will once again host our own talk on Tuesday to help innovators across a wide variety of industries learn how to get their brand noticed ahead of the competition.

And to give you a sneak peek, here’s an overview of our top tips for getting your tech brand in the press.

The buzz around the latest tech developments has never been greater. There has been an exponential increase in the number of ‘tech-specific’ journalists alone, with more and more other journalists including technology amongst their cluster of interests.

But while the opportunities for technology to grab the headlines are numerous and wide-ranging, the competition is fierce, with journalists receiving hundreds of emails every day.

One of the most regular questions on brands’ lips with regards to getting their product the attention it deserves is: why aren’t journalists responding? There could be any of a number of issues, from your approach being ‘too pluggy’, a lack of personality, using overly technical language, or simply an email being missed due to the sheer volume of competition.

Company News

An important way to get your brand in the news is through company announcements. But it can be difficult to know which of your updates should be sent out to the press.

It’s easy for brands to contract ‘baby isn’t beautiful’ syndrome, where being told that news from your company isn’t of interest is almost a personal affront.

When launching your brand or bringing a new product to the market, structure your approach by asking yourself:

  • What basic problem are you solving?
  • What makes your offering different to others on the market?
  • Why would someone read this news?
  • Why should a journalist write about this now?

Reacting to the News Agenda

A vital strand of PR activity for your tech brand is to react to the news agenda.

Large stories dominate the news agenda for the full day, if not longer. To ensure the story remains relevant, media outlets utilise expert commentary with strong opinions.

Making sure your voice is the one that’s heard requires quick reflexes and snappy key messages. Remember to not shoehorn your company name into the news with no real purpose – ask what you can add to the story.

Using Your Expertise

Remember that your people are your greatest assets.

Your company is made up of individuals with invaluable insights from success thus far and natural areas of expertise and opinions.

For our work with Purplebricks, the hybrid estate agency, we used their CEO’s expertise to secure them interview slots on the likes of Sky News to comment on house price statistics.

Positioning your personnel as ‘experts’ can not only bring authority to your company name but also give the illusion that you’re bigger than you are.

Purplebricks' CEO, Michael Bruce, gives his expertise on Sky News

Purplebricks’ CEO, Michael Bruce, gives his expertise on Sky News

 

Creative Campaigns

Creative campaigns are a fantastic way to get your brand noticed in a fun way, generating a different type of coverage and reaching new audiences. The right campaign can have just as much impact as something more long-term.

They also need not cost very much at all, so you can afford to experiment a little – but remember that timing (and a little bit of luck) is vital.

For example, for conference call provider Powwownow, we created a #PowwowHelpMeNow campaign, where office workers could tweet in with an issue for Powwownow to help solve. One office tweeted in saying that their working space was too hot, so Powwownow helped them move their desks and entire office space to the roof.

This was a shareable and visual campaign generating plenty of fun coverage with journalists which were otherwise difficult for a tech brand to reach.

We’re not talking about stunts here – the campaign must be relevant to your brand and help position it in a constructive way.

For Powwownow, whose aim is to help workers do their jobs more easily, a campaign to assist offices in need was relevant and beneficial to the brand’s image, and generated a social reach of 6.3 million.

The #PowwowHelpMeNow campaign moved a stuffy office to a roof terrace

The #PowwowHelpMeNow campaign moved a stuffy office to a roof terrace

 

Harnessing Data

Another key area of PR activity is based not on reacting to the news agenda, but on creating it.

Brands can shape stories and headlines from data. All tech companies have data, but some don’t realise its PR value.

Behaviour patterns and trends are often of interest to the press, helping to confirm theories or, alternatively, shock with unusual findings.

If your company doesn’t have the necessary data for the story you’d like to create, you can make your own data through market research and surveys. These don’t have to cost the earth or take up time – three or four data points are enough to make a compelling story.

Case Studies

In order to humanise your brand, case studies and journalist trials are of great importance. However, not all case studies are born equal – think about:

  • What does this case study provide/add?
  • Will anyone care?
  • What’s the wider story?

We’ve seen some fantastic case studies and journalist trials which have made the headlines in key titles for our clients.

For property rental app, Movebubble, we sent a journalist on a ‘virtual property viewing’, securing coverage in TimeOut, Evening Standard and The Sunday Times.

For dating app Happn, a profile of the five most in-demand women on the app secured a double page spread in the Evening Standard.

Happn’s case studies shaped an impressive piece

Happn’s case studies shaped an impressive piece

 

Right now, tech is experiencing an incredible boom and hundreds of journalists are interested in the latest news. But with the massive competition out there, your brand needs to stand out.

Above all, the content you provide to the press must be varied as well as helpful, informative, opinionated or entertaining.

Double, Double Toil & Trouble; Private Valuations & Fintech Bubble

Every couple of months an article or two regarding the ‘fintech bubble’ floats onto the pages of online and print media.

“Are we in a bubble? Will it burst?” fret the writers of such articles. “Are valuations based on real worth or mere chatter? Could fintech be the next Dot-Com?”

Reading these, it can seem a little like the sector is just waiting for a disaster to happen. Like all the hype is a brave face belying a fragile body.

However, questions like these should come as little surprise. Despite a sizzling market, it’s smart to stay a little wary and acknowledge that just because entrepreneurs and investors are excited doesn’t mean everything is smooth sailing. After all, startups fail. That’s a thing that happens. And with the massive explosion of new businesses, it’s indubitable many – if not most – will fail.

Does this mean there’s a bubble?

Let’s have a look.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 23.55.56

2015 was a big year for the tech sector. Huge even. According to the capital’s promotional company London & Partners, a record $3.65bn (£2.5bn) was invested in private UK tech companies in 2015, equating to around a 70% rise in funding for startups compared to 2014. Around a quarter of this funding went to the financial services sector. This escorted a coming of age for fintech as it entered mainstream consciousness through new mobile payment options, the rise of companies like Transferwise, and some headline grabbing statistics as unicorn after unicorn raised their highly valued horns.

But Q4 also saw the beginning of something of a slow down in tech investment. After hitting dot-com funding levels in Q3, things began cooling off.

According to research from CB Insights, venture capital funding fell by 30% during the second half of 2015, with far fewer ‘mega-rounds’ of investment in Q4 in particular.

To make the situation sound even more dubious, the unicorns are beginning to look a lot like horses dowsed in glitter – at least if the latest tech IPOs are anything to go by. Square (and Match) received a decidedly chilly welcome as their shares sold for under the projected offering range, suggesting retail investors are more sceptical than expected when it comes to private tech valuations.

Cue: mild concern followed by sensational headlines about bubbles and what happens when one bursts.

However, take a step back and a deep breath and it’s fairly clear beyond the fluff pieces and general buzz of big ideas there’s some actual substance. There’s a different kind of cycle happening in financial technology compared to just ‘bubble and burst’.

For one, whilst the ‘coming-of-age’ may have been the growth cycle of the last two years, fintech has been around for a lot longer than that. As Bruce Wallace pointed out in Finextra:

What’s different now? The new fintech technology startups are now mostly selling their solutions directly to consumers and businesses instead of selling to the traditional FI channel. The increased efficiencies are changing customer expectations and shaping the future of financial services.

This shift is important. It’s a maturation of an established industry. Indicative of the changing mentality within the larger financial sector.

Furthermore, it conveys why disruptors have had such success in the last two years and why now there might be a cooling as money begins to flow into ‘enablers’ instead. Fintech has largely revealed the potential – or indeed the necessity – of its products. Payments companies and alternative lenders like Zopa, Funding Circle, and WorldRemit comprise the majority of the 35 unicorns in the sector. And part of the reason for this is because the landscape they are entering has remained stagnant for so long that a real need exists to innovate. By innovating they’re taking part of the market share away from the incumbents. By innovating they’re reforming.

As Chris Skinner said, “That’s why there’s no Fintech bubble bursting.  Just a re-architecting of finance through technology that, until it finishes, will see us moving through waves of innovation and change.”

This is why banks are ‘getting serious’ about fintech as well. Why they are pouring in their own money to digitise, to gamify, to tap into all the things that disruptors have emphasised and monetised in the last few years.

Of course, acknowledging a change in mentality doesn’t alter the fact that there has been a drop in deals.

But to play devil’s advocate, according to research by Erin Griffith’s for Fortune there’s also a distinction to be made between late-stage investors and early-stage investors regarding the slowdown reported by CB Insights.

According to the late-stage investors, there is a new element of caution. ‘Market dynamics are setting the bar much higher’ than before. They don’t want to keep funding businesses reliant on private money without turning a profit. On the other hand, early-stage investors are pretty much continuing the same as ever.

Why the disparity?

In part it’s because the prices are simply too high to tempt many professional VCs. They’re willing to wait to see the weaker business models shaken out by failures and takeovers. However, it also seems to relate to investors simply not wanting to feel the burn of another popped tech bubble and acute awareness of the swathe of ‘down-rounds’ where fintech companies have IPOed. Essentially, early stage investors have been paying too high prices and need to adjust expectation, which can be done with future investments. Everyone is thus left thinking maybe they should be wary, maybe they should keep on the side of realism instead of being succored in by mythical beasts, maybe they should stick to the usual methods of valuing a company like cash flow and profit.

At the end of the day it’s not being negative to accept that many of our startups will die. And it’s not foolish to consider that just maybe there is “too much money chasing too few assets” as Damien Lane, partner at Episode 1, told The Times. It’s simply pragmatic. And what’s falling in London’s favour is that VCs have largely maintained their pragmatism in the face of a booming sector. Especially when compared to New York and Silicon Valley.

There is no doubt that 2016 will be a pivotal year for fintech. As recent and upcoming exits play out we’ll really begin to see which business are worthy of the hype and which are not. But as yet the bubble is as close to unreal as many billion-dollar valuations.

 

Fintech Powerlist is Important : But Where are the Girls?

City A.M. has published the first Powerlist for Fintech and the results are in. Canary Wharf is full of the real movers and shakers in fintech. 

To paraphrase Nutmeg‘s Nick Hungerford: if you dropped Stanford University into London, it would be the fintech centre of the world. And when you look at the statistics, it becomes clear why dismissing the motherland of Silicon Valley and embracing London’s revolutionary heartland makes total senseYet even with 44,000 people working in the fintech capital, there remains a curious absence of a certain kind of entrepreneur: the women in fintech.

A worrying lack of women are part of the fintech revolution, especially in senior-level positions.
Statistics dissected by Anna Irrera, a pioneering writer on fintech, show that none of the top twenty European fintech companies that received the largest venture capital investments in 2014 had a female chief executive. Moreover, only 9 of 114 key executives at those firms were women. In the top fifty companies, there are only 11 women out of 222 key executives. And only one female CEO.

Fintech’s extraordinary growth is largely due to its perfectly balanced ecosystem. London has a dense population of innovators, a pipeline of technologically driven talent, as well as a core of highly collaborative entrepreneurs supported by a sympathetic government. Plus investors are interested enough to actually invest, meaning London alone has raised more money for fintech than the rest of Europe. The industry is now worth over £20billion. And London is the biggest global centre for financial technology based on the number of people employed in the industry.

The benefits of gender diversity in the development of any business are already evidenced and championed. Sarah Turner of Angel Academe, emphasised the need for ‘diversity throughout the entrepreneurial ecosystem’. Yet, put simply, this does not yet exist. The ‘disruptors’ seem to be just as traditional in their gender biases as any other part of finance.

What is reassuring is that, for a relatively young industry, it is also one of the most pioneering.

The inaugural Innovate Finance Global Summit, which took place on March 10th 2015, was the brainchild of a board of women CEOs. The Women in Fintech supplement was released to coincide with the summit. Containing twenty pages dedicated to senior-level women, it listed the women who are not just part of the fintech sector, but defining it.

Software engineer turned investor, Eileen Burbidge, has used mentorship, investments and co-working to become a powerhouse behind dozens of burgeoning fintech ideas. This includes both Transferwise and DueDil. Which is pretty impressive considering their CEOs are both listed on City A.M’s fintech Powerlist. Just below her of course.

Gemma Godfrey, who might well be the most popular #business influencer on social media and a quantum physicist, is also the Head of Investment Strategy at Brooks McDonald. Her emphasis on simplicity and open communication ensures her popularity, but it also means she’s right up-to-the-minute with the fintech scene which thrives on exactly those qualities.

A true innovator is Julia Groves, CEO of the crowd financing platform for renewable energy projects, Trillion Fund. Trillion Fund are not only innovating the sustainability landscape, but also the conversation around crowdfunds and alternative finance options. Others include Monitise’s Elizabeth Buse, and Seedr’s Karen Kerrigan, both of whom are making a tangible difference to the way we think about money in the digital world.

And then there’s Claire Cockerton. From start-ups to global enterprises, Cockerton’s brainchild has fully established the Silicon Roundabout and its voice. Innovate Finance, a cross-sector, member-driven organization, it is founded on the desire to see the UK boom as a global financial centre. It also Finance demonstrates just how fintech is pulling in the talent.

Yet Cockerton is the one who said that ‘30% is the first step’ for women in fintech. That it is beyond time for aspiring women to take that step.

Because the continued success of Britain’s fintech sector depends on talent wanting to come into it.

As an industry, it is growing so fast that to sustain its momentum it needs a pipeline of creative, intelligent, passionate people.

Diversity is crucial to this.

Women are crucial.

And with so few women recognised at the top (only 8 of 61 are women on the City A.M. Powerlist), it’s time for girls to believe that they can do it.

If London is the blueprint for fintech, it’s time that it became the blueprint for gender equality in finance as well.