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Spotlight on… Film Technology

Spotlight on… Film Technology

The 2018 awards season is well underway. Commentators are announcing their last-minute predictions ahead of today’s Oscar nominations and #TimesUp is making this one of the most memorable and poignant seasons of all time. It’s no surprise that the media has a sharper focus on the film industry than ever before.

The filmmaking business has undergone some real change in the past couple of years, and technology has been monumental in driving progress and empowering independent filmmakers and content creators. But which Film Technology companies should we be keeping an eye on in the next year?

The edit: Frame.io

Frame.io is the tool that helps creatives keep the creative process moving. Editing content is often slowed down drastically by file transfer and lengthy review processes. Frame.io replaces Dropbox, for file sharing, Vimeo for video review, and email for feedback. Integrated with all of filmmakers’ favourite tools including Premiere Pro, After Effects, Final Cut, Slack, and Vimeo, this is a collaboration platform with some serious streamlining powers.

The training: Masterclass

Masterclass has firmly made its mark on the online learning space in the last year with its all-access pass to online classes taught by some of the biggest names in the creative industries. With screenwriting programmes from Aaron Sorkin, film scoring lessons from Hans Zimmer, directing classes from Ron Howard, and writing masterclasses from Shonda Rhimes, the platform offers unparalleled access to flexible learning course from world-class industry professionals.

The grade: DaVinci Resolve

A favourite of editors and colourists around the globe, the latest iteration of DaVinci Resolve is an industry leading set of tools for editing, colour correction and professional audio post production. The software – which is completely free – was originally designed for the industry’s elite colourists, but is now available to all. With Resolve 14, creatives can switch between editing, colour correcting and audio mastering almost seamlessly, making it one of the easiest tools to use.

The soundtrack: Filmstro

Finding or scoring music for pre-shot footage can be an incredibly frustrating process for creatives, but new platforms such as Filmstro aim to make this time-consuming process far easier. Filmstro is a music library for content creators and filmmakers that sits behind ‘intuitive software’ and allows them to create musical scores to accompany their footage. Now integrated with both Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, the platform uses a roster of talented composers from across the globe to allow users to control the momentum, depth and power of their music.

The gadget: DJI Osmo

DJI have been leading the way when it comes to drones in recent years, but one of their newest tools is a game-changer for creatives looking to create professional looking video on the go. The newest version of the Osmo Mobile is a compact handheld gimbal for smartphones. With a lightweight design, cinematic movement, and active tracking, this is the perfect tool for professionals on the move.

The subscription: Flix Premiere

The appetite for independent films is growing year on year, and Flix Premiere is looking to feed this growing demand for originally storytelling with its video-on-demand platform. With new, exclusive, releases each week, it’s an online cinema that helps overlooked independent films find their audiences. The platform offers exclusive access to curated theatrical releases, and award winning independent productions making it perfect for movie goers tired of studio blockbusters.

Technology’s Smarter working initiative shortlisted for PR campaign of the year

The PHA Group’s Technology & Innovation team is delighted to have its work recognised in this year’s B2B Marketing Awards – shortlisted for ‘PR Campaign of the Year’.

The Smarter Working Initiative (SWI), which the T&I team first developed in 2016 with long-standing client Powwownow, has been listed alongside eight other PR campaigns, with the winner due to be announced at a gala dinner on 23rd November.

The T&I team worked closely with Powowwnow to develop the inaugural campaign designed to have significant longevity. The brief was to challenge existing perceptions of flexible working and promote the benefits of embracing a working culture that aligns with employees’ personal lives.

As a business with a core ethos of efficiency, productivity, and collaboration, Powwownow’s objective in 2016 was to increase awareness of the benefits of smarter working among UK business leaders and employers. Aware that only 6% of UK businesses proactively offered flexible working to their employees, the team set out to fundamentally change how employers think about smarter working practices.

The SWI was foremost an awareness day: Monday 25th July 2016 – the first day of the school summer holidays. A supporting integrated PR strategy, combining cut-through thought leadership content, data stories, news agenda hijacking and relevant and insightful broadcast interviews for members of the senior management team, helped position Powwownow as a leading authority on smarter working across a range of business sectors.

In the build-up to and following Monday 25th July, the team achieved over 30 pieces of media coverage, reaching a significant business audience across the UK and Europe. MD Jason Downes and FD Andrew Johnson appeared on BBC News ‘Business Live’, Sky News, London Live, talkRadio and Share Radio discussing topics including business efficiency and the rise of technology to facilitate flexible working.

Powwownow FD Andrew Johnson on Sky News

 

The team’s efforts saw Powwownow more than double their initial target of business sign-ups by securing over 120 businesses, including leading UK employers such as Purplebricks.com, RED Driving School and Orebar Brown. Over 100,000 UK employees worked flexibly on the day thanks to the initiative.

The SWI received prominent coverage across online and traditional media. Online, we reached business leaders through thought leadership pieces for MD Jason Downes, CTO Chris Martin and FD Andrew Johnson in a variety of publications including Virgin.com and Real Business. Targeting employees, the team also secured press on consumer-led websites such as Metro and Marie Claire, using unique data stories supported by thought leadership. The initiative was also covered nationally in The Telegraph and The Sun, with a prominent photo story in the latter reporting the social media campaign which ran over the course of a week.

Not only did the SWI reach a far wider audience than originally anticipated, it established positive brand awareness and positively changed assumptions about flexible working. After the initiative, 78 percent of business owners who did not previously offer flexible working to their employees said they would do so in 2017 and beyond – a tangible change in attitudes towards smarter working.

Most importantly, Powwownow were delighted with the campaign and last month the Tech & Innovation team oversaw the SWI 2017, which saw over 200,000 employees from over 200 businesses work flexibly on Monday 24th July, resulting in MD Jason Downes appearing on BBC News.

Powwownow MD Jason Downes on BBC News

What exactly is Industry 4.0?

When you think of the first industrial revolution, steam trains, dark factories, and Isambard Brunel in his tall hat all spring to mind. Skip forward to the early 20th Century, and the surge of mass consumption with the trusty assembly line, symbolises the second industry revolution. Fast forward again to the late 1940s and we find ourselves in the ‘Digital Revolution’ or third revolution. Led by revolutionaries like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and companies such as IBM, this period of history has seen more technological advancement than the previous two revolutions put together.

They say the best things come in threes, but I beg to differ – think The Beatles, ABBA, Queen and of course four leaf clovers. And now the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, has joined this elite club.

The first and second revolution were a reaction to a sudden demand for industries which required a huge surge in productivity and innovation. To grow in these times, you needed to be producing more and putting more back into the economy – but this is where economies today have become stagnant. Industry 4.0 is the answer to how companies are overcoming this problem.

Industry 4.0 isn’t digitalisation of the mechanic industry, this has already been happening for nearly 50 years, rather it encompasses how we have begun to harness data in real time and use this information to structure the existing manufacturing chain. Ultimately creating a more efficient global ecosystem. But how is Industry 4.0 making an impact on our lives right now?

In 1909, Henry Ford famously said, ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.’ Mass production used to be king, but there’s a new guy in town now – personalisation.

With the dawn of Industry 4.0, mass production is being replaced by scale customisation, meaning all customers can buy the product they want, with the design they want, for no extra cost at all. Companies, and so their machines, now revolve around the individual customer, rather than the other way around.

The technology leading the way this personalisation trend is additive manufacturing more commonly known as 3D Printing. Factories using 3D printing can design prototypes and test new parts in hours rather than weeks – significantly reducing the amount of time and money it takes to create custom products for customers.

Honeywell Aerospace are pioneering the use of 3D printing and Airbus unveiled the first aircraft to be entirely made by additive manufacturing. Engineers can keep adding, checking, and changing their products, with no time lost. This is a huge benefit to not only the customer but the company itself as it reduces costs while maintaining quality and keeping customers happy.

 Another way Industry 4.0 is changing our everyday lives without us knowing is through creating smart factories. A ‘smart factory’ is a networked factory harnessing data from design teams, supply chains, production lines and quality control are linked to form an intelligent machine. According to McKinsey, the economic impact of smart factories could reach up to $2.3trillion by 2025.

Companies like Amazon have embraced robots scuttling around their warehouses for years, with over 30,000 Kiva robots darting around its warehouses across the globe reducing the operating expenses by about 20%.

As well as having robots running factories, everything on factory plants is now connected. Industry Internet of Things (IIToT) enables companies with huge factories to gain a comprehensive understanding of all current operations which means they can understand and monitor their products in real time. This benefits the customer too, as they also can find out exactly where their product is from ordering it online to receiving it in the post. Industry 4.0 is creating a more transparent business model for all involved.

Industry 4.0 is putting customers at the centre of production. Increasingly, they will be able to personalise their purchases when and where they want to. According to a PWC report, manufacturers expect to reduce operational costs by 3.6% while increasing efficiency by 4.1% annually through 2020 thanks to Industry 4.0. Ultimately, it looks like industry 4.0 is going to revolutionise manufacturing and the future is looking very bright.

How tech is widening the discussion around mental health

This year’s Mental Health Week (8-14th May) will focus on raising the discussion around mental health and uncovering why too few of us are thriving with good mental health. The Mental Health Foundation rightly argues that rather than focusing on mental ill-health, we should be exploring how we can cultivate good mental wellbeing; shaping a national approach that individuals, families, and communities can utilise to reframe our attitudes to mental health.

The recent support that the young royals – William, Kate and Harry – have given to Heads Together has brought mental health and well-being to the forefront of the nation’s mind. Their simple message that “shattering stigma on mental health starts with simple conversations” is one that everyone should take on board.

With this conversation finally getting the national attention it deserves, we have witnessed a sudden explosion in technology specifically focused on improving mental health alongside creating new therapies and tools to help diagnose and treat mental illness.

Wellbeing

A key area that technology has opened up is mental wellbeing and mindfulness. With figures of those suffering from anxiety and depression on the rise, it is essential that people focus on reducing stress in their everyday lives.

Apps, such as Headspace and Calm, show users how 10 minutes of simple meditation and mindful exercises can help create a more positive perspective of the world around us. These apps have been proven to be effective in treating those suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic pain. Picking up on the serious implications stress can have on our everyday lives, these apps have pioneered the way for digital meditation – making the benefits accessible to more people than ever before.

Marko Ahtisarri, the ex-head of product design at Nokia, has also launched the Sync Project to explore the impact music has on the brain and how this can help increase relaxation. The project has developed a Slack bot that delivers a personalised playlist to 400 teams around the world which encourages listeners to feed back on their reactions to the music. Through this bot, the project applies machine learning to curate personalised music therapy to trigger health benefits.

Sync Project combines Artificial Intelligence (AI) with music from British ambient trio Marconi Union to tackle stress levels, utilising recent research that has shown that music affects the same neural pathways that are regulated by psychostimulants and other drugs. It is still in early stages, but it offers an interesting insight into how AI can create personalised therapy.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Alongside creating technology which can help people better understand what contributes to good mental health, there have been several advancements in technology which assist doctors in diagnosing and treating certain medical issues.

One such MedTech product that has been receiving praise is Babylon, the ‘virtual doctor’ which offers patients instant, digitised consultations through their app, ultimately cutting down the time wasted trying to get a doctor’s appointment. The AI tool helps doctors by providing them with a diagnosis of more routine conditions and puts you directly in touch with your GP – whether it by via messenger or a GP video chat.

US based NeuroLex has also utilised AI technology to create a service which screen’s patients for schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s Disease. The company’s CEO Jim Schwoebel was inspired to create the product after his own brother developed psychosis. It took doctors more than 10 primary-care appointments to diagnosis his psychosis and Schwoebel wanted to make a service that could do this faster, by recording and then analysing a patient’s conversations with a doctor to spot any linguistic clues of mental illness.

These companies are proof that mental health and the wider conversation are beginning to break into the mainstream tech scene, encouraging new discoveries to help in advance conversations around mental wellbeing and diagnosis. Combined with the increasing number of safe spaces being launched online, such as Big White Wall, this is definitely an area of innovation to watch.

If you would like to talk about how your tech brand or company could benefit from PR, please get in touch with us today.

The future of meat

Drought Arid Soil - Environment Water Shortage

It is now widely understood that modern industrialised farming, and by extension, a carnivorous diet, is bad for the environment and often one’s health. In recent years people have become aware of not just the ethical and emotional arguments for reducing meat intake, but also the stress it puts on the planet, specifically in its unsustainable use of water and implications for ecosystem and soil degradation. The in-and-outs of these consequences are innumerable and would require reams of text to properly address, however, the UN nicely sums up the proximity of the catastrophe in its estimation that we have just 60 harvests left.

So what are our options? Many suggest a complete overhaul of modern farming systems, switching to a lower intensity, decentralised system and one that embraces the natural diets of many animals – i.e. grazing cattle and feeding pigs on scrap food, which both animals would be able to digest better than the currently preferred soya or corn. However, such a top-down change seems unlikely, and as is so often the case with these things, the consumer must take charge to see change. This is where the recently super-popularised diets of vegetarianism, veganism and flexitarianism come in.

Awesome infographic! To everyone spreading the word and supporting this movement, THANK YOU.

A post shared by Cowspiracy (@cowspiracy) on

The market has exploded in recent years to cater to these newly established segments, ones especially driven by millennial engagement. This has likely been helped by social media movements and awareness garnered by celebrity spokespeople, as well as a number of internationally acclaimed documentaries such as Food Inc. and Cowspiracy. Millennials have shown their interest in and commitment to healthier diets, and in five years they’ll have families and will be the target market.

Get your burger hands on.

This shift has prompted huge innovations in the food sector; US companies like Beyond Meat sell a plant-based burger in Whole Foods nationwide, and Impossible Foods have created a burger that sizzles, smells and even bleeds like real meat. In fact, Impossible Foods has been so successful that the critically acclaimed David Chang has introduced the ‘Impossible Burger’ to his menu at Momofuku Nishi.

For those of us over the pond, we have London-based More Than Meat, which can be delivered to your door, and the Scottish-based Mheat, who make vegan ‘cheeze’ and a range of deli meats!

Steak and chips anyone? Vegan, of course.

With American’s consuming on average 50% more than their body weight in meat every year, and Britons only slightly lower at just over our body weight, there is clearly a lasting market for meat. These innovations in consumption provide a lasting alternative to industrial farming and could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 70%. However, for those who are most concerned with maintaining their high protein intake, there may be another entirely different alternative. Insects.

French company Jimini’s make a range of insect-based snacks, from fruity curry Grasshoppers to sesame and cumin mealworms, and the more conveniently packaged banana and dark chocolate cricket flour protein bars. As it turns out, these little insects are absolutely packed full of protein, fibre, iron and calcium and so provide a great alternative to the more adventurous individual looking to cut down their reliance on farmed animals. Although not suitable for vegetarians or vegans, insect-based foods have been praised for their minimised impact on the environment.

However, it is clear that not everyone will be willing to make this switch to a meat-free lifestyle, and this is where a number of leading labs in the USA are breaking some serious ground. Companies like Super Meat and Memphis Meats are producing real meat that is grown in lab conditions. It looks like, tastes like, smells like and really is real meat, just without the environmental consequences (and of course animal suffering).

These products offer a sustainable alternative to the meat-centric society of today. Such food innovations paint a picture of a modern meat-landscape that can feed our growing populations without jeopardising soil and water quality. Hopefully, this can do something to reduce the whopping 14% of greenhouse gas emissions that agriculture currently contributes.

Clearly, views are shifting, and people are increasingly open to alternatives, but which one will come out on top and what will the ‘foodscapes’ of the future look like?

Top 10 Augmented and Virtual Reality Companies to Watch at CES 2017

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality exploded in 2016, with $1.1 billion being invested in the technology and 2017 is set to be no different, with hundreds of companies looking to showcase their wares at this year’s CES in Vegas. But who will take home the gold? We’ve picked our top contenders in this year’s Augmented and Virtual Reality Category:

  • Amazon Alexa: The Alexa is often just viewed as the voice behind Amazon Echo, but it is so much more than this. It is the software that provides the device with the skills and know-how to allow users to interact with the device in a more personal way. Always getting smarter, Alexa is set to reveal a whole host of new abilities this year.
  • Holo Lamp: This UK startup is making its first appearance at CES this year with the first portable device to offer an AR experience that needs neither a headset nor hands view. A must have for gamers, the device connects to computers and creates a 3D image directly on your environment using an optical effect based on projection and eye tracking.
  • Go Touch VR: This French company has dived into the haptics side of VR and created a wearable ring that generates a real contact under the user’s fingers. This combination of VR and real touch creates the illusion of touching a real object. Set to launch a Kickstarter campaign next year, this is a company to watch!

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  • WooHoo by Smart Beings: If you’re looking for a smart device that has the latest and greatest technology, then look no further than the Silicon Valley start-up SmartBeings Inc. They will be showcasing their latest device, WooHoo in Vegas, which integrates facial recognition, voice recognition, LED Display and an IoT Hub, along with the world’s 1st cloud-based Smart Home software. What more could you need?
  • VISR VR: The brainchild of the gamers at Hull University, VISR VR has worked with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Coca-Cola to create tailored VR experiences. At CES they will be unveiling an imaging device, which they claim will bring VR capability to anyone with an imagination.
  • Artec 3D: Innovators in 3D hardware and software solutions, Artec have become well known for their Artec Shapify Booth, the world’s only automated 3D body scanning system for making 3D printed portraits. This year they are set to showcase their latest range of handheld 3D scanners.

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  • ARM: The digital leader in all things smart, ARM is constantly creating new technology that is transforming the world we live in. From smartphones, tablets, and the Internet of Things to what is in your house or on your wrist, to the networks and cloud that connect it all, ARM will have something for everyone at their stand this year.
  • Tanvas: Despite advances in graphics, sound and vibration, today’s touchscreen is still just a static window to the digital world. To tackle this, Tanvas have utilised surface haptics to make touch possible. Creating infinite dynamic textures that simulate touch and create a new dimension of interaction, Tanvas have generated the next gateway to multisensory experiences.

Enjoyed this post? Read more of our series on the latest and greatest from CES 2017

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: A Startup By Any Other Name

Fintech is crazy hot right now. Just ask Oscar Williams-Grut. Or Anna Irrerra.

With London Technology Week behind us, and the UK’s first fintech unicorns (companies valued at over £1bn) announced, fintech’s popularity is scorching headlines. In fact, it’s burning through the business world.

However, you might also have noticed the latest fintech startups becoming more and more creative with their branding. In particular: brand names that now range from the artfully misspelt to the completely baffling.

This creativity seems to stem from the desire to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. It’s beginning to resemble the rush hour train from London to Aylesbury with everyone crammed into a single sweltering, economy carriage. And they all want the much-coveted upgrade to Business Class.

So then what’s in a name? Does creative naming help or hinder a fintech startup? Can it help you get the golden ticket?

 

Finding the right name for a product, or even for the small business that makes it, is notoriously tricky.

The general understanding is that there are different ‘genres’ of fintech startup – banking fintech, consumer finance fintech, wealth management fintech, payments fintech, investor or incubator fintech. However, like any other set of definitions, there is a great deal of overlap – ie. between consumer finance and payments.

This presents a unique challenge.

How to make something meaningful and memorable whilst working within the relatively narrow parameters laid out by trailblazers and recognised by the target audience? An audience, I might add, that is more digitally and financially aware than ever before.

In a recent article in City A.M., they looked at five tech startups seeking to disrupt the financial industry that have caught the eye of some of the world’s leading firms in the sector.

All winners of a search for startups creating new technology by RBS, Lloyds and American Express, and the Department for Business (amongst others), include a savings app, a company using visual cryptography to create secure passwords and a money laundering detection service.

But if you look at this list of the five winning names, can you pick out which three I’ve described? Here are your options:

Swave. Tento. Bubbal. Squirrel. Mentat.

As it turned out, when I first read the article, I was surprised at how little I understood what they did.

The only name I instantly connected with was Squirrel, which turned out to be what I expected: a platform to help you ‘squirrel away’ some savings.  Bubbal too I figured out eventually (it connects people to small local retailers via an app). Mainly because it reminded me of ProtectMyBubble.com.

The others, however, left me stumped.

Let’s consider Swave:

Is it a misspelled ‘suave’, chosen for the domain name? An allusion to a Secondary Wave because fintech 2.0 is like the follow-up to an earthquake? Perhaps simply a twist on ‘swathe’? Or maybe they snapped it up from Urban Dictionary, where it’s defined as a phrase coined by Brooklyn rappers H Squared to mean ‘a level above swag or swagger’?

Do any of these tell me what it does though?

Not really.

Turns out though that Swave is a personal savings platform. Winning the consumer financial literacy category, the app monitors spending and encourages users to save.  Looking again, the name suddenly makes more sense. Take out the ‘w’ and it’s ‘save’, put in the ‘w’ and it alludes to a plethora of different ideas. It’s clever. It’s unexpectedly dynamic.

Swave PHA

‘Image courtesy of Frankielion on Flickr

Yet when I asked the office the question: ‘what do you think a fintech app called Swave’ does, the replies varied between ‘an app to help people find suave clothes’ to ‘a surfing guide’.

For a young company with even younger technology, the initial ambiguity could be problematic. It is, perhaps, too clever for its own good.

Moreover, whilst it has won an award for its innovation and been lauded for its ability to provide great user experience, it’s possible to see why some investors might be deterred as early as the brand name.

The same could be said of Mentat – which, incidentally, my phone continually autocorrects but which is apparently a reference to the fictional Dune universe. Like Swave, it’s a clever name. The platform provides amazing innovation. In context, it’s easy to see why it’s a winner in the eyes of some big players… but without googling, can you really see what either is for?

 

Compare them to TransferWiseLendInvestFunding Circle. These are brands with simple, obvious names and also three of our UK fintech unicorns.

That’s not to say that none of the more creative names haven’t taken off. Seedrs works brilliantly. TrillionFund includes a fantastic story about how much it will cost to undo environmental damage. Cake, the new restaurant payment app, has garnered great attention because it ‘lets you pay with Cake’, makes paying ‘a piece of cake’, gives users a ‘taste of the sweet life’ etc. Sometimes the humour in the story or in the name can work.

 

City A.M.’s article admittedly does not go into great detail on the brands in their article, nor their creators. Indubitably, a huge amount of thought went into them.

Having asked what startup investors and venture capitalists think is important,  perhaps these top tips might help:

  1. It’s great to have a name that means something, not just something that sounds quirky.
  2. There needs to be a link between name and the activity or product. Or alternatively, a really strong story behind the name that is memorable, amusing or informative.
  3. The name needs to appeal to the audience – not just to geeks.
  4. Avoid the all-too-common trend to name it something with -ly, -me, or -fy. And without dropping vowels because that’s also a thing. It’s not original anymore.
  5. And it really needs to be original enough not to compete with other, better-established brands.  Do your research beforehand.

Investors think it’s best to avoid names that need a lot of explanation or marketing to remember. It’s important to not be too clever by half. And even more imperative that the name not disappear beneath the waves of someone else’s mojo.

For many fintech startups wanting to be the next billion-dollar unicorn, it’s vital to disrupt – not just slightly wobble – the boat. The need to stand out is paramount.

So whilst the hope is to do this with a stellar product, why start at a disadvantage with a weak name, or a name so clever no one understands it?

It’s the first sticky point, the first idea that customer engage with.

Perhaps those fintech roses really could smell sweeter.