Raising Finance

Prolific Silicon Valley investor Andreessen Horowitz backs London tech firm Improbable

3 min read

24 March 2015

Former editor

Virtual technology startup Improbable has turned to American investors to finance the future growth of its offering and secured the backing of Facebook, Airbnb and Skype investor Andreessen Horowitz.

Founded in 2012 by Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead in Cambridge, Improbable creates “virtual worlds”, allowing thousands of users to play “complex computer games” at the same time. Leveraging high-frequency trading techniques, its technology can be used across multiple servers and computers.

In a statement on its website, Improbable said it is “creating an operating environment that makes stimulated worlds possible”.

“We think stimulated worlds can be used to solve problems in areas as diverse as defence, healthcare, economics and entertainment,” it went on to say.

As part of the deal, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Chris Dixon will be joining the board and advising the business alongside the venture capital firm’s co-founder Marc Andreessen.

Commenting on his personal blog, Dixon said: “[Narula and Whitehead] have since built an outstanding team of engineers and computer scientists from companies like Google and top UK computer science programs.

“They’ve done all of this on a small seed financing, supplemented by customer revenue and research grants. We are thrilled to partner with Improbable on their mission to develop and popularise simulated worlds.

“One initial application for the Improbable technology is in gaming. Game developers have been trying to build virtual worlds for decades, but until now those worlds have been relatively small, usually running on only a handful of servers and relying on hacks to create the illusion of scale. With Improbable, developers can now create games with millions of persistent, complex, interacting entities. In addition, they can spend their time inventing game features instead of building back-end systems.”

The investment marks the latest in a growing number of investments made by US-based venture capital firms in British technology companies. From early recipients including SongKick, businesses such as SkyScanner, Funding Circle and TransferWise have gone on to secure investments from Sequoia Capital, Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

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Recent research from CB Insights indicated that although US investment was down in 2014, the same period has been the most “diverse year” for VC participation in the UK tech scene – with VCs from 18 foreign countries participating in a UK tech deal, up from the previous multi-year high of 15.

London has attracted a number of big venture capital firms in recent months. A $200m fund set up by Greylock Partners, 83North, was set up at the beginning of February, joining the likes of Google Ventures and Mosaic Ventures.

Improbable’s statement concluded: “Since our beginnings almost three years ago at Cambridge University (whose support we are deeply thankful for), we’ve solved many of the problems needed to make simulated worlds a reality. We are now supporting our first customers.”