Veeqo's founder talks Welsh tech talent and why crowdfunding is a game changer
8 min read
11 May 2015
Matt Warren's Swansea-based ecommerce company recently passed the £1m mark through crowdfunding, so who better to discuss the merits of raising money this way?
As well as working on Veeqo’s expansion, Warren has made it a project to get the tech scene up and running Wales. While he’d always had the drive to start his own business, he hadn’t always been keen to help others do the same.
The first indications of Warren’s entrepreneurial spirit made themselves known quite early on. As a 13 year-old he decided to set up a fishing competition and invited people to attend. “I took an advert out in an angling magazine, and set up a voice recording on the phone for people to confirm their attendance,” he recalled. The event was a success, drawing around a hundred people.
Warren decided fishing wasn’t his true calling, but becoming an entrepreneur evidently was – even if it wasn’t quite so black and white for him at the time. “My passion has always been computing and tech, and I knew I wanted to make money, so starting my own business looked to be a way to do that,” he explained rather matter-of-factly.
His first opportunity came through a friend offering him an expensive watch, which Warren admitted he had no idea about, so took to the internet for research. “I couldn’t find any information,” he admitted, and saw the opportunity to create his first business. Blitz Enterprises, his first endeavour, was followed by Jura Watches – the UK’s first official online luxury watch retailer.
Being immersed in the luxury watch world for several years, how does Warren feel about the much-heralded arrival of the Apple Watch? “It’ll be interesting,” he hedged. “The luxury watch market is very stale – it hasn’t really changed for the past fifty years or so, and Apple is really shaking it up,” Warren added. And what about the consumer response? “People looking for it are buying a status symbol, and you’re effectively buying a brand,” he said.
Veeqo as a company came about when Warren worked at ecommerce companies where several different platforms were causing issues, and decided with his programming background that he could create the software solution to address them. Veeqo started off as a solo project, now has 24 members of staff and is currently hiring.
It surpassed the £1m mark through crowdfunding on Seedrs, becoming the first Welsh company to do so, and from Warren’s perspective the opportunity provided from crowd funding is of huge significance to budding startups. “Before businesses had to find investors, which was incredibly difficult. I mean there’s no directory – there’s no Yellow Pages of investors for you to dial up,” he said wryly. “Crowdfunding provides a massive national platform which has never been available before.” It allows new businesses to put themselves in front of those most important to them, and show off what they have.
The interesting backstory to Veeqo’s quick progress is its development in Wales. Alongside this, Warren has helped set up TechHub Swansea with Paul Harwood and Adam Curtis. “There hadn’t really been a tech scene here before and it needed a focal point,” he said. They hoped it would function much as other tech hubs across the UK do – providing space for entrepreneurs to meet, work and collaborate.
It was slow to get going, Warren admitted, though after and a year and half has over 40 startups and will have to expand to provide more as they’ve run out of space. David Buttress, CEO of Just Eat, was a recent attendee of a TechHub Swansea event, and a useful ambassador to have – especially as his online restaurant delivery firm goes from strength to strength.
When asked if it had always been part of his agenda to help out others in a similar position, Warren is frank in his reply. “I’d never really been concerned – I was very guarded and secretive about my ideas up until about two years ago. I kept myself holed up in my own office,” he explained. He realised though, that “if you share with people, they tend to share back” and it’s a great way of learning. “It’s not entirely selfless, but we’ve built up a great community and established a network between Cardiff and Swansea which is great,” he added.
Warren also has some interesting comments regarding the startup scene across Wales in general. When discussing it being something of a slow-burner, he was quick to attribute part of the problem to a “culture issue”.“Fundamentally, there’s a lack of confidence in Wales. We needed some ambassadors to show that people can do it,” he explained. “There was a lot of negativity and a fear of failure.”
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While he pointed to the community side being a big draw for people – this also has its drawbacks. “It’s a tight community, so if you fail everyone will know, including your nan and your aunt,” Warren said. TechHub Swansea has tried to tackle that by incorporating advice and events with well-known Welsh figures like Buttress attending.
The next step is attempting to utilise the deep talent pool on offer from the local universities, which Warren said has been “seeping to London and Manchester”. He added: “It’s about creating that ecosystem in the first place. No one locally was pushing the scene, so in the end I just thought, why not me?”
He will, of course, be balancing that alongside the development of Veeqo. The company was recently announced as one of 12 companies making waves across Wales and the south west for Digital 2015 – a festival celebrating digital innovation.
Veeqo’s £1m funding round will boost the company’s plans to expand into the US. The multi-national usage of Veeqo is something Warren is particularly proud of. “We have customers from South Africa to Australia. Just the fact we’ve developed a product that customers like, and it has become a global company is great,” he said.