My journey into the unknown world of tech startups began in my early twenties. I was an aspiring product designer at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London when I first stumbled across the Internet for the very first time.
While studying for my A Levels (equivalent to high school) I worked part-time for a leading fine art auction house in London. After almost graduating from art college in 1994, my business partner and I founded iCollector plc (www.icollector.com), which was the first B2C online auction platform world-wide, a good few months before eBay! The service enabled collectors across the world to search, view and place sealed bids online prior to live auction events.
By today’s standards, the website was incredibly basic and extremely slow but our users loved it. Very soon after launch auctions-on-line (as it was initially called) received a great deal of attention from both the trade and mainstream media, culminating in the company being featured in both Time and Forbes.
While at iCollector, I travelled extensively throughout the world visiting auction houses, antiques dealers and art galleries to persuade them to list their inventory on our website. Before long, hundreds of companies signed up and we eventually managed to aggregate billions of dollars worth of product listings, and I personally initiated a strategic alliance with eBay to list our live auctions (via a live bidding solution developed by the company) within a dedicated section of the site called “eBay Premier” (since discontinued).
In 1996 iCollector plc successfully raised a substantial round of funding through an Initial Public Offering of company shares via the unregulated exchange OFEX. At the height of the dot com boom the company was valued at $100m+ and employed hundreds of people. Lehman Brothers were appointed prior to a full listing on The London Stock Exchange and life was good.
Just prior to the IPO, sentiment changed almost over night and consumer Internet stocks took a sudden tumble, and plans for the impending IPO were abandoned. Fortunately I had exited by this point. Instead of the planned IPO, the company was acquired by AbleAuctions Inc and continues to trade in the USA. Things worked out okay in the end but it was an incredible roller coaster ride!
So that is how my journey into the world of tech startups began.
After a successful exit from iCollector, I indulged my passion for motor racing by acquiring a majority stake in The Classic Tyrrell F1 Team as well as the rights to the FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship. Three fun-filled seasons later, I decided it was time to move on, left the motor racing industry behind, and sold my prized Tyrrell 012 Formula One car, and stake in the team.
My next venture was a company that prevented IP theft of illegally downloaded content via illicit P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing networks. The company was backed by record labels, movie studios and one of the world’s greatest Irish rock bands.
After that, I was invited to cross the Sahara desert with Richard Noble OBE (the land speed record legend), which was an incredible experience. Starting from London, we drove the once-in-a-lifetime 5,000 mile trip in a convoy of three Land Rovers. During most of the journey we were completely isolated with no backup support, so had to be complete self-sufficient. It was a fantastic experience, that I will never forget.
I then moved to Scotland to become an entrepreneur in residence at The School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, embedded within the ‘Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute’, and in 2008, while still at Edinburgh, I founded my next tech startup Vibio (View Inventory By Invitation Only). It was a social commerce platform that enabled people to buy and sell used goods with their friends. They could also find other trusted contacts within their extended network, who shared their passion for buying and selling unique and interesting items. After successfully raising a seed round of $1m+, I established a US subsidiary (Vibio Inc) and opened an office in San Francisco.
I then returned to London where I was offered the opportunity to work with a pioneer in the Internet of Things (IoT) sector, then returned to Scotland where I continue to actively pursue opportunities within this fascinating and dynamic sector.