Written by Roro on October 29, 2012
Angus Bankes, who in 1998 co-founded Moreover Technologies with Nick Denton and David Galbraith, is a technology entrepreneur with deep experience growing and selling tech start-ups in the UK and the USA.
Angus gave a memorable talk at TELL (Talks on Entrepreneurial Leadership at London Business School) on October 17th, entitled ‘5 Key Moments in My Internet Journey’. For anyone in the Escape community with an interest in tech startups, this post is a must read.
Key Moment 1 – In Which Angus Discovers the Internet
It all started one fateful evening in 1994, at the Windsor Castle Pub in Notting Hill Gate… Angus was meeting a friend for a pint. The friend was accessing research documents from America on something called “the internet”. Angus was blown away by this – this was the pre-email era, mind you – and soon as he got home that evening signed up for Demon Internet. He paid for a modem, set it all up, and presto! – he was connected to the internet. But it wasn’t quite what he’d expected… for starters, what was this flashing prompt on a black screen? What was this jumble of FTPs and unformatted bulletin boards? But then he got hold of an early web browser, and suddenly something clicked: the internet, with its browser-centralised data would fundamentally change how we access and manage information, and communicate with one another.
At the time Angus was working at a healthcare startup but now, totally inspired, he quit his job to seek out internet development projects. He’d studied biotechnology at university but realising at a very early age that he was into computers, he’d dabbled in programming and considered himself a techie. Angus soon teamed up with a school friend, architect and designer David Galbraith. Together, running the web design/development arm of RTA, they built the first large scale intranet in the UK, linking staffing between 60 hospitals. Eventually they co-founded Origins.net, a genealogy service which created the first online access to government data and was the largest online database in Europe at the time, and the first pay-per-view website.
Key Moment 2 – In Which Angus Takes Part in the Heady Days of dot.com
The turn of the millennium; by this time Angus and David had joined forces with Nick Denton (Gawker Media) to found Moreover.com, a news search engine which powered Yahoo and MSN and Altavista news, before Google had news search (random fact: Google decided to create Google News after Altavista bagged a ton of traffic to its Moreover-powered news feed during 9/11).
The application, though groundbreaking, was really quite simple: Moreover gathered news headlines from various sites based on specific tags, and then regularly and automatically pushed these headlines out to its clients’ websites in a way that made their previously static websites appear real time and dynamic. The internet wasn’t dynamic back then. But news was. It was coming at you from all over the place, and Moreover allowed you to get it all in one place. The company offered the service first in the US, then the UK and the rest of the world. It was a dynamic age, and in many ways Moreover was at the centre of things. It was a pioneer in the early use of weblogs via newsblogger, news search, and content syndication via XML and RSS (they co-authored the RSS 1.0 standard, and were a driving force in the mass adoption of RSS feeds).
The team was “charging around the globe,” pitching and raising development capital. The pitch was well received and Moreover landed funding from Advance Publications, Atlas Venture, Reuters Venture Capital and Dawntreader Ventures. They raised “a considerable amount, in retrospect probably too much – but it was of the time”. And then the bubble burst. The impact on Moreover was more strategic than financial – whereas before investors were supportive of growth and development and “a good story”, suddenly they cared very much about revenue generation. Moreover had some content integration plans to take advantage of the nascent online advertising market, but these were a long way off from being monetised. And suddenly they’d run out of time. They had no choice but to change their business model, taking Moreover from a mass-produced feed company to a B2B metabase which facilitated classic media monitoring for large companies. In retrospect this shift of focus to enterprise applications right before the consumer news market and the advertising networks fully took-off was perhaps unfortunate. But in the rough years of the tech bust when hundreds of dot.com ventures went belly up, it was probably a wise idea that saved the company from a similar fate.
Key Moment 3 – In Which Angus Learns to Sell, and Nails The Big Sale
Fast forward five years, and the Moreover team is charging around again, this time doing a ‘reverse pitch’ to sell the company. They attracted a lot of interest, particularly from media and advertising companies. They’d come a long way, growing to about 50 people spread across 3 offices. Angus was based in New York, and Nick and David in San Francisco (a small office but one which gave them a key presence on the all-important West Coast). Most importantly, they’d learned to sell. They had a great sales force (most based in London) selling to corporates and media monitoring firms, and were turning a profit. In October 2005, amidst all of the interest (Google is rumoured to have made a higher last minute bid), this company that was started in 1998 by three Brits around a Shoreditch kitchen table was sold to VeriSign (NASDAQ: VRSN) for a reported $33m.
Angus’ key takeaway (besides a well deserved payout!) was that they’d hired the right team of people. It wasn’t all rosy, he admits to having “wasted a lot of money on people in San Francisco,” and wishes they’d been wiser about “hiring people for functions they didn’t know much about.” But sometimes they got it right; over the years employees had come and gone, but the people left at the time of the sale had mostly been there from the very beginning and had grown with the company.
Key Moment 4 – In Which Angus Goes Corporate, and Learns to Love It (Sort Of)
After the sale the business was scaled up to about 70 people and Angus, who’d stayed on to manage things, now found himself working for VeriSign. It was his very first experience in the corporate world and he was more than a little skeptical at first. But he quickly realised how much there was to learn in this new environment. The Moreover business unit had ended up in the well run ‘Real-Time Publisher Services’ division at VeriSign which had lots of good managers; Angus learned a lot from them about management techniques, what would work in a smaller company and what wouldn’t. He learned how to make people feel empowered, and that there’s much more to inspiring people than having great ideas – it takes effort, being present, and not expecting people to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself.
Key Moment 5 – In Which Angus Declares Himself a Believer!
Soon enough Angus felt he’d done his time in the corporate world. He left VeriSign and joined the team at Skimlinks as CIO covering technology strategy and architecture. He is also involved in a number of other projects, and along with another team of founders/investors has recently set up the incubator JustAddRed which is looking at a range of projects which are quite diverse, but are tied together by centralised tech and digital marketing teams.
Angus is a true believer in using nextgen technologies to drive new market opportunities. He describes ‘Silicon Roundabout’ as “very much a moment in time.” Unfortunately with macroeconomic pressures from a double-dip recession the industry growth cycle is “a bit difficult to read at the moment.” Nonetheless he sees a real tech community now in London, largely based in those few miles between Old Street and Brick Lane. There are worthwhile events going on any given night of the week, people are meeting and interacting and exchanging ideas, there’s innovation and access and it’s all great… or is it? There are plenty of ideas, but at seed level, the VC level, it’s still hard to find capital; in that regard things seem to be a little easier in Silicon Valley.
Angus ended his fascinating talk by listing his 3 favourite tech ideas of the moment: cloud computing, new developments in data sharing, and real time everything!