The coolest small businesses in Wales

Earlier this week Dylan Jones Evans tweeted an article that listed The Coolest Small Businesses in America.

Without wanting to get into a big semantic ramble about the definition of “cool” (do they have to be creative and consumer-focused to get the required cool-factor?), it’s clear that some of the businesses listed in that article are big hipster nonsense that probably won’t be around by the time the next Arcade Fire album is released. But it did make me wonder what our coolest businesses are in Wales.

So here’s a couple off the top of my head – it’s going to be south Wales heavy, ill thought out, and just a handful. It’s by no means meant to be comprehensive. Just a starting point. I’d love to hear your thoughts of who I’ve missed in the comments below. It would be nice to have a list of Wales’s finest and coolest!

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Arguably the coolest place in Cardiff to eat, drink and be merry. Responsible for a whole host of arty happenings and general fun times. And they’ve got a yurt!

Famously the world’s oldest record store, and run with astonishing enthusiasm and knowledge by its owners and staff, Spillers is pure proof that you don’t have to be new to be cool.

An increasingly popular hangout in the capital, which hosts everything from cool networking events to themed cinema nights.

Tiny Rebel
Gorgeous beers are the staple of Newport’s only micro-brewery. They’ve branched out to taking over a venue in Cardiff (Urban Tap House).

Over 5,000 bands, DJs, record labels and venues worldwide use Dizzyjam to easily and freely sell their merchandise. Disclaimer – I founded it.


Waterloo Tea
A genuinely world-class tea house, with three venues across the city/Penarth. Gorgeous teas, coffees, cakes and sandwiches. What these guys don’t know about tea isn’t worth knowing.

Yello Brick
Yello Brick are an ultra-cool creative agency that creates immersive experiences, pervasive games, and multiplatform marketing for developing audiences. Worth checking out also are Make And See, who are responsible for similar stuff, and some of the coolest augmented reality I’ve ever seen. Until you’ve run alongside a virtual world-class sprinter (just so you understand just how fast those guys really are) then you haven’t lived!

Almost as much of an institution as Spillers, this arts centre and cafe is the home of Cardiff’s media and creative set. Catch an arty movie, mooch around the gallery, then have a cup of coffee next to someone designing a website or writing a BBC drama.

Dr Zigs
Providers of giant bubbles (and bubble mixture) to some of the biggest events in the world. Really!

logo-webAnd finally, after giving hipsters a ribbing, I should include at least one Welsh business that appeals squarely to people with beards who only ride fixies. So here’s Captain Cat’s Beard Oil!



A few more that have come to mind, or that have been recommended:

Hiut Denim

Brought to us by the founders of Howies and the Do Lectures, these jeans come with a real story. Beautifully hand-made in west Wales.


Gorgeous clothes and homeware from Swansea. Thanks for the tip, Gill!

A Raspberry Pi for every schoolchild in Wales?

ImageAt the Do Lectures a few years ago I was lucky enough to be in the audience as Tony Davidson spoke. His talk introduced me to the acronym BHAG – “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”. He spoke of his BHAG – to build a massive 2 mile long building/sundial in the desert. It’s a wonderful, inspiring talk, full of wit and humour, and I urge you to watch it. It’s emotional, and ostensibly about his Dad’s creativity. But the importance of having a BHAG was drilled home.

Last week I was in London and had a coffee with James Clark from the British Venture Capital Association. We both sit on a UK government panel aimed at strengthening tech clusters around the country, but we’d never had the chance to chat properly. In an all too short meeting we discussed the challenges facing Wales, and how it could help itself become an important cog in the world’s technology economy. His fresh, objective, input was invaluable and over the course of the hour Cardiff’s proximity to the Raspberry Pi production facility (just 10 miles west of where I’m sat right now) was covered, and how that could be an important part of both Cardiff and Wales’s armoury.

From their own site: “The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming”. Raspberry Pi is a charity, and is changing the way children are learning about technology. Within minutes of owning one (they cost less than £25!) you can be learning the basics of computer code, and (if you’re smart) within hours can be building your first program or computer game.

So, here’s the elevator pitch, the dream, the BHAG:

“A Raspberry Pi for every school child in Wales”.

It’s big, and slightly ridiculous. But imagine the benefits to Wales in 10 years time if every kid had had the opportunity to play with one of these every day while they were in school. Imagine how far ahead of most of the world it would put Wales if every 16 year old, even if they left school at that point, had some kind of code-literacy. As if to illustrate the point, The Arts Council, the AHRC and Nesta yesterday released a report, “Digital Culture”, that states that 40% of our cultural institutions (whether that’s dusty museums or cutting edge theatre production companies), where traditionally technology hasn’t always been a priority, say they just don’t have enough people with the digital skills to fill their needs. Where are we going to find these skilled digital workers of the future? And if this is happening in the arts, imagine how bad the situation is in web, software and other associated technologies.

Of course, it couldn’t happen overnight, or without some kind of pilot project. And it would probably take the support of the Welsh Government, as well as Raspberry Pi. But by my (very quick) maths, there are approximately 40,000 kids starting school every year in Wales. To give each one of them a Pi (at an arbitrary cost price of £10 each) would cost £500,000 (if you include £100,000 for some kind of distribution). Which is about 0.025% of WG’s annual education budget.

Even if you added in three times as much again for training/workshops/developing lesson plans etc, taking the budget to £2 million, it’s still only 0.075% of the annual education budget.

Of course, there have been dissenters to this kind of idea in the past, and something of this scale can’t be rolled out without some testing, and prototyping. Critics have suggested that at least 50% would end in cupboards, or on eBay. But even if a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of the recipients went on to become young technology innovators and entrepreneurs the economic benefits to the country would massively outweigh the costs.

Of course, this is all crazy, pie-in-the-sky thinking based on 10 minutes worth of research and maths. But there’s no reason the concept isn’t sound, or that the results would be tangible, and huge. This isn’t a hard and fast proposal, and there are endless amounts of potential barriers. But it is a call to think bigger for Wales and its future, with one eye on technology and how this phenomenally fast-growing sector is vital to our future success.

Less than an hour after I met with James Clark I was at an event with Nick D’Aloisi and marveled at how someone so young had sold a tech business (his iPhone app, Summly) for $30m earlier this year at the age of 17, having raised a $300,000 round of venture capital at the age of 15. He first made money from software at the age of 12.

Just imagine in 10 years time, having stoked a lifelong fascination in technology by earlier being given a Raspberry Pi, a young girl from Carmarthen, Wrexham or Newport is able to do something similar. By his own admission, Nick wasn’t a ruthless wannabe entrepreneur. He was just someone who built something with talent, creativity and imagination. He says it was “a hobby”. But his passion and self-taught skills gave him the platform for it to become a wildly successful business by any standard.

There’s no reason the same story couldn’t repeat across Wales over the next few decades. But it will take the right conditions to enable this. And we have to start helping to create those conditions today.

– – – –

I’m trying out putting links at the bottom of blogposts, just to see if it makes my posts more readable, and allows the reader not to get distracted. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve clicked on a link in a blogpost and then realised I never went back to the original piece. Maybe you’re not all as easily distracted as me…

That Tony Davidson talk about BHAGs.

James Clark on Twitter


Raspberry Pi

Why a Raspberry Pi for every child is a bad idea

Nick D’Aloisio

Photo credit – Mike Cogh

Digital R&D report (PDF) – Report summary (PDF)

Cardiff Life article, spring 2013 (feat. PayZip)

My Cardiff Life column from April or May of 2013. Full PDF here.

April and May have been the month of “making tough decisions”. To be honest I’d known that I needed to make changes for at least a few months, but it had taken weeks and weeks for the circumstances to align themselves to make it possible for me to make the changes I needed to.

It’s been a really challenging few months, but I’ve come through the other side feeling like I now run a startup that is much better placed to grow and scale in the way it needs to.

I think I’m probably guilty of being seduced by the romance of having a big office, with a large team, and the buzz of walking into an environment that is throbbing with people, activity, and excitement. But the reality is that the maintenance of that, emotionally, temporally and financially, takes a huge toll on your ability to devote time and energy to developing a business that needs to scale above all else.

I found myself spending 80% of my day just dealing with the office, the staff, associated admin, and getting involved with the ordering and production of the merchandise that provides us with our revenue. We’re an ecommerce platform first and foremost, but we’d taken on the production of the items that were being sold through our site, which inevitably resulted in a relatively labour-intensive process.

Add all this to the almost full-time process of seeking investment, and it’s no real wonder that I found myself not having any spare time at all.  I’d come home tired from a 12 hour day in the office and realise I’d spent almost every second servicing the business, rather than growing it; doing anything that had improved our chances of being a more profitable company tomorrow, or the next day. I’d made the classic mistake of working “in the company”, rather than “on the company”.

So, what’s the future for us? Since day one our growth has been steady, and consistent, in the worst economic climate in decades. Month on month we’ve added new users, and generated more revenue. We export nearly a third of everything that comes out of our HQ,  we’ve had worldwide press, and we very rarely receive anything but glowing reviews and feedback. But we haven’t been the explosive, exponential growth we’re seeking.

By making the changes, we now have a leaner company and massively reduced overheads, which free up a relatively large amount of cash to spend solely in areas that will help us grow, something that is absolutely vital for a company like ours, whose success is partially predicated on scale. But more than anything I now have time to concentrate on the strategy, growing the business, and thinking about the future. It’s difficult to do any of these things when you’re emptying the bins and waist-deep in t-shirt printing.
Hello! Do introduce yourself…

  • Hi, I’m Simon Hodgkinson, Managing Director of Cardiff Start-up PayZip.

What does PayZip do?

  • We provide a free payment tracking web app for clubs, societies and not-for-profits, enabling them to keep track of all member payments so they know who has paid, and more importantly who hasn’t.  Our PRO version adds online payments and a sophisticated reports suite.

What makes it special?

  • Our killer feature is the reports suite, which instantly provides a wide range of information to help reconcile payments into the club from their members.  Most other payment services must be reconciled manually which creates additional work.

What was the eureka moment that made you realise you had to build PayZip?

  • I used to be a Trustee of a charity, and saw daily challenges in collecting money from our members.  I soon realised this was as widespread issue, and subsequently had the opportunity to do something about it when I joined up with a talented bunch of developers in Penarth.

How’s business at the moment?

  • We went live in mid-April so it’s very early stages.  The signs are very encouraging though as we sign up new clubs on a daily basis, and look to sustain that growth throughout the rest of 2013 and beyond.

Where would you like your startup to be in five years’ time?

  • The potential of PayZip is massive.  In five years time we want PayZip to be the go-to app for tracking payments for clubs and societies, and in the process reduce the amount of cash being handled by these clubs.

Where can we find out more?

Cardiff Life article, spring 2013 (feat. CustomBooster)

Cardiff Life column  – April or May 2013. Full PDF here.

As I write, I’m on the train back from a meeting in 10 Downing Street. I feel a mixture of privilege, amusement and excitement. It was a great honour to be invited, but I was also surprised at what I found inside.

Being there the day after the death of Margaret Thatcher, the low-key nature of the building was only to be expected. Several news crews were camped outside, and the police ushered us in quickly, clearly not wishing for our group’s animated discussion and raised voices to be seen by the world’s media as disrespect. All attempts by some in our group to take photos outside the building were quickly quashed, saying “any other day but today, Ma’am”.

Once in the front door of the house – the fact that the bed of Larry, the famous feline occupant is less than 2 feet from the iconic front door serves as a reminder that it is still a house – you’re greeted by a stately home kind of surroundings. It’s all wood panelling, ancient art, and silverware. But venture a few metres beyond the entrance hall, and that impression doesn’t last. Past the historical ante-chamber, and you’re in the realm of scuffed paintwork, formica kitchens, past-their-best offices, and a strong sense that your tax definitely isn’t being spent on the Prime Minister’s interior decoration. Venture into the basement to the toilet and you’re greeted with a shabby alcove which is home to a broken bicycle, a wheelie bin, and a stack of old newspapers. In many respects it feels like any other house. Apart from the armed guards.

Of course, the State Dining Room in which we meet is glorious, and the history of the room is all around. Apparently in 1985, on the 250th anniversary of Number 10, all the surviving Prime Ministers had dinner together there.

I was there, along with a panel of other regional tech cluster representatives from around the country, to meet with the Prime Minister’s senior business advisor, and the CEO of Tech City (the digital/tech startup initiative based in East London). We talked enthusiastically about the UK’s leading status in the internet economy (a higher percentage of our GDP comes from the internet than any other country) and what a great opportunity we have to grow the economy by lighting a fire under this sector.

It was genuinely exciting to hear from world class startup community leaders from around the country, but also refreshing to hear the open, transparent, and forward-thinking approach the government and Tech City are taking towards changing the way we live and work. Just by using open data, and procuring existing tech from digital startups and not just large service providers, they’re anticipating making savings in the tens and hundreds of millions of pounds.

It’s arguably a few years overdue, but it seems the government is waking up to the importance of startups.


Hello! Do introduce yourself…

  • I’m Julian Luxford, from Solviq. We’re the tech company behind CustomBooster.

What does CustomBooster do?

  • We provide everything a small business needs to get online — a mobile-friendly website, email, phone number, social media integration and support — as a subscription service.

What makes it special?

  • It’s affordable yet personal. We’re not a DIY site builder, we’re a team of real people, so our service can grow with your business at the rate you need us.

What was the eureka moment that made you realise you had to build CustomBooster?

  • 25% of businesses in Wales don’t have a website, so we realised that lots of small businesses are being left behind. We saw an opportunity to use our technical expertise to help them.

How’s business at the moment?

  • It’s really exciting to see how we’re helping the early adopters. We’re running a trial now to learn how to make it easier for computer novices to engage with us.

Where would you like your startup to be in five years’ time?

  • We aim to have a portfolio of successful technology products and services that help small-tomedium businesses, and to grow so we can provide career opportunities for talented graduates from the universities in South Wales.

Where can we find out more?

Cardiff Life article, spring 2013 (feat. Audibase)

Another Cardiff Life article. Here’s the PDF of the actual page.

Last week I attended the launch of a new plan by Cardiff Council to redevelop much of the city centre and the space south of it towards the bay. It’s ambitious, still incomplete, and totally dependent on the buy-in of the private sector. But the green paper, entitled “Rebuilding Momentum”, is intended to help us understand this very economy-focused plan. It talks of our strong sporting and leisure status, our proximity to London, the planned Enterprise Zone, and the need for a world-class conference centre. It details our need to start working now, so that we’re still competitive in 50 years time.

I’m heartened that our Council is looking to the next generation of the city, and trying to work hand-in-hand with the private sector. After all, as was mentioned at the launch, none of the landmark buildings on Cardiff’s skyline were built with public money. But I am concerned that it’s easy for the smaller, creative & digital businesses to get lost amongst these big plans, where major players from construction, financial services and transport will play a major part. It’s important that we speak up, and let the Council know that we’re here, and our voice is one that needs to be listened to.

After all, as Saul Klein highlighted in a recent Guardian article, internet companies (basically anyone whose business couldn’t have existed prior to Tim Berners-Lee’s pioneering work) contribute 8% to the UK’s GDP. The highest percentage in the world. In other words, our economy needs the internet more than any other. He goes on to highlight how in a situation where 20 percent of our young people are unemployed, the tech sector is exploding, and within just 3 years will contribute over 12% to the GDP. Or £225 billion. These are hugely significant statistics that clearly outline the importance of the tech sector. And the amount of technology, IP, innovation, and sheer creativity generated by these companies is becoming a vital part of our lives.

We really can’t afford to ignore those startups that one day soon may be the next Amazons, Googles and Facebooks. And some of them may be built right here in Cardiff. How will these startups shape the future of our city? Please make sure you have your say.

In other news, I’ve been invited to 10 Downing Street to speak to the Prime Minister’s senior business advisor about Cardiff’s tech cluster, and its future. I’ll be there representing the city, alongside some key players from other tech clusters around the UK. I’m keen to take as many relevant points of view to London as possible. So please get in touch if you have something you would like to share that would strengthen our standing with Whitehall.

And finally, I hope you can join us for the official launch of Cardiff Start a City Hall on the 11th April. Full details on
Q: Hello! Do introduce yourself…

We are Audibase, an audio blogging company based in south wales. We love thinking outside the box and building creative applications.  Audibase is an exciting platform for large or small enterprises to expand their audio and develop an online audio presence.

Q: What does your startup do?

We are passionate about creating a simple and effective way of getting audio content online.  Audio is used in many different ways and Audibase seeks to enable a simple and safe environment for various groups to add their content and share it.  Various groups such as audio bloggers, interviews, podcasts, tutorials, sermons.

Q: What makes Audibase special?

Audibase is special purely for its simplicity, it is a product that is for all and can be used by anyone with a desire to share their content.  We aim to take the hassle out of technical jargon and over complicated coding.  Audibase will also be able to offer custom themes for various groups, for example churches, musicians, audio blogs and radio stations.  We can fully customise the player with personalised brand colours allowing the audio player to become a part of the website it is designed for.

Q: What was the eureka moment that made you realise you had to build this company?

After trialling a similar service s3audible and seeing the demand for a simple audio solution we decided to take steps into offering a whole audio package.  After receiving feedback from s3audible we realised that audio is going to be an integral part of our futures, and as a result decided we had no choice but to build a company around audio solutions.

Q: How’s business at the moment?

Audibase was released on 13th February, we have started to build up a strong portfolio of users.  We have managed to maintain a communicative relationship with our first customers.  We are currently establishing full packages for a website theme with full audio integration and hosting for between £5.99 – £9.99 per month.  We are really positive and looking forward to the future.

Q: Where would you like Audibase to  be in five years’ time?

We would like audibase to be a recognised brand for audio blogging.  We will have a wide range of audibase powered themes, including audio recording mobile apps, that are at the forefront of mobile audio recording.

Q: Where can we find out more?

Please checkout our service at if you would like to get in contact you can always drop us a line at

Cardiff Life article, early 2013 (feat. BipSync interview)

My Cardiff Life article, possibly March 2013.  PDF here.

The Welsh Government takes a lot of criticism for the work it does in supporting small businesses. Some of it is fair, but a lot of it isn’t. It’s arguable that we shouldn’t expect a large, intrinsically bureaucratic, organisation to be able to respond to the ever-changing, and multi-faceted, needs of our country’s startups. It’s a complex issue on both sides of the fence, and not an easy one to solve. For every company that receives a huge financial boost to allow them to grow, there will be others complaining that they don’t tick the right boxes to unlock the support, or that they just don’t have the time to work through the many forms and processes required to qualify.

One scheme that seems to have attracted almost universal positive feedback is Jobs Growth Wales. By subsidising 100% of a young, unemployed person’s wages for six months, they get that person off benefits, and the company gets the opportunity to bring in some fresh blood without having to worry about the severe impact on their cashflow. Speaking to several business owners who’ve taken on new employees through the scheme, all of them have had nothing but positive experiences. Pretty much everyone is glowing in their praise. But I thought it is probably most appropriate to give the last word to Laura Ellis, a recent English graduate that we took on here at Dizzyjam via Jobs Growth Wales.

“It’s appropriate that “growth” is at the centre of Jobs Growth Wales, because it’s exactly the word I would use to sum up my first “grown up” job. When I applied for some placements funded by the scheme, I wasn’t thinking much about what it might be like if I was lucky enough to land one of them. Even after I was asked to work for Dizzyjam I was too busy squealing about no longer being jobless (I might have done a little dance) that I didn’t stop and consider what working for a startup would be like.

It’s busy. There’s always something to do, regardless of whether it’s in my job description, and that’s what makes working for a startup different. Because everyone has to pitch in, I have the opportunity to get to know the workings of the company in a way that I don’t think I’d get in a more established business. I don’t walk past colleagues whose faces I’ve never seen before and I know how my work relates to everyone else’s.

Growth is the keyword in all of this – as Dizzyjam grows, I get the chance to grow with it. I don’t feel like I’m struggling to catch up or fit in – sometimes I feel I’m in over my head, but I’m not the only one on a learning curve. I’m not only developing myself but influencing the development of the company, too. I’m  trying not to let the power go to my head”.

  • Hello! Do introduce yourself…
    • Hi! I’m Danny Donado, CEO of BipSync.
  • What does your startup do?
    • BipSync is a secure web and mobile platform for professional investors, to help them collect, organize and synthesize their research into more profitable investment decisions. Think of it as “Evernote for Investors + for Investment opportunities”.
  • What makes Bipsync special?
    • We’re one of the very few companies that focuses on making a staggeringly beautiful, user-focused tool for what many people would see as an unsexy enterprise industry. Professionals can have it all with BipSync: enterprise-caliber security & collaboration paired with consumer-level polish & usability.
  • What was the eureka moment that made you realise you had to build this company?
    • I used to be a hedge-fund analyst in New York and almost missed one of our highest performing investments due to the outdated tools and systems that permeate the industry.
  • How’s business at the moment?
    • It’s so incredibly busy, I’m glad this interview is short! We’re just closing our seed round, are working closely with beta customers in New York and are looking to immediately expand our Cardiff developer numbers to accelerate development and meet demand.
  • Where would you like Bipsync to be in five years’ time?
    • We envision BipSync evolving into an investor “ecosystem”, interconnecting a variety of industry players, 3rd party applications and data services. We get there by building products to delight our customers – an approach foreign to this sleepy industry and embodied in our mantra: “Designed by Investors, Engineered in Silicon Valley”.
    • More info URL:

Cardiff Life article, early 2013 (feat. LexAble interview)

One of my  monthly articles for Cardiff Life magazine. Here’s the PDF, for those that like that kind of thing.

I’ve been involved with a few bits of business-related conflict recently. Thankfully nothing that warrants fisticuffs and firearms, but unpleasant emails were exchanged, threats of legal action were flung around like so much confetti, and all in all it’s left a nasty taste in my mouth, and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I pride myself on doing business in a friendly, transparent, and honest way, but it’s just something that happens in business from time to time, no matter how hard you try. I genuinely believe I’ve acted in the best possible way, but sometimes, however you act, you’re going to come up against people with whom you don’t see eye to eye, or whose expectations you’ll never be able to manage. Nothing will change that. They become “the client from hell”, and you’re constantly on the back foot, spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy on trying to keep them happy.

And herein lies one problem with the standard contractor-client business model. You’re reliant on a relatively small base of clients, each of whom can cause untold problems for you, or by disappearing can single-handedly slash your income. Scaleable web and tech businesses flip this on its head by having thousands, or even millions, of clients, all bringing in a relatively small amount of revenue. Sometimes a matter of pennies. But that’s not a problem if you have a billion users like, say, Rovio who publish the phenomenally successful Angry Birds smartphone game.

Issues of client relations become completely different when you have thousands of clients who you solely engage with online, especially if your product is primarily a digital one. If you’re iTunes, for example, and you have an unhappy customer you can just refund them 79p, or send them a new MP3. Problem solved, and everyone’s happy. Even if you’re selling a relatively high-end piece of software for, say, £200 the material cost of uploading a new copy for an unsatisfied customer, would be less than 10 pence. The minimal cost massively reduces expectation.

Also, when you have that many users you can view them as a group, and start testing hypotheses and making decisions on them statistically. Many thousands of users generate fantastic amounts of data which you can use to make decisions. If you have only five clients, it’s difficult to get any statistically significant data from them. But if of your 5,000 users 72% are more likely to create an account when you use a red button than a green one? Then present all users with a red button in future.

Of course, it’s arguable whether it’s easier to get 5 clients worth £1000 than 5,000 clients worth £1. But the reality is that there’s probably a finite amount of £1000 clients out there for what you’re selling, or the cost to reach them is prohibitive. But if you can find something that you can sell for £1, the skies the limit when it comes to how many clients you can sign up. And you probably won’t get letters from their lawyers.

Neil Cocker is the founder of, blogs at, tweets at @NeilCocker, and is helping build Cardiff’s startup community with

In this month’s Q&A Neil speaks to Neil Cottrell of LexAble, another Cardiff startup making waves.

Hello! Do introduce yourself…
I’m Neil Cottrell, Director of LexAble and the creator of Global AutoCorrect, an unique software tool for people with dyslexia and literacy issues.

What does your startup do?
Global AutoCorrect helps our users to focus on what they’re writing by automatically (and accurately) correcting their spelling as they type in any program. By minimising the distraction of spell checking, our users can focus on getting the job done.

What makes LexAble special?
Our product is unique because you don’t have to change the way you work; it runs in the background alongside the software you’re already using. We also understand the importance of accuracy when writing, so we spend a great deal of time ensuring that Global AutoCorrect never makes a false correction!

What was the Eureka moment that made you realise you had to build this company?
Global AutoCorrect was born as a personal coping strategy to help with my own spelling difficulties, but soon after starting university I realised that it had the potential to help others. With initial support provided by Cardiff University I founded LexAble and launched Global AutoCorrect as a consumer product in 2009. The rest, as they say, is history!

How’s business at the moment?
2012 was a great year for LexAble: Global AutoCorrect now has a dedicated team of developers and we’ve also acquired three more staff members to help grow our customer base. In the past year we’ve also expanded from our initial target audience of university students, into workplaces and the wider education sector.

Where would you like LexAble to be in five years’ time?
Right now our most important goal is to make Global AutoCorrect the best product it can be and bring our technology to a wide range of platforms. But we’re constantly looking for new, innovative ways to help our users to save time and get more done!

Where can we find out more?

Cardiff Life article, late 2012 (feat. Object Matrix)

I’ve still no idea which issue this come from. But here’s the PDF if you want it.

I’m sat in the kitchen of a fellow entrepreneur discussing the difficulty of growth. We both have profitable businesses that each have turned over 6 figures in the few short years we’ve been going, but still need to grow to survive. It’s arguable we could both be earning lots more, for a fraction of the time, effort and stress, by just going off to get “normal jobs”. It’s something we talked about at length, but the reality is that it seems hard to accept. Our businesses have good models, they’re scalable, profitable, and have been proven to work. But our businesses are predicated on scale and therefore need to be significantly bigger. Take Facebook, for example. Their average revenue per user is about $5 (depending on who you listen to). As a business this clearly doesn’t stack up if they only have 20,000 users. Even for Google, who reportedly generate closer to a $50 average revenue per user (ARPU), their business is only really viable when their user base hits the millions.

Not that I’m suggesting our businesses will inevitably go on to be as big as Facebook or Google, of course. But the issue of scale is relevant in both cases. Our businesses are sound and profitable, but need a large injection of users/clients to generate significant revenue. And as long as the market is there, there’s no reason this can’t happen. As ex-Dragon Doug Richard once said to me, “the number one killer of small businesses is invisibility”. In other words, if only everyone knew you were there, they’d use you. In fairness, neither my startup, or that of my fellow entrepreneur would necessarily be of use to the general public, but the point still stands. By significantly increasing our visibility there would almost certainly be a clear and demonstrable increase in our revenue.

And this is why it’s so difficult to walk away and start on the next thing, like any good serial entrepreneur. If our businesses had clearly failed to prove a minimum viable product, and weren’t so obviously founded on good business models we’d already have started something else. But we know we’re just one good client, one great piece of press, one partnership, or one generous investor away from hitting that brilliant exponential growth curve that every scalable startup dreams of. It’s like a drug that keeps you coming back for more, despite the pain it puts you through.

And because the light is always there, shining away tantalisingly at the end of the tunnel, it WILL keep most entrepreneurs coming back for more. Because if you’re the type of person who’s built a business to this stage, there’s no way you’re going to give up when success is so, so close.
Hello! Introduce yourself.
Jonathan Morgan. Founder and Managing Director of Object Matrix Ltd.
So, what does your startup do?

Object Matrix creates software to handle the storage and access of data in media workflows. Primarily we work with broadcasters, film makers and post-production.
What makes your startup special?

At 9 years old we consider ourselves an “old startup”, but we consider ourselves one of the few European storage product companies, in an industry which is dominated by the USA. We’ve constantly had to fight against the stream. However, our product is special, allowing our storage to be used in media workflows.
What was the genesis? The eureka moment that made you realise you had to build this company?

I always knew I was going to run my own companies. Everything I’ve done in my career and education has led up to Object Matrix. For this company: I had a concept of how data storage should be done. I was travelling around the world at the time with a laptop in my backpack. Much of the product design was written by a beach in Rarotonga.
And where are you at right now?

Over the past three years says have tripled yearly. Even Strictly Come Dancing is kept on our systems this season, and our system is now beginning to sell well in France.


What’s the key to your growth? In other words, if someone could wave a magic wand, what would you want them to do for your business?

We are constantly cash constrained against growing more quickly. I’ve had orders from blue chip companies in the past and have been unable to borrow money from the banks to even fund the equipment needed for large orders. If I could wave a magic wand it would take away my cash flow issues!


Where would you like your company to be in 5 years time?

For the company or for myself, my philosophy is life is what you make of it. Make the right decisions at each juncture and the future will take care of itself. Julie Meyer said something along similar lines at the recent Welsh Entrepreneurs conference: don’t look for money, if you are doing the right things, money will find you. Similarly for me, it is all about focus on doing the right things rather than chasing a distant dream. Yes, this is a growth company with a large potential marketplace, but the present comes first.


Where can we find out more?


Cardiff Life article, late 2012 (inc Timto interview)

I’ve completely lost track of which month this issue of Cardiff Life this article appeared in. Here’s the PDF, though, if you want to read it with pictures ;-)

Last week I spent a morning on Treforest industrial estate. Not the most glamourous of locations to be at the onset of winter, but it was more than worthwhile as I learned a huge amount from a Welsh Government funded training session about dealing with Venture Capitalists, valuing your company, planning for acquisition, and raising VC cash. Admittedly it sounds kind of dry, but it was incredible useful and relevant to me. I then whizzed down to Cardiff and listened to the Welsh Government Creative Industries team present their varied support for new and existing businesses in this space, which includes a whole host of funding and advice.

The week before I had been at the excellent Welsh Entrepreneurs conference, where founder Jonathan Morgan from Welsh tech startup Object Matrix spoke passionately from the stage about how he felt that Wales is a great place to startup. Coupled with the great quality of life I’ve written about before, there’s the aforementioned support, relatively low cost of living, and the short distance to London.

If you’re wondering where I’m going with all this, I’m kind of working my way towards saying that Wales, and Cardiff in particular, is a fantastic place in which to start a business. I know I’m sometime guilty of moaning about how far from “the action” we sometimes feel, especially with regards to the bright lights of Silicon Valley of San Francisco, and the Google Campus of America. It sometimes feels like startups in these places have easier access to the finance, better networks, more relevant advice and mentoring than we have here.

One example of the great things we have on our doorstep is ICE, a hub of innovative, ambitious small businesses (including this months’ profiled startup, Timto) that sits just over the mountain in Caerphilly, providing flexible space and support to allow them to grow. In the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that I’m a voluntary member of the board, but my involvement there is pretty minimal. The staff (and tenants, of course), have made it into an exciting place to build a business. I was there one evening a few weeks ago, and despite the near-biblical levels of rain pouring from the dark skies, there was still a great bunch of entrepreneurs and founders in the building, excitedly working on their businesses, swapping advice and ideas. It’s places like this and Indycube, whose rapid expansion across South Wales is a massive boon for small, agile businesses, that will foster an even greater spirit of innovation and collaboration.

Cardiff can’t currently be expected to compete on many levels with the great metropolises of London, Berlin and San Francisco, for pure financial, social, technological and demographic reasons. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to move there in order to be a success. If we play our cards right, and appreciate the resources at our disposal, Cardiff could be on the verge of becoming a city globally known for it’s creative & digital startup successes.

Hello! Introduce yourself.
Hello, I’m Nathan Cornish and I co-founded timto with my brother Luke.

So, what does your startup do?
We enable people to set up an online gift fund where their friends and family can group together to contribute towards an extra special present with the added bonus that their favourite charity benefits too.

What makes your startup special?
timto is the only online group gifting service of its kind enabling people to give gifts in a different way. Not only do celebrators receive amazing gifts with timto but by including a donation to their favourite charity it gives a real feel good factor to the whole celebration, which is why we call it Uplifting Gifting.

What was the genesis? The eureka moment that made you realise you had to build this company?
At my daughter’s sixth birthday party we were completely overwhelmed by the amount of presents that she received from her school friends. But a lot of them were duplicated or remained unused. It made me wonder whether there was another way to give better gifts and make every penny count with an extra goodwill element included.

And where are you at right now?
We are focused on building new partnerships with a number of significant UK charities. We are continuously improving the website and are expanding from just children’s birthdays into all different types of celebrations; from weddings to office birthday collections.

What’s the key to your growth? In other words, if someone could wave a magic wand, what would you want them to do for your business?
The power of word of mouth is extremely important as well as the use of digital media. We hope to deliver a truly memorable gift service that people are proud to recommend to friends and family.

Where would you like your company to be in 5 years time?
We aim to create a culture whereby it becomes the social norm to give better gifts together and Uplifting Gifting is an integral part of every celebration.

Where can we find out more? @thereismoreto fb/

Cardiff Life column, late 2012

I’ve lost track of which month these last few columns of 2012 relate to, but it’s about November sometime. Full PDF etc here.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the process of seeking investment for Dizzyjam has taught me more about business in one year than I learned in the previous ten. Nothing makes you question your assumptions like hearing the difficult questions of successful potential investors.

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned is how much cultural naivety there is around investment in Cardiff’s startup community. I suppose it’s to be expected, given that so few local companies of our ilk have either sought investment, or managed to get an investor to open up their wallet. I can count maybe two or three creative, tech or digital companies in the city that I’m aware have been using someone else’s money to grow.

The most obvious impact for me of this local naivety about the finer workings of the investment process, is that I feel like I’ve been starting from scratch. Despite reading countless blogs and articles about it (invariably published from the financially fecund fortress of Silicon Valley), I’ve not had anyone pull me aside to whisper the dark secrets of what they learned when they went through the process. Nobody gave me the benefit of their wisdom. Nobody told me that it would be easier to raise £1 million than £100k.

Wait. What?

Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Of course, on first glance it makes no sense. But it’s true. In a search for £100k you are in the territory of raising money from “angels”, high net worth individuals who are giving you their personal cash, and in so doing will scrutinise every single penny that you intend to spend. I’ve genuinely been asked what I’m likely to be spending on phone bills in three years. However, when raising £1 million you are dealing with venture capitalists, who are very often investing other people’s money, or spreading large amounts from a pension or hedge fund across a number of different companies or investment opportunities. They care less about the tiny details, and more about the big idea. Also, the bigger the investment, the more that risk is mitigated. In other words, it’s relatively easy to fritter away £100k with little to show for it. A few new members of staff, a bit of office furniture, some new hardware, and that money is all but gone. It’s much harder to spend £1 million without having built something of future saleable value. Whether that’s building something that has inherent intellectual property, or having many staff to build a brand that has global recognition, with that kind of money you’re much less likely to be able to blow it all on poor decisions.

This is just one example of knowledge that’s incredibly scarce in Cardiff, and that would totally have changed the way I approached investment if I’d have known. Whether it’s imparted in a government seminar, or by a friend in the pub, this “inside information” is vital for the success of the startup community in general.


In this month’s 60-second Q&A, NEIL COCKER talks to Evan Rudowski (pictured right), co-founder of SubHub, another Cardiff start-up making waves…

Q: So, what does your start-up do?
A: We provide digital membership solutions for associations and not-for-profits.
Q: What makes your start-up special?
A: We really understand membership – how to manage member information so that associations can provide members with a better experience, increasing renewals and retention, and freeing staff from mundane manual data management.
Q: What made you realise you had to build this company?
A: It’s been a series of gradual realisations based on trial and error and customer feedback. The way we describe and
manage our business today is entirely different from what we thought when we started.
Q: How’s business at the moment?
A: We’ve developed some very specialised membership management solutions. We’re also signing larger deals, and more frequently.
Q: What’s the key to your growth?
A: Lead generation – the more people we reach, the more we’ll convert into customers. Associations are crying out for better ways to manage their membership information.
Q: Where would you like SubHub to be in five years’ time?
A: Scores of membership associations and not-for-profits will be telling us, and their peers, how much we’ve improved the way they work and contributed to their success.
For more

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