Rick Waghorn: a Norfolk digital entrepreneur goes South-by-South-West
07:54 08 March 2012
For the last 20 years, my weekends have principally been devoted to Norwich City Football Club.
This weekend, however, I will be deep in the heart of Texas wearing my other, wide-brimmed hat – that of a digital ceo to an online start-up, a self-serve advertising platform called Addiply.
Along with some 40 other UK-based tech companies, we have been selected by UKTI to be part of their official ‘Digital Mission’ team to South-by-South-West – or #swxi for those that know their hash-tags.
What was once a folksy, spring music festival in Austin – the liberal oasis in the heart of Texas – has now morphed into a 45,000-strong gathering of music, film and digital folk. The latter, in particular, are growing ever more in number.
Organisers reckon on 40% of this year’s delegates being in town for the ‘Interactive’ side of the week-long show, as some 800 Brits mingle with new media’s movers and shakers across the Pond – hoping to find a willing VC ready to take a punt on the next big thing in online media. Or so we all fondly hope.
Addiply is no exception. We came through a seed funding round early last summer with North Star Ventures in Newcastle and with a newly-funded platform out in beta form, this summer has to be one in which we secure further, significant investment if – having talked the talk for the last four years, we are ever to truly walk the walk.
‘South-by’ is not just about playing Dragon’s Den games, however.
There are panels a-plenty covering every aspect of this new and evolving digital landscape; it is a networking event currently without parallel in this particular field. Stock up on business cards was the message as the 40 UK companies gathered for a pre-Texas ‘mixer’ in London the other week.
And, if truth be told, it is a chance to ‘star’ spot.
For anyone who has ever watched ‘The Social Network’ – Hollywood’s ‘take’ on the rise and rise of Facebook – Monday’s solo session with Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, promises to be intriguing.
Apologies for those that have never seen the film, but Parker is the character played by Justin Timberlake; the one who parties hard into the night – much to Mark Zuckerberg’s eventual embarrassment.
How much is Hollywood myth and how much is Valley legend may all become slightly clearer come five o’clock on Monday.
In between time, the good people at UKTI are keeping their ‘mission companies’ busy. We have Tea With The Brits, Breakfast With The Brits and, on Saturday, a trip to Britannia Manor – the home of some astronaut-turned-investor in a palatial residence that sounds something akin to Wayne Manor.
So as I pack my bags, charge up the iPad and head for Dallas first and then the short haul into Austin, it promises to be a fascinating week.
VC talks apart, I have one conversation I wish to continue.
In the Easter of 2009, Addiply launched out of the hyper-local journalism sites run by the University of Berkeley in California; one in Mission, the other in Oakland.
It withered on the vine; principally due to the fact that the J-School graduates to whom it was entrusted wouldn’t sell ads – they were there to write stories.
The better part of three years on and lessons learned, we now have an automated commission sales programme that will let third parties sell that advertising space for the J-School reporters.
In 2007, with Addiply barely two months old, I travelled to New York to speak at a conference at the City University of New York, NewsInnovation. There I met a guy called David Cohn; he helped me with the wifi connection.
David returned home to San Francisco afterwards to run a not-for-profit website called Spot.Us. Late last year, he took up a new role – running the hyper-local websites for the University Of Berkeley. One in Mission; one in Oakland. Both are right under Google’s nose.
He is well worth a beer in Austin this weekend. Even if it means missing Wigan Athletic (h).