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Interview with Peter Francomb of Cahootify

Bath has so many exciting startups at the moment. One of those is Cahootify, which is about to launch in July. I spoke to CEO Peter Francomb about running a tech startup, raising funds and getting noticed.
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Pete, tell us what Cahootify does?

At Cahootify we believe in helping people do more of the work that they love by giving them the tools and resources to make projects happen. At core, this means an online, beautifully designed and fun to use team-building platform. You can use Cahootify to post projects / build a team, find projects / join a team or manage a ‘talent pool’ of freelancers, consultants or volunteers.

What motivated you to start Cahootify?

Until a few years ago, I’d almost always been an independent professional. For twenty years or so I made a living from various disciplines – freelancing as a graphics operator, freelancing as a web developer, working as a musician, running small businesses… all sorts. During this time I was also involved in projects that were about developing new skills and abilities, or about doing something that I felt was of value to people, or both. Cahootify is the online platform I always wanted.

There must have been some big challenges along the way – how have you overcome them?

Well, we’re pre-launch so I guess most of our challenges are still to come. It’s been amazingly plain sailing so far in terms of building the team and attracting interest from potential partners and the like but we’ve just hit our first real challenge, which is to close our seed investment round – and we haven’t yet overcome it.

Whilst Cahootify is going extremely well in many ways, that’s also making things difficult because we don’t have the resources to follow up on the tremendous and rising amount of interest. None of us is of independent means so we do now need cash investment in order to be able to continue.

What has been your biggest success to date?
Speaking personally, and bearing in mind that we are still pre-launch, the biggest success so far was probably when we enrolled a certain Mr. Simon Starr on to the team, who’s now our CTO and Lead Developer. In the world of tech startups, there are far more people with bright ideas looking for partner technologists than there are technologists on the other side of the equation. Finding a truly talented and experienced co-founder to take responsibility for the technical arena, who also has the right kind of entrepreneurial spirit, is like gold dust. I feel honoured.

Have you been able to access any funding for startups?
Not as such, no, though I estimate that the core and supporting teams have put in around £70k worth of “sweat equity” thus far. We launched a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs about a month ago and there’s currently about £5k sitting in our account, which we can’t get our hands on yet and we’ll lose if we don’t reach our £60k target. Of course, we are going to reach our target – one hundred percent no doubt! (Gulp.) We’re also in the process of applying to the Nominet Trust and the South West Local Enterprise Partnership “Going for Growth” fund, both of which we seem to tick all the boxes for.

What would your advice be to others looking to start a tech startup?
Well if you’re asking about how to create a successful tech startup, then I don’t think I’m in any position to give advice yet! I’m not entirely sure who is, either – it’s a highly chaotic world and I often think that people ascribe meaning in hindsight to what was, in fact, just good or bad luck at the time.What I would suggest, however, is that whatever you imagine might be there for you at the end of the startup rainbow (wealth, status, security, magnetic sex appeal…), it won’t be enough to sustain you. Despite all the hassle, the inevitable setbacks, the insane hours, the financial insecurity and the mundane chores, you have to basically love what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’ll never stick it out.
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Congratulations Jack!

University of Bath student Jack Franklin has been named in the 2013 ‘.Net Awards‘ as one of the top ten ‘brilliant young web developers’ to watch.

The .Net Awards are publicly nominated to create a shortlist, which is then assessed by a panel of 50 industry judges.

Jack Franklin is a 3rd year BSc Computer Science student, currently on his placement year with Kainos as a Software Engineer. He is well known in Bath’s digital community and has been very involved in his university community too, as Chair of the Bath Student Computer Science Society in his second year of study, and as a student ambassador for his department.

Jack is highly dedicated to progressing his career as a developer, and wrote one of his first articles in 2011 for ‘12 Devs of Christmas’. He now maintains a popular JavaScript blog – JavaScript Playground – and writes for a number of influential websites.

Jack was recently asked by Addy Osmani to contribute to his book Backbone Fundamentals, which was published by O’Reilly and was freely available on the internet too. He helped to write the chapter on using Backbone with RequireJS. Jack’s first book, Testing with CoffeeScript, was recently published as a free mini book and has had over 2000 downloads to date. The book looks at TDD with the JS library Jasmine, whilst writing all the code in CoffeeScript.

Jack was approached in June 2012 to write his first physical book, Beginning jQuery, which was published in February 2013. The book aims to guide a JavaScript and jQuery novice through to a level at which they’re comfortable in writing their own plugins.

Alan Hayes, Jack’s tutor at the University of Bath, said: “Jack is one of those students who makes the most of every opportunity available to him. He continues to impress as he progresses through university, and is set for great heights in the future. We wish him all the best with the .Net awards and commend his achievement in being named ‘one to watch’.”

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Jowst acquired by Xfire

Bath startup Jowst has announced this week that it has been acquired by US based Xfire.

Jowst is a community platform that aims to centralise a players gaming experience. For both casual and competitive gamers it aims to offer a comprehensive and unique reward and results system to show each player’s achievements and losses through their public profile.

Founder and CEO Gavin Weeks said: “We’re very excited to announce that Jowst has been acquired by Xfire.

“We are very passionate about rewriting the rules of how gamers create, host and participate in tournaments and are confident our product is capable of delivering this. Now we’re joining the Xfire team to accomplish a much bigger vision — one that can only be achieved with Xfire’s support and guidance. We’d like to extend a special thanks to all of our alpha testers who have supported us and given us priceless feedback, allowing us to build the foundations of a fantastic product.

“We have had an amazing experience building Jowst over the last 18 months and look forward to continuing to do so as part of the Xfire family. Full speed ahead!”

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SPARKies Finalist Profiles: One To Watch For 2012

 

The SPARKies awards aim to recognise the very best of Bath’s tech sector and, with only one day to go until the sold out event, excitement levels are running high! One category in particular, the “one to watch for 2012”, shows the impressive range of emerging companies generated in Bath. For those of you who perhaps haven’t heard of all of them just yet, here is a quick run down of the finalists.

Artolo LogoArtolo
How many of us are too intimidated to purchase a work of art from a gallery? That’s if we can even afford the prices in the first place! Artolo is reinventing the visual art world, making it accessible to all customers and budgets alike. It is an online platform which allows any artist to present their work for sale. Customers can then view these pieces in coffee shops, hotels and studios in their local area.

Artolo will launch this summer on a national scale giving independent artists the tools they need to connect with their audience.

Jowst LogoJowst
Jowst is a free community platform for both casual and competitive gamers that aims to centralise a players gaming experience into one easy to manage competition hub. Users can create or compete in tournaments for all games on all platforms. Jowst shows every conceivable stat that gamers crave, from tournament participation and win/loss ratio to being able to discover which teams are your biggest adversaries and viewing your form over time.

Jowst is working with professional teams such as TCM-gaming and is currently accepting applications for its beta programme.

Meanbee beeMeanbee
Meanbee use the Magento e-commerce platform to build websites for clients and have become experts in their knowledge of the platform. They aim to build websites that look great, maximise user experience and focus on increasing conversion rates. They also build custom Magento extensions including DIY Mage which makes it easier for a store owner to edit the look and feel of a site without needing to contact any developers.

Since graduating from the University of Bath last summer, Meanbee have moved into new offices with views of the Abbey and in 2012 they plan to double their team from three to six team members.

Topic Logic LogoTopicLogic
TopicLogic’s mission is to make it easier for information workers to find, share and publish their information wherever it is stored. All your files and emails are organized by topics and presented in your own personal online map. Files can be shared within teams with a single click. This increases productivity and collaboration by reducing the time spent sending and downloading information within a company.

TopicLogic are currently in private beta and are working with UK lawyers to trial and market the product.

Treehouse
Treehouse is an online tutorial service to teach web design and development to beginners. Users pay a monthly subscription fee for access to video tutorials and reinforce the content through quizzes and coding tests to unlock badges.The service is brilliant for any entrepreneur who wants to learn how to build their own web products or simply for people who wish to increase their employability prospects.

Treehouse currently has 8,000 paid users and with investors such as Kevin Rose and Reid Hoffman this is certainly a company with some serious credibility.

Urban Tribe LogoUrban Tribe
Urban Tribe is an online student community which gives members access to discounts at local venues and tips and recommendations for the area. Users can create their own “circle” of friends to keep track of the most relevant offers being used and share activity on Facebook. By allowing members to be paid for signing up their friends, user acquisition has been very successful.

Urban Tribe have worked with over 200 clients so far and their user base has doubled in the last month alone. They are planning to launch nationwide in Fresher’s week this September.

 

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One to watch: Treehouse

treehouse logo

Web design is a daunting prospect for any beginner. The number of programming languages available to choose from alone makes it hard to know where to start. Thankfully, Bath resident and entrepreneur Ryan Carson has given all newbies a solid foundation in which to make those first vital steps towards becoming a capable web developer.

Treehouse is an online educational service to teach web design, web development and iOS. Users can watch video tutorials on their chosen topics, then complete short quizzes and coding tests to reinforce their knowledge and unlock badges.

The site itself has a very clean, easy to use interface and the videos are comprehensive yet broken down into manageable chunks. This is definitely a major contributing factor to Treehouse’s success. When I first began designing the front end of websites I wasted hours reading forum posts and watching tutorials containing either too advanced or irrelevant content. Treehouse provides a clear pathway to guide users from the very basics or jump straight in at a relevant experience level.

 

Treehouse asks what do you want to learn

Treehouse lets you decide which topics you want to learn.

The service is provided on a monthly subscription fee which ranges from $25 to $49 per month depending on your membership level. Students get a fantastically cheap deal at only $9 p/m but even on the higher price plans I would strongly recommend Treehouse if you are just starting out in web design.

Ryan Carson

Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse

Ryan Carson kindly gave me a quick interview in which I asked for his thoughts on learning to code and starting a Business here in Bath.

So why should a complete beginner join Treehouse and take up web design or coding?

I think, really, coding is becoming the new literacy. In the future, for kids, it will become an essential part of their high school diploma. It is very important to have an understanding of programming as these days almost every device and business is connected to coding in some way.
Is it just complete beginners using the service?

At the moment treehouse is being used mainly by beginners, we don’t expect you to have any prior understanding of programming so it’s really people who haven’t had any experience before. However, we will be expanding to more advanced material soon.

What was it like trying to start a tech company in Bath?
I think Bath is becoming a good place for tech. My best advice is to try to have lunch with as many people as you can and get involved with the scene wherever possible. Even though it can be hard with work and family commitments, you really need to get out and socialise. Location doesn’t always matter, I started Carsonified in Bath then sold it and started Treehouse in Bath too.
What do you think Bath needs to do to become more established as a tech city?
I think Bath needs to have its own established incubator programme with seed-funding such as YC or seedcamp. There’s a lot of people in Bath such as Chris from TED or Peter Gabriel who could really throw their weight behind Bath projects. David from Bath Digital is doing really great stuff at the moment. But definitely for Bath to get national credibility it really needs an incubator programme.
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