COULD Tunbridge Wells soon be seen as the birthplace of the next Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?
It may appear a far-fetched notion, but one local start-up has already been valued at almost £1million, just 11 months after being established.
Back in July, the Times profiled Ben Jeffries, the founder of tech company Influencer. The idea behind this new platform is to help brands promote their products to target audiences through the use of ‘influencers’ – celebrities, socialites and bloggers who have a far reaching presence on social networking – in exchange for a service fee, a percentage is retained by Influencer.
At the time, the 20-year-old had already secured a major win when the agency of football legend Ronaldinho signed up to Influencer to help him expand his reach into the UK.
And although this was a huge milestone for such a young company, the future of the business was never a sure thing, with Ben juggling the responsibilities of a university placement at Shell and running the platform alone.
5 months on and things are certainly looking up for Ben and his business after he successfully won this year’s Young Start-up Talent competition in Kent before going on to secure £154,000 from crowdfunding in just 24 hours at the end of October.
“It all happened a lot quicker than I expected. I thought it would take three weeks to raise that amount of money and had put aside resources for a tough marketing campaign which I ended up not using at all,” Ben explained.
In return for the funding, Ben relinquished 17 per cent of the equity in the business, effectively valuing it at just over £905,000.
It is a figure that Ben admits may not reflect its true value at the moment: “I am a relatively modest person I think a lot of start up values are quite inflated to reflect their potential.
“So I don’t necessarily believe it is worth that much right now but once the platform is built and it kicks off I think it will be. The actual valuation itself was not determined by me but by Crowdcube and accountants.
“I didn’t just pluck a number out of the air, it was evaluated by people who know more about valuations than myself.”
In order to fund further growth in the future, Ben expects he will return to crowdfunding in around a year’s time but for less equity but ‘a larger amount’ of capital.
This he hopes will allow him to broaden Influencer away from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and towards other social media sites such as YouTube.
In the meantime, at least £60,000 of what he has obtained through crowdfunding so far will go towards developing the software that will allow influencer to flourish.
At the moment, Ben has to manually pair those who want to advertise products with the people he believes will best be able to promote them.
To do so, he uses a very rudimentary system based on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which lists clients with ‘influencers’. This system which is both extremely time consuming, inefficient and very much hamper’s his ability to truly grow as only he can really operate it.
His new platform, which is currently under construction, is being developed by a team in Shoreditch – the heart of the UK’s tech seen – and promises to be fully automated so clients themselves can match with the influencers they think will be of most value directly.
“At the moment I am not taking on too many additional influencers until the platform is finished because I am cautious to take on more than I can manage. I’m still a one man band, but once it is developed the company will be able to grow extremely rapidly.”
Apart from the new platform, some of the crowfunding money will go towards an advertising campaign, which to start with will utilise posters in the London Underground.
He has been helped get this far by his success at the Young Start-up Talent competition in Kent in September.
By winning the Dragons’ Den-style programme, against hundreds of other hopefuls, Ben secured £50,000-worth of products and services for his fledgling company.
These services, including legal advice from Cripps and help with accounting from Crowe Clark Whitehill, as well as branding assistance from a host of creative enterprises.
Although he is wary of ‘closing any doors’ on his options, Ben said he is unlikely to return to University after his year off, although he praised Bath for being ‘incredibly supportive’ of his project.
But with a business that is already paying the young entrepreneur ‘a reasonable’ salary, an office on The Pantiles and an offer by Google to also have a desk in their Tech Hub offices on Old Street, the future is look exceptionally bright for Ben.