Hackfwd: A New Approach to Tech Funding

Hackfwd is a very important new way of bringing early stage, pre-seed investment to tech startups in Europe. Instead of having to navigate complicated financial deals, find VCs with just the right ‘fit’ and get involved in deciphering opaque legal agreements it is possible to have an open, clear and structured understanding of funding arrangements.

For the projects they accept, Hackfwd offers enough money (roughly a year’s salary) for the developer to be able to focus on a project for a year. The amount of funding also depends on whether it is an individual or a team up to the size of three.

The startups get to keep 70% equity. Another 3% is apportioned to advisors and Hackfwd takes the remaining 27%. It is as clear as that.

For a lot of highly focused engineers who are working night on day on their projects many aspects of running a company may be quite unfamiliar. To help with this Hackfwd offers continuous business and marketing advice and there are quarterly passion meets momentum get togethers. These are geeks only events where ideas can be aired and shared.

There are other ways of the way in which Hackfwd does business that separates it from a conventional funding setup, Angel investor, Venture Capitalist or otherwise.

  • Standard agreement versus individual one.
  • Standard valuation versus this whole idea of, “how much I give up is according to how much you trust me.”
  • Standard amount of funding.
  • A promise to say yes or no to the entrepreneurs in 72 hours.
  • Progress is checked three months at meetings held in Majorca.
  • Helping, not with investment managers, but helping with experts in domains, marketing product, HR, finance.
  • As Lars Hinrich, Executive Geek on the board of Hackfwd says, “It is a very different approach to anything that has been out there before.”

    Yet another thing that is different at Hackfwd is in its use of social networks. You must be referred through their trusted network of referrers.

    “It is a trust circle of people that we like and trust and only they can make referrals. The best geeks, in a way, have to hack their way into Hackfwd.

    “That we are only targeting geeks is definitely something that is very uncommon. It is so much easier for an MBA from Insead or Kellog or wherever to get funding. If you look at European geeks and then imagine them pitching them to venture capitalists – no way.”

    The Talent Gap

    “The problem right now is that everything is close to free or is for free. Or it is in the cloud and therefore you don’t need infrastructure. The only thing you buy is talent. So, employing talent is one strategy. Making talent into entrepreneurs is another one.

    “I worked for the last ten years with geeks and I do speak their language. I know what it takes and mostly I saw this kind of brilliance in them as they were creating completely new things. They are the first ones to imagine new things that don’t exist right now. Most others can interpret things they have seen somewhere and use it in maybe a different way for their companies. However, the really cool new ideas are mostly spun out from engineers.”

    The Funding Gap

    “If you look at the talent gap; the geeks don’t know how to set up companies or how to run them or how to do marketing. However, in this new web age all these things are data driven. It is much more logical then it used to be.

    “Think of advertising in the two thousands or the nineties. You had to be super creative and make great artwork, etc. Right now everybody knows how to use Google and everybody knows how to buy traffic. It’s more about knowledge and execution than art. There is no mystery about marketing, it is data-driven.”

    Product Execution Gap

    “The most difficult gap is how to execute on product. I think we are kind of co-creators. We help to frame certain ideas. When we see great technology, with the experience of our group we say, “have you thought about this and this and this?” Suddenly the product changes a bit and we say, “this is really, really cool, let’s get it out.” We are active in the way that helps to shape ideas to the optimum.”

    From an engineer’s or coder’s perspective a lot of what passes for traditional business practice, particularly marketing, can seem like magical thinking. For people who are used to controlling every part of their working environment bringing an idea market can seem akin to the journey home of Odysseus. Hidden and unpredictable perils seem to lie everywhere.

    By using modern digital-age ideas of openness and transparency coupled with the ability to access and analyse data, clearly defined structures and methods can be used by all of us to handle the process of bringing an idea to market and a lot of the seeming mystery of business evaporates.

    In its short time in existence Hackfwd has brought seven companies through its system and will have two more ready to progress in business by the end of this year. What Hackfwd has done is bring greater clarity, structure and methodology to what is already a very challenging task – bringing a product to market.

    The present funding system, as it stands in all its capriciousness and uncertainty, has the tendency to put off and discourage the possessors of the great ideas that can change and improve the world from coming forward to show and share what they have. With emerging new business methodologies and philosophies such as this we now have a greater chance to access the ideas of genius that we may normally have never heard about.

Weedle: Creating a Fabric of Credibility

Iain MacDonald started Weedle with the desire to provide a fundamentally better way of connecting people who have skills to people who need them within a trusted environment. Weedle employs 18 people at present, most of whom are mathematically and software orientated, and has users in over 160 countries. Not bad for a company that is only about a year old.

The origins of Weedle began when Iain needed to solve an arboreal problem at his home. He explains further, “I needed to find somebody who could help me cut down some trees at the bottom of my garden. I spent a bit of time asking my friends and my family if they knew somebody but unfortunately they didn’t. Then I went to Google and I found people who said they were very good tree surgeons but they were strangers to me. I found it very hard to trust them in terms of their competence, their value money, their reliability or their trustworthiness.

“I was pretty sure that the right person was out there. That they were out there looking to connect with me and I’m looking for someone with a skill I need and I am trying to connect with them. But the reality is that it is currently very difficult for us to find each other.”

Iain designed Weedle so that people who are searching for someone with a skill can go beyond just depending on how the suppliers have presented themselves, either via advertising or simply having membership of a professional or trade body. Using social networks as a means of verification there is now a way to assess other factors such as reliability and suitability in terms of being able to work with them.

“When you are looking for a lawyer or someone like that, often when a friend recommends them to you and you end up going to the lawyer they can turn out to be not the sort of person you are looking for. We can circumvent that waste of time by being able to see all the details of the person who has the skill before you contact them.

“What we have is a fabric of credibility. Say, I go to Weedle and I make my skill page. In order to be found when someone searches for me there are a couple of things we take into account in the context of our search algorithm. So, the first one is the content of my skill page and does it match for what someone would be searching for. The next element we take into account is who this person is actually connected to. We may have someone who has created a skill page and is connected to fifty people but they may be less credible then someone who has connected a skills page that maybe only connected to five people.”

How does Weedle compare to Facebook and Linkedin?

“Facebook is very good for communicating with your friends and Linkedin is very good for managing your white-collar network of contacts. But it is not so good if you are looking for a plumber or a carpenter.

“Even if you were looking for a corporate lawyer to float your company on the Nasdaq you’ll get a resume or a some type of CV. What people are really looking for is what projects has he or she been involved in, what role did he play, how long did it take him to do it and to see examples of the expertise that he has.

“It’s not just about say, a yoga teacher who simply states they have worked in ABC Yoga for the last five years. On Weedle you will see; this is where they trained, this is where they worked and here is a video of her giving a yoga class. Here are photographs of the yoga studio, here is a list of ten people that are in your network that went to their class.”

How much of a role does Semantic Web technology have in your system?

“It’s really very significant: A lot of sites using search have gone down the hierarchical directory structure route. A person would have to pick from a drop-down box and choose ‘telecom industry’ and then ‘mobile telephony’ and then ‘mobile network.’ It’s very hierachical and pigeon-holes people into specific positions.

“The particular benefit of using a semantic ontology is that we have no hierarchy to the classification of our user skills. If you go on to the site declaring that you are a carpenter then all you need to do is say “I am a carpenter.” We know that we need to present that search result in a population of search results generated when others search for terms like carpenter, woodworker or joiner.

“We can apportion levels of relevance to the skill pages we have versus search strings. Machine learning combined with Semantic Web technology creates a much better user experience.”

The underlying idea that determines credibility and trustworthiness both offline and online is social proof. Any claim you may make about yourself personally or professionally is validated, or not, against how you are perceived by your social network. Professional bodies may declare you competent and award you some sort of certification and send you out the door to ply your trade but it is how you handle your day to day dealings that really count for most people.

Iain has come up with a system that allows you to access the layers of social trust that surrounds us all and enables access to the sort of vital information on someone that would only normally become available over time and after, possibly, a number of encounters.

Hackquarium: Using Sugru to Create, Repair and Enhance the World Around Us

Yesterday, 091 Labs hosted a Hackquarium at their hackerspace in Galway. As discussed in a previous article, ”Sugru:A Wonder Stuff for Hacking Things Better,” Sugru is a malleable and mouldable silicone material that can be used for creating, repairing and enhancing all sorts of objects.

Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, the inventor of Sugru (from the Irish word ag súgradh which means playing,) sent over a box of sachets containing the material to 091 Labs so that people could come along, learn about it and create with it.

The video accompanying this article shows highlights from the workshop. Holders were made for drawing tablets, earhooks were amended to make ear buds more comfortable and a crack in a mobile phone was repaired. Artwork was also created. A keyholder was sculpted as well as flowers and a snowman.

There was clearly a learning curve in being able to handle the material but that did not deter the participants. Despite, as a group, not being well-practiced sculptors and modelers most became very engrossed in the creative possibilities of using such a wonder material.

Use Of Blackberry OS Surpasses Apple iOS In the US

According to StatCounter, an Irish web tracking site whose mission is “to help our members easily understand their visitors, so they can make good decisions to become more successful online,” the BlackBerry OS has passed Apple’s iOS in the US in terms of mobile internet usage. BlackBerry OS had 34.3% of the space while Apple’s iOS had recorded 33%.

One possible reason for this increase in the use of the Blackberry OS could be the recent drop in price of the Blackberry Torch from $199.00 to $99.00. But as Blackberry has only shipped 5.4 million phones in the last quarter compared to 14.1 million iPhones sold in roughly the same period, the amount of handsets available in the market may not be the determining factor.

Blackberry has traditionally been the mobile tool of choice for large enterprises. This is not necessarily because they had a better phone, but simply by being first to market with a mobile email system that was easy to integrate with the already present in-house data exchange systems.

Large scale enterprises are still the place where most of America’s business gets done. It may not be too wild a notion to suggest that the increase in the usage of Blackberry’s OS is because after long years of recession, there is more activity taking place in the world of big business.

More email is being sent, more information is being exchanged, more business is being done. This statistic may be the first real indicator that things are starting to move forward again.

Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter, points out another significant aspect of this change, “These figures suggest that developers should not be developing solely for the iPhone to the exclusion of BlackBerry and Android.”

StatCounter Global Stats are based on aggregate data collected by StatCounter on a sample exceeding 15 billion page views per month collected from across the StatCounter network of more than three million websites. You can read more about StatCounter in this article, “GlobalStats: The Value Of Analytics”.

LearnOpt: A Social Learning Platform For Professionals


LearnOpt is a social learning platform designed for professional bodies. It enables doctors, accountants, engineers and so on to better manage their career trajectories through a process of continuous personal development (CPD). The company started as a research project at the University of Limerick (UL) in their Enterprise Research Centre. The relationship between LearnOpt and the University has been a particularly good example of public and private sector cooperation. UL have been particularly helpful to the LearnOpt project in providing facilities and access to contacts around the world.

The first iteration of LearnOpt was Bluebrick which was set up to provide information on flexible learning courses for four different institutes of technology.

Flexible learning is any program that is not included in the usual nine to five schedule. Part time and online learning would be considered flexible learning courses. The benefit to the colleges is having a centralised system to manage applications for their flexible learning courses. For the students, they can see all the programs available across the four institutions to make planning their education easier.

There are six people on the team and we spoke to the commercial manager, Hughie Tiernan, and the operations manager, Dr. Cornelia Connolly, and asked them what happened next.

Cornelia: “In our market research we looked into the whole area of professional bodies and professional learning, and this is where we decided to branch into and head towards. The professional learner, the accountant, the doctor, and so on, are people who need to maintain professional accreditation and update qualifications on a continued basis.”

Hughie: “It’s a social learning program for professional bodies. It’s a platform that empowers the learner, not the institution. It gives the learner power over their career trajectory and [they can] decide on what learning they think they should be doing within the confines of the professional body.”

LearnOpt has the ability to compare learners. If two learners belong to the same professional body and are at the same stage of their careers, it would be very likely they would be undertaking the same certain sets of courses for their CPD. However, if one learner had taken it upon themselves to do two additional modules, the LearnOpt system would detect the difference and consequently recommend those two extra courses to the other learner to see if they would want take up the same options. These two abilities. comparison and recommendation, are key aspects of social learning.

Cornelia: “It’s like Amazon. If you take a course you also get a recommendation that informs you that other people who have taken that course have also taken another course. There is an inbuilt recommendatory system that adds to the whole social learning sphere.”

Hughie: “It isn’t anonymous. So the professional bodies can see who is commenting on what courses and who is grading what. So it is open to everyone. Our thinking behind it is that people are going to be commenting anyway. They are going to be talking to their friends and talking to their colleagues about the course. We believe that it is in the professional body’s interest to collate these comments and to be able to see which courses need improvement.”

Cornelia: “We have a recommendation engine where we can compare learners. There is a full reporting package behind it. It is an all-inclusive product that would serve any professional body very well. We’ve put a lot of work into the user interface and usability of this system – because at the very start it was highlighted to us that if we didn’t get that right then the back end didn’t really matter. So the software is really easy to use for everyone.”

LearnOpt is not a platform that can be accessed directly by the general public. Permission to login has to be obtained from the relevant professional body that is using the system. Therefore, LearnOpt will have to acquire clients rather than just sell its technology directly to the general public. Finding new geographic markets is key. We asked what sort of challenges that represented.

Hughie: “The key to the product is that we are not locked down to any particular market. We’re hardly looking at Ireland because compared to the States it is tiny. It is just a matter of getting out there and meeting people. There’ll always be opportunities when you are actually selling your product worldwide.

“It’s important to have someone in the country you are thinking of moving into. It’s vital to have someone on the ground looking out for you. We have an agent in the UK who is sounding out opportunities for us. Over in the States Enterprise Ireland have been very good to us. We have a good contact who has introduced us to a number of potential clients. We haven’t entered the American market directly from Ireland. We have had to have some actual presence over there.”

Cornelia: “Our biggest challenge has been in taking it from a research project to a commercial product. There’s a lot of interest in what we are doing. It is cutting edge and it is exciting. It’s new and novel so there is a lot of positive energy when we show it to potential clients.”