Our tech start-up of the week is GoPrezzo, a Northern Ireland-headquartered company that has come up with a casual games-tournament platform to connect brands with consumers. Despite having just been set up in 2012, the start-up has scaled up fast, raising some stg£500,000 in seed funding.
Co-founded by Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) graduates Aaron Taylor and Dr Martin Scott, GoPrezzo also has a New York office, and it is now on the RocketSpace accelerator in San Francisco, California.
GoPrezzo provides a marketing-integration platform that connects brands to mobile gamers, allowing people to win real-world prizes, rewards and discounts.
Connecting game developers, as well as indie gamers, with brands
Since launching late last year, GoPrezzo has secured a core group of games partners both in Europe and the US, along with global brands such as BirchBox, SimpleThings.ie, and Paul Frank.
GoPrezzo’s games partners include Rope Rescue, Legend of Fat Ninja and Boom Bugs.
Before setting up GoPrezzo, Taylor worked with companies such as Cisco and Electronic Arts, as well as having tried his hand at a few start-ups.
He studied politics at QUB, and also studied the business of export marketing at the Marketing Institute of Ireland.
Scott, who has a PhD in theoretical and computational physics from QUB, developed the score-normalising algorithms for the GoPrezzo platform.
At the minute, the start-up is running a crowdfunding campaign.
"We are offering stg£50,000 of equity to ordinary investors through the crowdfunding platform Investingzone.com.
"Our business model is all about bringing consumers and technology closer together. So when it came to considering funding, the crowdfunding route offered another direct way to achieve that," explains Taylor.
The way this campaign is operating is that up to 5,000 shares are being floated on Investingzone.com until the campaign wraps up on 9 October.
After they set up a free account, users can log onto the site to view the GoPrezzo pitch and buy into the business, Taylor explains.
"Crowdfunders can claim 10 shares for a minimum commitment of stg£100."
How it all began …
Scott and Taylor launched GoPrezzo initially in New York in November 2012.
Taylor says the reason the duo decided to target New York from the outset is because there are about 100m gamers who play mobile games every day in the US.
It made strategic sense to set up in New York initially, he says.
Then, this past summer, they launched GoPrezzo in Belfast. This is where GoPrezzo has its UK headquarters, in the NI Science Park.
It’s located in the historical Titanic Quarter in Belfast City, which is fast becoming a hub for knowledge-led and technology start-ups and the like that are emerging in both the city and Northern Ireland.
Between Belfast and the US
At the minute GoPrezzo employs nine people – there are three people who work on the business development side of things in the New York office, while five team members work from the Belfast office, including Scott.
"All of our tech team is in Belfast. We have three developers there, a finance guy and a person who works on data analytics."
In Belfast, GoPrezzo also has a number of local advisers and investors, including board chairman Stephen Lusty, who was formerly the senior director at Google in charge of operations and advertising in EMEA, and Norbert Sagnard, an investor in mobile-technology companies.
Taylor is dividing his time between the US and Belfast.
That’s also because the start-up has recently entered the RocketSpace accelerator. Akin to digital start-up accelerators in Ireland, such as the NDRC in Dublin, RocketSpace has help spawned such companies as Spotify, Uber, LeapMotion. Podio and SuperCell.
"You enter RocketSpace by invite only. We have only been there for six months," explains Taylor.
Aaron Taylor, CEO, GoPrezzo. Image via Richard Trainor of RedSky Photography
Taylor has tried his hand at a few start-ups before – he used to sell custom-print T-shirts featuring the work of local artists, while he also attempted to set up what he describes as Ireland’s first "static bungee-jumping business" from Belfast. The latter did not come to fruition, but Taylor appears to follow the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial formula of if a business fails, try again, and keep trying.
GoPrezzo, however, managed to attract and glean venture capital (VC) and angel-investor attention fairly quickly.
"Just a few weeks after we launched in November 2012 we were offered a stg£50,000 investment, but we decided to turn it down."
The reason for this, he says, is that he and Scott wanted to bide their time and focus on building up their platform and working on the algorithms.
Their hesitation to take on investment at that very early stage paid off.
In its first round of funding in March 2012, GoPrezzo raised stg£265,000.
"This seed round was led by E-Synergy and also included Sagnard.
"It was the right time to take it. We’re big believers in ramping up quickly."
The second round was stg£267,000 in early 2013.
This particular round was again led by E-Synergy and also involved the Halo EIS Fund and individual angels, Taylor says.
Targeting Series A funding
The next step for GoPrezzo is to target its Series A funding round.
Taylor says the current crowdfunding campaign GoPrezzo is running is also a "low-risk way of testing the market".
Taylor, who is off to Copenhagen, Denmark, next week, as GoPrezzo has been chosen as one of a select few start-ups to pitch at the Danske Spil Demo Day, has advice for other early stage start-ups.
"Be as aggressive as possible and take every opportunity that comes your way. When it comes to fundraising, try to take as much money off the table at the start as you can."