“The most aspirational high-level line is if you built a community, your community and users feel like they belong to the product. And so that combination of ingredients really built an ecosystem where our users were just empowered to build and innovate around Sorare.” – Dan O’Kelly, Sorare

In a new Seedcamp Firsts podcast episode, our Partner Sia Houchangnia chats with Dan O’Kelly, an early Community Lead at Seedcamp-backed fantasy sports unicorn Sorare. They cover all things community building, including: 

Key takeaways:

Listen to the full episode or read the conversation below:

Sia: Can you tell us about those early days and how you kick-started the community-building effort?  

When I joined in November 2020, there was already a very, very engaged core community that lived on Discord and was starting to grow and live on Twitter. So what Nico, one of Sorare’s co-founders, had done from day one pretty much, is he knew he had this really interesting value proposition with what Soare was.

He knew it was really new and innovative and he just started from there and started to integrate himself into very, very niche micro-communities in which he believed that new value proposition would resonate. So he searched for that niche crossover between crypto fans and diehard sports fans and collectors, and, if I’m right, there was one that existed already with MLB, something that was quite similar and within there, he was finding people that might be curious about a football game.

He used and nurtured these relationships to also help with product development. And from there, having this kind of core group of people who were very curious about what he and his co-founder Adrien were building, he really focused on Discord and grew from there.  

Brian, who, like me has done a large number of jobs at Sorare, but was kind of our ‘growth guru’ in the early days, had also tapped into the potential of what Nico had already started building. We had a really cool core community and there was a huge potential with word-of-mouth. People were excited about what we were building, so when I joined, Brian had already started putting the tools in place for the community to grow and engage with each other. There was an ambassador program and a referral program that had just been set up and an affiliate program was in its early stages of ideation. So that’s everything that was in place when I joined. 

Sia: And so the point of touch you had with the community where they’re mostly over Discord and Twitter, or were you using any other tools? 

Dan: There was Telegram and Discord. They were the two big ones.

Telegram largely because that’s where a lot of the crypto audience lives; Discord because there was a nice crossover between gamers and crypto live there as well. But we found there was a grown interest from really, really diehard fantasy players who were way more native to Twitter or well, X formerly known as Twitter, but they were actually learning and migrating to Discord just because that’s where our community was living. That’s where we were present. So when I joined, Discord was growing and super active, but still, you could go in there and scroll the general chat and there wouldn’t be such a high-level activity where it was impossible to follow. You could really chat with people in the morning and you kind of knew everyone that was part of it. So it was still the size where everyone knew everyone. 

When I joined, Nico shared with me the adjacent user theory. He said, ‘Look, this is where we are right now. We’re pretty strong with this crossover of crypto and sports audience, but it’s a small market and our product is pretty good for them, but it’s not great for all these fantasy players.’

We had the best of blockchain technology, but we also had the frustrations and the worst of it, like fluctuating gas prices. That means nothing to a football fan who is just ready to collect cards. So my first challenge was to see how could we start making easy, quick tweaks to the product and also how we communicate so that it resonates more with our next target market, which was really diehard football fans who are either big collectors or big, big fantasy players.

Sia: On the role of those early adopters, really interesting to hear how Nico very intentionally went after microcommunities he had identified that foot could be the first one to resonate with what Sorare was doing. Can you share a bit more about how you were also interacting with those folks who are very early in the community? Did you really work on giving them more tools and content, so that they could start evangelizing others about the platform, or how did the relationship with those early adopters work?

Dan: We have these three community pillars, which are pillars that you use across, in my opinion, the full journey of a company, from small to big. You have to listen to them and make sure that they know that they’re being heard.

And you make sure they know they’re being heard by engaging with them. So that’s being proactive, but also reactive to what you’re seeing and listening. And then you also have to empower them. So, when I joined, a lot of the early adopters had also taken it upon themselves to say, ‘well, look, it’s up to us to help grow this.’

And honestly, for me, it was extremely exciting coming in as a community manager, because one of the hardest things to do as a community manager is to make our users proactive enough to first engage with our content and give feedback, but then also to build their own tools and ecosystems around it.

So we were lucky in that the inherent nature of blockchain technology and Adrien’s vision from the tech side of Sorare that it would be an open world where you have access to the APIs and all that stuff; and also, Nico’s very proactive approach in being transparent, and available to users, making sure that they feel that they belong to the product.

The most aspirational high-level line is if you built a community, your community and users feel like they belong to the product. And so that combination of ingredients really built an ecosystem where our users were just empowered to build and innovate around Sorare. For example, Sorare Data was kind of built in the really early stages.

When I joined, Nico had a list of 15 people and said ‘You have to speak to these, just build relationships with them and understand and they’ll be key to your understanding of what Sorare is’. So that’s what I did. The first two or three months, I just really ingrained myself with all these amazing projects that people were building, trying to understand a little more about it, because I was new to NFTs and blockchain.

Adrien and Nico put the ingredients in place for users to be proactive, and then from there, when I came in, it was just to make sure that we continue to build on that momentum. So really my job was just to keep the momentum going and be a more visible and human presence that the lads had previously hadn’t had the time to commit to.

Sia: Yeah, that’s critical, right? Also doing those things that won’t really scale, but early on will build the trust and also bring some authenticity to the community. It feels like that is often something we hear about when it comes to early community building. And I remember you were the soul of that Discord, you were everywhere replying in DMs, every day, posting updates, etc. To what extent were you just being yourself or were you actually very intentional about the people you would interact with on a daily basis, about the posts you would make on the channels?

Dan: Initially, it was a lot easier to be myself and to be quite transparent and human and all that, because obviously it’s not that the stakes are lower, but you’re with a smaller group, you kind of understand everyone, and also when you’re a certain size, there’s more acceptance and patience on the community side as well.

“Look, they’re starting off, they’re a small team.” And, with that, you can just afford to be a lot more casual as well with how you engage with users and, or the community, so I really was myself. I used to make a lot of jokes, and if I saw that people were making jokes in the Discord, I would just take part.

Also, in my case, it was a lot easier to relate to the community – I didn’t have a crypto background, but I am a big football fan, and also a big gamer, and I came from the gaming industry. A lot of them were kind of similar age to me, anywhere from late twenties to late thirties, forties, so it was really easy to connect and relate to them. And it was really motivating, but like you said, it’s not something that can really scale. So that was an area where if we want to go into the mistakes, that’s an area that if I look back, I would have liked to have done a better job there.

In the early days, it was obviously really important to be present on Discord and be there all the time. I was there pretty much, you know, not 24/7, but I was there at the weekends making sure that users saw that we cared and that we were going above and beyond, like the call of our duty.

You want the early community to feel that this is a team of hard workers and people who care about what they’re building. I really do, and I really did at the time. It’s obviously not something that can scale, and I think where we maybe lacked a bit was that when we did grow quickly as a team and staff up, we were slow to put the right resources in place on a community side so that we could still have that active presence in Discord.

And I think I could have done a much better job at balancing who I interact with in Discord and when; and also how can I build foundations and put new systems in place in which we can also scale and speak with a much wider community, not just the core community, even if it’s through support.  When I joined, I was also managing our support and we were getting maybe 30 tickets a day, which is really, really manageable. But in February 2021 there was the big spike, the big boom. And then because there were loads of things that we hadn’t improved on a product side, within a day, we were getting 2000-3000 tickets, every two to three days and it became impossible to manage. And then, because no one really knew that boom was coming and because I hadn’t really scaled the support side enough – as I was quite focused on Discord and one-on-one interactions – it put us in a bit of a tricky situation where we had potential for huge growth, but a lot of users were churning because we didn’t have a very good support system in place. That’s just an example of some of the challenges between scaling, but also being very approachable.

Sia: Yeah, we’ll get more into some of the challenges and learnings, from the last few years, but just to cover a bit more the way things have evolved because obviously, Sorare went multi-sport, you increasingly have a global audience. How has that impacted the way you think about the community? I guess the way you speak to football fans might be different from the way you speak to baseball fans and NBA fans; and maybe even across geographies, you see cultural differences, etc. 

Dan: There was a strategic discussion to decide whether we just keep one account and speak to everyone through that one account or start building separate communities for each sport. And we decided on building separate communities for each sport. There were a number of reasons for this. One of the big ones was because part of our initial vision for where we saw a lot of the growth coming for MLB and NBA was the [United] States. It’s a market that we really wanted to grow in any way, even on a football side. The potential for a football audience in the States is there and it’s huge. We just felt that it would be easier to do that with accounts that were speaking specifically to a US audience, in US hours, and all that. Also, we saw the value of what we had built with Sorare football in terms of having microcommunities and using them to nurture and grow in the early stages.

And I think if someone was joining Sorare MLB and they saw this huge Discord where everyone’s talking about football but they were paying for specific baseball reasons – especially if you want to join something small and you feel like you’re early, you feel like maybe you’ve missed a boat and you don’t know who to reach out to. So, that was our main thinking for keeping them separate. And then in terms of tone of voice, there’s just a natural difference in terms of, if you follow sports networks in the States, there’s just a natural difference in the way they speak with their audience.

That’s an area where we’re trying to find a balance between speaking to a global audience, a European audience, and a US audience. It is quite a challenge, and I think in the early stages of last year, we might have lost that identity a little bit. We used to be a little more tongue-in-cheek, we were there to shake things up a little bit. And I think we diluted it a little bit when we were moving to the US and trying to think of ‘well, what’s this one voice we can have that could speak to everyone’. By doing that, we ended up with something that was quite vanilla. So that’s something that we are revisiting, as well as how can we bring more personality back in. In the last couple of months, we’ve started working on that.

 Sia: Does it mean that you have a community manager, focused on the US sports, or how does it work? 

Dan: In February, we hired a community manager for US sports. He’s based in the New York office and he’s focused purely on US and MLB.

But again, it was a lot of work. We were still launching things for a while on the US side and also on the football side for a bit because the engineering team is ramped up, the product team is ramped up, and we were just shipping a lot, lot more. A lot of stuff was getting missed by the community team, whether because it wasn’t shared with us or because we just had too much going on, our calendar was full and it would go to the social media team or marketing team. And we’d bring it to market and the position would be wrong, or we might be missing some key details on why we introduced a new feature. And then that naturally leads to community frustration because they don’t understand why we might’ve done something.

So earlier this summer, we staffed up the team, which is responsible for bringing things to market, but also making sure that we’re thoughtful in our product development and that we’re user-centric. And so now that falls on the product marketing team. And we all sit within the Gameplay teams for each product. So I focus on football and I oversee product marketing; and we’ve since moved someone who was performing really well in the support team. Now he’s taken over on the community management side of a lot of the kind of operational day-to-day relationship building side, he’s kind of taken over from me on that, which means we can be way more hands-on and we’ve also done the same model for US sports.

So we have a product manager, a product marketing manager, and a community manager – the same community manager supporting that person, which means we now have four people as opposed to one nine months ago. And it’s really helped. Even now you can see in the recent MLB updates that were really thoughtful.

Our community is starting to see that we’re really focused on them, and it’s helping us a lot. I’m looking forward to the next few months, really. 

Sia: Exciting and very keen also to hear a bit more about how you track success when it comes to your community initiatives. Are there ways to look at the ROI we get from the resources and efforts we put into the community, how you’re approaching that? Are there metrics that you’re looking at? 

Dan: Yeah, so there are, and I think that’s one of the reasons why, as you said, the community management role or even a function is relatively new.

Not really in the gaming industry, but I think in companies they have the potential to go beyond gaming. The community function is maybe sometimes a lot more connected to support or just events or something like that, but the scope is quite small. 

So within Sorare, the KPIs and how we measure the ROI for the Community have changed a lot from year to year. Initially, we were big on growth and nurturing, jumping on the word-of-mouth potential. So the main ways in which we could measure the success of our work was, you know, social media, community growth. So it’s like community is peer-to-peer collaboration around something that someone loves. So we want to build those channels so that they can engage with each other. We wanted to grow Twitter and also hit a certain engagement. So in the early years, it was pretty straightforward: ‘let’s try to hit this channel growth and maintain this level of engagement.’

It’s important to have engagement because it’s very easy to pump and inflate social media numbers – you just run competitions –  but it’s a lot harder to maintain engagement. So, that was the main one, but then ultimately community feeds into two larger teams KPIs in most company structures and kind of in Sorare as well.

Our work largely feeds into the product, but there’s a growth and marketing function as well, where we can support their work too. So they would define those KPIs and we just make sure that the projects that we work feed into those and we can measure them in a certain way. And there’s also the side of community work that isn’t an exact science, and that’s a lot more qualitative: ‘how do you measure the success of your relationship with someone?’ or ‘how do you measure community sentiment?’. There’s no real standard science for measuring community sentiment.

In all the interviews that I’ve ever done with people for community roles or even anything that touches the community, I always ask them, ‘how would you measure community sentiment?’, hoping that someone has the ‘holy grail’ answer, and I’m yet to have it or find it, but I’m really optimistic with AI.

On my list of things to do is to start digging through AI tools to see if anyone’s built a better sentiment tool, which scrapes social media and packages things in a way in which it actually says, ‘this is your community sentiment and this is why they feel that way.’

To boil it down, there’s the whole qualitative side of things, which is community sentiment, which is a lot harder to measure, but we use NPS pretty much. And, before we look at the NPS surveys – we run them once a month – I kind of like have a little guess. I write down all the things that I think people will be happy and annoyed about, and I make a little prediction of what I think our score will go up or down. And if it reflects the NPS scores it means that either I have a good understanding of what’s happening in our ecosystem or the NPS is also working. If they’re both aligned for me, that’s enough of a representation that, okay, we’re measuring things accurately. 

Sia: How do you strike that balance between, you know, obviously still catering to the needs of those early adopters – which in the case of Sorare might have those large galleries and are super active on social networks sharing about their Sorare journey – but also being accommodating to the new joiners and their fresh perspectives?

Dan: Initially, I was kind of dealing with all of those people, and that was tough because we were really focused on word-of-mouth. I put a lot of focus into speaking with community thought leaders or anyone who was showing really impressive and huge levels of wanting to be proactive within the community. Now we separate those across teams. So, because of our affiliate program, a lot of the people who are users who create content around Sorare or have visions for tools around Sorare, they sign up for the affiliate program – we have an affiliate manager who manages those relationships. My role with those relationships is more that if we identify opportunities, say for maybe giving tickets away, or there’s a cool event or, if we’re launching a cool product, I’ll just go to the affiliate manager and say, ‘look this is an opportunity, this is how I would package it’, but they take it from there and leverage that in the best way possible. In terms of new users, we have a user research team now, and they largely focus on the analysis of new users and how they engage with our platform, what’s positive, what’s negative, and all that. And then there’s kind of a gray area between those cores, which is people that are just active in the communities, but maybe show potential to become affiliates or influencers or show potential in any other way in which they can feed into our community and it could even just be someone who flags issues and shares feedback with them.

It’s very much just being active, reactive, proactive to those. So just make sure that you’re present in all your Discord channels, your Twitter, and all that so that they know that if they continue to say these things, the product will continue to improve. You don’t want them feeling that there’s no presence there from the company.

Sia: What is really fascinating about Sorare is that it’s not only a digital experience. There is this link to the real world and over the years you’ve seen more and more self-organized football tournaments and you guys just enabled those experiences through giving away tickets and all that. To what extent as a community lead, were you also involved in those real-world experiences? Is there another team dealing with that or how do you work with that side of the community and what is happening on that front?

Dan: The organic stuff is our work pretty much. So what we do is we get approached by loads of community members with amazing ideas. And then, we often have the same ideas. Since day one, I’ve been passionate about Nico’s pitch of bridging fantasy to real, and I love nurturing that loop. So every quarter something that is at the back of my mind is, how can we run new tests where we can test that loop, but also just build it as part of our brand and value proposition a little more, step by step? We often don’t have the resources to be able to leverage that quite often because running events is time-consuming, and can be quite expensive.

When you’re trying to be a lean and active team, it’s not always the best thing to prioritize. But luckily we have loads of community members who are more than happy to run these and manage them. So for us, the main goal is just to support them in the best way we can. A lot of the Paris Sorare club, for example, they were one of the innovators of this weekly ‘five-a-side’ in Paris, and they got to a point where they thought there were maybe a couple of hundred people who wanted to sign up, but they had to do three games in a row. So what we did for them was I would have monthly one-hour calls with them to see what their ideas were, and we would just offer them jerseys, and tickets to games for their micro-closed-community. Then if they were running something more ambitious, like a tournament where members from the English or German community were flying in, we do our best to sort them out with nice PSG tickets for that weekend. I’d turn up to the event and we’d also pay for the booking of the pitches, as part of our community budget.

And then from there, you can see that these things are naturally growing. So they would post about it on Twitter. And then this summer we had a ‘seven-a-side’ competition that took place in Nottingham and now there’s one happening in Falkirk Stadium in Scotland, next year. And so those things are kind of just naturally building and all we were like the flame wasn’t even built by us.

They had the filet, we just gave it a little bit more fuel for it to grow like that. I can’t really take that much credit for it. It’s the community just being great. If we didn’t take part in those things, it would be a big failure on our side. You have to really make sure that you nurture all of these positive contributions because then you just become a company with no face and people will stop. 

Sia: It’s awesome that, in only like three, four years, you’ve managed to get those initiatives, left and right, just being started by community members. Let’s now take a step back. We did discuss the fact that community, in general, is a quite new function in a lot of fast-growing startups, so in the case of Sorare, clearly we understood that a community can be related to the work of the product team, or the folks that are in charge of your affiliate program do, etc. Where does it sit exactly in the org? And how does that evolve over time, where do you see it going in the org moving forward? 

Dan: We had a small restructure of the company in the early summer –  there were a number of reasons for this restructure, but there was this particular focus on, ‘well, we’re dropping the ball sometimes with how we launch things and the transparency we share’ – so the idea was to staff up a little more there. So, Community now sits in the product team, with Gameplay, and Community feeds into the larger product marketing organization. So, as I mentioned before, there are four of us in that team right now, and we work very closely with product, but also closely with user research and growth and support.

It’s just the nature of the work that, in my opinion, the best community managers and product marketers are people who can wear multiple hats a bit like a Swiss army knife if you like. So that’s where it sits right now. And the main focus for us is to build the new product marketing functions that’s understood across the company, but our main success metric – we’re still to define how we measure these things. It’s just that if things get launched without the community knowing, or if things get launched without the Community understanding why we’re doing it, or if things get launched and we haven’t squeezed as much potential out of this great feature as possible, then we haven’t done our job.

So that’s one of the things is how we can bring things to market. And then the other two things we’re working on are our overarching storytelling. So it’s, ‘how can we redefine certain key aspects of the Sorare journey in a way that it’s understandable to new users and existing users?,’ because I think that’s something where, while our brand awareness can be low in a lot of markets, it’s an area that can really help grow the brand, is if you think of catchy two, three storylines that all sports fans can relate to. And where it can go, right now, within our structure, I’m happy with where it sits, but I think if we were to grow, I think the product marketing function would be its own thing that would sit between marketing and product. 

Where community often starts, it’s largely the community managers in early, early stages, they’re responsible for support, for social media and feedback loops. They’re kind of the three pillars of it. Then as you grow that changes. Often, I think what should happen is if you are experiencing a certain level of hyper-growth, and hire people from different backgrounds, those people, and it’s not a criticism, but you know, they may not be familiar with the potential for community, especially if the community was key to the early stage development. A mistake we made is that we didn’t allocate enough resources to the community function and we didn’t make sure that new hires understood its potential and what its scope was within Sorare. I think if companies do experience rapid growth it’s important to make sure that the community function is understood across; there’s an alignment across the company and to ensure that the resources are given to it because the work can become overwhelming.

What often happens is if you’re experiencing hyper-growth, a lot of new people are coming in, and you have to understand the product on board. And while that’s happening, there’s often a community manager behind the scenes, sticking their fingers and making sure there are no holes, or leaks, and keeping things running behind.

Sia: Dan, we’d love to hear a bit about what you’ve been the most proud of when it comes to community building at Sorare over the past few years. What’s your biggest accomplishment?

Dan: Oh, I honestly don’t know. There are a lot of things that I’ve done that I’m happy about, but, it’s more things that happened behind the scenes. So it’s not really public-facing. There was a period early last year when Sorare went through hyper-growth and we were hiring and growing quickly and staffing up and, a lot of people were joining in and we didn’t have the proper onboarding. No company has a great onboarding when it’s going through hyper-growth, but there were areas that we were lacking a bit to make sure that everyone who came in understood the key challenges of our product, and also the key frustrations of our community. And there was a while when I was finding it very difficult to highlight the importance of some of the community frustrations and how we need to change our product roadmap. So I remember there was a stage, I think it was early last year, maybe a year before where I had seen the product roadmap and had been signed off on. And in the previously I would have been in the loop and actually reviewed it and helped ideate on it. And the roadmap wasn’t addressing any of the key community frustrations.

And up until then, we had been a very, very user-centric company – maybe a bit too much, maybe too reactive to the feedback, but still it was a key part of our success. But the roadmap was kind of ignoring a lot of the key frustrations. And, what I did is, I realized that the way I had been sharing community feedback wasn’t resonating with the new hires, so I built actually a five, six-page report, obviously with a TLDR at the top, but quite a long, comprehensive report backed by data, backed by quotes and speaking to actual users, to show that the frustrations were valid and critical and then thanks to that report it helped shift how the new hire saw the function of community and the potential for it in Sorare. And also it helped readjust our product roadmap, so we were more thoughtful to the community. I think that moment stood out to me, as a good one, but it’s not really visible to the community, it’s more work behind the scenes. 

Sia: Well, that makes a lot of sense. You’re day-to-day, the person who is the closest to the user base, and obviously, the way you make the users feel counts, but what is also key is the way you communicate back to the product team, to Nico to other folks in the org. You mentioned before that you weren’t like fully ready at some point to deal with that, hyper-growth on the community front. Is there anything you would do differently if, you were back in November 2020?

Dan: There’s one lesson that I now share with a lot of people who may join the support team or be front-facing because I got to a point where I was almost obsessed with being present in the Discord and speaking with people one-on-one. I would sometimes end down these pigeonholes where for an hour and a half I was speaking to someone, about maybe feedback or trying to fix a problem they had. And, you know, in hindsight, when you’re heading towards hyper-growth and you’re quite a small, lean team, it’s not a good way to spend maybe 10 percent of your day. So one thing I would definitely change is not to get too caught up in one-on-one interactions and also not take things personally, because that’s part of it as well. The reason you end up in back and forth with someone is because you feel so passionate about the company and if they’re being very critical, almost trolly about it, you see it as a chance to try to change your mind, but ultimately it’s just not time well spent.

So I would have relocated the time I put into a lot of those interactions towards building infrastructure and systems, that could help so we’re kind of more long-term within six to 12 months. We built our Zendesk eventually when we hired our chief of staff, Thibault – he came in around February 2021 and his first project was building the Zendesk and he managed that whole project really well, but I still think back to that – I should have built that three months sooner. And it’s the same with other ones. 

I still think there’s a huge amount of potential for our Reddit and I have never really given that much thought and care to it. We tried it a few times, but then growing any community on a platform – right now I think we have 12, 13, 000 on our subreddit – to be able to nurture that and keep it going, it needs a certain amount of resources, which I’ve never given it. I still feel that’s potential that we haven’t tapped into considering where, especially on the football side, a lot of fantasy football people live on Reddit and I think if we build a core, and also a lot of the subreddits, it’s the same model as Discord, really, it’s just like these core communities who are obsessed with the product and we’ll spread it with word-of-mouth and defend it to the last day. Those people live on Reddit, but we haven’t really tapped into that yet. So that’s another one that I would have liked to have done in the early stages.

I think if we had a Twitter-grown, Discord-grown, and Reddit-grown (community) at the same time, maybe we’d see a lot more growth and brand awareness than we have right now. 

Sia: Thank you so much, Dan. You shared so many insights. I just wanted to wrap up with a slightly more personal question. You are obviously getting a lot of energy out of the interactions you have with the community. How do you manage the changes of mood in the community? Do they impact you on a personal level? How have you been dealing with that? 

Dan: They used to impact me in the earlier stages and then even within my personal life – my wife grew to hate the sound of the Discord notification – but, what I’ve learned is that, now I don’t take any of it personally. So I take a lot less to heart now when we have negative sentiment and I kind of try to approach things more as, ‘well, how can we change this? Why is this happening? How can we change it?’ Rather than, ‘ah, they’re attacking Sorare, which is like a child.’ Not taking things personally, just allows me to switch off better and think more clearly.

And then also just with more resources, now that there are way more people and a lot of them more qualified than I am to think about things like, for example, referral abuse or something like that, you know, that I used to have to think about that. Now there are way more other people who think about those things, who are better equipped to find solutions to them than I am. So that gives me more time to focus on the stuff that I’m just naturally better at, like giving tickets to people. 

Sia: Thank you for being so open. That was really awesome.

 Dan: Thanks for having me.

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Founded by Dr. Russ Tucker (who previously founded UK cultivated meat pioneer Ivy Farm), Dr. James Allen, and Dr. Satnam Surae, twig is on a mission to radically improve the speed and efficacy of lab-based bioengineering, creating affordable, scalable, and dependable ingredients that producers can use in the everyday items the world relies on. 

Dr. Russ Tucker, co-founder of twig highlights: 

“Many of the biggest little ingredients that go into the products we use in our daily lives are hugely damaging for the planet. This needs to change, and this needs to happen fast. (…) through the right combination of  AI and automation, we can deliver a step-change in bioengineering, driving a global transition from unsustainably resourced ingredients to bio-fermented ingredients in a way that benefits everyone – people, producers, and the planet.” 

twig’s new approach fundamentally reduces the time and costs of conventional bioengineering processes for developing potential ingredient strains. Combining AI and SynBio (synthetic biology), twig relies on three distinct tech pillars:

1) Bio:Builder: a best-in-class biological tool that allows it to create the building blocks to develop its new sustainable ingredients. 

2) Grow:Bot: a dependable, programmable, and scalable robotics, enabling the manipulating and analysis of tens of thousands of bacteria variations each month. 

3) ML:Bridge: twig’s AI connects the dots across the ever-growing standardised and formatted data library generated by Bio:Builder and Grow:Bot. ML:Bridge reviews production yields against target thresholds and recommends pathway improvements. 

Since its beginnings in late 2022, twig has already tested thousands of strains through their automated platform in just five short months in the lab. 

On why we invested, our Partner Tom Wilson comments:

“We believe the timing is perfect for seeing a real breakthrough in bioengineered products due to advancements in AI and automation. The Twig team have the perfect combination of technical and domain expertise to make their vision a reality and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with them.

We are excited to participate in twig’s £3 million seed round, alongside Project A, Zero Carbon Capital, UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, Gaingels, and expert angels.

For more information, visit twig.bio.

Despite significant technological innovation in computational biology and drug development over the past decades, it still takes 10-15 years to take a drug to market, with over 90% failure rate. One of the main bottlenecks lies in the long duration required for the analysis and submission of clinical trial data. 

This is why we are excited to back Verisian, a UK-based startup on a mission to increase the rate at which human health improves by redefining clinical trial analysis and drug approvals. It aims to build out the largest medical code repository by parsing and virtualising study code from clinical trials.

Co-founded by experienced technologists Tomás Sabat Stöfsel (CEO, previously COO/Founding Team Member of Vaticle, the creators of the open source database TypeDB) and Henning Kuich (CTO, previously Senior Computational Scientist at Bayer Pharmaceuticals), the company is building products that empower researchers and regulators to analyze and monitor studies transparently in real-time, leading to improved and safer therapies for devastating diseases.

Tomas Sabat Stöfsel, CEO and co-founder of Verisian comments:

“It’s crazy that to this day, after clinical trials finish and the science is done, it still takes months to years before a drug is available to patients. We believe it should be immediate. That’s why we’re building the infrastructure and tools that change how we analyse clinical trials, leading to faster and better drug submissions in the pharmaceutical industry.”

Henning Kuich, CTO and co-founder, adds:

“Clinical trials are and will remain the bottleneck for advancing human health. They are expensive, take a long time, and are absolutely necessary. They alone ensure efficacy and safety of any health-related product. So the rate at which public health improves is directly correlated with the speed and quality of clinical trials and their analysis. This is what Verisian is all about: increasing the rate at which human health improves.”

Oliver Wirtz, Head of Analysis Standards & Reporting Quality, Bayer and a product development partner emphasises:

“The technology Verisian uses is new and revolutionary: parsing study code and leveraging that is exactly the right way to know what really happened in a study.”

Claire Springett, Statistical Programmer, AstraZeneca, another product development partner adds:

“Verisian is exactly what the pharmaceutical industry has been waiting for, easy traceability of programs and CDISC mappings which will streamline clinical trials for the future.”

On why we invested in Verisian, our partner Tom Wilson comments:

“Even with huge advancements in the space and innovations across the value chain, it still takes too long to bring drugs to market. One of the primary bottlenecks is around clinical trials and managing the huge amounts of data required to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals. We see huge potential for Verisian’s platform to  improve the speed, clarity, and reliability of clinical data reporting and in so doing accelerate the time it takes to get drugs to market. Tomas and Henning are the perfect founders to be building this with their ideal combination of relevant startup, technical and domain experience and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to partner with them to lead this first round of funding”

We are excited to lead Verisian’s first funding round, alongside Superseed, Recode Health, Magnetic, and angel investors Paul Forster, Will Neale, Endre Sagi, Naud van der Ven, Loic Veillard Garoz, and Sudhamma Lee. With the fresh funding the company is planning to grow their engineering team; build a first version of their “builder”, to enable pharma to program studies ready for submission; and establish and grow their initial design partnerships with tier-1 pharmaceuticals.

For more information, visit verisian.com.

To thrive in the current uncertain macroeconomic environment paired with unprecedented technological advancement, organisations of all sizes and across industries, are required to work more efficiently with leaner teams. Now, probably more than ever, it is essential to invest in workforce development and optimisation, to strengthen the employer and employee relationship, boost employee engagement, and ensure a successful long-term collaboration.  

This is why we are excited to back Koios, a UK-based voice-driven AI platform set to drastically reduce cost and friction in the personality and management insights market, empowering human understanding between employers and employees. What makes this partnership even more remarkable is that the company was co-founded by our alumnus Alex Lewis, who in his role as Head of Talent, led our talent initiatives and supported our portfolio companies from 2021 until earlier this year.

On a mission to fundamentally improve the way that organisations work with their talent, Koios leverages proprietary voice-driven AI algorithms, to provide low friction and cost-efficient personality insights, thus enabling managers and teams to work together more effectively. Aiming to provide talent leaders and organisations with bespoke ways to communicate, motivate and develop each employee, the company is developing and applying state-of-the-art audio deep learning models using original data collection with an emphasis on a conscientious and ethical approach. To ensure the inclusivity of all people, regardless of race, gender, or geographical origin, Koios acquires original training data.  

Started in 2020 by Alex, alongside his friend Tom Sherwood, Koios is rooted in the first-hand pain of lacking tech solutions to support managers and teams the founders have experienced as talent leaders themselves.

Alex Lewis, COO comments: 

“In our roles at Spotify, and Seedcamp respectively, Tom and I had been helping companies across the Big Tech, start-up, and the scale-up world for years and one of the biggest buzzwords and blockers to hiring at the time was “culture fit”, which we despised as it had connotations of an individual having to “fit in” rather than a company enabling the success of each employee. As managers and leaders, we’d been through personality assessments over the years and we recognised that there were some useful insights in the more “robust” assessments, and questioned why there wasn’t greater adoption across the industry below leadership level (93% of the market wasn’t being served). After speaking with industry leaders, they made it clear that if friction from self-assessment could be removed and a more cost-effective model be put in place, then there was a great opportunity for mass adoption. 

With the addition of Martin Lukac, as Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist, Koios developed its proprietary technology to understand personality using voice. Designed as an enablement tool, Talent/Recruiting/HR teams can easily run the Koios app inviting existing employees to partake or sit over existing candidate interview processes. A minimum of 90 seconds is required to provide a bespoke set of personality and management insights from a candidate or employee’s voice to ensure their success in their role. 

Lewis adds: “Not only can we provide existing workforce analysis, we will be able to run Koios over the top of an interview process at the click of a button and provide insights from 90 seconds, without the need to change the process or for the candidate or employee to do anything other than consent, of course. We are very conscious to eliminate as much of the bias as possible in the algorithms/models, so we spend a lot of time manually gathering and curating our training data to ensure that our tool serves everyone, regardless of their demographic — be it gender, ethnic background, or accent — so we can provide fair and inclusive insights to be used to lead, manage and develop employees, categorically not to assess their suitability for a role.”

On why we backed Koios, our Managing Partner Carlos Espinal MBE, emphasises: “Koios brings much-needed innovation in the talent development industry, particularly in the tech sector. Having worked closely together with Alex in his previous role as Seedcamp’s Head of Talent, I’ve admired his dedication and passion for nurturing talent across our portfolio and empowering them to thrive. Leveraging voice-driven AI, the platform helps find a better fit between employers and employees, thus facilitating a successful and productive, long-term collaboration. We couldn’t be more excited to back such an exceptional team on their mission to enable employees to reach their full potential and leaders and organisations to develop their workforce effectively.”

We are thrilled to lead Koios’s $550k Pre-Seed funding round, alongside Evolvient Capital and industry angels. With the new funding, Koios aims to prepare its go-live and continue investing in inclusive training data and developing the platform. Talent leaders and organisations can get early access to the platform on the company’s website getkoios.ai.

The proliferation of new AI technologies is pushing organisations of all sizes and across industries and verticals to adopt and develop AI solutions at an exponential rate. However, in an expanding regulatory environment and a market climate where consumers believe that organisations should bear responsibility for any misapplication of AI technology, leaders need to prioritise AI governance to fully benefit from the power of AI innovation. Even more so businesses in domains that are inherently risky, such as financial services, healthcare, and insurance, need to understand, manage, and comply with AI-related risks and regulations.

This is why we are excited to back Enzai, a Belfast-based AI governance startup providing organisations with a comprehensive toolkit to navigate these complexities, ensuring the responsible development, deployment, and usage of AI. Coming at a pivotal moment, the company’s mission is to ensure that powerful AI technologies can gain the level of trust necessary to fulfill their true potential

Founded in 2021 by Ryan Donnelly, a leading lawyer in the AI regulation space, and Jack Carlisle, a software engineer with extensive startup experience, Enzai brings a unique combination of legal, engineering, and data science expertise to build a solution in this area. The team of expert lawyers is tracking AI-focused regulatory developments around the world and responding quickly with new frameworks and features to ensure their customers can stay one step ahead. 

Ryan Donnelly, co-founder of Enzai, comments:

“We founded Enzai with a clear vision: to empower organisations to harness the incredible potential of AI, while minimising the risks involved. As AI continues to evolve and permeate every industry, ensuring that it is built and adopted in a responsible, compliant manner has never been more critical. This financing fuels our commitment to enable businesses to innovate in AI with confidence, whilst safeguarding against potential pitfalls, and it paves the way for a future where AI drives both progress and responsibility.”

Enzai enables organisations to build up an inventory of their AI solutions, apply policies and procedures to that AI, and then measure compliance in real-time. “Controls”, the platform’s new feature introduces a new paradigm for building and using AI, allowing cross-functional teams to collaborate and conduct assessments of AI systems.

Jack Carlisle, co-founder of Enza adds:

“(…) we ensure consistency and scalability, enabling organisations of all sizes to manage their AI governance efforts efficiently. It facilitates seamless collaboration between business, legal and technical teams, bridging the gap between domain-specific, regulatory and data science expertise.”

Enzai’s software solution applies across industry verticals, in particular to financial services, healthcare, insurance, HR, and government. Ryan Donnelly emphasises: “anyone that takes their civic and regulatory responsibilities seriously can benefit from AI governance, and our software makes it extremely easy to get going.” 

On why we invested in Enzai, our Partner Tom Wilson, comments:

“We are all dealing with this incredibly powerful new wave of AI technologies. At the current rate of development, it is critical that we find ways to harness this development so that it has a positive impact on the world. We’re thrilled to support Enzai as one of the first investments from our new Fund VI. The team behind Enzai have identified a really strong way of managing AI risk, and their tech is set to be a foundational part of the AI ecosystem.”

We are excited to participate in Enzai’s $4 million seed funding round led by Cavalry Ventures, alongside existing pre-seed investor, Techstart Ventures and leading angel investors including Paul Forster (founder of Indeed.com), Sam Gill (co-founder of Seedcamp-backed Sylvera), and Alexandre Berriche (founder of Fleet). Enzai will use the funding to build out its engineering capabilities and support its go-to-market efforts. 

Enzai is “in hiring mode”, with open roles across engineering, operations, policy, sales, and marketing. Check them out and apply here.

For more information, visit enz.ai.

While automation has become ubiquitous all across business sectors, the innovation and customisation potential is massive. The new wave of AI technologies unlocks new opportunities for more user-friendly, powerful, and flexible solutions to cater to specific customer needs. 

This is why we are excited to partner up with Jonas Menesklou (CEO) and Dominik Klotz (CTO), founders of AskUI, as they set out to build the next era of process automation by leveraging the power of AI. The Germany-based company merges the power and flexibility of advanced AI models with the beauty of Large Language Models and user-friendly experiences of a combined no-code and code approach.

On a mission to democratise and redefine process automation, AskUI aims to introduce a new era of automated digital solutions that are not just intuitive and visually appealing but also robust, adaptable, and user-friendly. 

AskUI’s founders emphasise:

“By leveraging the power of words to automate any process, we intend to create a digital world where automation is for everyone, everywhere.

Creating an automation engine that serves all industries is an enormous undertaking. We have been working intensively on developing the cornerstone features that form the basis of process automation. But we’re not just checking boxes; we’re dissecting every aspect of automation and reimagining it into an exceptional experience. From system controls and UI comprehension to data scraping, we’re creating world-class, frictionless experiences.”

On why we backed AskUI, our Partner Sia Houchangnia comments:

“The opportunity around enterprise workflow automation is massive, and it’s a theme we’ve been actively investing in at Seedcamp. The technology that AskUI has developed over the past 2 years has the potential to change the game in this space. By combining the latest advancements in computer vision and LLM, they’ve developed features that truly reimagine the entire automation experience. We are delighted to back Jonas, Dominik, and the whole AskUI team alongside a great group of co-investors.”

We are excited to participate in AskUI’s €4.3 million seed funding round, led by Eurazeo, alongside 468 Capital, LEA Partners, APX, and existing angels Carsten Thoma and Christian Stiebner. With the new funding, the company plans to advance product development, release their first prompt-to-automation model, and amplify their go-to-market activities.

AskUI is also planning to grow the team and is currently looking for talented engineers and AI researchers.

For more information, visit askui.com.