Brent Hoberman launches a new $60 million seed fund

Brent Hoberman AND his partner Spencer Crawley will be backing the next wave of emerging European technology talent.

HobermanDespite the lower-case name and its obvious allusion to Hoberman’s Lastminute.com venture, Firstminute capital, the new fund he has co-founded with Spencer Crawley, is a welcome addition to European seed funds.

The fund has announced a first close of $60 million with London-based global VC Atomico as a cornerstone investor and 2​4​ other founders of billion dollar technology businesses. It will look to invest between $250-$750K in early stage technology businesses across Europe.

Among its investor base, firstminute capital includes the co-founders of global successes such as Skype, Supercell, Betfair, Trulia, Zoopla, lastminute.com, King.com, Tradex Technologies, Skyscanner, BlaBlaCar, Fox Kids Europe, Autonomy, Net-a-Porter, Capital One Bank and many more.

This roll call is supported by a number of strategic global family offices, who will play an active role supporting firstminute’s portfolio companies as they expand globally. This is rounded off by a cluster of current or former CEOs and chairpeople of major businesses, across both technology and traditional industries.

“We will invest not just in the UK, but across Europe. We were aiming to raise $60 million for our first fund and to have achieved that with oversubscription before our final close is a strong signal for European technology. We believe the fund represents an unparalleled wealth of expertise to deliver on this promise,” said Hoberman.

Hoberman has a long history of supporting entrepreneurship across Europe, from his co-founding of lastminute.com (operational across 14 countries), Founders Forum and Founders Factory, to scaling MADE.COM to six countries in Europe as founding Chairman. He has also advised UK government on entrepreneurship and co-founded technology businesses that have raised over $500 millon cumulatively.

And let us not forget Spencer Crawley as co-founder and Head of Investments at firstminute capital. He was previously in the Business Development team at AppDirect (backed by Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital, latest valuation $1bn+) was Investment Associate at DMC Partners and Analyst in the Moscow office of Goldman Sachs. He also speaks fluent Russian.

£29 billion in the UK every year lost to useless meetings

Despite spending one fifth of the working day in meetings, 57% of UK office workers feel they are not productive and that time should be better spent.


meetingsMeetings about a meeting and the follow-up meeting are the banes of modern industry.

According to marketing technology company Wacom, more than £29 billion every year in the UK is wasted due to unproductive meetings and 37% said they would become more efficient and engaging if there was a ‘laptops down’ rule

Moreover, more than a fifth (21%) of UK office workers surveyed even admitted to falling asleep, while 43% of UK office workers switch off in meetings and 34% admitted to not concentrating and often work on other projects or clients.

Although laptops and smartphones are common protocol for meetings, they cause attendees to pay less attention and it is astounding that, like conferences, workers and delegates are not banned from using them when attention needs to be focused.

It’s also about length of meetings. For some insane reason, office meetings always seem to last for an hour, that’s when the ‘meeting room’ is always booked out for. Even if they were curtailed by ten minutes, that would mean a saving of an hour a day if six had been planned.

The Wacom data comes as no surprise, but there are reasons why the company conducted such a survey as it sells products such as the Bamboo Folio and Bamboo Slate smartpads that let users write with the touch of a button. No distractions there then.

“Meeting organisers and presenters worldwide are constantly competing with devices for the attention of attendees. While most people use the devices for note-taking, the temptation to multi-task is just too great. These distractions have a negative impact on stress levels, productivity and ultimately the bottom line,” said Jeroen van‘t Hoofd, Wacom spokesperson, EMEA.

As somebody who moved out of an office a decade ago, the advice from this quarter is to hold meetings that last for 30 minutes and limit them to four people. The rest of it, such as the delegation of tasks can easily be done by electronic purposes… or be talked about it down the pub.

An eyes-opening London digital experience? Oh, yes…

A much-loved and departed East Londoner pensioner is the subject of an eyes-opening celebratory digital project.


eyesMy eyes! On what would have been noted Londoner Joseph Markovic’s 90th year, his much loved photography journal I’ve lived in London for 86½ Years has been released as an interesting digital experience.

This experience is controlled by opening and shutting the eyes as a fully interactive story is told by a narrator and Joseph’s friend, Martin Usborne, set to a new soundtrack created on East London standup pianos.

Unsurprisingly, Markovic was a man who lived in London for 86½ years. He left only once to go to the seaside with his mother, loved the movie star Nicolas Cage, had five sugars in his tea and would have married a six foot Hispanic woman if given the chance. Wouldn’t we all?

Clubhouse Studios and local businesses set out to create an experience that captured the purity and authenticity of the original book. Inspired by the format of the book, 86½ Years follows a double narrative, taking the user on a journey into Joe’s life while hearing how he was instrumental in changing Martin’s.

Each chapter is split into two parts and navigated intuitively with eye-tracking technology quietly working in the background to enhance the narrative. The simple closing of the eyes is all that’s needed to step fully into the world of Joe’s imagination.

Once closed and with the distractions of life removed, Joe begins to share this thoughts and feelings from an eclectic mix of topics ranging from money, to relationships and the Universe.

As Joe finishes, the opening of your eyes reveals the original still photograph Martin took to accompany joe’s words; brought to life for the first time through moving image, alongside the photographer’s memories of the day and the time they spent together.

A subtle, evocative soundtrack was composed to play throughout the experience. Recorded on a local, open-back stand-up piano the music was composed to represent the conversation that took place between Joe and Martin

“An element of my own loneliness exists in the photos of Joseph. A good photographic portrait always captures two people: the subject & the person taking the picture,” said Martin Usborne, Hoxton Mini Press, publisher of the original book.

AI revolution continues with first social care bots

Tech-enabled homecare platform Cera and Bloomsbury AI unveil an AI assistant that is likely to transform social care.


socialcareFor those who watched the Channel 4 series Humans will be familiar with the synth care worker who looks after mad scientist William Hurt. Efficient and terrifying, she will coming to your real life from screens soon.

Very soon… if ‘tech-enabled homecare platform’ Cera and Bloomsbury AI have their way.

They have launched an AI assistant called Martha, who will address patients’ care enquiries in real-time, enhance the knowledge and capabilities of care workers and later predict deteriorations in health through multiple language interfaces including text messaging.

Aimed at raising the bar in social care, the launch of Martha comes as analysts forecast that chatbots could save businesses $8 billion a year by 2022, with healthcare among the industries gaining the biggest cost savings.

Martha will initially be used by Cera’s patients and their family members via its website and live chat to advise on specific care needs and respond to questions like “My father has Dementia. What type of care package would you recommend?”

Martha will also be capable of answering questions that a carer may have based on a patient’s care records, and provide crucial advice if something causes her concern.

For example, if a care worker notes that ‘Mrs. Taylor seems quite feverish’, Martha may respond with ‘Mrs. Taylor had a cough recently, you may want to check her temperature and take note of her other symptoms’. This is because bot Martha has read the patient’s case notes and knows their background.

Having delivered tens of thousands of care hours and accruing millions of data points, Cera believes it can identify healthcare trends among those receiving homecare.

Using a combination of deep learning, machine reading and data augmentation, Martha will be able to answer increasingly complex questions about a patient’s care and health needs, with the ultimate goal of reducing avoidable trips to A&E by catching acute conditions early on.

Cera, which launched in November 2016 matches those needing care with a highly-experienced carer at the right time and at the right place. The service, which is regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), is the only platform of its kind to get a carer to your door or hospital bed in under 24 hours.

“We’ve begun to witness how AI is transforming healthcare, both in the NHS and globally. However, these capabilities have yet to venture into the social care space. With the launch of Martha that’s set to change, allowing the elderly to benefit from technology in a way that’s life-enhancing, while easing demands on busy A&E departments,” said Dr Ben Maruthappu, Cera’s Co-Founder and President.

Sat Nav mistakes mean UK drivers waste 29 hours a year

Sat Nav has become such a keystone of drivers’ lives that they are wasting more time not than when they used physical maps.


sat navSat Nav, or satellite navigation in longer form, has been many people’s Godsend to arriving on time and safely. To others, such as this writer, it is the work of the devil.

For those who love the road, be that driving, riding or hitch-hiking, the beauty of travelling is getting lost. No advance warnings, just the joy of adventure and sometimes getting it wrong. To err is wonderfully human, to get lost is divine.

Nothing is more life-sucking than Sat Nav. From the new car on the road whose driver lurches into the traffic while obviously setting their Sat Nav to the oblivious u-turns down OBVIOUSLY wrong roads, this technology has been the bane of driverkind.

Now, a new report has reinforced its total lack of use, sense and relevance. According to a mytaxi survey of 2,000 UK drivers, Sat Navs have turned us into a nation of unthinking, unquestioning ‘zombie’ drivers.

More than a whole day each year (29 hours) is spent cluelessly travelling either the long way or the wrong way to our destinations after relying on electronic guides, which are now used by 76% of domestic motorists. More refreshingly, a total of 67% said they had a ‘love-hate relationship’ with their GPS route-finders.

In my case, there is no love-hate ambivalence. I HATE the stupid things.

Worryingly, more than half (52%) of those surveyed admitted they completely ‘switch off’ once the Sat Nav is leading the way and give little attention to road-signs and landmarks. This zombification has led to one fifth (20%) confessing they have lost the ability to navigate back home from locations to which they initially drove using their Sat Nav.

The study also found that we talk to this dumb machines. Sat nav slip-ups have led to 47% of us having a verbal disagreement with a device and 31% admitting to shouting at the machine as if it was a real person. One in 20 drivers have ripped the gizmo from the car and trashed it, an action I can only salute.

Moreover, 26% of drivers admit their navigation skills have declined since they began using an electronic route planner, which only proves that using Sat Nav makes you an idiot.

Told you so. Even using the upper-case of ‘Sat’ and ‘Nav’ as two separate words is a pain in the arse. #destroygizmo

* The research of 2,000 British drivers was carried out by 3Gem Research and Insights, as commissioned by mytaxi