The team at Niume are living the entrepreneurial dream. Barely two years after start up, founders Daniel Gennaoui, Francesco Facca and Alex Hughes have six employees and are installed in offices in London’s Silicon Roundabout. They have secured a supportive and respected angel investor, and are already veterans of two successful investment rounds.
From an idea that first saw the light of day in 2014, Francesco, Daniel and CTO Alex have created a collaborative blogging platform that the co-founders conceived of as the opposite of Facebook and Twitter. Unique in organising its content creators and readers into shared ‘spheres’ based on mutual interest and featuring topics ranging from art, entrepreneurship and food, through sci-fi, politics and yoga, Niume is able to deliver its community of writers, artists and photographers immediate access to a larger audience of engaged, enthusiastic and knowledgeable readers than they can find anywhere else on the Internet.
“We have already reached the point where the product is very good.” says Daniel. He points to user numbers that catapulted from 400,000 a month in May 2015 to hit the two million mark by August 2016, and the recent addition of popular new features including monetisation options and mobile and tablet access. “We’re now entering an exciting new phase in our growth where our focus is moving from the technical side to marketing and business development. It’s a hugely satisfying place to be.”
However, back in 2014, and as recent maths graduates armed only with ideas and ambition, any level of success was very far from a foregone conclusion. Alex, Daniel and Francesco agree that the momentum started on the day they joined the Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship programme. Daniel confirms: “The combination of know-how, networking opportunities and support we got during that year on the programme was the critical launch pad to where we are now.”
The three joined the programme with a clear idea of the size and scope of the opportunity and knew pretty much what they wanted Niume to look like. However, Daniel freely admits that not only did they lack business experience, they weren’t sure that others would appreciate their vision and ambition: “In the belief that you can never have too much education, particularly from a world-class institution, we initially thought of the diploma programme as a cushion.” Francesco adds: “It’s turned out that we were able to run with our idea and, although it’s not for everybody, we do thrive on the risk-fuelled lifestyle of entrepreneurs. For us it was the perfect low-risk introduction to a high-risk, high-reward way of life.”
Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship participants come to the programme with a diverse range of projects, inventions and opportunities in mind for commercialisation. The process of examining, testing, reimagining and refining your product or service is an important aspect of the programme and Niume appreciated the opportunity to develop their brainchild in a logical and structured way. The programme structure and delivery also left them time for hands-on work on their business. “The workload was variable, but very manageable,” recalls Daniel. “I did around an hour a day, which left me time for Niume, and some space for the really important things in life, like playing my guitar!”
Sessions with faculty members and their peers on the programme also reassured the team that their lack of experience was far from being a handicap. “Experience can sometimes be unhelpful when you’re creating something new,” says Daniel. “You make assumptions that close doors, when in fact you want to keep everything as wide open as possible.”
Niume has a global reach, and is driven by a multinational team: Francesco is Italian, Daniel Spanish, and Alex is from Greece, but, Francesco insists, “Niume is a Cambridge-born company. That’s for sure. Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) did more than improve us as entrepreneurs, it plugged us into a whole network of opportunities.”
The Niume team took advantage of the full portfolio of opportunities available to Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship (PGDE) students at Cambridge. They attended the CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre’s Enterprise Tuesday programme (a series of lectures and networking sessions delivered by experienced entrepreneurs). They also won a place on the School’s startup accelerator, Accelerate Cambridge, where regular coaching and mentoring sessions supported them through those nerve-wracking early days of running a real live company: “We realised that the PGDE and Accelerate Cambridge programmes complemented each other, offering very useful and different things that Niume could benefit from,” says Daniel. “The PGDE helped to improve ourselves as entrepreneurs. Accelerate Cambridge coaching pushed us to question our business model from every angle, ultimately helping us improve it.”
Mentoring sessions at Accelerate Cambridge also introduced Niume to tech angel investor Simon Thorpe, whose recent successful exits have included Swiftkey’s $250 million sale to Microsoft. When Niume approached Simon for advice, he was so impressed by their evident entrepreneurial drive and the rapid development of their product and value propositions through the PGDE and Accelerate programmes, he came on board as the start-up’s lead investor.
As Niume begins preparations for a third investment round in 2017, they are clear about the impact of the Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship programme. Francesco says: “The PGDE gave us the confidence to get our idea out there – it was a game-changer.”