My Week: Nick Halstead of MediaSift

The tech entrepreneur behind TweetMeme on raising $6m from VCs, using social media to make his business look bigger, and marrying a fellow geek.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Because I’m a programmer at heart, much of my time is spent focusing on our new product, DataSift. I also spend a lot of time on marketing, because my belief is that when you're selling a product like this you have to focus very heavily on social media, as this can allow you to act very big even when you’re very small. In the grand scheme of things we’re still quite small – we’re only 25 people – but we always make ourselves look bigger.

In the first year of the business I spent every single evening out networking with the tech start-up community, and that’s how we got to know investors and customers. I don’t really do that anywhere as much any more although I envisage that as we when we launch DataSift I’ll probably get more involved in it all again. As the CEO, you need to be seen to be promoting what you’re doing. But if you spent your whole time on Twitter you wouldn’t get the rest of the business stuff done.

It's been a busy few months. Earlier this summer we raised $6m in a round of funding co-led by US VC firms IA Ventures and GRP Partners. We had had a couple of rounds of angel investment prior to that, but the pressures change and you get different types of support when you move on to VCs. With angel investors they tend to want to be more hands-on, but they aren't necessarily experts in the field, so there’s a certain level of managing expectations and managing your board. Whereas VCs are professionals: they know to not get in the way of the business, but they also ask bigger questions. The expectations change too: when you get to series A and raise $6m, the expectation is you’re going to sell your company for £100m plus.

We are probably historically best known for TweetMeme, a service with 10 million users which aggregates all the most popular links on Twitter, but DataSift is our core product now. It’s not publicly launched yet – it will be in four or five weeks – but we’ve been working on it for two and a half years. TweetMeme was a second version of our product Favourit back in the day, and DataSift is version three. It’s still very much the same principle: curating information and then selling that information to customers.

I decided to go with US investors because Europe is far too risk adverse. I spent a month meeting all of the major investors in the UK, but none of them wanted to do what I wanted to do at the value I wanted to do it. So I went to the US. The US process is hard work but it’s much more mature and professional. Silicon Valley has been doing this for a long time, so they make it entrepreneur friendly. But even though our investors are US based, I’ve always been very clear that I’m not moving. If nothing else, from a resourcing point of view it makes far more sense to stay in the UK, as there is so much competition for talent in San Francisco and the Valley. We do have an office and one senior member of staff permanently based out there, and we’re planning to get to five within a few months. I also go over at least once a month.

I am really busy and away a lot, but luckily I have a very supportive wife, Helen. We have a daughter, Amelia, who is three and a half, so when I go home we all have dinner and we play with Amelia and then once she's in bed I continue to work. Helen runs her own business too, so she knows what it takes and understands the pressures. She's in the corporate training world, but is actually a programmer, too. I had to marry another nerd.

Nick Halstead is the founder of MediaSift, which builds social media tools and applications.

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