May 10, 2017

Engaging with Major Enterprises – How to Ride the Tiger

Mike Tattersall is Partner at TrueStart and Head of Strategic Partnerships, with over 20 years’ experience in the retail and consumer industry. In this blog he highlights TrueStart’s edge and how to approach and build upon corporate opportunities. 

A key differentiation of TrueStart as a place for entrepreneurs to build their businesses, is our large network of senior figures in the retail and consumer industry. Our sector specificity is unique and drives a huge amount of interest from companies, large and small, who are seeking structured and pre-emptive access to relevant and actionable innovation – all of which can drive measurable Return on Investment in a rapidly changing consumer environment. In the last year we have welcomed more than 200 senior executives to our office, making countless introductions to entrepreneurs, sowing the seeds for further interaction, building use cases and conducting trials all on a path to full commercial integration (and, therefore, recurring revenue).

Facilitating these introductions is central to the value TrueStart can provide entrepreneurs. Access access to senior executives – who are capable of driving new initiatives from concept to completion – in major corporations is extremely difficult to achieve for almost all young companies. Moreover the companies engaging with us, exemplified by our close relationships with our Strategic Partners Bourne Leisure, John Lewis, Land Securities and Morrisons, and Associate Member, EY, are by definition motivated by the incentive of securing the business benefits of applying new technologies, services and products to their existing operations. The will to engage with entrepreneurs, coming from the highest echelons of management (our relationships with major companies are typically, and deliberately, anchored in the ‘C-Suite’) via engagement with TrueStart is palpable.

We genuinely believe our ability to accelerate the development of startups via our ecosystem of contacts is unparalleled within our industry. One of our portfolio companies, Photospire, has built a raft of impressive use cases (and recently became one of a handful of official Facebook Marketing Partners in the fast-growing content marketing sphere) on the back of introductions we have been delighted to facilitate. Photospire’s CEO, Ger O’Meara, has a simple answer to the question of why his company has stayed so close to TrueStart since completing the Summer 2015 Collection programme (and continues to work from our offices):

“Why would we go anywhere else?”

Of course, commercial lift-off requires more than introductions and “door-opening” on our part; we are often asked what differentiates those who gain traction from these opportunities. Clearly there isn’t a magic formula for this but some common traits stand out:

-Firstly, recognise that the major corporation probably needs your product/service/tech rather less than you need them, however remarkable your business or innovation. Humour, humility and basic likeability exponentially increase your prospects of advancing from introduction to negotiation.

-Secondly, it is important to know not just your product but the market you operate in, the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors (large and small). Acknowledge and be prepared to rectify any limitations within your nascent proposition. Be able to quantify the upside (in hard financial terms) you offer.

-Thirdly, try to empathise with the (potential) client on as practical a level as possible; what position do they hold in the organisation, how important is the problem you solve/opportunity you offer to them, can they sign off on your commercial arrangement or do they need to “sell” your company internally, how can you make them look good/save them a problem in their organisation, who do you need to convince to “make the sale”?

-Fourthly, personalise. Show how your product or service will look in the context of the organisation in question. Not only does this demonstrate forethought and diligence in your approach to client interactions it provides immediate and understandable context for the company. It also implies readiness to act.

Which brings us onto the final characteristics of startups who prevail in our boardroom; speed, flexibility and perseverance. It is an observable fact that most companies – and there is a correlation with size here – talk “fast” and move “slow”. Being able to integrate quickly and painlessly (off site, minimal disruption, particularly across different teams, capex free or light) massively increases your prospects. But don’t expect your counterparts to move as quickly as you can, or would like – dogged pursuit is a key attribute of the successful entrepreneur. To paraphrase the military aphorism about strategy not surviving first contact with the enemy, similarly innovation faces an unequal struggle with the rigours of day-to-day trading. This is particularly true in a challenging consumer environment.

Building a business is hard. Few people, probably no one, will be as enthusiastic about your business as you are. And nor should they be. Getting your voice heard, product noticed, service trialled or technology tested is one of the biggest challenges you will face. If you operate in the retail and consumer industry, no one is better placed or motivated to help you succeed than TrueStart.

May 10, 2017
February 27, 2017

TrueStart opens applications for its Summer Collection 2017

We’ve opened applications to our next Collection cohort. For everything you need to know, read on!

Applications are now open. Deadline is 23/04/17

TrueStart’s 5th accelerator programme since its inception in 2013

Brand new funding options available:

  • £80,000 for 8% equity (which includes a £30,000 service fee)
  • Zero-cash deal for 3% warrant, whereby companies receive mentorship, support and access to TrueStart’s retail, brand and investment network
  • Read more about the funding options here

TrueStart is also offering 15 of the top applicants an exclusive opportunity to receive a complimentary stand at the TrueStart annual conference, R:Evolution and the top six will have the opportunity to pitch to over 400 senior retailers, brands, investors and influencers.

TrueStart also announces the addition of two tech experts-in-residence to support and accelerate the tech businesses within its fold:

  • Michael Karliner, Technologist-in-Residence: Former CTO of Shazam, Mike is a 30- year tech veteran with strong hardware and software credentials. Mike works with our portfolio company CTOs to provide strategic guidance and direction.
  • Marton Meszaros, Tech-Project Manager-in-Residence: A tech veteran who got his first paid coding work at the age of 14, Meza went on to run multiple successful projects and tech teams. Meza works with our startups to help fulfil CTO roles.

TrueStart’s retail network comprises over 3,000 members of senior management teams across leading retailers and brands in the UK and beyond. In addition, strategic partners (Land Securities, John Lewis, Morrisons and Bourne Leisure) form a key part of the network and provide our portfolio companies with support and access to key buyers and decisions makers within their businesses.

In addition to having access to the network, TrueStart portfolio companies are provided with desk space in TrueStart’s Hub in Victoria, in addition to a variety of mentorship services, accounting and legal aid, and regular masterclasses with leading industry experts.

TrueStart has proven success in funding, building and growing successful startup businesses. Pixoneye raised £2.4m in Series A, City Pantry, one of our initial investments, recently closed its latest funding round worth over £1.1m, Photospire is working with Morrisons and John Lewis on customer engagement campaigns, and Hullabalook from the most recent Collection secured recent funding from Passion Capital and will be announcing contracts with a number of leading online retailers.

Applications for the Summer Collection open on 27th February 2017 and close at midnight on 23rd April 2017. To apply visit the TrueStart website or click here.

February 27, 2017
February 1, 2017

The TrueStart Retail Productivity Challenge – applications now closed

The TrueStart Retail Productivity Challenge is TrueStart’s inaugural campaign targeting start-ups focused on a specific business initiative. Morrisons, one of the UK’s top four supermarket chains, is working with us to find young companies to provide answers to retail’s productivity challenges. Successful applicants will pitch their business to senior executives within Morrisons.

Driving productivity improvements is critical to delivering growth across the entire UK economy and is a specific focus for many retailers. From promoting service quality, customer interaction and culture, to modernising inventory management, productivity impacts operational effectiveness and the overall customer experience. Within the grocery sector, this is even more prevalent due to the rapid turnover of stock, high customer footfall and growing demands around convenience and purchase efficiencies that customers increasingly expect as standard.

With this in mind, Morrisons and TrueStart are looking for start-ups which can help improve:

*Processes linked intrinsically to serving customers better and providing even better value for them,

*Operational effectiveness (e.g. streamlining processes and eliminating wasted effort in areas such as merchandising and replenishment; staff scheduling; eliminating wasted effort on checkouts; enhancing the customer experience),

*Colleague engagement and empowerment to further invest in people (e.g. flexible shift rostering; employee benefits; colleague communication; output and service quality; culture), and

*Supply chain and logistics management.

This is an excellent opportunity to get in front of one of the largest supermarkets in the UK, and the chance of getting your product, service or technology into the business operations of Morrisons.

Key dates for your diary:

*Applications open on 1 February 2017 and close at midnight on 22 February

*The review and selection period will run to 1 March 2017

*Successful start-ups will pitch to senior executives within Morrisons from 6 March.

For further information, please contact Oliver Crowther (Business Development Analyst) at TrueStart.


Mobile: +44 7891 233 401

Applications are now closed – our Investment team will be in touch. We wish you the best of luck!

February 1, 2017
January 3, 2017

Starting 2017 the healthy way: a view from VITL

With the start of a New Year, we thought we’d very briefly break with the usual protocol of our blog to share insights on how to start 2017 healthily. We’ve asked VITL – one of our investments and a company which provides nutritional supplements on subscription – for their top tips to overcoming the Christmas indulgence.


After an overindulgent holiday season, we make resolutions that often fall by the way side after just a few weeks. So this January, don’t crash and burn: make informed changes and sustainable improvements to your everyday wellness and long term health.

1.Start off slowly. If you haven’t done any exercise in a while, going from zero to hero is a sure-fire way to burn out. Begin with gentle movements such as walking, yoga, Pilates, then start to incorporate short more intense workouts including both resistance and interval cardio. As your fitness improves, increase the frequency and/or the length of your workouts. Simultaneously work on nourishing your body via your diet to support your energy levels.

2.Don’t deprive yourself. Restricting your food intake creates physical and psychological cravings. Instead change your diet 80% of the time. Find healthy alternatives to replace the foods that aren’t serving you but don’t skimp on your portion sizes: healthy food is generally less calorie dense. For the remaining 20%, rest, relax and eat some of the foods that you like. This allows you to maintain a healthy relationship with food and let your hair down on social occasions.

3.Energy is key in staying active and motivated. Carbohydrates and fats are our fuel, but we also need micronutrients, such as B vitamins, CoQ10 and iron to help our bodies in the energy production process.

4.Give yourself a boost. If your energy levels are low or you’re prone to illness, top up your nutrient levels: energy giving and immune supporting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants with quality bioavailable products can help. VITL Nutrition packs are designed for modern living to help you stay energized and well

5.Help your motivation through goal setting. Set short term, action-based goal (e.g. “Today I am going prep meals for the week so I can eat healthily without having to cook every day”). Long-term goals (forward-thinking motivators) can be about results and achievements: fitness, health, wellness or body composition (e.g. “In 6 months’ time I want to run a 10k”)

6.Finally, learn more about yourself. VITL’s new interactive wellbeing app, powered by Artificial Intelligence, is free to use. It assesses the user’s nutritional status via a live digital consultation and in real time formulates a score for the user in five key health pillars: digestion, energy, mood, immune system and antioxidant status. Using this data, it creates a fully personalised nutrition plan, with the latest – and relevant – advice and health tips along with individually formulated vitamin packs. It’s worth finding out what really works for you!

Libby Limon is Head Of Nutrition at VITL

January 3, 2017
December 9, 2016

Six Key Retail Tech Trends in 2016

Half way through 2016, we decided to take stock of the goings-on in retail and note down six key retail tech trends we felt were important to the industry. How many of the below have changed in importance half a year later?

  1. Augmented Reality (AR):

Pokémon Go is the highest profile use of AR in retail to date, however it’s been around in various forms for the past couple of years (AR apps allowing women to virtually try on jewellery; the ability to place a picture of a sofa within a picture of your living room). However, Pokémon Go has firmly pushed AR to the top of the retail tech agenda, particularly in terms of location technology’s ability to drive visitation.

Yet, brands need to consider complementing this technology with a customer engagement campaign to build long-lasting, loyal relationships, as opposed to just driving transient footfall to stores (see “personalisation” below).

  1. Virtual Reality (VR):

This offers huge potential for retail in terms of customer experience, but it’s also the costliest. Creating experiences – offering immersive experiences that are ‘one of a kind’ – within a retail setting (“experiential retail”) that encourages brand affinity, engagement and loyalty can attract customers to physical stores, driving much needed footfall.

Similarly, pure play online businesses can capitalise on the opportunity VR brings by, for example, bringing stores and products to life for a customer which wouldn’t otherwise be possible on a website

  1. Subscription services:

The subscription model – where customers pay a subscription to access products and services – has been around for a few years. The $1bn acquisition of Dollar Shave Club by Unilever saw a significant change in the way established retail businesses view the subscription business model.

Direct-to-consumer brand platforms offer just that: a direct route to the customer. The technology leveraged through subscription models (leaner manufacturing and distribution chains, reduced transaction costs and overall more efficient operations), not to mention the loyalty gained between brand and consumer, is hugely attractive to larger retail businesses fighting for market share.

– TrueStart portfolio company Vitl, a subscription service of vitamin and supplements, looks to disrupt the personal healthcare market by providing personalised vitamins and supplements on a subscription basis

  1. 3D printing:

The capacity to print products in store, on demand, will fundamentally change supply chains. Consider the impact this would have on a business: a customer walks into a fashion store, chooses and pays for an item – such as a t-shirt – which is then printed almost immediately. This has the potential to significantly reduce the length of the supply chain, reduce the need for large stock fulfilment centres, and decrease lengthy inventory management activities.

  1. Offline analytics:

While analysing customer activity online is still relatively in its infancy, using technology to understand instore customer behaviour and purchase patterns, dwell times and movement – particularly around customer demographics – is gathering pace.

Insights can be used to change store layout, merchandising requirements and product displays, balance staffing levels with staff experience, and alter opening hours. By fully understanding customers’ instore behaviour, retailers can deliver customised experience instore as they would online and bring real competitive advantage to the business.

– TrueStart-backed Presence Orb uses Wi-Fi analytics through in-place Wi-Fi networks enabling retail businesses to better understand how their customers use their premises, products and services

– TrueStart-backed Quikkly, a scanning platform, is making real-word shopping as fast and convenient as online

– TrueStart-backed Hoxton Analytics, a footfall counter analysing people’s shoes to provide real-time footfall and demographic data on customers visiting retail locations

  1. Personalisation:

The need to engage with customers on a personal level is greater than ever. Using personalisation to create delight between brand and the customer, and developing brand affinity can translate into long term loyalty. The growth of customised video will be key as a part of this trend.

– TrueStart-backed Photospire develops auto-generating personalised video content for mass marketing, enabling companies to combine compelling visual content with real-time data and see strong ROI

With these in mind, we will be considering next year’s significant retail tech developments in January and attempt to identify the key trends 2017 will have to offer.


December 9, 2016
November 25, 2016

Customer Engagement – The What, When and How

“Customer Engagement” is a clichéd term that you’ll find is heavily used in reference to all aspects of sales and marketing. However, truly understanding how customers engage with your business has never been so important – and will be a major factor in determining if you are still in business in five years’ time. Ger O’Meara from Photospire explains.


Different customer groups have different needs and behaviours and how these groups interact with your products and business is changing all the time. The starting point in understanding what customer engagement means to your business is defining what each customer group wants, when they want it and how do they want it delivered.

Brands that have successfully learnt what their customers’ needs are have moved away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to engagement to a ‘one-to-one’ personalised model. Today’s customers expect tailored messages that are relevant and specific to them – and why not? The days of generic, standard marketing messages are over. The brands that are succeeding offer their customers useful information that has meaning and makes their day just a little bit easier. Whether that’s offering style advice in relation to the weather that day, or sending user guides for products they have recently bought, every communication needs to be reactive to your customer and add value.

Engagement should be intuitive, it needs to react to customers’ needs before they are even aware of what that need is. There are multiple stages throughout the customer journey when you should reach out with reactive content and should view personalised communications as an ongoing conversation and not just a one-off that ticks the box. From welcome messages and event invites, to post purchase advice and abandoned basket reminders, every message needs to add value exactly when your customer requires it.

Today’s consumers interact with brands in a variety of ways that involve more than one touch point. It is vital to understand how customers behave across all channels so that communications can be consistent, fluid and clear. Targeting the right channel per customer is key to maximising the impact your communications have. Sending an email when the recipient’s preferred channel is social will waste valuable time and budget and you will not get the interaction and engagement your business needs.

Reaching out to customers with relevant, personalised information through the right channels before they have to ask for it will keep them engaged, make it easier for them to be your customer and improve their experience of your brand. Customer engagement might be marketing jargon but ignore it at your peril.

Photospire gives brands the power to engage with their customers through smart, reactive videos that are intuitive to each individual customer’s needs.

November 25, 2016
November 22, 2016

EY joins TrueStart to accelerate innovation

TrueStart today welcomes EY, the global professional services firm, as an associate member. The move will give EY pre-emptive access to our global pool of the most innovative and disruptive start-ups and scale-ups.

For EY, building a better working world means helping companies in the sector to seize the upside of disruption and transform themselves so they can provide the kind of seamless, personalised experience that customers increasingly want – in a way that’s profitable and sustainable.  At the heart of these transformations EY has helped countless clients to innovate and have taken this experience and a heritage of entrepreneurship and innovation, reinvented it, and put it at the heart of their services.

Through their relationship  with TrueStart, EY will be well placed to give even better advice and service to its clients, particularly around innovation. Working with our network will help EY to question old thinking, bring a broader perspective and connect its clients with the ideas and capabilities needed for their future success.

With huge disruption facing the retail industry, there’s a growing need for consumer brands and retailers to find and adopt new technologies, products and services.

EY’s focus on disruption, innovation and business transformation – and its expertise in helping entrepreneurs to grow – makes the firm a natural fit with TrueStart. We’re delighted to be working with them.

November 22, 2016
November 17, 2016

Spotlight on TrueStart portfolio at WIRED Retail 2016

The WIRED Retail conference took place yesterday (16.11.16) at one of London’s most prestigious landmarks, the British Museum. This annual conference charts the most important innovations happening in the world of commerce – and takes a deeper look inside the businesses bringing this to life.

Speakers from the great and good of the retail and tech sectors, including our partner, John Lewis as well as Alibaba, Google and Slack, took to the main stage to talk about a range of topics: from dissecting the logistics industry, connecting the world via the Internet of Things, and re-routing demand back to the High Street, to making data count through meaningful connections, virtualising the digital world through AR and VR and understanding the extent that bots can change the way we live. It’s safe to say that the event covered many of retail’s most significant areas for change.

The startup stage saw a Dragons’ Den style pitch session: 17 startups pitched for the attention of the judges’ vote and of this, around 40% came from our own portfolio. We couldn’t have been more proud to witness them standing tall amongst their peers.

To further underline the impact our portfolio is making to the retail industry, Insider Trends today published an article placing four of our startups amongst the top 50 of the world’s retail tech startups. You can read about it here

As we head towards the day we welcome our next cohort Collection to the Hub (2nd December), it’s events and articles like these that show we’re nurturing the best innovation the industry has to offer – and attracting rock-star founders set to change the retail and consumer industries.

Whether you’re a startup looking for investment, or a brand looking to partner with us to gain access to the latest innovation, do contact us – we’d love to hear from you:

November 17, 2016
November 1, 2016

From Dragons’ Den to TrueStart Hub: the process behind choosing our next cohort

By Kalinka Kay, Investment Associate, TrueStart

Over the past 8 weeks, the TrueStart team has been busy hunting for the best founders and startups in the retail and consumer sectors to join our next cohort, The Winter Collection 2016. The campaign has taken the team across the UK – and when applications closed on 16th October we had received over 250 applications from 27 countries.

Immediately after the closing date, the Partners of both True Capital and TrueStart reviewed the applications and shortlisted 25 companies. At this stage the team was focused on identifying some key characteristics within each business. Below is a quick overview of what we look for:


The team:

– While this may sound clichéd, at this early stage we really are investing in the people behind the business. We look for relevant experience and whether the founders have identified exactly where the gaps are and where further investment is required.

An understanding of how the business can scale:

– We like to know that the Founders have a big vision but also that they understand the steps they need to take to get there and scale in a capitally efficient manner – knowing the key metrics they will have to monitor and what really drives the business is important.

An understanding of the competitive landscape and how they are differentiated:

– We are very aware that there are a number of players innovating in the retail and consumer space – but unless you are really the only one (great if so) – do show us that you know your competitors. We are expert stalkers, so we’ll find them if you don’t and you will just save us time to focus on you…


The 25 startups who made it through were invited to pitch to a wider audience of TrueStart and True Capital team members, senior representatives from our Strategic Partners and entrepreneurs from our network. This was held in the style of a Dragons’ Den pitch – but there weren’t any dragons, leather chairs or piles of cash on the table…

The elevator-style pitch is a skill in itself. Your typical investor deck needs to be condensed to around five slides with very few words and it must be kept focused on the vision, team and business model.

The finalists are then invited for a Meet the Team day where we set up 1:1 meetings before we make offers to those businesses who will form our next cohort of startups. This is an opportunity for our team to dig a little deeper to find out exactly how our TrueStart programme can add value to each business: we’re keen to build a long-term relationship with the founders and their business, and so it’s very important this is set out right at the beginning.

The Meet the Team day takes place this week. Stay tuned to see which businesses will join TrueStart’s Winter Collection 2016.

November 1, 2016
October 12, 2016

True Capital investment team internship role – applications open

Get involved in the exciting opportunity to join the investment team at our parent company True Capital, by applying for the spring internship role. This requires a motivated graduate who is eager to learn and interested in entering our startup and venture capital ecosystem.


What you need to know:

True Capital is a retail and consumer sector-specialist private equity firm, investing between £10m-£40m in uniquely positioned businesses. With a network like no other, the team has built a unique ecosystem which includes us, TrueStart, the innovation hub.

Spring Internship dates: 31/01/2017 – 29/04/2017

Applications close: 11/11/2016

To apply please send your CV and cover letter to:


From an insider:

We asked our current intern for the inside scoop on what it’s like working with the investment team. Read their thoughts below:

What do you enjoy the most about working for True Capital?

Focusing on the retail and consumer industry allows me to experience the investment process as a whole in more depth than usual. Sitting across from the PE and VC teams and seeing the investment process in both functions is really valuable when it comes to building my investment knowledge and understanding.

How does this role differ from your previous internships?

Working here is different because it combines the financial aspects with the entrepreneurial aspects. Coming from a banking background, I enjoy the atmosphere here with the startups sitting downstairs. Watching their journeys is inspiring; I’ve had some very interesting conversations in the communal kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil!

What has been the most beneficial aspect of your time here?

Getting to work with every member of the team. Everyone has some expertise to pass on. This also means I get insight into most of the investment process, from the deal origination to closing. The large deal flow allows us to work with a large variety of companies in various subsectors.

What challenges have you faced?

Having to adjust quickly to the retail and consumer industry. Because the team is small, the work you do counts; but being in at the deep end is the best way to learn!


Job Description:

The Candidate

-Appetite to work hard and independently in a dynamic and creative environment

-Strong academic record with some professional experience

-Excellent communication skills and IT proficiency

-Attention to detail and efficiency in a fast paced environment

-Personable with a flexible work ethic


The Role

The internship will sit within the True Capital investments team and encompass a wide range of responsibilities:

-Commercial and financial due diligence to support the True Capital investments team.

-Research for deal origination.

-Support with deal execution.

-Supporting the TrueStart team in the assessment of ideas and business plans for applications to accelerator and seed investment programmes.

-Support in managing TrueStart’s relationships with corporate partners, shareholders and senior retail executives.

-Assisting in promoting TrueStart in order to attract the brightest young companies from the sector.

-Assisting in managing the day-to-day demands of TrueStart’s resident startups.

-General support to the senior team and helping facilitate True Capital and TrueStart day-to-day operations.


Required experience

-Recent graduate or 1-2 years’ experience.

-Degree focus in Mathematics, Economics and/or Finance.

-Ability to communicate with c-level executives, investors and entrepreneurs clearly and with confidence.

-IT proficient: Microsoft Office (especially excel).


Preferred experience


-Company valuation and financial analysis

-Digital marketing; Google Analytics


To apply please send your CV and cover letter to:

Applications for the intern role close 11th November 2016, so get applying if you want to experience being part of the True family. Good luck!

October 12, 2016