The last time we caught up with Axel was when he was working at Level 39, back in 2013. He used his connections there as a springboard and now his indoor mapping company, Pointr, are busy fending off acquisition offers. We spoke about how it all happened.
Tell me about your time at Cass!
I moved here from Spain and it was a totally new environment. I did my Undergraduate degree here, BSc in Management, and for me it was a fantastic place to meet people from all around the world and really get comfortable with ambition. Everyone had plans, they were looking at places where they could innovate and build things. That’s why I started the Tech and Business Society, which is now called Cass Talks.
Back then my business friends had lots of good ideas but no technical know-how and at the same time we also knew there were tech students looking for business partners. We held events in 2009 and brought in speakers and that led to me volunteering at the London Web Summit. That was a huge start-up event where I met Eric Van Der Kleij, the CEO of Tech City (an initiative set up by the Prime Minister to turn London in to the next Silicon Valley). I pitched to him about speaking at our student society but his schedule was too busy.
What did you do next?
Two years later Eric Van Der Kleij started Level 39, Europe’s largest FinTech accelerator and I read about it in Wired Magazine. I immediately reached out to him and he invited me for a three-minute coffee with no expectations, which turned in to a four-hour chat and got me my first job! I eventually became head of the community there and I looked after 250 companies and investors.
Level 39 was the best place for anyone in start-up in FinTech – there were founders, investors and big companies like the banks to meet. It was a great place to learn and grow my network. We did over 100 events including speaking at Cass. We brought Eric and Transfer-Wise, then the leading UK start-up in Finance and now the first UK FinTech unicorn, to give a speech in the auditorium.
Through Level 39 I met amazing people including the Crown Princess of Sweden, who was on a tech tour of London co-working spaces to see how Sweden should shape its start-up tech strategy. They asked if they could have lunch on 39th Floor at Canary Wharf and could the head of community join in? So I had lunch with the princess, the prince and the Deputy Mayor; Boris Johnson had come in the day before. Another memorable event was when we had a hackathon with Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia.
Working with so many start-ups I was headhunted to join a start-up called MyCheck, a mobile payment company just launching in the UK. I was hired as the UK manager to grow the company in the UK. It was based on mobile payments. For example, in a restaurant you could pay with your phone through MyCheck without having to wait for the waiter, which is a pinch point in a dining experience. It was partnered with MasterCard and PayPal.
Through my time there I met other entrepreneurs and met my Pointr co-founder serendipitously after nine months, which was three years ago. Again, it should have been a short meeting but we knew we had to work together once we met. Strangely, he had been invited to a Friday night monopoly game and asked if I would like to come along, but I declined and we met the next day instead. Straight away we started working which led to Pointr, which I now work on full time today.
What is Pointr?
Pointr is the equivalent of Google Maps for indoors, for example in large retailers and airports. If you’re at Harrods and you download the Harrods app you can search for a restaurant or a brand on the map and it will show you the way to it. The app also collects data around who is in Harrods, what they are searching for and how they move around. We’re bringing digital analytics like they have at Google and Amazon to the offline world. These companies know what you like, but this has not been done before in physical stores.
We took part in lots of start-up accelerators to verify and develop the concept and then we submitted to the global tender for mapping the indoor locations in London Gatwick and Dubai airports. We beat competition from Siemens and lots of other start-ups. Due to that success we got 280 articles written about us!
Today, we employ 34 people with a headquarters in London, and also have an office in Istanbul and Dubai. We received seed funding two years ago but now we fund ourselves through paying clients.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
When you get together with someone in a team, and form a team, in the initial days when you are setting the norms of the business there is potential for storms, fights and quarrels. You have to go through this and learn to work together in a more efficient way. Sometimes in the early days there is no money, and lots of pressures on everyone, and even simple things like paying rent, or getting a good meal are beyond you. That goes away but at the time you’re not sure how long for, is it indefinite? For two months?
The biggest thing is getting the first paying client. We got ours around six or eight months from launch and until then we were doing odd jobs, consulting, and weekend work until we started growing. Once we got our first client, the product was half ready so we had to really build a relationship so they would allow us the time and trust to work on it and eventually get it where it was supposed to be. So there were business challenges and social challenges. We made it but it was tough!
Do you have any advice to pass on?
Networking is my biggest advice. The majority of the things we have achieved have been because of the people who helped us. For example when we wanted to get into Ikea we went on LinkedIn and had a network of people who could introduce us in a vetted way, which isn’t something you can actually buy.
I literally spent three years post-gradation going to events and meeting founders and asking questions and you learn from those interactions. I built some very strong friendships and business relationships and in hindsight those opened so many doors. So my advice is go out and meet people everywhere. It doesn’t have to be just business networking but get away from your usual and meet people, from the bartenders to main speaker, and find a way to have that conversation.
Also, I realised when we were running the Society about the immense power a student has. You can call nearly anyone and say you’re a student at Cass and doing x, y, z. People would say it’s impossible, they won’t come, or you won’t hear back, and therefore lots of people fail to even try. But you can be bold with what you ask for. Friends have, for example, emailed random CEOs and got great results, like being invited to an internship. Your student years are the best time to try out stuff that might sound weird but it can open up so many doors.
What’s next for Pointr?
We are having to fend off multiple acquisition offers because we still see a huge potential. People are so used to taking out their phone and searching for the answer, and the indoor experience is the next logical step. For example, in the shopping mall you can give your exact location to friend, or you could go to Ikea and walk in and find the items you came to buy without getting lost.
Going forwards we have a new chairman Osman Kent, who has had multiple executive positions before. He’s a seasoned entrepreneur who we have brought in for the next wave. We want to grow to the US and hire talent there, and we want to be known as the leading company in the indoor location space.
Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: The Piano Works, a live piano bar in Farringdon
Favourite holiday destination: Buyuk Ada, a tiny island near Istanbul in Turkey
Must-check every day website: Tech Crunch and Eater for restaurant news from all around the world
Dream travel location: Japan
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese