.net Awards 2013: top 10 new entrepreneurs

The people behind some of the best web ventures of the last year

This year's .net Awards are about honouring new projects, people and organisations. We've seen some brilliant initiatives grow up over the past twelve months, and this award recognises the achievements of those behind them.

For this award, we're looking for an entrepreneur whose business has made a big impact over the last year. Starting in January, we began a public nominations period during which anyone could nominate any person, including themselves. The resulting list of worthy suggestions was then whittled down to this final shortlist of 10 by the .net team.

Head over to the Awards site to cast your vote - you only have two days left!

Craig Lockwood

Job: Changes on a daily basis. I like the word 'Doer'
Based in: South Wales
Started: I have been mucking about building my own projects for the web since 1995, but it's been my primary source of income since around 2003. Current projects include besquare.me, handheldconf.com, founderscast.com. pixelpicnics.com and a careers platform for teens, which is currently in production (tentatively titled 'Wanna Be A Spaceman?')

.net: How did your current venture get started?
Craig Lockwood: I've always had a number of ventures on the go and they all stem from scratching my own itch. Finding something that doesn't exist which would make my life better has always been the main driver for my projects. I figure that if I would use something, surely somebody else would.

.net: What advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting something?
CL: Actually start; open a text editor and write your first line of code. Putting things off is a sure sign that you are not passionate or that you do not 100 per cent believe in the idea. Don't necessarily worry about where an income will come from - a good product/service will always find a way to make money.

.net: What are you excited about at the moment?
CL: Having recently interviewed Apple founder Steve Wozniak, I'm taking great inspiration from guests on my various podcasts. I am excited by a spark of an idea I have for making podcasts more interactive. As soon as I have time, I will make this a reality.

Paul McKeever

Job: Director, Typecast
Based in: Belfast, UK
Started: Co-founded web studio Front in 2000, then changed direction to work on Typecast in 2011 and joined Monotype in October 2012

.net: How did your current venture get started?
Paul McKeever: I guess it's the story of a switch from being part of a service company, through building a new product then being acquired and becoming part of a larger company.

Before we developed Typecast, I was a co-founder at a web design and development agency called Front with the very talented designer Jamie Neely. We provided consultancy for clients, helped them figure out web strategy, and then built out their sites. We grew slowly to have a team of about 14 people, and things were going very well.

In 2011, we decided that we wanted to try building some of our own ideas to switch from being a service company. We were already working side projects to make our own design process easier and were getting equally excited and frustrated with web typography. So one of those projects became Typecast, a browser-based tool that helps designers experiment with type.

.net: What advice would you give to people thinking of starting something?
PM: I think that if you're starting something it should be because it's something that you truly believe in and care deeply about.

Most of the time when you're getting started, it'll feel like your Sisyphus, the mythical greek figure who spends his day pushing a boulder up hill, never succeeding and starting each day facing the same impossible task.

That's what it felt like to me when we were building Typecast. Creating a new product takes an unimaginable amount of determination. Hopefully, along the way you build momentum and the boulder gets easier to push.

But on the days where you're getting flattened as it rolls back down hill, the best form of motivation is that you want to succeed not for fame and fortune but because you think what you're doing will make the world a better place.

.net: What are you excited about at the moment?
PM: I'm really excited about where typography is going on the web. It feels like we're in something of a transition, where, having gotten used to the huge range of web fonts that are now available, typography is re-emerging as an important foundation for web design.

I think that, as responsive design starts to mature, we're going to see type as the natural starting point for design. This can only be a good thing as it will mean we'll see more beautiful, readable and accessible content being created.

Jared Erondu

Job: Editor of The Industry and designer at Evomail. (Co-founder of both)
Based in: Baltimore, MD
Started: The Industry, November 2011. Evomail, August 2012

.net: How did your current venture get started?
Jared Erondu: One year ago, Drew and I set out to give a voice to the creative community when we realised that our "kin" didn't get the coverage it deserved, and often went unnoticed. [Any coverage] was rather drowned out by the overwhelming tech coverage that hits our RSS feeds on a daily basis. We created The Industry with the intent of “covering design-focused startups and people.” 14 months later, we’ve grown into a well-respected blog and podcast.

We have built a strong and diverse team, reported on the latest [news], reviewed great products, interviewed the folks behind these tools, written about design, and have had deep discussions with creatives.

We’re a community of believers and a collective group of individuals who believe in man’s innate ability to create, shape, and mould the world around us. To fill it with meaningful things that will benefit us now and in the future, whether they be physical or digital. We couldn't see the web going one more day without a blog dedicated to such coverage. We had a need, so we did something about it.

Evomail also began out of an obvious need for improvement. Early last year, I conducted a week-long interview with Dom Leca (co-founder, Sparrow). It was the longest interview I had ever held which revealed my (unknown, at the time) interest in email. We spoke about the problems, prior attempts at "solutions," and what could really come of the space if a small group of people really put their minds to it. I had my own ideas and wanted to change email altogether. Half way across the country, two other people were thinking the same thing.

Email caught our interest because it was once a really big market, but began to suck when decades passed without much innovation. And now that we've entered the mobile paradigm era, email sucks on two platforms. Evomail wants to fix email on the growing one.

My ideas sat for about half a year until I was approached by Jonathan, who recruited David and I to join forces. We were all passionate about fixing email and it was a natural fit. The rest is history, and the near future will be proof.

.net: What advice would you give to people thinking of starting something?
JE: If you're thinking about it everyday, you're probably passionate about it. So just put your mind to it and do it. As for competition, embrace them, learn from them. If you have many, it probably means you're in the right place. As for age, it's just a number, I'm 18.

.net: What are you excited about at the moment?
JE: Too many things! The Industry's redesign is coming up shortly and Evomail is launching soon. Oh, and I had an amazing Dribbble idea that I can't wait to show everyone in the coming weeks.

Christian Reber

Job: Founder & CEO of 6Wunderkinder
Based in: Berlin
Started: Founded 6Wunderkinder in August 2010

.net: How did your current venture get started?
Christian Reber: I founded 6Wunderkinder together with five friends with the goal to create a productivity tool for the mass market. After only two months of development we released Wunderlist, which reached its first million users within under 280 days. That was faster than Evernote, Twitter or Foursquare reached their first million users.

This early success brought us international attention. We got funding by the London-based VC-firm Atomico, the company of Niklas Zennstrom (founder of Skype). Today, Wunderlist is the most downloaded task manager in the world and available in over 25 languages on seven platforms. Our team is growing fast and we have clear goal to make Wunderlist the category leading product.

.net: What advice would you give to people thinking of starting something?
CR: I think that, in the beginning, courage is most important to start your own company. People will tell you why you will fail or why your product sucks. It’s important that you find the right balance of listening to valuable feedback (and searching for it) and at the same time ignoring the naysayers. The second advice would be about finding the right people. It’s important that you understand what you are good at and what not. Then, find the right team that shares your vision.

.net: What are you excited about at the moment?
CR: What excites me most currently is the bright future that I see for our product. Wunderlist is part of the lives of millions of people worldwide. We help individuals and teams organise their life and reach their goals. With our team we want to make Wunderlist the service that bridges the gap between work and private life. Therefore, we're constantly developing new features to make Wunderlist better every day.

On a broader view I am excited about how quickly Berlin grows as a startup hub. It’s amazing to see young entrepreneurs starting companies and having the chance to realise their dreams. I believe that this will pay off very well for the city - and the country - in the future.

Clare Sutcliffe

Job: CEO at Code Club
Based in: London
Started: April 2012

.net: How did your current venture get started?
Clare Sutcliffe: Code Club started after Linda and I met at New Adventures in January 2012. We got together to plan a 'useful hackday' and accidentally invented Code Club.

.net: What advice would you give to people thinking of starting something?
CS: When we started Code Club we didn't spend ages on planning. We just made a plan and got on with it. We continue to do that to this day. It's one of the reasons we've grown so quickly. We have two sayings that push us forward and let us make decisions quickly. The first is 'Good artists ship' and the second is 'Don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness later'. So my advice would be 'do your research, then just get on with it'.


.net: What are you excited about at the moment?
CS: We're really excited about reaching 1000 clubs. It's our first major milestone and we've been working very hard towards achieving it.

John Roa

Job: CEO of KTA
Based in: Chicago
Started: UX-focused design agency KTA, in early 2010

.net: How did your current venture get started?
John Roa: I sold a video-game marketing company I founded in Los Angeles in 2007 and came to Chicago after to pursue a new venture. I saw a massive need for a boutique-sized studio that focuses on user experience for a diverse array of digital platforms - so I started KTA. Three years later we have 21 employees, a 5000 sq/ft loft studio and are growing like crazy nationally and internationally.

.net: What advice would you give to people thinking of starting something?
JR: Stop thinking about it and start. You don't need a business plan, investment capital or partners. Because of the perceived risk and how complicated it seems, not enough people who say they are entrepreneurs actually start businesses. Embrace the failure that will surely come, and do it again. If you can't stomach failing again, you probably aren't cut out to be an entrepreneur.

.net: What are you excited about at the moment?
JR: The future. It's very bright for anyone who has the ability to think big.

Matthias Metternich and Will Cookson

Job: Co-founders of Believe.in
Based in: London, UK
Started: Believe.in, May 2011

.net: How did your current venture get started?
Matthias Metternich: As with any good venture - on the back of a napkin.

Will and I met at the infamous creative agency, Poke, where we worked on product and service design for a number of major brands. A place like Poke brings people of a certain culture and ethos into the same space and Will and I found that we both shared a deep passion for how to blend commercial thinking, design and technology together to create companies that evolve industries of significant societal relevance. In a way, it's no surprise then that we focused in on the world of charity - the oldest and most significant expression for how we address some of humanity's greatest problems.

From sketches on napkins, we graduated to nights and weekends and then to trading consultancy for free office space. Juggling two full-time jobs presents its challenges and it was not until we attracted some of the brightest investors in the world, quit our jobs and hired brilliant people - that the venture was truly on its way.

.net: What advice would you give to people thinking of starting something?
MM: Too many startups focus on surface level issues. For example, on how to render existing content differently, or present aggregated data through a variety of complex graphs. Interfaces are important, but not everything. Good advice is generally relative, but our tip is to look beneath the surface and beyond the interface through to the problems that pervade the systems we lean on day in and day out. True disruption happens on a systemic level - after which ingenuous interfaces and design make simple, elegant and beautiful what were complex problems that few ventured to solve.

.net: What are you excited about at the moment?
MM: We're always excited about everything.

Joel Gascoigne

Job: Founder and CEO of Buffer
Based in: San Francisco, California
Started: Buffer (current venture, last 2.5 years), OnePage (the previous 1.5 years)

.net: How did your current venture get started?
Joel Gascoigne: I started Buffer from my bedroom in Birmingham in the UK as a way to help individuals and small businesses with posting more consistently to Twitter. After couple of months I had my first paying customer and my co-founder Leo joined me. Together we grew the company to 25,000 users and around $2,000 in monthly revenue. We then jumped on a plane to San Francisco and got into a startup accelerator called AngelPad. After AngelPad we raised $450,000 from great investors and I've been learning a huge amount along the whole journey. Today, we're a team of 11, have 600,000 users and we generate $100,000 per month.

.net: What advice would you give to people thinking of starting something?
JG: I blog regularly to try and help founders and I often have Skype calls and coffee meetings with early stage entrepreneurs. I think the single best piece of advice I could give to anyone thinking of starting something is: to start something. My previous venture was a failure, but I started and stuck at it for one and a half years, and without those 18 months of failure and learning I would not have been able to start and succeed with Buffer. Once you start and are on that path, everything changes. Little goes as you expect, and you learn more with every new day.

.net: What are you excited about at the moment?
JG: I'm very excited about the Quantified Self. This is an area where it feels we're just at the tip of the iceberg. I wear a Jawbone UP and measure the steps I take and the quality of my sleep. I've been experimenting (temperature, ear plugs, shower before bed, etc) to improve my sleep, and it's fascinating. In my mind, it makes no sense that we don't have more real-time tracking of ourselves to foresee illness and expand our capacity to be the best person we can be. I've got my eye on this space.

Mandy Brown

Job: CEO, Editorially, editor-in-chief, A Book Apart
Based in: Brooklyn, New York
Started: Co-founder of Editorially and A Book Apart

Editorially has attracted a good deal of attention recently. It's a new collaborative writing tool that offers an alternative to the two styles of online writing application that exist at the moment: WYSIWYGs and minimalist tools. WYSIWYGs are stuck in the past, and the new crop of minimalist tools lack collaborative features. Editorially is put together by a team who have worked as writers, publishers, editors and designers, and the project seeks to improve the writing process for its users.

Mandy is also co-founder of A Book Apart, a former contributing editor for A List Apart, and the editor of many books, including The Shape of Design, by Frank Chimero.

Dan Shipper

Job: Junior at the University of Pennsylvania, co-founder at Firefly
Based in: Philadelphia, PA
Started: Firefly, AirTime for Email

Firefly is a 'cobrowsing' customer support application for web apps. It enables support staff to see the browser tab of the customer, but not other tabs or the desktop, so that they can assist more efficiently.

Dan rose to prominence last year when startup 42Floors publicly made him a job offer on their blog, which reached the top of Hacker News. Co-founder Jason Freedman wrote:

"You’re only a sophomore in college, but you’ve already started several companies. You’ve taught yourself to code, and you are a maker at heart. And you have that rare gift of having a sense of style in your design work as well. AND, your blog posts that reach Hacker News are eloquent and well thought out. It would be an honour to have you join us here at 42Floors."

You can read an interview with Dan here.

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