KILTR networking site built on unique Scottish approach
/ Posted By Dino Squillino
As featured in the Herald.
Online for Success. Stewart Fraser, left, and Brian Hughes started KILTR, a professional social networking site for Scots and Scottish businesses. Picture: Colin Templeton.
With social networking generating a frenzy of interest among users of the internet, entrepreneurs around the world are trying to figure out how to make money from the phenomenon.
In this week’s SME Focus we hear two technology specialists explain why they are adopting a Scottish approach to addressing a global challenge.
Name: Brian Hughes and Stewart Fraser
Age: Brian 37, Stewart 40
What is your business called?
Where is it based?
What service does it offer?
KILTR is a professional social networking service for Scots, affinity Scots, and business owners across the globe looking to tap into the Scottish market and develop relationships with organisations operating in Scotland.
To whom does it sell?
The site does not explicitly sell anything yet, but encourages business communities in Scotland and beyond to engage with one another and develop working relationships. The membership base consists largely of senior business representatives. Since launching last year, the site has attracted commercial interest with JetLogic coming on board as sponsors and BAA Glasgow supporting the site through a joint marketing initiative.
What is its turnover?
We are in beta testing (the last stage of testing before a computer product is launched on the commercial market) having just secured funding from Par Equity, Barwell, and the Scottish Investment Bank.
The full version of the site will be launching next year with a view to monetising through sponsorship, events and recruitment tools. To date, KILTR has received almost £1 million funding.
How many employees?
12 on both a full-time and part- time basis.
When was it formed?
The name was established in September 2007 and we launched the first phase of beta testing in August last year.
Why did you take the plunge?
We have always had an interest in the technology industry and we identified a gap in the market for a niche networking site designed for Scots at home and abroad. The Scottish identity is something of a global phenomenon; no matter where you go in the world, you will meet someone who has an affinity with the country. With almost seven times as many people with Scottish heritage living outside of Scotland as there are living in Scotland, we saw an opportunity to engage with this informal network on a business level and harness the power of social networking technology to support the growth of Scottish business, on an international scale.
While working for Hi-Tech Scotland magazine, I got to know Paul Atkinson, owner of Par Equity, and mentioned the idea of KILTR – a niche networking site for Scots.
Paul was really interested and encouraged Stewart and I to present the concept and business plan to a panel of investors. Par Equity quickly got behind the idea and the investment process was finalised in just three months.
In the meantime, we had built a holding page for the site and were receiving multiple emails on a daily basis from people interested in the concept and keen to find out more. With the funding in place, things really took off.
The timing was perfect for both of us as Hi-Tech Scotland, the magazine I was employed with, was being wrapped up while Stewart, a contract software developer, was nearing the end of a project.
Everything just fell into place around that time and, before we knew it, an idea that had started with a conversation between Stewart and I had grown into a real business.
We have spent every waking minute since working to develop the site and establish KILTR as an important player in the social media market.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
We met at university – we had both opted to study physics and chemistry at Glasgow Caledonian. After our first year Stewart moved on to continue his degree at Strathclyde University and I decided to do a bit of travelling.
I spent six months living in Greece before returning to Glasgow to study marketing and communications.
I then spent some time studying business in America before moving back to Scotland where I did a master’s in Enterprise and Business Growth at Glasgow University Business School.
Soon after I became co-publisher at Hi-Tech Scotland magazine, which was for several years Scotland’s leading business technology publication. I published Hi-Tech Scotland between 2005 and 2009. It did well for a niche title, securing advertising from global players like Microsoft and Oracle, but when the recession hit hard and print advertising budgets started to dwindle, it became clear that it was time to get out of the magazine game.
After earning his honours degree in Applied Physics from Strathclyde University, Stewart worked as an electro-optic defence systems engineer, an analyst at a major Scottish bank and then spent over 10 years as a contract programmer, designing and developing software systems for various public and private sector organisations.
We always kept in touch and shared a keen interest in technology – forever toying with new on-line business ideas.
The idea for KILTR was one that stuck with us and with new developments in Web 2.0 and the increasing popularity of social media in business, the concept really began to take shape.
What was your biggest break?
Securing seed funding from Par Equity and the Scottish Investment Bank, and Barwell who came on board at the public beta launch last August.
This further boosted our confidence in the product and turned KILTR the idea into KILTR the business.
What was your worst moment?
As with many things, the worst moment was closely tied to the best. Finance had been secured and all the legal documents had been signed based on a launch on to public beta last August.
We had to spend a solid 72 hours working in the office to get the site ready for launch.
It was definitely one of the most challenging experiences either of us has ever had, but it felt great when we succeeded in launching the site on time.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Creating something different and seeing our ideas come to fruition.
KILTR is still in its infancy and, as with all growing businesses, every day brings a new challenge. The stressful, crazy days are often the most enjoyable – weirdly.
What do you least enjoy?
At the moment we have little time to think about anything else – we currently eat, sleep and breathe KILTR.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
We want KILTR to become the leading business networking platform for Scots and affinity Scots across the globe.
In addition, because we’ve built our own proprietary technology from scratch, there’s no reason why our technology can’t be licensed to others to create their own niche online network.
What are your top priorities?
At the moment, it’s noses to the grindstone to enhance the functionality on the site and get it in shape for the full launch at the beginning of next year.
We are also exploring a range of options for monetising the site which is going to be a key priority following the full launch. Above all, a desire to grow the network over the next 12 months.
What could the Westminster Government and/or Scottish Government do that would most help?
Scotland would benefit from an initiative similar to that of the Y Combinator model in the United States.
Y Combinator is a business accelerator programme which, twice a year, injects funding into a large number of promising start-up companies.
The companies are then relocated to Silicon Valley where they are fine-tuned and coached to get them in the best possible shape for a major investor pitch.
While there is Government support available to start-ups, it can be difficult for very small “seedlings” to navigate through the red tape.
A Government-backed business accelerator programme which actively supports very early stage start-ups would bring huge benefit to the Scottish market and help young firms secure backing from major investors further down the line.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned?
Never second guess yourself; trust your instincts because they’re usually right.
How do you relax?
Brian: I enjoy mountain biking and go snowboarding in the French Alps whenever I get the chance. Stewart is a bit of a master on the decks and can usually be found DJing in his spare time.
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