Jennifer Sheridan, Founder & CEO, Togeva, on Her Top Ten Entrepreneur Status
Jennifer G Sheridan is the award-winning Founder and CEO of Togeva Ltd. (pronounced “Together” but with a London East End accent), a startup in Tech City formed in July 2011.
Togeva has developed a Live Sharing Platform for smartphones and tablets that allows people to share digital content in realtime even when far apart.
In 2010, Jennifer noticed that there was a lack of collaborative design apps on the market and so she used whatever spare time she had in the evenings and after work to develop art and design mobile apps. She piloted her first app, Graffito, which allows users to paint graffiti-like art on their mobiles, in the summer of 2010. Several months later, she decided to leave her job as a software developer in educational research and a consultant at an investment bank in order to work on her new venture full time.
After piloting her first app, Jennifer’s won an ICtomorrow Digital Innovation Award presented at the BAFTA and Best Interactive Experience at the British Computer Society’s Conference on Human Computer Interaction. She then caught the attention of the UK Department of Trade and Industry (UKTI) and was selected for the UKTI’s Global Entrepreneur Programme. Recently she was awarded Top Ten Entrepreneur status at the UKTI’s Tech City Entrepreneur Festival.
Jennifer’s Live Sharing Platform and Apps have amassed tens of thousands of users in over 100 countries and she recently secured seed funding which she is using to expand her team.
We spoke to Jennifer about the value of mentoring; her top tips for work life balance; and about launching her first app at a UK music festival.
TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Live Sharing and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?
JS: I set Togeva up in 2010 because my research highlighted a lack of shared design apps on the market. With a PhD in Computer Science under my belt, I used whatever spare time I had in the evenings after work to develop new art and design apps. I piloted my first app, “Graffito”, in the summer of 2010, which allows users to paint graffiti-like art on their mobiles with anyone in the world at the same time.
I launched the pilot app at a UK music festival where the crowd could paint graffiti on a 35-foot LED screen with their iPhones. When the number of downloads hit the tens of thousands in a very short time, I realised I was on to something big!!
Several months later, I decided to leave my job as a consultant in order to concentrate on my new venture full time.
TNW: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?
JS: My first major client was the Bridgeman Art Library – the largest art library in the world. Bridgeman was looking to tap into the mobile market so that they could distribute and sell their high-value, high-quality Fine Art content. In addition, they needed a mobile experience that would make them stand out from the competition. I demonstrated Graffito to them and within weeks we were building a customised Live Sharing Platform App called “Art Doodle Live.” End-users can create their own paintings on their smartphones or tablets alongside works by classic and contemporary artists, by dropping them onto a virtual canvas and painting in, around and over them.
I am working with Bridgeman to bring Live Sharing to their 8000 member organisations and I will be able to confirm some new clients in the near future – but I have to keep this under wraps for now!
TNW: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?
When I first started my company, it was critical to test the market, so I went online and found some contests and events that were free to enter. Winning awards such as an ICtomorrow Digital Innovation Award presented at the BAFTA, as well as getting the Best Interactive Experience at the British Computer Society Human Computer Interaction (BCS-HCI) conference meant that the organisers actually did the PR and marketing for me – for free! In addition, exhibiting at events such as the Vintage at Goodwood Festival, Digital Shoreditch, the London Design Festival, and the UKTI Tech City Entrepreneur Festival helped enormously in promoting the company as well as getting feedback about my products. I am also now working with a marketing and PR person who is helping me with a social and online media campaign. Social media is the most cost-effective way of creating a buzz about my company. My apps are reviewed on app stores and blogs; I’ve integrated Facebook and Twitter into the apps, and I Tweet about the mobile market in general.
TNW: What is next for your company?
JS: A recent injection of investment will help me to grow the team. I am also looking to expand globally and will be attending some events and visiting new clients in other countries over the next year. I am always working on mobile technology innovations so watch this space!
TNW: What are the advantages of gender diversity in a startup? Are there any disadvantages?
JS: Gender diversity is critical to a company’s success – you need gender diversity to understand your consumer base and to develop better products. In a startup, gender diversity must be a consideration from day one.
TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures?
JS: I don’t use the word failure – every experience adds value to a company.
The most important lesson I’ve learned so far is that mentoring is more valuable than money. You cannot buy or put a price tag on the invaluable experience of a mentor.
TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?
JS: Find a female mentor – not the first one that comes along but find someone who you can really open up to and who shares your passion and your vision. Join some networks – find fellow entrepreneurs, events or places where they hang out so you can keep up with the latest news and because you’ll need some friends to talk to when the going gets tough. Be patient – don’t jump into investment too quickly. Take the time to really think about each decision you make and how it is going to affect your company.
TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?
JS: I was selected for the UK Department of Trade & Industry’s Global Entrepreneur Programme (GEP) and my mentor, Judith Moreton, GEP Dealmaker at UKTI, has had a dramatic and positive effect on my company. Judith is a successful businessperson in her own right and is both my role model and a mentor. Judith has helped me to develop a business and marketing strategy for my company so that I had a long-term growth plan that I could present to investors. Crucially, she also introduced me to a legal team that has helped me to navigate the complex legalities of intellectual property protection, trademarks, copyright and licensing contracts. This legal support has also increased interest from potential investors.
TNW: What is your top tip for balancing family life with a career?
JS: I am married with an 8-month old puppy and I work from home. It was absolutely essential for me to create a balance between my work and home life but when you work from home this can be a very big challenge! I have created clear boundaries in my house - for example, I clear my desk every night and turn off all my computers/devices so that I do not have a pile of work staring at me and tempting me to ‘just sit down for 5 minutes and do a few emails.’ I spend at least an hour every morning walking my dog and chatting to other dog walkers about things that have nothing to do with work – it helps clear my head, keeps me fit, and reminds me of why I am doing what I’m doing.
TNW: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?
Unfortunately, yes! If I hear about my competitors doing something fabulous, then it keeps me up at night thinking about how I’m going to do something better!
TNW: If you could get on a soapbox and get something off your chest about the world of entrepreneurship, something you’d like to change, what would it be?
From my experience to date I think there is a definite need for more women investors so that future entrepreneurs can have a wider choice in talking to more women orientated organisations.
I also believe there is too much red tape that confronts start-ups like myself, much of which is found in the rather disproportionate financial structure. By this I mean that doing a proof of concept isn’t enough as you then have to leap to six figures to move things along; there is a smaller stage missing at present.
TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?
JS: Being an entrepreneur means taking a huge risk and can be an emotional rollercoaster – every day is different! Meeting up with fellow entrepreneurs and having a great mentor allows you to share your experiences with like-minded people who share your passion and vision for success.
TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?
JS: In late 2011, I was named one of the Top Ten Tech City Entrepreneurs at the UK Department of Trade & Industry’s first Tech City Entrepreneur Festival. I had to pitch my idea and company on stage in front of a standing-room only crowd of investors and entrepreneurs from around the world. When it was announced, I felt that all of the hard work that I had put in to getting the company to be investor ready was finally paying off. It was an exhilarating moment that I’ll never forget!
TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?
JS: Having a good sense of humour is essential in my book to keep things in perspective!
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