Top 10 UK dotcoms to watch

Top 10 UK dotcoms to watch

Britain’s
internet entrepreneurs are no longer languishing in the dot com
doldrums, but have emerged revitalised and ready for another round.
Bobbie Johnson surveys the scene and lists the top 10 British dotcoms
to keep track of.

Richard Moross of Moo – one of our picks. Photograph: Graham Turner/Guardian

The
boom is back. In Britain, the internet doldrums took a long time to
disappear – but in recent years the startup buzz is back in the air and
fresh ideas are starting to blossom.

Driven by the surge of Web
2.0 sites and the widespread penetration of broadband, Britain’s dot
economy is growing fast and – for now at least – there are no real
signs of a bust on the horizon.

While analysts are quick to note
Britain’s dot economy resurgence, it is clear they are being more
conservative than in the late 1990s.

According to a recent
report from industry intelligence analysts, Library House, €1.8bn
(£1.2bn) was invested by venture groups in software and IT companies
across Europe in 2006, with the lion’s share of 31% – €558m – going to
British groups. The figures are expected to be marginally lower in
2007, as investors try to avoid an overheated market.

But things
are looking good. Earlier this summer, Last.fm the pioneering music
service, sold itself to American radio network CBS for $240m. The deal
netted founders Richard Jones, Martin Stiksel and Felix Miller a cool
£19m each and underlined the value of British internet business in a
way that the country’s internet entrepreneurs hadn’t seen for a long
time.

"It’s a much healthier environment now than 10 years ago,
when people often didn’t consider business models at all," says
Stiksel. "I think innovation is a basic requirement, and you have to
keep it up – but business is important. Because we never had funding to
start off with, we have to make a business case from the beginning with
everything we did."

Britain’s dotcom scene is also interesting
for its distinct lack of "me-too" websites – copycats of successful
services (often from Silicon Valley) that spring up looking for cash.
Whereas continental entrepreneurship is littered with imitations of
American services (translating an existing concept into German)
businesses in the UK are fully aware that rip-offs don’t cut the
mustard when you already speak the same language.

Stiksel
advises companies to follow their own path, even if they’re aware of
what copycats may be doing or are drawn towards the latest fads.
"You
tend to be derivative if you spend too much time looking at the
competition. You just end up adding the latest thing to your site," he
says. "In fact, the UK is the perfect place for this, because you’re a
bit further outside… you can stay focused on what you need to do."

So
what are Britain’s best dotcoms? We took some time to look at the
independent internet companies making a noise in the UK, and came up
with a list of 10 that points to where things are headed. Some of them
you may have heard of already, while others may be new to you.

Drawing
up the list was difficult. After all, what determines if something is a
dotcom? In these days of multimedia convergence, it doesn’t need to be
solely based on the web, and the history of internet startups conjures
up the idea of a labour of love run on a shoestring budget in a garage
or bedroom. But, as we discovered, some of the most interesting
operations on the scene are put together by industry veterans on their
third or fourth company.

Wherever the line in the sand was
drawn, we tried to find services that might hit the big time in the
next year or two, and kept away from the massive names that have
already been covered in depth. That’s why, for example, companies like
Joost – the internet video player started by Skype founders Niklas
Zennstrom and Janus Friis – wasn’t included.

Of course, no list
is definitive and there will always be new surprises. Indeed, there is
a new generation of fresh companies working in areas like identity,
profile management and finance that we could not include; time will
tell which ones will stick and which will disappear.

But all of
the companies on the list have one thing in common: they are
establishing themselves as innovative or interesting in their
respective fields.

Our top 10 (in alphabetical order)

Dopplr
Social networking for frequent travellers.

Extate
Intelligent search of property websites.

Garlik
Online identity management.

MindCandy
Alternate reality gaming.

Moo
Print on demand: cards, notes and stickers.

OnOneMap
Map-based property search.

Touch Local
Local directory services.

Trusted Places
User-created local information.

Zopa
Peer to peer lending.

Zubka
Recruitment 2.0.

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