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Steve's ITK: A year in scoops


Steve's ITK

December 26 · Issue #37 · View online
Steve's In The Know: Everything I published recently, commentary you won't find elsewhere, write-ups of events I attended or spoke at, and industry rumours.

The journalist's stare
The journalist's stare
Opening thought: A year in scoops
As 2017 comes to a close, I had a look back through my entire TechCrunch archives for the year. I didn’t count the number of stories, but a very educated guess would be somewhere between 250 and 300 posts.
There are no doubt more prolific tech reporters than me, although they say it’s the quality that counts not quantity. And by my reckoning I’ve had a decent year, particularly my London fintech coverage, the sheer number of scoops and original reporting.
In no particular order, here are ten of my favourites from the past twelve months, and here’s hoping for more of the same in 2018:
In October, I broke news that British wunderkind Nick D’Aloisio, who famously sold his startup Summly to Yahoo aged 17, had raised investment for a new app that promises to help you find and instantly chat to experts.
I actually got tipped off that D’Aloisio had raised investment for something new in the summer but it took me over two and a half months to reel this one in (this was a story D’Aloisio and his longtime PR handler definitely didn’t want written). During that time I was able to second source some of the info and wait patiently for a regulatory filing to confirm the amount raised (see: ITK #34).
Admittedly, this wasn’t a scoop but was an exclusive given to me by Entrepreneur First, presumably because I’m one of the journalists who knows EF best. Especially fun was interviewing Silicon Valley heavyweight Reid Hoffman for the first time.
I remember how easily the conversation flowed and the slight panic after I hung up and realised that I hadn’t used up the full 20 minutes I’d been allocated. The resulting news piece was well received nonetheless.
In 2016, I pretty much carved out the on-demand delivery space in the UK/Europe as my own, and in 2017 that continued to a lesser extent (delivery startups have certainly cooled this year).
However, a turbulent year for Jinn that ended with the company shutting down and selling its remaining assets, provided plenty of scoops and a running battle between James Cook at Business Insider and myself to get the story first. (see: ITK #30)
When Harry Stebbings announced in May that he was ending his relatively short stint at Atomico, the podcaster-turned-VC was unusually tight lipped about his next career move. Meanwhile, the previous month, I’d scooped VC Fred Destin leaving Accel to focus on seed investing and possibly setting up a new fund of his own. However, no one guessed that Stebbings and Destin were teaming up, a story that I broke with perfect precision, blindsiding the pair entirely.
And while most normal people couldn’t care less about moves in the venture capital industry, VCs sit on more secrets than any journalist could ever dream of, so it’s always satisfying to send an occasional reminder that we aren’t always too far behind. (See also: General Partner Ophelia Brown has left LocalGlobe.)
In February, I broke news of Monzo’s pending Series C round, the first of three scoops about the UK challenger bank this year (more here and here). I’d been sitting on this one for a couple of weeks because, even though I had very credible sources, I couldn’t be sure at the time if the round had actually closed.
Luckily, I still managed to get the story out before anyone else and somehow remained on good enough terms with Monzo co-founder and CEO Tom Blomfield to interview him on-stage at Startup Grind later in the year (see: ITK #36).
The same month, I scooped Disney’s acquisition of MakieLab. I’d first heard that the startup may have been acquired more than six months beforehand, but hit a wall after I got a flat out denial from the company (which had signed an NDA) and was unable to second source the story or get the name of the acquirer.
Eventually I got tipped off that MakieLab had updated its Facebook page to say it was shutting down and had been acquired by a “fantastic U.S. media behemoth,” which my source pegged as Disney. As I wrote at the time, journalism requires nothing if not tenacity (see: ITK #15).
In June, I spent a couple of hours at LocalGlobe, for a profile piece on the seed investment firm founded by father and son duo Robin and Saul Klein. I tend to waste very few words on the page and my style of writing is inherently pithy, so it was quite an exercise to create something longer than a thousand words.
The backstory, which is very briefly told in the article itself, is that I’d found out LocalGlobe had closed a new £75 million fund and I was planning to scoop the news. However, when I called Saul Klein for comment – standard TechCrunch policy – he made it clear that the new fund wasn’t a story he wanted to tell. Instead, he suggested I visit him and the rest of the team to get the bigger picture myself.
Normally I would likely publish the story anyway (a scoop is a scoop) and I tend to run a mile from anything that could be deemed access journalism, but in this instance I thought it would be an interesting experience, even if I can’t say Saul and I exactly hit it off on that first call (see: ITK #26)
Nearly seven years ago, TransferWise was readying the launch of its international money transfer service with bated breath. Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus would later tell me that he wasn’t entirely sure at the time if anyone would use the product. It certainly put the minimal in MVP.
The company has since gone on to raise nearly $400 million and counts the likes of IVP, Richard Branson, Andreessen Horowitz, and Baillie Gifford as investors. Today TransferWise is reportedly valued at $1.6 billion and is very likely a candidate for IPO in the next couple of years.
In a slide show published at the start of December, I took a look back through this European unicorn’s early pitch deck, dated 31st of May 2011. Alongside each slide, I added my own commentary based on an interview with Hinrikus in October.
As European startups go, they don’t come much more ambitious than Lilium, the German company trying to create an electric-powered air taxi service. In September, I wrote news of Lilium’s whopping Series B round and secured an exclusive interview with its somewhat media shy founder.
At almost 4,500 words, this was the longest piece I’ve written for TechCrunch, and – proof that it was time well spent – it is the story that has had the most impact, too. The subject was a profile of GoCardless co-founder and CEO Hiroki Takeuchi who, just over a year ago, was involved in a serious road accident that has left him paralysed below his chest and unable to walk again.
The resulting piece centred around an exclusive interview with Takeuchi - his first with the tech or business press since the accident - but also included interviews with three of GoCardless’ investors, GoCardless co-founder Matt Robinson, and Takeuchi’s wife Rachel Swidenbank (see: ITK #33 for the full backstory).
Afterwards, I was inundated with kind messages from readers and various people in our industry, saying how moved they were by the piece and encouraging me to do more long-form writing, which, in 2018, I’ll endeavour to do.
Things I wrote last week
Fly Ventures, a Berlin-based VC using machine learning to find its next deal, closes $41M fund
Chip, the chatbot savings app, raises over £1M in crowdfunding with plans to apply for a banking license offers a simple way to let your blog and newsletter readers subscribe via Facebook Messenger
Tandem’s acquisition of Harrods Bank, the banking arm of UK department store, is approved by regulators
PayPal backs pan-European savings deposit marketplace Raisin
Nordic VC firm Inventure outs new €110M fund to invest in early-stage tech startups in the region
Battery Ventures backs workforce management software company Quinyx in new $12M round
Closing thought: More ways to be ITK
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