Wayra Week and Tank Top TV Interview

29 April 2013, by

Wayra is the technology accelerator of O2’s parent company, Telefonica and the last week of March was Wayra week – where 30 startups battled it out to win just 20 places at the Wayra incubator.Team Tank Top

The results have now been announced and are online here.

I spoke to Liz Rice of winning startup Tank Top TV about what they do, how they started and what it was like taking part in Wayra week.

Q: So what is Tank Top TV?

Our mission is to make it really easy to find something you want to watch from all the various on-demand services out there, like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Lovefilm, BlinkBox, 4oD, Crackle and a load more (I could go on!).  There are literally thousands of TV shows and films available on-demand – so we think it’s crazy that we ever find ourselves thinking there’s nothing on to watch.

Q: And why did you start it?

Like a lot of great products, it came from solving our own frustrations.  The very first step was way back when iPlayer first came out, and it took forever to navigate past all the episodes of EastEnders that we didn’t want to watch, so Phil (my husband and Tank Top TV co-founder) built a little script to make it easier to find what else was showing.  Then other services started appearing and we realised that pulling all the listings together in one place would be really handy.  From there it was a logical step to add recommendations and personal watchlists. And then we learned from users that a lot of them were using us to find films, specifically, so we started Tank Top Movies to focus on that.

Q: What support/funding have you had to date to help you get to where you are?

Our local council has a great initiative called Enfield Innovation, through which they award £10,000 funding for the best idea in each of three categories – business, student and resident.  We had already set up a company so we entered – and won – the business category last year. Getting that support was a massive boost of confidence, and really it marked the point where we started thinking of ourselves as a genuine business!

Q: What is Wayra Week and why did you enter?

Wayra is Telefonica’s startup accelerator programme. They have academies all around the world, with the largest in London that opened last year.  I had met a couple of folks from companies that were part of the first cohort at Wayra London, and they couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the benefits they were getting from the programme, so we put together an application from Tank Top TV for the second round.

By this stage we had been joined by our third co-founder, Ian, and we were starting to try to raise some funding, so the financial aspect of the Wayra programme was obviously attractive.  But the mentoring programme, and being co-located with companies who are going through similar issues and can help each other out really appealed to us too.

Wayra Week is the final stage of the selection process for the Academy.  29 companies descended on O2’s headquarters in Slough for three days of speaker presentations and workshops – and at some point during that three days each company pitches to the judging panel.

Q: What was the experience like?

Full-on, friendly, tense, slightly confusing and extremely supportive!  Oh, and you’re being filmed and photographed all the time, so that Wayra can put together films like this to convey the atmosphere of Wayra Week!

Right from the train journey down to Slough, we started meeting other Wayra hopefuls, and even though we were competing against each other for places, all the teams were helping each other out. So for example we gave each other advice on our pitches, or shared the kinds of questions we’d had from the judges after our pitch session. I think that’s a really good sign for when the Academy gets going.

The three of us decided to stay in Slough rather than face a two-hour commute so that we’d be as fresh as possible for our pitch. We ended up with a pitching slot fairly early on the second day, so we were in the hotel bar until pretty late that first evening working on our slide deck!  We obsessed about whether we had addressed every single point in the evaluation criteria that Wayra had given us, and we practised over and over to make sure we nailed it.

We had workshops ranging from a presentation on how VAT figures in the Wayra agreement through to a session led by an acting coach who helped us with our posture, breathing and voice projection for actually delivering the pitch. There was a discussion about government funding grants, and a workshop on how to network at events, and there were talks from previous Wayra companies about their experiences.  And several more sessions – all designed so that even if you didn’t get a place at the Academy, you’d feel you had learnt something from the week.

Q: What did you win? How does that feel?

When the announcement was made, it was a huge relief after a fairly nerve-wracking (but fun) couple of days, but it also felt slightly unreal!  They announce the winners in random order, and fortunately we were second out of the metaphorical hat so we didn’t have to bear the tension for too long.

We’ll get desks in Wayra’s very funky office space near UCL, funding to the tune of Eu 40,000, and a mentoring programme involving some really great folks from the startup world and the wider business community. Wayra’s funding comes in the form of a convertible loan, which is extremely founder-friendly. And of course it’s a great signal that we’re a business worth watching!  We’ve already had some advances from potential partners and contacts, as a result of the Wayra win.

Becoming part of Wayra is a step-change for Tank Top TV, and genuninely life-changing for us as founders. The programme doesn’t start until the end of this month, and I can’t wait for it to get going and for us to move into our new home. At the moment we get together  regularly in the Central Working space at Google Campus, which is a fantastic resource for the London startup community, but it does get pretty crowded and noisy, so it will be fantastic to have a space of our own.

In addition to the practical aspects, we’re already feeling like part of the Wayra family.  We met some great people (from Telefonica and from the other companies) at Wayra Week and I’m sure we’ll make friends for life through the shared experiences we’ll have over the next few months.

Q: Where can we expect to see Tank Top TV in 5 years time?

We’ll be behind the best content discovery services for finding long-form TV & video content – we’re going to change the way you find something you want to watch.  Today’s typical experience, where you spend ages flicking through hundreds of channels or scratching around in different services in the hope you can find something you’re prepared to settle for, is rubbish. We want to make that a thing of the past in 5 years!

This post originally appeared on Zoe Cunningham’s personal blog

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Categories: Softwire


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