GigaOM Euro 20: Almost Famous

While some of Europe’s shooting stars have come and gone over the years, not all have either burned brightly or fizzled out. An important part of the development of the continent’s startup scene recently has been the emergence of a different sort of success: persistent, independent and innovative businesses that have stuck around when others chose to fold or flip.

Often living for years with a relatively small amount of investment, this generation of companies is characterized by having endured setbacks, switches and significant changes in the landscape. It’s a situation that, in many cases, has helped foster a real sense of community and a survivor’s attitude.

In the third part of GigaOM’s Euro 20 roundup, we’ll look at five startups we’ve dubbed Almost Famous. They’ve weathered the storm, come out the other side, and have solid products to offer.


Founded: Paris, 2005
Investors: Elaia Partners, IDInvest, Index Ventures, Bessemer Ventures
Business: Online ad re-targeting

Europe’s advertising industry is rich and creative, with a long tradition of building clever and innovative startups. But of all the names that are bandied around the continent, perhaps France’s Criteo is the one to keep notice of over the next year.

It focuses on “re-targeting” — that is, catching users who have visited a website but failed to complete a purchase, and then showing them ads on other sites in order to tempt them back.

It’s proven highly successful, with annual revenues set to pass $200 million soon, but the real question is what happens next. The company has raised money every two years since its inception, suggesting that another round could be on the horizon — but with such good numbers, perhaps an acquisition or flotation should be the next logical step.

Mind Candy

Founded: London, 2003
Investors: Accel Partners, Index Ventures, Spark Partners
Business: Online games

Early efforts from London game developer Mind Candy were critically acclaimed but not commercially successful: a formula that led founder Michael Acton Smith to change direction in 2007 by introducing a new game, Moshi Monsters. A virtual world aimed at tweenagers, the title has become a significant multimedia brand and allowed the business to reposition itself in the social gaming space.

On the back of recent growth, the company — led by serial entrepreneur Michael Acton Smith — has seen its value rise dramatically in the past year. That led to investor Spark recently selling half its stake. Is this just the beginning for Mind Candy’s journey to Super Star?


Founded: London, 2006
Investors: Atlas Venture, The Accelerator Group, Index Ventures
Business: Customizable business cards

When it began five years ago, Moo took one of the London’s newest industries — the web — and married it to one of its oldest: printing. It harnessed new digital printing techniques and hooked into photo-sharing services such as Flickr and Picasa, to allow people to customize and print business cards, postcards, greeting cards and more. With a strong following among early adopters and a charming, human approach, it offered something other print-on-demand services struggled with.

A move to the next level may feel overdue. The company’s long-term plans have no doubt been hampered by the increasingly gloomy retail climate in Britain. But the business seems to be carrying on without too many hitches. It’s important, however, to see Moo not only as an interesting entity in its own right, but also as a crucial player in building up the vibrant startup scene in Britain.


Founded: London, 1999
Investors: Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Institutional Venture Partners, DN Capital
Business: Music discovery

The oldest startup on our list by several years, Shazam has always been built on great technology. Its first product, launched in 2002, allowed users to identify music they were listening to simply by waving their mobile at the sound. With an audio fingerprinting system that feels like magic, the team has expanded its business to apps and partnerships, with customers like AT&T, Vodafone, NBC and Fox.

But what looked like an increasingly maturing business two years ago, suddenly took on fresh verve with an injection of capital from Kleiner Perkins and a change in management. That switch escalated the company’s plans and now, with an expanding scope and huge ambitions, the business is looking at the television advertising market.


Founded: Paris, 2004
Investors: AGF Private Equity, Ventech
Business: Business networking

It’s fair to say Europe has developed a reputation for clone services — most notably with the Samwer brothers, a duo who have made their careers building and selling German-language versions of sites like Facebook and Groupon. It’s no surprise, then, that French professional networking site Viadeo, is sometimes spoken of in disparaging tones; after all, it started just a few months after its biggest rival, LinkedIn.

It might not have developed as much as its transatlantic cousin, but it’s no slouch either. It has been consistently profitable since 2009, and having rolled up a number of smaller companies, it now has 35 million users. Next up? It’s plotting a course to become the network of choice in rapidly growing markets such as China.