Signal Raises £5.8 million in Series A Investment: Getting Serious

Signal has raised a £5.8 million round of Series A funding. To say I’m proud to confirm this new investment would be an understatement. I want to take a moment to thank all of our investors and customers for believing in us. Over the last couple of years, while we’ve been building our flagship product, your support has been invaluable.

Months of hard graft have led up to this announcement. This is therefore a perfect opportunity to step back and reflect on what we’ve achieved, and what will come next.

A majority of product-based tech companies need to raise funding at some point. But why bring new investors on board now? And how does this funding round set Signal up for the future?

I see Signal’s lifespan as being split into three phases:

Garage beginnings – the birth of Signal, which started with three guys in a tiny garage.
Moving on up – which saw us move into Second Home and confirm our seed fundraising, and;
Getting serious – Our transformation into a mature business with global ambitions.

To me, our Series A investment marks the leap between Phase 2 and Phase 3.

This is unquestionably the most important and the most exciting phase of Signal’s development so far. So it seems like a good time to start from the beginning…

Garage beginnings

The idea for Signal germinated from watching my parents work. They run an executive search business together, and their company newsletter, which gave thousands of senior leaders daily news updates, was a prized asset. I wondered whether this process (which used lots of manual work and which took hours to put together each day) couldn’t be made easier and faster using technology.

I then went and researched the market for tools which delivered relevant information to businesses in real time. Having spoken to many executives and played with lots of software, I found out three things:

  • Nothing got anywhere near being able to deliver the service I had in my head
  • The tools which came closest were very expensive and built using legacy technology
  • The AI technology required to build my dream product DID exist!

These findings gave me the original idea for Signal. However, the hard work was just about to start.

The first drawbacks lay in my own skillset. I wasn’t technical – I had never coded. Also, despite having worked with startups before, I had never founded a business. I had little management or leadership experience. 

But I had realised that the solution to my problem would revolve around AI. I believed – and still believe today – that AI is truly world-changing, and that businesses leveraging AI early would be in an immensely advantageous position.

The challenge of building a technology company without industry experience meant that I had to hustle extra hard. I went to as many conferences, discussions and events as possible, learning as much as I could and connecting with anyone who would sit down for a coffee with me.

Eventually – after many spammy messages sent via meetup.com – I struck gold in finding Wes Hall and Dr. Miguel Martinez. I had as partners an amazingly skilled engineer, and a data scientist with an incredible academic background. I can’t describe how lucky I feel to have been able to work with these guys, and I have no idea what Signal would look like today if it hadn’t been Wes and Miguel who agreed to chat and talk about my project back in 2013.

Over the next few months, we built a bare-bones alpha product while working out of my parents’ garage. We were lucky enough to benefit from several interns and visiting researchers who worked on our idea in these early stages. By the start of 2015, we had signed up three initial clients on our developing product.

Meanwhile, I had been speaking to Will McQuillan of Frontline Ventures on and off for a few months. Will was incredibly perceptive right from the start. He stimulated new strategic and product-based ideas each time we discussed Signal. Soon, Frontline Ventures expressed an interest in becoming our first institutional investors.

Moving on up

We announced our seed investment in Techcrunch on April 1st 2015, led by Frontline and featuring participation from Reed Elsevier Ventures, Samos Investments and several angel investors. Looking back, maybe it was a sign of our naivety that we went to press on April Fool’s Day. It was almost like we didn’t want to be taken seriously!

But our underdog attitude was actually helping us to find traction – it helped that we were scrappy and would fight for every deal. We were also starting to see how effective our tech-first solution was: it enabled us to offer comparable services for less than our competitors.

We had quickly outgrown the garage, and were able to find some office space at Second Home, the startup hub founded by Rohan Silva. We also confirmed an additional round of investment, which saw Alex Northcott – founder of Gorkana and more recently Roxhill Media – become an investor in Signal.

Meanwhile, we brought several senior leaders on board. Charlie Mayer joined us from Gorkana as Head of Sales, and we hired Claudia Campos-Hogan, previously Head of Marketing at Rocket Internet. Adam Hutchinson, formerly of the BBC and Morgan Stanley, became our Chief Product Officer.

But as our product became more advanced, we needed more expertise to maintain and develop it. At the same time, we had begun to grow the commercial side of the business, building out sales, marketing and customer success teams. So new investment was needed if our revenue was going to continue growing as fast as 500% year-on-year.

And my ambition doesn’t stop there. My aim has always been to make Signal a truly global company. The EU referendum in June has not impacted us in the way we had feared. All the same, it confirmed that we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to one particular market.

So a few different factors – a growing team, the investment required in product, and my desire to address new markets for the business – all began to come into play at the same time. This made raising a new round of funding the logical path forward. And that’s what we’ve been able to achieve.

Getting serious

So this is where Signal sits today. We’ve been fortunate to receive investment from best-in-class firms on both sides of the Atlantic. This is a great testament to our global ambition. To have MMC Ventures, Hearst Ventures and Local Globe investing in Signal (as well as having Frontline Ventures and Reed Elsevier Ventures following on from their original seed investments) means that we have an incredible set of advisers and collaborators to help us in the next stage of our development.

Signal’s leadership team has also expanded further. We’ve welcomed Swiftkey’s Brandon Mensinga as COO and Luca Grulla from uSwitch as VP Engineering. I’m also delighted that incredible advisers like Roque Versace, Funding Circle’s Kim Stringer and Twitter’s Barry Collins are part of our family.

The work that has taken us up to this point is only the start. My aim is for Signal to become a global flagbearer for practical applications of AI within the enterprise. Business is going to change dramatically thanks to new AI technologies. And the companies which provide seamless integration of AI into work processes will change the game for millions of people. This is my long-term vision.

It’s been an amazing journey for me personally. I’ve learned so much about myself in the last three years, but my goal is the same – to continue making Signal into an impactful, global company. I’m so grateful to my team, our investors, and all the Signal users who have supported us along the way. Most of all, though, I’m grateful to my parents. As well as everything else, they gave me the first bright idea which set me on this path.

Here’s to another great three years – and beyond.

David