I’m a Scottish designer and internet entrepreneur, co-founder of MRL Ventures, where I lead the project which became Yelp, The Origins Network, which was acquired by D.C Thomson, Moreover Technologies, which was acquired by Verisgn and Realtime Anywhere, the first Internet company in London’s Tech City hub, Shoreditch. I co-authored the Internet standard RSS 1.0, introduced the convention of one-line-bios and created the visual bookmarking concept behind Pinterest.
I grew up in London and as a teenager, survived an 800 ft fall in a mountaineering accident.
I started my first Internet venture in London, in 1994 and later moved to San Francisco then New York. Having returned to Europe after 12 years in the US, I am now based in Geneva and am a partner at Anthemis.
I worked as an architect for Norman Foster on projects ranging from the Kings Cross Masterplan & Channel Tunnel Terminal, to Foster’s apartment. In Paris, I worked for Valode et Pistre on a Lyon University scheme and briefly for Jean Nouvel on the Euro Lille project.
Having gotten stuck on large scale projects which take forever and involve doing toilet details for six months, I begged and begged to work for Fisher Park who designed stadium sets for what they called the ‘dinosaur’ bands: Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and U2. What could possibly be more fun.
After Fisher Park, I set up a design practice in London, where we did event & trade sets and retail design, mainly for Levis and Caterpillar. We were featured in Building Design and Blueprint and shortlisted for a Millennium Bridge competition. I knew a bit about computers, so when the web took off in earnest in ’94 we did some early database driven websites and more wacky stuff such as a 3d search engine.
The Internet stuff became more about technology rather than design, so the practice was split in two and Angus Bankes and myself ran the technology side, where we built the first large scale intranet in the UK, linking staffing between 60 hospitals. Eventually we co-founded Origins.net with my father, a genealogy service which created the first online access to government data and was the largest online database in Europe, at the time and the first pay-per-view website.
Nick Denton, Angus Bankes and myself founded Moreover technologies, a news search engine which powered Yahoo and MSN and Altavista news, before Google had news search. Moreover sold to Verisign.
While at Moreover I co-authored the RSS 1.0 standard.
After Moreover, I worked as an Entrepreneur in Residence at MRL Ventures, with Max Levchin, where I helped found Yelp.
I left San Francisco to move to New York and started a series of product blogs, under the umbrella of Curations.com.
After moving back to Europe, based in Geneva, I worked on a number of projects for KKLD, in Berlin, then met Sean Park and became interested in fintech. I am now a partner at Anthemis.
I was born in Scotland, in 1966, in Selkirk, lived in Glasgow till I was 3, before moving to London. I lived in Paris for a bit, and went to college in Turin, for a few months. I have been in the US for 9 years, 6 in San Francisco and 3 in New York.
I dropped out of university twice (Economics then Civil Engineering) then trained for 7.5 years to be an architect because I was too frightened to quit. I studied at the Bartlett for both under and post-grad.
Architecture teaches you how to not lose sight of the overall design of a building, while designing a tiny detail and to deal with the whole rather than component features. This ability to zoom in and out, seems to be a skill which could be applied to areas other than buildings.
I once heard that if ‘Brunel were alive today’ he would be building things on the Internet, yet there is a long way to go before software is designed by Brunel types rather than put together by the usual type of engineer. Web design still usually refers to the way things look, rather than the way they work, Web Designer being a title given to a front-end UI designer. Software itself is often built by passing feature requests via a marketing department to the engineering department, with nobody independent in between. This is like tract housing design rather than architecture and it results in junk. If Brunel were alive today, he wouldn’t have a job title. Changing this is what keeps me awake at night.
My Dad is a physicist and I grew up reading popular science books. As a hobby, I am interested in the physics problem that tries to relate logical entropy to natural selection, showing how systems self-configure to ‘learn’. It sounds pretentious, and it probably is, but if you are interested, some of the notes are here. Secretly, this is what really keeps me awake at night.
I have a lovely, infinitely patient, French wife who was born in Switzerland and is a US national, and a wonderful son and daughter. Come to think of it, they literally keep me awake at night.