You might have noticed, we like to shout about our awesome tech scene here in the South West. In fact, it’s TechSPARK’s whole reason for being. From one person startups like Hugh Fulljames’ brilliant Perceiv, through to giants like HP Labs, we’re lucky enough to live in a region which thrives on tech innovation and creativity, large and small.
Not all make it; for every Brightpearl, there are a few unsuccessful projects which sadly fall by the wayside. But sometimes our tech brethrens come up with something so special it catches the eyes, and wallets, of some of the biggest global players.
That’s certainly the story of Second Sync, the social media analytics tool developed by Bristol-based brothers Andy and Ted Littledale.
Deal or no deal
It’s not uncommon for a social media giant to delve into the startup buffet of course, gobbling up another team to satiate its considerable appetite. But that activity is generally confined to the other side of the Atlantic.
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In April 2014 however, Twitter stuck its beak into our area (so to speak), and announced that Second Sync, based at the time in Aardman Studios, would be joining its ranks in a move to develop its relationship with the television and advertising industries outside of America.
This was only the second acquisition of a UK startup by Twitter, its first being the £25million deal for TweetDeck in 2011.
Aard core: The Aardman offices where Second Sync started out
It wasn’t just Twitter that had its attention piqued by Second Sync either. Rumours were that the Twitter takeover was sparked by a Facebook deal – Zuckerberg’s baby had announced that it had struck a partnership with Second Sync a couple of months before. At the time, MD Andy Littledale had said: “We are looking forward to working with Facebook to bring this data to market, initially in the UK and US.”
That was until Twitter well and truly gazumped the deal.
Two social media giants, locking horns over who is going to own the business. Quite a leap from Second Sync’s humble start.
The Littledale brothers, Andy and Ted, come from a background of computer development, working for the BBC and numerous media-based tech businesses around the city, before they teamed up with their friends Lee Carre and Dan Fairs to officially form the company in 2011.
“The amount of tweets generated for the different acts in Britain’s Got Talent 2012 actually predicted the order of the final results”
As with many startups, the original iteration of the business was very different to the one it became. They started by building TV show apps for ‘second screen’ viewing, providing viewers with additional information that synced with the show. For instance they developed an app to accompany Frozen Planet, which would tell viewers more about the different animals as they appeared.
One aspect of this ‘second screen’ app was a Twitter widget showing stats and reactions to the show. They quickly realised how powerful this tool could be and abandoned their original plan, to focus solely on social media analytics.
As Ted Littledale said, in a presentation for BBC Academy: “All this time there have been conversations going on about TV shows, but that’s all been happening in the living room. But with the advent of social media that conversation is more and more moving on to the web, especially Twitter. We spotted the opportunity to harness this data.”
The correlation between tweets and engagement is so strong in fact that the amount of tweets generated for the different acts in Britain’s Got Talent 2012 actually predicted the order of the final results. With budgets and commissioning increasingly influenced by social media chatter, it’s easy to see why the big boys were interested.
Mentoring for tech startups
Second Sync, now wholly owned and repackaged by Twitter as @TwitterTVUK, is testament to what can be done with a great idea and the nurturing support currently available in the West of England.
Second Sync has publicly expressed its gratitude for the support it has received, and the influence of the region is clear to see: “There are lots of people we’d like to thank who helped us on an amazing journey. Firstly our fantastic staff for all their hard work and commitment…the Technology Strategy Board for the grants they provided in the early days, to SETSquared for great business advice, to Techhub our London base, and to Aardman Animations for an amazing and creative office space.”
Second Sync has become an inspirational story for tech startups in Bristol and shows what can be achieved with a great idea and the right support. Its future will now be entwined with that of Twitter and it has already given up its space at both Aardman and the Google Campus to join its London HQ. But we’re sure the brothers would be the first to acknowledge the influence and help from the South West.
Second Sync are one of many South West success stories, of course. To keep your finger on the pulse of the tech scene in the region, why not follow us on Twitter.