We’re thrilled to be launching our second Bristol coworking site, Runway East Temple Meads, this December! As the entreprenurial scene in Bristol continues to thrive (hello digital tech productivity powerhouse), we’re chatting with Bristol’s leading startup founders about their incredible success stories.
It’s been a wild ride for one of Bristol’s most successful startups, YellowDog, as they continue to make waves in the worlds of CGI, Financial services and even aerospace. With £5.4 million raised to date and a recent announcement of a partnership with Quadbridge to bring an award-winning cloud-rendering solution to studios in Canada and the USA, there is no slowing down for the YellowDog team!
We managed to catch up with our friend, Gareth Williams, Founder & CEO of YellowDog, the day he arrived back from a whirlwind trip to the Big Apple. Did we mention YellowDog were our first members at Runway East Bristol Bridge? Naturally, we had to document the journey Gareth has taken and how Bristol has helped shape his company’s success.
It’s 2014. You’re pondering how to harness the power of computer processors to give companies access to limitless compute. What was the first step towards turning your idea into reality?
I quit my job.
Well, that’s not quite true. The idea came from a conversation with an old friend of mine. The question was, how do we combine all the spare processing power that exists in people’s phones? This idea wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept building! I was thinking of the applications that could use this computing power and one of them was rendering computer-generated imagery. Bristol actually has two universities that teach animation and my brother-in-law works at one of them and got me an introduction with the head of the animation department. I sat down with him and spoke about CGI rendering for 3 hours, with him saying it was a real problem and there was never enough computing power. So that was a bit of validation for my idea.
…And then I quit my job! It was a huge risk but I felt I had enough to go on to give it a go.
Can you give an example of how long CGI rendering typically takes?
Visual effects in films nowadays takes a lot of computing power to achieve that level of realism, for example in Monsters, Inc. with all the realistic, stylised hair! And in The Jungle Book film in 2018, each frame (in a film there are 24 or 25 frames a second) took 40 hours to produce. And there were 135,000 frames! So I realised I have a novel solution to a problem that is urgent.
Fast forward to 2015, and you’ve launched your first product, the Cloud Render Platform for CGI. By 2016, you’ve become the first cloud platform to support Redshift Renger Engine for a Christmas short film by Blue Zoo animation. What major challenges did you face up until this point?
Not running out of cash. The product working. Selling the product. Finding people to join us. Our first believers, employees, investors. It was about 18 months before we had our first investment – which was done through crowdfunding.
And how was the crowdfunding process for you?
I don’t think I’ve ever pressed refresh on my computer screen so much! It’s quite the rollercoaster. A lot of people said it would be hard to raise through equity crowdfunding without a product, but we did it.
You’ve raised £5.4 million to date through investors and crowdfunding. That is a hefty sum. What do you typically look for in an investor and a partner?
How much money they’ve got! No, it used to be like that, but now we’re far more discerning. It’s a feeling really, I’ve learned to trust my gut much more when it comes to decision making. Does it feel right? Will we be able to work together over a number of years?
The second thing is, what are they bringing to the table? As well as cash, are they bringing a network of other investors or certain expertise? What can they do for us as well? Also, why are they investing in us? As we’re diversifying into other sectors, it’s going to take time. We needed an investor who wasn’t in it for a quick return but someone who is aligned with the outcome we’re looking for.
We know YellowDog rendered its second feature film called ‘Show Dogs’ so we have to question the dog theme we see here…what’s the inspiration behind YellowDog’s name?
YellowDog’s name is inspired by the promises I wanted to keep. I sat down and thought, ‘when I get customers, what are the promises I want to keep?’ and the same goes for my employees and investors and the community we’re in. So, I came up with a list of values and worked with a small brand agency to come up with an identity.
YellowDog, as an identity, really epitomises, encapsulates and characterises those values. Everything from how we’re adventurous, lovable, protective, all that good stuff.
You were named a Top 100 employer in the UK. Big ups! What do you think contributed to this award in regards to company culture?
There are three things that stand out as to why we received the award. One is around people feeling as though they are making valuable contributions. Everyone tends to feel as though what they do matters. The second is around having interesting and hard problems to solve. People like a challenge. And the third, which was very flattering, was around inspirational leadership.
Amazing! Now…do tell, what made you choose Bristol as your startup’s base and why have you stuck around?
I grew up in Manchester, went to university in Durham, and got a job in Bristol. And I really just fell in love with the city! I spent a few years in London, but I’ve always really lived in Bristol. It’s a very vibrant city, tons of art and music and the restaurants are very good. There’s also easy connections to London and Manchester.
The Bristol tech cluster is pretty interesting at the moment too. TechNation have highlighted it has the most productive tech cluster over the past couple of years. We’ve got a couple of unicorns here (Graphcore and OVO Energy). It’s quite a small city, so people try and help each other out. It’s largely collaborative. Also, the Sunday Times has recently named Bristol the top place to live in the UK. There’s definitely a fly-wheel effect. Success breeds success. It attracts people, talent and funding. It’s momentum.
And we have cider! And balloons! And pirates! Why would I go anywhere else?
What’s one piece of advice you’d pass along to an aspiring Bristol Founder?
Don’t do it. Joking, if you’re going to do it, make sure you have support around you like family and friends, whoever you use for emotional resilience. Seriously consider if you really want to do it. And if the brain worm is there, just do it. But utilise the power of the network. Use the network as much as you can and ask for help. And also offer help – it’s easy to ask for it if people know they can come to you as well for advice!
…and Runway East is pretty great too, we assume?
It’s lovely. We were the first people to move into Runway East Bristol! I love the team, they’re brilliant. They have a hard job keeping members happy and satisfied but they do a cracking job. And also surprising us with all the crazy little things they do! The environment is great and the location in Bristol is outstanding, it’s got wonderful views over the river, it’s very central and convenient. It’s a good community and within 18 months Runway East Temple Meads is already popping up down the road, which goes to show how successful Runway East Bristol Bridge has been!
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