What winning The Start-Up Series meant for me – Scott Lever, Zobi

Nearly one third of smart home Wi-Fi-connected devices are vulnerable to being hacked or are already compromised. It’s a problem that Scott Lever wanted to solve

One thing that the coronavirus pandemic has changed is the whole concept of how we work. For many of us, video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Teams means we can work from home. The technology has shown it can work. And many homeworkers are reluctant to go back to the office, with more than one third not believing their employer has done enough to protect their health, according to Aviva.

But businesses are just as vulnerable to homeworkers as vice-versa.

An astonishing 30 per cent of all smart home devices are hacked and right now, over 1.8bn passwords are being sold on the dark web. What this means is that hackers steal passwords, listen in on commercially sensitive conversations and use employees’ home networks to access businesses.

>See also: What winning The Start-Up Series meant for me – Daniel Verblis, The Moving Home Warehouse

Scott Lever began his career at IBM, and over the last 25 years, his roles included head of infrastructure and end user computing for the Houses of Parliament and chief technology officer for The Royal British Legion.

His background in technology, digital transformations and cybersecurity made him realise how vulnerable we all are to computer hacking while working from home, and he founded Zobi, a software company building intruder detection systems for your home WiFi – which uses artificial intelligence to spot unusual activity – in April 2018.

Says Lever: “It’s not just the wealthy and celebrity that are at risk. Everybody is a target. Your personal data and identity are priceless and anti-virus and firewalls are only part of the solution”

At first, Lever bootstrapped the company himself while working full-time.

Zobi graduated from the Founders Institute global technology accelerator in September 2019 and then won The Start-Up Series with a £100,000 equity seed funding prize at the end of last year.

Today, his founder and advisory team of seven have grown and exited business to the value of circa $500m and draw experience from working for, among others, Marks & Spencer, Ministry of Justice, Royal Bank of Scotland, Morgan Stanley and Direct Line Group.

And like several other Start-Up Series winners, Scott had to apply twice to Worth Capital, being knocked back the first time before pivoting his business model and then re-entering.

See also: What winning The Start-Up Series meant for me – Zaffrin O’Sullivan, Five Dot Botanics

How important was winning The Start-Up Series funding and what has Worth Capital done for your business?

It was life changing for the business. Having that first seed funding in the bank has made a big difference. It was our first fundraise apart from bootstrapping myself. Without that seed funding from the Start-Up Series Fund we would be three to four months or even six months behind where we are today.

The big difference was that we had the capital to push ahead with development and marketing at a faster pace.

It enabled us to progress from concept to prototype to manufacturing. The mentorship that Worth Capital bring is of huge value. It’s all too easy for entrepreneurs to get excited and carried away in the wrong direction. Worth’s mentorship keeps us on track and focusing on the things that important and that time.

Apart from the equity investment, how has winning the competition affected Zobi?

A hugely positive impact has been on our credibility. It affected people’s perception of us in the marketplace being able to say that we won a start-up competition, that made a difference. It’s more than just pitching for institutional money, it’s a well-executed competition ending in a three-hour deep dive where Worth Capital really squeeze out every last detail, before committing funds.

The Hedgehog cybersecurity device

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?

Actually, the pandemic lockdown has increased our productivity significantly. We get an extra three hours per day without the commute plus the flexibility to work extended hours whilst still balancing family life.

We have suppliers across the global, so we’re able to do Zoom calls early morning with our SEO people in Australia and evening calls with our developers in the USA.

What is the outlook for Zobi now?

Whilst nobody truly understands the impact COVID-19 yet, it’s changed the way we work as it has for every other company.

There is no longer the need for so much office space, our customer use case of remote homeworkers has grown exponentially, and our value proposition is now more validated than ever before.

Post lockdown, our priority is to maintain momentum and grow as quickly as we can. We’re new to the space but also the space for consumer home cybersecurity is still an infancy in itself.

We have some really strong strategic goals and ideas. Now it’s time to execute.

Further reading

Small Business and Worth Capital partner to relaunch The Start-Up Series — with £250,000 equity funding up for grabs each month!

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Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...