VCs price True Knowledge at £20m pre-money. Is this the UK's Powerset?

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It’s fairly rare to find VCs clamouring over a startup, virtually throwing term sheets folded into paper aeroplanes through any open window they can find, but this appears to be the situation surrounding UK search company True Knowledge, which only launched late last year.

The chatter I’m hearing is that True Knowledge is being talked about in hushed tones, as if it might be the Powerset of the UK. To put that in context, Google has tried to buy the Silicon Valley search startup several times, and they have only launched a showcase product, not even a real one. However, although True Knowledge and Powerset are similar, they are different in significant ways, more of which later.

I understand that True Knowledge has been given a pre-money valuation of £20m, according to one VC’s term sheet, and the startup – from what I can gather from my sources – is in communication with at least two other VC firms (I’m still in the process of trying to dig out which firms are involved). Of course, I have put this to True Knowledge but they have declined to comment on anything to do with fund-raising. What we do know about True Knowledge though is that early stage private investor group Octopus Ventures put around £600,000 in back in September last year.

But what I have heard makes for an interesting scenario. The idea is to use a large series A round to accelerate the startup to almost Google-like recognition levels in about two years – no small feat.
Currently in private beta, True Knowledge says their product is capable of intelligently answering – in plain English – questions posed on any topic. Ask it if Ben Affleck is married and it will come back with “Yes” rather than lots of web pages which may or may not have the answer (don’t ask me!).

One sign that the startup is on the right track is that they have brought on William Reeve as a non-executive director, a veteran of a number of prominent UK startups who has seen many a profitable exit for all concerned. Reeve co-founded Fletcher Research in 1997, which became the UK’s leading Internet research firm before being acquired by Forrester Research in 1999. In 2003, he co-founded, backed by Index Ventures, Benchmark Capital, and DFJ Esprit. It subsequently merged with LOVEFiLM in mid 2006 and now has operations in five countries. Reeve remains its COO.

The key difference with True Knowledge versus any old search engine is this. It only interrogates structured data, whereas PowerSet is going to look at unstructured documents. That makes True Knowledge more complimentary than competitive to PowerSet.

Here’s why the difference matters. True Knowledge can infer answers that the system hasn’t seen. Inferences are created by combining different bits of data together. So for instance, without knowing the answer it can work out how tall the Eiffel Tower is by inferring that it is shorter that the Empire State Building but higher than St Pauls Cathedral.

Currently True Knowledge is working on an API beta with over 2.1 million geographical places, plus time zones. So in theory web and tele-conferencing services could use this to help you place calls at the right time for both parties across the planet.

AI software developer and entrepreneur William Tunstall-Pedoe is the founder of True Knowledge. He previously developed a technology that can solve a commercially published crossword clues but also explain how the clues work in plain English. See the connection?

  • http://TheFSE lloyd

    This sounds legendary…

  • Mark Littlewood

    You are a great reporter and discover some really interesting things but I think you should think about holding some stuff back from time to time. I am not sure what is gained by you working on finding out who the other potential investors are other than showing how ‘clever’ you are. If the company doesn’t want to talk about who it is talking to (and frankly what has it possibly got to gain by doing so?) then I think you should respect that. Negotiating with VCs is hard at the best of times. CEOs should be able, if they wish, to keep VCs at arm’s length and maintain a degree of opacity about which investors they are talking to for obvious reasons. I know your commitment to supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem is significant so how would you feel if your activity actually cocked it up for someone?

    Keep up the great work but stay part of the solution.

  • Mike Butcher

    Mark Littlewood – I don’t work in PR, sorry. Bother someone else.

  • http://TheFSE lloyd

    What a twat. We want to know because we want to know. I surely doubt anything TC do in this case will harm TK … the only thing that will happen is TK will have a bidding war amongst VC’s and increase their pre-money valuation. Oh the horror.

    Mike i do think you are wrong on one thing … TK is not even close to the UK’s Powerset … i think you have the question the wrong way round (and the answer is no).

  • Bill Roberts

    I think True Knowledge are on to something big: their public demo is both impressive and different to anything else I’ve seen.

  • Jens


    can you link to some stories on how Google wanted to buy Powerset? That would be interesting. Thanks.

  • jas

    I think it’s over hyped and with stories like this will only increase their hype but fair play to them as it’s a great way to raise cash.

  • Manoj Ranaweera

    Recently, I have been looking at startup valuations. Perhaps TCUK could be forum to discuss various valuation methodologies with the participation of both entrepreneurs and VCs. Of course, both parties could be shy, but I for one believe in share of knowledge. I will be speaking more about this at and Feel free to tune. More discussion the better informed we all will be. Mike, care to take the lead.

  • Rich

    I stumbled on true knowledge late last year and I think this latest evaluation may be over-hyped.

    It’s clever technology and their semantic search looks promising but – are we saying that TK is the answer to universal search? Are their answers ALWAYS right? It’s a tough game they are intending to play. It could be worth an investment but it’s just a little too hot for me.

    For their API, I still think there are better ways out there to e.g. find the local time for any location (

    I do wish the TK team success though – promising beginnings…

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