DataSift – The little startup (from Europe) that could [TCTV]

When I first met and interviewed Nick Halstead in a tiny, unassuming office an hour’s drive from central London in October 2008, I realised I was meeting someone who was passionate not just about startups, but had the kind of deep technical knowledge that would stand him in good stead.

Unlike some non-technical, paper-thin ‘MBA entrepreneurs’, Halstead could see what was happening with the underlying trends of the Internet ecology and its drift towards realtime. Long before Twitter’s firehose was released, Halstead was trying to fix the broken problem of RSS feeds and commenting systems with “Favorit”. But with with Twitter’s emergence he pivoted away from to create Tweetmeme, the consumer curated Twitter portal, which really took off and remains popular to this day.

But that experience let to him building a team to deeply analyse Twitter’s underlying data, and not in Silicon Valley, but from Reading, in the UK county of Berkshire. Thus was Datasift created, one of only two companies globally licensed by Twitter to re-syndicate its content.

That raw commitment to keep going, to pivoting, to building a profile in Silicon Valley and to raising money in a smart way has now lead Halstead into a $6m Series A round from US-based investors IA Ventures, and GRP Partners.

The cash is to build a global sales and support teams in the US and build out the platform further. Datasift has even been anointed by Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO. as providing “meaningful insight” into Twitter, and a greater interface for developers wanting an easy way to access Twitter data. Twitter simply does not want to deal with the thousands of requests a day for its data. It makes sense to hand that to a third party, like Datasift, where you can just make enquiries with a credit card.

Datasift is out to change the data business which has traditionally been about picking up the phone and signing an annual contract to buy data. It wants, if you like, to become the Amazone S3 for data, or, as Halstead puts it, “We want to be the Twillio ofr Dataprocessing”

Does that mean Twitter will buy Datasift some day? Who knows, but they are certainly doing the right things to keep them sweet.

Always a proponent of building startups for Europe, Halstead is also realistic.

“Having a brand like Tweetmeme was the game changer,” Halstead tells me. That success opened doors in the Valley.

Not unlike Iain Dodsworth’s success with Tweetdeck (and later acquisition by Twitter), Tweetmeme gave Halstead an “in”.

People didn’t care that he might be based in a provincial city outside of London – they cared that he’d proved himself with Tweetmeme. And now he has investors who are quite happy to see him stay in the UK and build out Datasift – with a correspodning team in San Francisco which this funding will now power.

And there is a win-win for Europe here. Datasift investor Mark Suster will now have to come to the UK for board meetings, and as a result will start doing investments in Europe, though don’t expect a firehose just yet.

I met with Halstead today to get a heads-up on Datasift and to also discuss the process of raising funding in the US versus Europe (comes up half way through the video).

It’s worth catching what he sees as the lack of risk-taking by UK and European VCs holding back the eco-system here.