Plink: How to sell a business to Google four months after launch

Yesterday, four-month-old tech start-up Plink announced they'd been acquired by Google. Founders Mark Cummins and James Philbin developed the PlinkArt visual search app, which lets you identify almost any work of art just by taking a photo of it, while studying at Oxford. We caught up with them to find out just how you build a super-company Google wants to buy in such super-speed.

How long was Plink in the making before launch?

Mark: Well, we've both been working on visual search technology as part of our PhD research for about four years. The first step into forming a company was when we started talking to the university about licensing the IP from our PhD work - that was almost two years ago. Those discussions went on for a long time. Our first public appearance as a company was at mini-Seedcamp London, exactly a year ago today.  We launched the PlinkArt app on the public Android Market at the end of 2009.

Did you start by identifying a market gap or just following your heart and gut?

James: Well we're both engineers at heart, so the tech came well before everything else. It was only towards the end of our PhDs that we started to see the commercial potential in visual search. I'd say we just did what we found interesting, so definitely followed our instinct!

Was it always the plan to sell? Did you engineer the business that way from the start, and do you think that's necessary for such a quick sale?

Mark: No, not at all. We fully expected to be running the business for many years. Of course, you are always aware of how your decisions might impact an exit - e.g. how much funding you have taken, or how many employees you have with respect to other companies with similar technology, are all things that can have a bearing on how attractive you might be to an acquirer. We certainly had these things in mind.

How many are you as a team and what are your roles?

James: It's a two-man team. We never really defined any distinct roles for ourselves and were equally happy to get involved in both the technical and business sides of the company.

The PlinkArt app was downloaded more than 50,000 times in the first month after launch. How did it get so big?

Mark: Well, winning an award in the Android Developer Challenge gave us a great publicity boost. Then we were selected as one of the official recommended apps on the Android Market, which all users see when they're looking for new apps. So that really sent our install numbers soaring.

How did Google get in touch - did they find you or vice versa?

Mark: They found us. First contact happened right after our first public pitch at mini-Seedcamp.

Did you have to tweak the way you were working at all to be Google-buy-ready?

We're not going into details about deal negotiations, sorry.

Fair enough. In that case, what advice would you give a tech start-up hoping to do what you've achieved?

James: Find something you can really get excited about and run with it. If you're not enthusiastic about your idea, no one else will be.

Thanks guys, and massive congrats!

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