Thursday 8 December 2016

'Biggest mistake I've ever made' - man who sold stake in tech company for a bike misses out of €228m Microsoft deal

Published 04/02/2016 | 11:23

Swiftkey founders Reynolds and Dr Ben Medlock
Swiftkey founders Reynolds and Dr Ben Medlock
Mr Hill-Scott's resignation

An app founded by three Cambridge graduates that predicts the next word you want to write using artificial intelligence has been bought by Microsoft for €228 million - but one of the three missed out after selling his stake for a bicycle.

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Chris Hill-Scott, who set the company up with Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock in 2008, relinquished his share in SwiftKey the same year. He now works for the Government Digital Service, the branch of the Cabinet Office that is attempting to bring government operations online.

He tweeted that it was the "biggest mistake I ever made" and posted a picture of his resignation document, The Times reported.

Mr Reynolds and Dr Medlock, however, stand to receive multi-million pound windfalls from the deal.

The app is used on around 300 million smartphones, replacing the default keyboard with one that can write words by swiping between letters and can learns users' typing habits to predict their next word. Its prediction technology also helps power Stephen Hawking's speech system to make it easier for the scientist to communicate.

SwiftKey used to charge users for its app, but went free in 2014, moving to a freemium model that charged for additional features. Revenues fell that year to to €11m and losses increased amid a hiring drive, and the company was seen by some as an acquisition target.

SwiftKey is not available for Microsoft's Windows Phone software, but Microsoft has moved into developing apps for rival operating systems as its own struggles. It has recently bought Sunrise, a popular calendar app, and Wunderlist, a task-management service popular on smartphones.

The deal for one of the UK's most promising technology companies comes amid a race for artificial intelligence talent amongst major tech groups.

"Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Our mission is to enhance interaction between people and technology. We think these are a perfect match, and we believe joining Microsoft is the right next stage in our journey," Reynolds and Medlock said announcing the deal

They said the SwiftKey app would remain on iOS and Android and stay free, and said: "We are as committed as ever to improving them in new and innovative ways."

The Financial Times reported that the deal was worth €228million). The company had previously announced £14.8m in funding including £65,000 in grants from the Government's Innovate UK initiative. It also said it had raised funds in March last year, but declined to say how much.

Telegraph.co.uk

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