SwiftKey just won £11m in funding – its 27-year-old CEO talks to us

Jon Reynolds on his plans for the future and how he’s growing turnover five-fold annually

We knew something big was brewing when our illustrious panel of judges named 27-year-old Jon Reynolds as highly commended in the Young Entrepreneur category of our London Loves Excellence Awards in June.

And the massive potential of SwiftKey has just been validated again – the five-year-old UK company yesterday announced a series B investment round worth $17.5m (£11.3m), led by Index Ventures.

SwiftKey is the tech behind that uber-nifty smartphone app that lets you slide your finger across your phone’s screen keypad to type, and also predicts words more effectively than anything else we’ve come across. It’s been a number one hit on Google Play in 58 countries.

It won’t disclose turnover but revenues are growing five-fold year-on-year. The business has tripled in size to 100 staff over the year, as well as opening offices in Seoul and San Francisco, to expand from its London HQ.

We just caught up with CEO and co-founder Jon Reynolds to find out more about SwiftKey’s plans.

Congratulations on the funding Jon. Tell us a little more about SwiftKey…

SwiftKey creates world-class language technology - we’ve always seen it as being about language rather than typing. We set out to transform the way you communicate using smartphones and tablets, and developed an approach to problem solving that we believe can be applied to many other applications.

We’re currently well known for our SwiftKey keyboard app, which has been the best-selling paid app on Google Play in the last year and a No 1 hit in 58 countries.

In essence, it learns from you to predict what you’ll want to say next and to understand the way you write. It makes typing faster and easier by predicting your next word and offers relevant auto-correction, so you can say goodbye to those ‘damn you autocorrect’ moments.

We’re also proud to work with manufacturers and other enterprises including healthcare organizations. It’s always been our vision to apply our technology to a wide range of challenging real-world language problems, achieving lasting market leadership and changing people’s lives for the better.

Tell us more about Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning, the technological fields SwiftKey operates in, and you’ll be developing in those fields…

Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning are the areas of computer science and linguistics that focus on the interaction between devices and people, or more specifically, human language.

This is the academic speciality of co-founder Ben Medlock - he was doing a PhD at Cambridge University on this kind of work when we met. When we started out, we wanted to apply this extremely advanced area of Artificial Intelligence to solve a growing problem for millions - how to type easily on touchscreens.

We see it as a language problem, not a typing problem. SwiftKey learns from you to understand the context of what you’re saying, enabling the app to accurately predict your next word. We wanted to make communicating on phones and tablets faster, easier and more personalised.

How will you invest the $17.5m?

The capital from this series B round, led by Index Ventures, will fuel our expansion in the US and Asian markets, it’ll go towards R&D and accelerating our product development and we’ll also be able to invest in growing our team and hiring only the most talented staff.

The investment sits alongside our revenue from our consumer, OEM and enterprise business strands, so it wasn’t a case of needing the funding to carry on with the core business, it was a case of wanting to invest in the future and do more, faster.

What are your plans for North American expansion?

We’re a British start-up but the West Coast has a fantastic, well-developed tech, innovation and VC ecosystem and it’s vital for us to be part of that if we’re going to grow. I’ve now moved to the Bay Area (although I travel back to the London HQ regularly) and our Chief Commercial Officer, Rhodri Thomas, and Chief Marketing Officer Joe Braidwood are also out here in our San Francisco office.

We’ve recently hired some talented people to join our team here and look forward to building a bigger presence. We’re proud to flying the flag for British innovation in the US. Our main HQ remains in Southwark in London, led by Ben Medlock, the CTO and co-founder, and Richard Gibson, our CFO.

How does the US market differ from the UK’s, and how do you hope to better break it?

We’ve had a great response from American users since the beginning - it’s already our biggest consumer market in terms of SwiftKey app sales to date and we look forward to reaching even more users in the US.

The American market was quick to adopt Android and since the early days, we’ve had fantastic support from tech bloggers in the US who tried our technology and could immediately see its potential. Having a bigger presence here will help us stay ahead of what’s happening in the market and we’ll be able to better engage with the partners, influencers and the media that’ll help us grow and tackle new challenges.

What’s the split of your users across different countries, and in which are you fastest-growing?

The SwiftKey keyboard has been No 1 in 58 countries on Google Play so far, so we’re building a really strong userbase around the world. I think one of the main things fuelling this has been our emphasis on multilingual typing - the app currently supports 60 languages with more on the way and you can have three different languages installed at a time and switch between them.

We know a fifth of our users have downloaded more than one language so there are a significant number of people who need to switch seamlessly between several languages while they’re on the go.

What’s the benefit of having a Seoul office?

Seoul is strategically an important location within Asia from which to cover multiple countries and a good city to have a base. We’ve been able to attract some extremely impressive staff out there and they work with some of our biggest clients.

How long did it take you to secure Series B funding, and what do you think sealed the deal?

This is our first investment round since 2011 and it was oversubscribed. We are delighted to now gain the experience of Index Ventures, with their fantastic portfolio of innovative, disruptive and inspiring businesses.

As a company we have benefitted from a hugely supportive group of existing shareholders including a number of notable Angel investors and one of London’s leading VC investors, Octopus Ventures. Index Ventures partner Martin Mignot has written a blog about why they decided to invest and you can read that here.

What’s your exit strategy?

Our ambition is for SwiftKey to continue to be a successful, sustainable business and market leader.  

Thanks for your time Jon.

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