Changemakers: Tara Reddy

Augmented reality entrepreneur on a mission to redress the gender imbalance in the tech sector

By Steve Coomber 09 May 2019

Tara-Reddy_by-Mateusz-Baj974x296

Photo by

Mateusz Baj

Switching career from successful vet to co-founder of an augmented reality (AR) tech start-up is unconventional to say the least. But the more you discover about Tara Reddy MBA2016, CEO of LoveShark, the less surprising it is.

After a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery at Edinburgh University, Reddy headed for New Zealand and established a service specifically for exotic pets, the first in the country’s capital. “I often like things that are quite contrarian, that other people don’t like,” she says.  “I saw an opportunity in a niche area that was really underserved.”

Six years later, she was heading back to the UK to do an MBA at London Business School, which she finished in 2016, and the next stage of her career. “I always had that real need to innovate, to take risks, to be excited about something and then move as fast as you can to seize the opportunity. I wanted to know what else I could do.

“LBS challenged my thinking on how to build a business. It increased my expectations of what was possible, so now I think bigger and aim higher.”

“LBS challenged my thinking on how to build a business. It increased my expectations of what was possible, so now I think bigger and aim higher. It was great to be surrounded by people who think global, who would say yes to crazy ideas because they share the same huge ambition. Knowing I had that network helped me to make some bold decisions.”

Reddy craved the tech world’s fast-paced, can-do culture. Two internships, followed by a six-month stint stepping in for a product manager who had to leave unexpectedly, convinced her of her next career move: “It gave me a different perspective on what was possible. I was amazed at how fast you can move, and it was nice to be around ‘yes’ people who were excited about trying new things, taking on new challenges.”

In the summer of 2016, with graduation approaching, Reddy looked for a full-time position with “anyone who was doing exciting and daring things in consumer tech.” She tweeted the CEO of Blippar, an AR UK start-up, landing herself a job.

At Blippar she met Sam Weekes, fellow co-founder of LoveShark. They worked as a close-knit team, product manager and developer, building social networks and games, creating brand campaigns, getting a deeper understanding of what works in AR: “We could see this huge opportunity that wasn’t being addressed properly. Most people creating AR games had not worked in AR. They didn’t have the experience or the skills to bring that to life with valuable products,” she says. “We thought, if no one else is really getting it right, let’s have a go.” Leaving Blippar, Reddy and Weekes launched LoveShark in 2018.

Bootstrapping the new venture using their savings, they prototyped potential products and, by autumn, had released laserDRAW, a proof-of-concept pilot, on the Apple App Store. As of the beginning of 2019, they are based in London’s Brick Lane, with three permanent staff, another two on hand as needed, with funding from angel investors, and their first main product due in summer 2019. They aim to bring a little shared joy and fun to the world through their social games.

“We build social AR games for Gen Z,” says Reddy. “Bite-sized mobile games, designed to be played with your friends. Our vision is to build products that fit at that intersection between social media and gaming.

“AR unleashes huge potential for digital games to be layered on top of the real world, which is really exciting. You’re playing computer games in your real world environment. That’s disruptive stuff. Playing games is one of the most popular forms of entertainment and now it doesn’t have to be about sitting on a sofa or in front of a computer. AR and VR open the doors for games to become more physical and kinetic – imagine fitness games, party games and bringing education to life through interactive means.”

While Reddy is ambitious for the business and keen to grow it quickly, she is also determined to build a business with integrity. In a world where ‘learn fast, fail faster’ is standard, there is a risk that speed blurs the boundaries of right and wrong and the need for funding fuels the temptation to talk up a product that has barely been imagined, let alone built.

It’s a problem that Reddy acknowledges: “I always want to build things that are very innovative, fast-growing and that reach a lot of people, but to do that in the right way, to be very value-driven, showing the world you do not need to be cut-throat to do well,” she says. “The idea of moving fast and breaking things when you are at the early stages, learning and developing and validating products, doesn’t mean that you have to compromise key values.

"I get a little bit tired of awareness. I want to see action, to empower us to have the same options that men in tech have had for a long time"

“It’s possible to move and learn fast without completely disregarding the law or not doing the right thing. Maybe there is bit of Silicon Valley Kool-Aid that has been drunk, that because some people do it, others feel that they can do it, that it’s fine and they will get away with it. But that doesn’t make it right. Having a high level of integrity is essential. It’s a key pillar of what we do and the way we do it – it’s a deal-breaker.”

Women are under-represented in the global and UK tech sectors, but Reddy is doing her best to help change that: “There’s a growing movement to empower and elevate women in tech and that’s great because there is a lot of untapped talent there,” she says. “I get a little bit tired of awareness, though. I want to see action, to empower us to have the same options that men in tech have had for a long time.”

With that in mind, she makes a conscious decision to help mentor women in the tech sector and act as a sounding board through their careers. When giving up her time for speaking and other engagements, she tends to favour tech events aimed at young females. Her products, too, are aimed at teenage girls.

“We are building an entirely new category of games for this underserved audience. We’re designing them from the ground up, working with teens and building games based on their behaviours, not just altering existing categories to be female-friendly. There are already over a billion AR devices in consumers’ pockets and 84% of teen girls already play games. Last year gaming overtook shopping as a top pastime in teen girls. It’s a ripe market and it’s so exciting!”

“I like to challenge myself,” she adds. “I love to do things that are unexpected. If I get an idea about something that doesn’t seem logical, or the natural next step, but I can see in my grand vision that there’s a path there that could bring great things, I will go head first into that. I’ve always done that and it has always resulted in really good things for me.”

Reddy has forged her career at breakneck speed, embracing challenges to succeed in one notoriously demanding field, then seguing seemingly effortlessly into a second career as a tech start-up CEO and co-founder. “Who better to disrupt mobile gaming than non-gaming people?” she asks. “I was a vet before I went into tech; my co-founder Sam studied astrophysics. We see things very differently to many in the game industry and that gives us the superpower to be daring and experimental.”

5 Tips for fledgling entrepreneurs

1. “Do it before you are ready – don’t wait to be
ready. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Just get on
with it and you will work things out along the
way.”

2. “Often you feel quite alone. Surround yourself
with other founders and you’ll have people in
your network who can motivate and support
you, who are going through similar problems
to you. That network is extremely important.”

3. “Find ways to validate what you are doing.
That might be collecting small pieces of data,
running small studies – we launched our pilot
and a whole portion of that was for validation.”

4. “Really try hard to get investors who are
supportive and experience. When you have
little bumps in the road, that’s when you start
to see their true nature. Having investors who
understand, because they’ve done it before,
makes all the difference. You can tell them
about the issues you’re having, rather than
feeling you have to hide it. That unburdens
you as a founder.”

5. “When you get bad news, or something
bad happens in the business, give yourself
a day to be upset about it and then that’s it.
It is OK to feel sad or disappointed. Watch
Netflix and eat ice cream all night if you
want, but then you have to park it and get
on. The next day it is action.”

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