Dylan Collins is touring the venture capital offices of Silicon Valley just waiting for someone to say yes.

Collins believes he has the plan. And, having scaled and sold a string of tech businesses, no one is disputing his entrepreneurial pedigree.

So, in 2013, he tours the Valley with the hubris and the arrogance of a serial founder on the cusp of his biggest play yet, eulogising how his company, SuperAwesome, is tapping into the biggest potential growth area on the internet: the internet of kids.  

Collins explains how his ‘kidtech’ platform will help content creators such as film and television companies comply with emerging laws around child online privacy and advertising to minors.

His pitch deck includes a striking graph showing the upward spike in younger children going online against the lack of investment in infrastructure to support a safe environment.

For Collins, the investment case is obvious; so obvious that he has invested heavily from his own personal resources to get it off the ground. Now, he is waiting for one of the big beasts of Silicon Valley to say yes also, and to provide the financial firepower to help Collins take his business to the next level.

There is a problem, however: every single person says no.


The London headquarters of SuperAwesome, a short stroll from Trafalgar Square, is functional and practical, deliberately forsaking the cool ‘beanbag chic’ of the traditional tech multinational.

The office hums with conversation and clicking keyboards. There is no reception area as such, just a small waiting room with chairs and couches; some of which are occupied by coders – computers on knees, headphones in ears – availing of the space and silence.

Six years have passed since Collins failed to woo West Coast investors, and the world has now firmly caught up with both his thesis and his business plan.

The company was recently ranked by the Financial Times as the fastest-growing tech business in the UK, and placed among the Telegraph’s Tech 100 list.

The London office is accompanied by a further three in the US and one in Singapore. Earlier this year, SuperAwesome expanded into South America with a $2 million investment in Kids Corp in Argentina, which, in turn, has offices in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. It also has a stake in TotallyAwesome, operating in Australia and southeast Asia.

Following a 2017 fundraising, the company had a valuation of $100 million, although Collins tells me that the number has risen since then. Every month, the company powers more than 12 billion transactions (kid-safe videos, kid-safe advertising, parental content and so on) on behalf of its roster of 300 customers that includes Disney, Nintendo, the Cartoon Network and toy maker Hasbro.

Sitting on his office, Collins is bristling with intent for the future and sanguine about the early days. In hindsight, he believes that many investors overlooked the potential scale and import of the internet of kids.

“You have got a disproportionate number of single male founders and engineers who don’t have kids,” he tells me.

“Plus, you have relatively few parents working on sort of consumer products. You had an entire business model that was based around advertising and based around data. That worked pretty well, it still works pretty well, for the adult world. And there was simply no history of anything else. 

“And this became a compounding problem because the longer that the likes of Google and Facebook didn’t do anything in kids at all, it meant there was no one thinking about kids. So, no one really spinning out of those companies to create start-ups, thus no one educating investors.  So, there was never any oxygen.”

The West Coast market, Collins said, began to realise the potential in 2018. Suddenly, people who he had met back in 2014 and 2015 began to call him. Many had just had children and now knew what he was had been talking about.

“To this day they are the only investors that really call me up and sort of ask me how I am.  And then they tell me why they disagree with the current valuation.”

Indeed, all of the investors that backed the company in the early days – Hoxton Partners (of which Collins is a founding partner) and a number of angel investors – were all unified by one fact: none was based in Silicon Valley.

Despite the success since, the lessons of the early years, have stayed with him. As we speak, he talks at length about the resilience of the team and the patience of the initial investors.

“It was very hard because you were repeatedly being told no by people. But when you looked at the maths, when you looked at the number of kids going online, you could see it. You might argue about the timeline, but this was going to happen.”

I ask was it tough to keep his initial backers on side during the tough early years. “You know, I’ve got to say, like all of our early investors, there were times when I think frankly, they believed more than I did.  I mean there’s our very, very first two angel investors and they are both close friends. And they are, to this day they, the only investors that really call me up and sort of ask me how I am.  And then they tell me why they disagree with the current valuation and why it should be five times higher, and they have consistently done that over time.”


I first interviewed Dylan Collins more than 15 years ago, in a run-down office on Middle Abbey Street in Dublin 1. Collins just was months out of college and was on his second business – he had already sold his college enterprise, a web-based texting company called Phorest. Second time around, he had entered the video game arena, developing software to power games for the XBox and PlayStation platform.

When we met, the company, Demonware, was just Collins and his then business partner Sean Blanchfield. But, as they spoke, it was obvious they had heady plans. Blanchfield was the tech side of the duo, with Collins charged with business development. The partnership was fruitful. By 2007, the company was sold for a reported $17 million to Activision, a stunning turnaround in such a short space of time in such a competitive industry.

Collins quickly established Omac Industries, acquiring a string of online gaming platforms and rebranding it as Jolt Online Gaming. It was acquired in 2009 by Gamestop. Collins was not yet 30 at the time. He dabbled in investment and in a kid’s tech platform called Fight my Monster. By 2013, however, he was back in full throttle mode. SuperAwesome was born.


“Whatever number we’re valued at now, we are going to be valued at even more next year and the year after”

Sven Gerjets, left, CTO, Mattel, and Dylan Collins, CEO, SuperAwesome at the recent Collision conference

Each day, around 170,000 children go online for the first time. Increasingly governments are recognising the need for stricter privacy laws relating to them. In the UK, the government recently said it would fine, prosecute or even ban social media companies from operating there if they fail to stamp out violence, cyberbullying or illegal material on their sites.

This has created a booming market for SuperAwesome, which essentially helps companies build apps and sites that are safe for children and to ensure that adverts are appropriate. Turnover hit $35 million last year, bringing the company to profitability.

Collins says it is growing at 70 per cent each year. Its valuation is growing exponentially also. Based on its progress and its potential, US bankers are aggressively courting the businesses for a slice of its anticipated $600 million public floatation.

I begin by asking Collins about the company’s value.

Ian Kehoe (IK): Given reports, I assume the company is worth much more now than the $100 million it was two years ago?

Dylan Collins (DC): I think our valuation is just getting going.  I don’t think we have announced a valuation recently, not that we ever announce them, they tend to get speculated upon. But whatever number we’re valued at now, we are going to be valued at even more next year and the year after. Like if you look at where we are in the space, you know, the internet of kids is just beginning, you know.

“Porn is a good example, it contributed a huge amount to streaming video technology right. Kids are becoming the same thing, like the entire kids’ industry is defining privacy based digital media.”

IK: That’s a great phrase, the internet of kids.

DC: But it is accurate. And this is the thing that is being underestimated by everyone. It is one of those huge structural shifts.

IK: It is amazing how recent it is though, given how advanced other parts of the internet such as sports, or even pornography. The porn industry was ahead of the kid’s industry in the interim.

DC: Absolutely.

IK: Which says everything.

DC: Yeah, I think it was, because it was the driving factor.  It is interesting, because you have all of these cognitive blind spots that contribute far more to progress than people either are willing to believe or can understand.  Porn is a good example, it contributed a huge amount to streaming video technology right. Kids are becoming the same thing, like the entire kids’ industry is defining privacy-based digital media.  It is the only audience on the planet that has got protection from digital privacy laws.  Even China has rolled out laws.

And if you think about the long-term consequences of that right, it is very akin to big tobacco in the seventies and eighties. You have governments around the world that are essentially educating about digital privacy. Long term, whose business model does that start to undermine? It isn’t, but it can come across as sort of this orchestrated approach to try to dismantle this data-driven business model which is fascinating.

IK: Let’s come back to the valuation piece and the potential of a floatation.

DC: I think we have built a company that’s growing very, very quickly.  I mean, we’re at about a $75 million revenue run rate, we’re profitable. And I think for a company to be growing and to have the kind of unit economics that we do is pretty rare, it’s a testament to the team in what we have done. And I also think it’s a reflection of the world realising that they actually have to think about children and have to support kids in their apps and services.  So, I mean three years ago, four years ago, our customer base was entirely kid’s companies, you know, toy companies and studios.

IK: Like Hasbro or the Cartoon Network?

DC: Absolutely, right.  And now if you look at our customer base, it’s expanded well outside of the kids space, you know, games companies, sports companies, apparel retailers who all realise they have to figure out how to interact with kids because they can’t ignore them, but that means they have to use specific technology to do so safely.  If you think about the three versions of the internet or the three generations – the first was about the web browser on the desktop, the second was about mobile and the shift to mobile, the third is about kids. It is your daughter and son who run the internet, right.

IK: There has been a lot of talk about an IPO. Is that is something that is on the cards? You have built and sold a number of public companies. Would the IPO be the logical conclusion to your journey?

DC: Well, I don’t think that an IPO is a linear path that you have to take, as in there are lots of other ways to scale companies right. I think it has definitely been discussed, it has definitely been an option, I think there is an opportunity here to build a big, big infrastructure business.  And I think the way we built the company is such that we could take it public. I think there are questions about timing and there are questions about which markets you want to think about there.

“I suppose a start-up is a mindset. You are capable of being agile and making quick decisions and reacting and changing things and processing mistakes the right way.”

IK: Well, you have been quite acquisitive, building up a global footprint. It all helps the story and the business?

DC: We are kind of agnostic on growth.  We have built an awful lot of technology in here. But in areas that are important, where we found talented teams or people, we are comfortable either investing or acquiring.  And I think that’s maybe a little unusual for a technology start-up.

IK: Do you consider yourself a start-up given your size and scale?

DC: I suppose a start-up is a mindset. You are capable of being agile and making quick decisions and reacting and changing things and processing mistakes the right way.  We are a growth company, for sure, but we have a start-up mindset.

IK: And did you think it would take you as long to get the profitability? Previously, you have always got the profitability quick enough.

DC: I think we’re probably reasonably unusual. Certainly, if you talk to a lot of investors, growth stories at our stage are usually still burning a lot. I mean we made a very deliberate decision a couple of years ago about unit economics and I think we sometimes got criticism from investors that we could have been growing faster if we were burning more. To which the answer is well maybe yes, maybe no. But at some point, people remember the importance of unit economics because it is a mathematical inevitability.  And I think it has been very exciting to discover what the green colour is used for on spreadsheets. 

Most growth companies do not need the colour green on any of their investor charts. So, look, I think it’s important for growth companies certainly in environments where there is an enormous amount of investment capital available – more than ever before, but it’s for very specific opportunities. And I think that’s the point that is under-reported on.

“I don’t really believe in eureka moments at all.  I don’t believe in silver bullets, I don’t believe in transactional, transformational ideas. I think everything ends up being like a process right.”

IK: Why is that?

DC: You see companies raising huge amounts of money but, you know, they are companies that have particular types of growth and particular types of unit economics.  There are an awful lot of companies out there that have not been disciplined enough about unit economics that aren’t going to be able to attract quality capital.


Dylan Collins on the internet of kids…

“Every day 170,000 kids are going online for the first time around the world. But when you track that back to the equivalent percentage of R&D that’s going into infrastructure to support kids, it barely even registers as a whole percentage point. But kids come with all of these digital privacy laws that are being rolled out around the world, that are essentially reshaping the internet and turning it from what was a single lane, profile data-driven highway right into a two-lane highway, one of which is about privacy and one of which is about data and nothing was ever built for that. And everyone who has built the other bit obviously has business models that are entirely predicated on the former.

“In the last two years, I think the concept that children are a permanent and growing part of the internet community has finally sort of taken hold. Over the last maybe three years, I think that was kind of ignored or treated as a little bit of a fad.  And then as you see more and more issues, problems that kids are having in apps and video platforms and everything else.”


“I think with every company I build I realise all the things I don’t know”

The conversation has turned to entrepreneurship and innovation. It is something that Collins is both well versed and well-schooled in. He has previously worked as an adviser to Enterprise Ireland and is also a founder and partner of Hoxton Ventures, a venture firm whose hits including an early-stage investment in Deliveroo. He is also a board member of Brown Bag Films and Potato, the UK tech marketing agency.

Collins is explaining that there was no single moment when he had the breakthrough idea for SuperAwesome. Instead, it was part of a process, of taking a business in the direction of future growth.

“I don’t really believe in eureka moments at all.  I don’t believe in silver bullets, I don’t believe in transactional, transformational ideas. I think everything ends up being like a process,” he says.

“In 2013 and 2014 we were having conversations and we were building some products. We had acquired a couple of companies and put them together in a content space. We were trying to figure out what was there and what wasn’t there. And I would say it took at least 12 months of asking lots of dumb questions, or actually they weren’t dumb questions, they were very sensible questions – ‘Hey, have you got any technology, any delivery technology that has been built for kids and privacy?’ to which the answer was consistently no.

“And everyone said hey, use this thing that was built for adults and just turn these things off over here, like the rest of it doesn’t matter. And it was kind of coming to this realisation that none of the big tech companies had built anything that was going to be used with kids, in terms of tools for developers.”

IK: What have been the learnings on your journey? What have you brought from the other businesses to this one, and what have you learned with SuperAwesome?

DC: I think with every company I build I realise all the things I don’t know. So, it’s almost an accumulation of the answers you don’t have. I think absolutely everything has contributed – I think every single company I either invest in or build or I’m involved in, in some way, it keeps coming back to the quality of the people who you work with and you bring in. And that, I don’t know how many thousands, hundreds of thousands of people have uttered that.

IK: Lots have. But what is it that they mean by it?

DC: I think my views probably shifted over time, where today I fundamentally believe that the very first thing you should do before you have even figured out what market you’re in or what product you’re going to build or what service you’re going to do, is figure out what your people strategy is, what’s your people team.

“I think a sense of ownership is important and I think a curiosity. Those are qualities that that are important.  I think anyone who has been in a big company for too long, it’s often difficult for them to transition.”

IK: So, if you have the right people you can have the right business?

DC: Yeah, the right people but also like the right structure around people. Like how do you think about people growing, people progression, career progression. I think that is much more important now when you consider the sort of business environment that people are operating in. And I think still, way too few companies think about this early on, it continues to be an addition. So, my view is that the perfect type of person to start a company is probably someone who has come from, you know, recruitment or HR or people ops. Everything else comes after that and it’s not that everything else isn’t important but if you haven’t figured out your people, I worry about your ability to scale up that.

IK: What do you look for when you are hiring?

DC: I guess it depends on the role.  The qualities that we try and hire for are around resilience. One of our core values is adaptability – I think you cannot be so rigid that you can’t adapt to a changing environment, or a changing role or a changing opportunity.  We have had to adapt a lot as a company over the last five or six years.  I think a sense of ownership is important and I think a curiosity. Those are qualities that are important.  I think anyone who has been in a big company for too long, it’s often difficult for them to transition.


Where did the name SuperAwesome come from?

“Well the official answer is that the name is nominative, determinative. The unofficial answer is interesting because it was one of those names that in the beginning when nobody knew us, it was guaranteed to make people smile. We definitely got a lot of early meetings just because people were genuinely curious – what is this about? I think you can pick any name for a company, but this was particularly effective for us. I think it was also good at communicating the overall kind of qualitative standard of what we wanted to be. Our mission is making the internet safer for kids like, so we can’t sort of say ‘well I think we’re going to call the company like SuperMediocre’. It just doesn’t work that way.  And yeah, it’s funny, every time people see our hoodies, they actually think it’s a clothing label.”


“Brexit is the biggest economic own goal that we have seen in the West in the last 50 years”

Collins has always been an outspoken entrepreneur, unafraid to make his view heard. He was arguing for the need for cluster-based industries long before the government was commissioning policy papers on it, while he also long agitated for taxation reform for founders.

Indeed, one of the more striking differences between SuperAwesome and the various other businesses established is the location. All the others were started in Dublin. This one has been built from London.

IK: What prompted the decision to start this company in London?

DC: After the Jolt GameStop acquisition, I had sort of finished up in GameStop. And I spent a bit of time in China looking at what was going on there and I think it was kind of a market size thing. I had been going to London a lot anyway in terms of opportunities. And it was an addressable scale network point really and it felt like that time, for a change. Dublin is great, I lived in Dublin for years.

People move around and you need to be if you want to build companies of scale.  That’s absolutely not to say that you can’t do it in Dublin, or you can’t do it in Tralee, or you can’t do it in Cork or Galway or anything like that, you absolutely can.  Is it probably easier to do it in bigger places, yes it is. That was a factor.

“I think Enterprise Ireland is a very important force, it is a good thing. I think the IDA is a very good thing. But change the tax rate and you’ll achieve a lot.”

IK: If you could do something around start-up infrastructure and the start-up climate, what would you do?

DC: I think probably the most impactful thing I would do would be to tackle capital gains for entrepreneurs and for investors in companies. It, to me, is astonishing that it hasn’t been tackled.  Like you can do a copy and paste of the UK system. I mean 10 per cent capital gains for the first £10 million here, absolutely adequate for everyone, copy and paste.

IK: This is a point lots of people make but there is no movement from government.

DC: I’m not at all close enough to any of the discussion to have a better grasp on the details but I don’t understand why that wouldn’t be implemented and I think I probably believe less and less about government involvement in fostering start-up ecosystems and investments. I think there’s only so much they can do. I think you can generate a lot of noise but I think that just changes the signal to noise ratio. I think Enterprise Ireland is a very important force, it is a good thing. I think the IDA is a very good thing.  But change the tax rate and you’ll achieve a lot.

IK: You are based in London. What is your view on Brexit?

DC: I think, look, it’s probably the biggest economic own goal that we have seen in the West in the last 50 years. I think it’s been hitting recruitment for tech companies in London for at least the last two years. I think in the same way you have seen the financial sector sort of shift to other cities, you are definitely seeing an acceleration in sort of small and mid-sized tech companies thinking about putting developer hubs elsewhere in Europe. That is absolutely accelerating. 


The conversation is drawing to a close. Collins is due in another meeting room for a conference call with one of his international outposts. Before we finish, however, I want to get a sense of his future. This is, after all, the longest Collins has stayed with any business he had built.

“This is by far the biggest opportunity,” he says.“I mean I think it is absolutely fair to say that the journey we have been on has been an evolution of a start-up into an actual mission. And everyone talks about having a mission but I can. This is the first company in my life I built, invested in and associated with, I can look it in the eye and say this is doing some good.”