There aren't many startups with the bravery (or foolishness?) to list Google as a competitor. But Bristol-based Yellow Dog has no such qualms.

"We've replaced Google among some of our customers," says founder and MD Gareth Williams. 

© The Duke of York
© The Duke of York

The pitch is simple enough: Yellow Dog is a crowd-sourced cloud computing provider. "There is enough computer power in the world already. It just isn't being distributed properly," Williams explained during an Oracle OpenWorld 2016 panel.

Businesses use their servers up to just 15 percent of their potential capacity, on average, so there is a staggering amount of computing power around the world going spare.

Yellow Dog's plan is to pay companies for this spare computing capacity and then sell this to organisations which require vast amounts of power for processes such as rendering CGI adverts, TV cartoons, architectural plans and so on.

"These animations often have about 25 frames per second, and last for two and a half minutes. They can take 10 hours to render and require a vast amount of computer power," Williams said.

By providing customers with access to, for example, 300 servers simultaneously, Yellow Dog can cut this time down from 10 hours to just 15 minutes, he added.

Partners can provide Yellow Dog with their spare capacity by installing Yellow Dog's application on their servers. If utilisation drops below a certain threshold, their spare computing power becomes available for reuse.

Yellow Dog's main competitors include Rebus Farm and Zync Render, a company Google acquired in 2014, Williams said.

Despite being launched commercially just under a year ago and employing just five staff, Yellow Dog already has 350 customers including in Australia, Canada and the west coast of the US and plans to open a North America office next year.

Sadly, Williams refuses to reveal who any of these customers are. He merely says they include production firms who make children's TV shows for the BBC and others, plus architectural firms and advertisers, although he says they hope to be able to name names 'soon'.

Question marks do remain, despite Yellow Dog's evidently high potential. For a company that is supposed to be about crowdsourcing, it is very surprising to hear they have only one partner signed up to provide power: a managed service provider based in the south west of the UK.

Williams says they are "in conversation" with another data centre company but it is still remarkable they don't have more partners signed up already.

The rest of its computing power is bought from Oracle, AWS and OVH, effectively making Yellow Dog a reseller for the time being. However it is still very early days, so perhaps it's inevitable they'll need to supplement their computing sources until they can bring more providers on board.

Yellow Dog successfully managed to crowdfund £150,000 last year within two weeks, so there is clearly an appetite for what they're selling. They've raised £580,000 in total so far, largely through (undisclosed) Angel Investors, and expect to become profitable within the next year.

As with a lot of UK startups, especially those based beyond London, one of the biggest challenges is access to funding and skills, Williams admitted. But would they consider moving the headquarters?

"We might open offices elsewhere. But we'll always be in Bristol," he promised.