Tech City Life: Does the London tech scene match the States yet?

After an award win at the Wed Summit, Bertie Stephens’ trip to the USA to meet investors has him questioning if there’ll ever come a point when the American tech-scene will take lessons from us.

For those that may have followed this column in the previous weeks, you’ll notice that I am (for now) writing about the past. We’re 18 months into an incredible journey. We’re four articles into this recall on that journey.

Wait! Before I move forward, I must define incredible for you. Incredible here means a colourful, eventful set of experiences that has taken a concept from an idea scribbled on the wall of an apartment to thousands and thousands of sales. This incredible experience has many traditional ‘non-incredible’ happenings; but these happenings make for the most incredible accounts on a journey – get it? Would that count as a form of oxymoron? Maybe.

I’ve digressed, I always do.

This week is different, let’s zoom forward to today. The reason we’re skipping months of troubles and jubilation (for now) is because we won an award (yay!).

Three weeks ago the Flubit team won the 2013 European Start Up Award at the Web Summit. So I’m here for the next 500 words to boast about that… I kid, of course.

The win was a fantastic feeling for us all; I’m not going to play that down. It was judged by a panel of top VCs, so to have that external validation from a business perspective is great.            

From it, I was invited out to a private event in New York last week, and that’s where it got really interesting. The event brought together VCs and Angels with a selection of top start-ups. The majority of these start-ups were from the USA, however there was a handful from Israel, Australia, Ireland and England.

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You might think that because I work in the start-up world I would instantly have an understanding of how Silicon Valley and New York start-ups culturally and operationally work. How they differ from the London Tech City scene. Until last week, that would be a wrong assumption. Sure I have the opportunity to read articles that emerge, and I also have a heightened opportunity to speak to founders on possibly a more regular basis than others. But until last week it had been six years since I’d last been out to the USA, and back then I was working in the film industry – a very different set of people.

Let me say it’s different. The entire philosophy is different. It’s infectious; it’s also slightly annoying at times. The philosophy drives an abundance of positivity throughout every start-up, but at the same time seems to mask and paper over any possible cracks that appear. Failure is not an option, but yet when it happens, it seems also to be just another success in the journey to becoming an entrepreneur.

Having spent an entire day surrounded by start-ups from east and west coast, you realise the mentality and drive that runs between all team members is just not the same as the current London Tech scene. The philosophy of the work is to do it at all hours, never take a holiday. But more so, their attitude to drive success is to “always be successful from day one”. Let me explain.

Take a fictional start-up, let’s say, for this example, the start-up is young, growing, but yet to reach any critical mass, no revenue, and only small signs of virality. In the London Tech scene we’d look at this and strive for more; we’d say we’re “doing alright”, “lots to do” and “still a long journey ahead”. My experience of the American Tech scene is different. This exact same start-up would be “killing it”, it would be going “super well”, it would be “the next big thing”. And this is how these young, aspirational start-ups talk. It’s bled through them.

Are they lying? No. Are they ignoring problems? Maybe on the “customer facing” aspect, how they deal with real problems internally I don’t know yet.

What I do know is the American tech start-up market is the most successful; it breeds some of the hottest new technology and raises great rounds on great valuations.

And London? We’re growing. We’re still waiting for that bout of successful exits to show our philosophies and opportunities and to prove that London is the next start-up hub. We shouldn’t reject the philosophy over the pond; if they were metrics from our DB, we’d be following them. But we do have our own, it’s different, we address the issues more publically. I’d be very excited to see if this is a clever tactic, or the reason we have yet to match similar successes.

Tonight we celebrate our award win with a team dinner. We are not celebrating success, but a milestone in our journey. To the outside ‘real’ world, our award is not known, nor would they care – why should they? Success in the real world will be defined by the true value we bring as a company to our core proposition.  But it gives us a stepping-stone in the right direction. Right now we can take a lot of leanings from those companies I met. London might learn in time to never say never, power through the problems, see the incredible positives from the smallest of successes. Maybe we won’t need to.

One day, not just yet however, let’s hope America can truly learn from us too. When the London Tech Scene has matured in the direction it’s already running, shown the world successes can arise from our culture and communication, then we can push ‘the London way’ onto the rest of the world – and they might even listen.

Tech City, Old Street – It’s coming, but there is a lot of work to be done.


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