OoTheNigerian

sometimes, I make a lot of sense.

What is wrong with the UK Startup scene?

05 October 2009 by Oo

Where is the HUB?This post was initially  titled “Where should the startup hub in UK be? Hint: NOT London!” of which the central theme was; although London is the hub of internet technology in UK, it should not be because of the high cost of living which eliminates startups between idea and Y Combinatior graduation stage (product fitness). I also stated that because of the importance of a living community tied to Universities like that which exists in the Valley (Stanford and Berkley), London is NOT conducive, as the Universities there are deep inside the city. I tried to propose a hub location by comparing Cambridge, Oxford, London, and Warwick (my University). While researching for my write up, I realized that there are greater challenges to the UK start-up scene than having a main hub .

Before going on, it is important to note why I am in a great position to write this post.

  • I am a foreigner (Yes, I am Nigerian), therefore I have no bias.
  • I have followed the ‘UK start-up scene’ quite closely for a while (1 year)
  • I have just begun my startup OnePage so I have firsthand experience of what is like creating a startup in the UK

I will itemize the factors working against the UK startup community thereafter suggest my solutions to the challenges I have listed.

The problems:

1. Absence of co-operation/a unified front: Of recent, there have been lots of activities in the UK startup community with the SeedCamp and Red-Gate’s springboard applications and events. Looking at the feedback and outcome, it seems quite a lot of people are ‘against SeedCamp’.  SeedCamp has a little hand in this by pitching itself as a benevolent institution that helps young startup’s rather than a strategic investment vehicle for them that benefits all who participate. This has resulted in situations like this. That said, I find it discouraging that people who are trying to create their ‘incubator like’ vehicles are pitching “my own is better than their own”, very eager to highlight differences (job of politicians). I am talking about RedGate and BootCycle. I am very certain that these all parties have the best of intentions but I am saying it the way I see it. (I am neutral remember?).

2. Defying Pareto: The same group of people (cough..Mike Butcher/TC UK) run virtually all events…..IN LONDON! I must commend him for doing a great job! But there is the much one man can do. The UK startup community has defied Pareto analysis because 3% of the people are in charge of 97% of all startup activities /events in UK (that I know of). This of course is not the best since the same stuff ends up being recycled.

3. Language: It should be realized that the English people speak only English. The fact that English is becoming the language of the world should frighten the British. Put simply, the rest of the world learns English in ADDITION to their languages. The Chinese/French dudes can create start ups that target their countries and English speaking countries. While the British are still trying to aim for the US (like the rest of the world), so there is no competitive advantage of localization like most of the world does.  The UK simply put does not have the numbers to sustain itself. Nigeria has more mobile phone lines than you guys have people. India, China, Japan and the US can sustain large scale web ventures located within their borders. Can the UK do same?

5. The weather: I need not say more!

As always, when I highlight challenges, I recommend solutions. If the British want to remain relevant in the scheme of things, they had better step up.

1. There is a place for more SeedCamps, Springboards, and Booth cycles. What this country is in dire need of its support for entrepreneurs that are pre- product market fit (before YCombinator graduation). It is a no-brainer that the most fragile and important part of a startup is getting the product right. I think BootCycle is looking more like what is needed, but more has to be done. It is my firm belief that these supports are best built around universities where there is FREE/CHEAP access to research and advice from experts/professors, while having a sweet population (university students) to test ideas on. Additionally, there is less pressure as the startup founders are students who already have living expenses taken care of (as they are already in school). In London, you better have good money rolling in from day one or else…. Such pressure is not needed if you are supposed to be patiently building a good product. At Warwick University, we hope to try to create an Internet hub (NOT university society) beginning this year. I hope other Universities take do the same.

2. Co-opetitiveness: UK startup community should cooperate while competing. No matter what people say about the success of the Valley, I will put it down to simply the willingness of startups to help each other and collaborate. I have a deep feeling that Bebo would have had a stronger foothold if there was greater co operation with other UK based startups. The co operative  attitude and atmosphere must be why, FriendFeed must have been able to stroll down to Twitter HQ and get access to the hose.

3. The need for advisers is deeply and grossly underestimated in the early days of a startup. There is a great difference to having the business card of the CEO’s of the big companies/‘access’ to a thousand mentors, and having someone spending almost two hours going through your SeedCamp application and taking out time to listen and thoughtfully reply all mails. Thanks Iqbal! (I still wish I could walk down the road and meet up with at that favourite Starbucks)

4. Good events that young entrepreneurs have FREE access to. One of the most useful events I have attended since I arrived in this country is Launch48. What makes it so lovely is that you are not screened from attending. Last year it was free. This year (16-18th Oct), it is only 10 quid (which I believe is to minimize no shows). Launch48 is where I got to make my MAJOR contacts in the Startup world. I cannot say enough of how useful it has been to me. Nice one Adil!. I should also state the UKTI and TC pitching event held every month

5. Everything cannot happen in London! So what happens to those living in the north of England/Scotland/Wales? For Joel and I to meet up with founders like us, we have to travel down to London to attend an event, this costs almost 80 quid in transportation alone (Mike Butcher thinks that’s cheap). But you see, that is only one event to meet a few founders formally for a few hours. People in the valley have that all day and all year long.

6. Encourage foreigners: First of all, it is obvious that the UK is fast becoming a service economy therefore it is important to attract the best brains, which means encouraging foreigners to come around. There are other strategic reasons why UK should support foreigners and Prof. Wadhwa understands this. If British Person creates a startup in with a Chinese, Nigerian or Indian man, it would be the easier route to their home markets and takes care of your number issues.

If issues pointed out above are not taken care of, Spain would be a much more attractive location than UK for Europe based startups. Two basic reasons for this would be language and weather. The Spanish would have access to the 800 million Spanish speakers in addition to the English market (everybody speaks English). Pau Gay would be willing to receive me

For now, I will do my best to create that valley environment here in the UK. But with the way things are now, the Founders visa is looking quite attractive.

*Disclosure: OnePage applied to both SeedCamp and Red-Gate’s Springboard and did not make either one. And I am yet to get feedback on why we did not make either. I would count feedback as benefit  for spending hours to apply  for those events.

PS: The main aim of this post is to begin an open discussion and think of ways to improve the UK startup scene as a whole.

29 comments | Categories: Technology | Tags: , , , , ,

  • khurammalik

    Hi Oo,

    Interesting post. I must say i laughed at the comment about the weather. not sure how that REALLY affects us ;-)

    I've been on and off in the startup space since 2001. Based on my own personal experience, i would say the greater problem is that the UK as a whole doesnt have the same level of belief and passion for startups as its US counterpart.

    If you notice, there are many events, and initiatives all around the UK for small businesses, which this country as a whole does believe in, institutionally and therefore the initiatives are there, but this isnt the same for startups.

    Hopefully, this will change now, as the startup scene is even changing across the European mainland.

    With great startups like TruPhone and Tweetdeck already setting a great example, both UK based, its just a matter of time before the powers that be realise, that this is where they should be focusing their attention.

    All the best with OnePage ;-)

  • Andrew

    I disagree with your comments about language. Although exceptions like yourself write very good English, better than most English people, the majority of the “rest of the world” who claim to speak fluent English cannot write English, they can only communicate with it. In my experience, a simple spelling or grammar mistake can cause any Western company to look elsewhere if it is encountered on an international website claiming to offer services to the Western market.

    You've got some very good ideas and opinions, but I believe some of your opions and views would change after working for a UK business in order to view the startup scene from an investor's perspective.

  • khurammalik

    Hi Oo,

    Interesting post. I must say i laughed at the comment about the weather. not sure how that REALLY affects us ;-)

    I've been on and off in the startup space since 2001. Based on my own personal experience, i would say the greater problem is that the UK as a whole doesnt have the same level of belief and passion for startups as its US counterpart.

    If you notice, there are many events, and initiatives all around the UK for small businesses, which this country as a whole does believe in, institutionally and therefore the initiatives are there, but this isnt the same for startups.

    Hopefully, this will change now, as the startup scene is even changing across the European mainland.

    With great startups like TruPhone and Tweetdeck already setting a great example, both UK based, its just a matter of time before the powers that be realise, that this is where they should be focusing their attention.

    All the best with OnePage ;-)

  • khurammalik

    Hi Oo,

    Interesting post. I must say i laughed at the comment about the weather. not sure how that REALLY affects us ;-)

    I've been on and off in the startup space since 2001. Based on my own personal experience, i would say the greater problem is that the UK as a whole doesnt have the same level of belief and passion for startups as its US counterpart.

    If you notice, there are many events, and initiatives all around the UK for small businesses, which this country as a whole does believe in, institutionally and therefore the initiatives are there, but this isnt the same for startups.

    Hopefully, this will change now, as the startup scene is even changing across the European mainland.

    With great startups like TruPhone and Tweetdeck already setting a great example, both UK based, its just a matter of time before the powers that be realise, that this is where they should be focusing their attention.

    All the best with OnePage ;-)

  • Andrew

    I disagree with your comments about language. Although exceptions like yourself write very good English, better than most English people, the majority of the “rest of the world” who claim to speak fluent English cannot write English, they can only communicate with it. In my experience, a simple spelling or grammar mistake can cause any Western company to look elsewhere if it is encountered on an international website claiming to offer services to the Western market.

    You've got some very good ideas and opinions, but I believe some of your opions and views would change after working for a UK business in order to view the startup scene from an investor's perspective.

  • Andrew

    I disagree with your comments about language. Although exceptions like yourself write very good English, better than most English people, the majority of the “rest of the world” who claim to speak fluent English cannot write English, they can only communicate with it. In my experience, a simple spelling or grammar mistake can cause any Western company to look elsewhere if it is encountered on an international website claiming to offer services to the Western market.

    You've got some very good ideas and opinions, but I believe some of your opions and views would change after working for a UK business in order to view the startup scene from an investor's perspective.

  • http://paugay.com/ Pau Gay

    It's curious for me to read your post. I can not say that I'm agree or disagree with your points because I havn't spent enought time in London for be able to speak about it, but I can corroborate that Launch48 was one of the best events I've attended to. As Ian said: Learn, Networking and, if we have enough time, Launch something useful.

    Thanks for put my name in your post and I repeat you again that if you want to stay at Barcelona I will be glad to receive you.

    Go with OnePage, it's great!

  • http://paugay.com/ Pau Gay

    It's curious for me to read your post. I can not say that I'm agree or disagree with your points because I havn't spent enought time in London for be able to speak about it, but I can corroborate that Launch48 was one of the best events I've attended to. As Ian said: Learn, Networking and, if we have enough time, Launch something useful.

    Thanks for put my name in your post and I repeat you again that if you want to stay at Barcelona I will be glad to receive you.

    Go with OnePage, it's great!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “the greater problem is that the UK as a whole doesnt have the same level of belief and passion for startups as its US counterpart.”

    Exactly the reason for hubs! You see, when people with like minds are together, there is greater courage to take giant leaps. I am 100% certain if Zuckerberg were is say, Detroit, he would have been discouraged because his 'type' would not be around him.

    Paul Graham put it this way “the best ways to help a society generally is to create events and institutions that bring ambitious people together. It's like pulling the control rods out of a reactor: the energy they emit encourages other ambitious people, instead of being absorbed by the normal people they're usually surrounded with”

    Thanks for your feedback!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “the majority of the “rest of the world” who claim to speak fluent English cannot write English, they can only communicate with it.”

    Exactly the same for the 'good English speakers' trying to enter the market of other languages. Therefore, if I want to colonize the English and Spanish/Latin American markets, I will rather partner with the Spanish dude/girl (who will take care of their end), than an 'English only' speaking person.

    I would like those that are viewing the statup scene from the investors side to give their own thoughts too.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Thanks bro! I am really considering that option :)

  • http://www.myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “the greater problem is that the UK as a whole doesnt have the same level of belief and passion for startups as its US counterpart.”

    Exactly the reason for hubs! You see, when people with like minds are together, there is greater courage to take giant leaps. I am 100% certain if Zuckerberg were is say, Detroit, he would have been discouraged because his 'type' would not be around him.

    Paul Graham put it this way “the best ways to help a society generally is to create events and institutions that bring ambitious people together. It's like pulling the control rods out of a reactor: the energy they emit encourages other ambitious people, instead of being absorbed by the normal people they're usually surrounded with”

    Thanks for your feedback!

  • http://www.myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    “the majority of the “rest of the world” who claim to speak fluent English cannot write English, they can only communicate with it.”

    Exactly the same for the 'good English speakers' trying to enter the market of other languages. Therefore, if I want to colonize the English and Spanish/Latin American markets, I will rather partner with the Spanish dude/girl (who will take care of their end), than an 'English only' speaking person.

    I would like those that are viewing the statup scene from the investors side to give their own thoughts too.

  • http://www.myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    Thanks bro! I am really considering that option :)

  • http://springboard.red-gate.com/ Amir Chaudhry

    Oo, apologies for not following up with you after your application to Springboard. It seems there still a few teams I haven't contacted yet and OnePage was one of them. If you would like to schedule a brief call about your application please do email me (amir.chaudhry@red-gate.com). I have some time on Thursday if that works for you.

  • http://springboard.red-gate.com/ Amir Chaudhry

    Oo, apologies for not following up with you after your application to Springboard. It seems there still a few teams I haven't contacted yet and OnePage was one of them. If you would like to schedule a brief call about your application please do email me (amir.chaudhry@red-gate.com). I have some time on Thursday if that works for you.

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    will do, thanks!

  • http://www.myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    will do, thanks!

  • Isaac Lewis

    Cool post. Though I agree with your other points, I don't think the English language holds us back that much (it doesn't stop the Americans). Yes, it would certainly help when trying to crack international markets to be able to speak other languages, but with several hundred million native English speakers in the world, a company has a lot of growing room before that becomes an issue.

    And the weather isn't that bad ;)

    I really think the main problem is cultural – the UK is generally pretty business-friendly (I think some European countries might stifle startup founders with beuracracy), but not so many students ever think of themselves as the next Brin, Page or Zuckerberg. (Speaking from the perspective of a current British undergrad). It's all about getting internships for management consultancies or whatever. You're not likely to see a stand for your own business at a careers fair…

    I wouldn't be surprised if things were similar in America, outside of startup hubs like the Valley and Boston. For me, the ambition to start my own web business came from three people I met in my first year here in Warwick (you were one of them) who were starting their own ventures, and thinking “hey, if they can do it, why can't I?”. So it's all about getting the right people together IMO, ie, startup hubs are definitely the way to go.

    Obviously I'm biased to Warwick, but I wonder what your opinion on Cambridge as a hub is (what with the 'Silicon Fen' reputation)?

  • Isaac Lewis

    Cool post. Though I agree with your other points, I don't think the English language holds us back that much (it doesn't stop the Americans). Yes, it would certainly help when trying to crack international markets to be able to speak other languages, but with several hundred million native English speakers in the world, a company has a lot of growing room before that becomes an issue.

    And the weather isn't that bad ;)

    I really think the main problem is cultural – the UK is generally pretty business-friendly (I think some European countries might stifle startup founders with beuracracy), but not so many students ever think of themselves as the next Brin, Page or Zuckerberg. (Speaking from the perspective of a current British undergrad). It's all about getting internships for management consultancies or whatever. You're not likely to see a stand for your own business at a careers fair…

    I wouldn't be surprised if things were similar in America, outside of startup hubs like the Valley and Boston. For me, the ambition to start my own web business came from three people I met in my first year here in Warwick (you were one of them) who were starting their own ventures, and thinking “hey, if they can do it, why can't I?”. So it's all about getting the right people together IMO, ie, startup hubs are definitely the way to go.

    Obviously I'm biased to Warwick, but I wonder what your opinion on Cambridge as a hub is (what with the 'Silicon Fen' reputation)?

  • http://www.bsp-a.com/e4f Simon Jenner

    Hi,

    I work for Birmingham Science Park running their tech startup incubator and agree outiside London the tech startup community and support is at best patchy. However, things are changing, we are trying to establish Birmingham as the leader in this space outside of London and have some great plans for 2010 which will put Birmingham on the tech map. We would love to have all or some of you onboard to help set out direction.

    Simon
    @entrepreneurs4f

  • http://www.bsp-a.com/e4f Simon Jenner

    Hi,

    I work for Birmingham Science Park running their tech startup incubator and agree outiside London the tech startup community and support is at best patchy. However, things are changing, we are trying to establish Birmingham as the leader in this space outside of London and have some great plans for 2010 which will put Birmingham on the tech map. We would love to have all or some of you onboard to help set out direction.

    Simon
    @entrepreneurs4f

  • S. Ali Ahmed

    Great post Oo, nice to read about another international perspective on the UK startup scene. I'm currently looking to launch my business, and am going through similar difficulties because of the fact that I'm based in the Northwest. Although the NW does do a lot for entrepreneurs in terms of support, there are not a lot of incubators or accelerator programs (which I'm hunting for insatiably) such as the ones based out of London. There is an interesting one in Sunderland called the Difference Engine, which I'll hopefully be applying to. But in case you know of any others based around the Northwest I'd really appreciate finding out about them.

    Regards,
    Ali

  • S. Ali Ahmed

    Great post Oo, nice to read about another international perspective on the UK startup scene. I'm currently looking to launch my business, and am going through similar difficulties because of the fact that I'm based in the Northwest. Although the NW does do a lot for entrepreneurs in terms of support, there are not a lot of incubators or accelerator programs (which I'm hunting for insatiably) such as the ones based out of London. There is an interesting one in Sunderland called the Difference Engine, which I'll hopefully be applying to. But in case you know of any others based around the Northwest I'd really appreciate finding out about them.

    Regards,
    Ali

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    The only one I know is The Difference Engine too. Do Check out @entrepreneurs4f you might really like what they offer. Simon is really helpful!

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    The only one I know is The Difference Engine too. Do Check out @entrepreneurs4f you might really like what they offer. Simon is really helpful!

  • Pingback: OoTheNigerian » Blog Archive » Goodbye Coventry! Hello Birmin’g’ham!()

  • S. Ali Ahmed

    Great post Oo, nice to read about another international perspective on the UK startup scene. I'm currently looking to launch my business, and am going through similar difficulties because of the fact that I'm based in the Northwest. Although the NW does do a lot for entrepreneurs in terms of support, there are not a lot of incubators or accelerator programs (which I'm hunting for insatiably) such as the ones based out of London. There is an interesting one in Sunderland called the Difference Engine, which I'll hopefully be applying to. But in case you know of any others based around the Northwest I'd really appreciate finding out about them.

    Regards,
    Ali

  • http://myOnePage.com/Oo OoTheNigerian

    The only one I know is The Difference Engine too. Do Check out @entrepreneurs4f you might really like what they offer. Simon is really helpful!