* Guest writer Dan Crow is CTO of UK startup Songkick
In Saturday’s Telegraph, blogger Damian Thompson tried to make a case that Silicon Roundabout is home to spoilt luvvies who churn out inconsequential iPhone apps, all the while whining about a lack of government handouts.
Is Thompson right, or is there something more substantial going on in London’s tech scene?
Stripped of the hyperbole, Thompson’s criticisms boil down to: the entrepreneurs of Silicon Roundabout are enthusiastic; they haven’t delivered anything of worth (but other parts of the UK have); UK tech entrepreneurs aren’t as aggressive as their Silicon Valley counterparts and spend all their time asking for government handouts instead of building businesses.
Taking these in reverse order, I’m not sure where Thompson sees these long lines of entrepreneurs waiting for their government money. The ones I know are much too busy building their companies. Money is certainly flowing, but from angels and VCs, and from companies bootstrapping themselves, not from government.
The relatively small amount of money flowing into the Tech City Investment Organisation is being used to promote the area and attract deals to the area, not to directly fund startups.
Similarly, there is the claim that ‘(the entrepreneurs) fail to spot … the Darwinian savagery of the business ethic that lurks beneath the quirky slogans of Palo Alto’. Well, I spent ten years working at startups in Silicon Valley, so I speak with first-hand knowledge. There absolutely is a ruthless capitalist streak in the Valley.
If you bother to scratch the surface, you’ll find it here too. I left the UK in 1996, despairing of finding technologists and business people interested in building world-beating companies.
After 13 years in the US, I returned to find that there are real, meaningful companies building great technology right here in London. Perhaps Thompson should look come see what’s really happening in Silicon Roundabout? I think he will be surprised.
Thompson claims nothing of worth has been produced by Silicon Roundabout, and compares the area unfavorably with Cambridge and the M4 corridor. Of course there are great success stories that have come out of those areas.
ARM Holdings, founded in 1990, makes the chip designs at the heart of many mobile devices; Autonomy, founded in 1996, was recently sold to HP for $10 billion.
Perhaps it is a little unrealistic to expect similar levels of success from a group of companies many of which are less than three years old. But even so, there have been notable successes.
Tweetdeck was sold to Twitter and is now their London engineering team; LastFM was acquired by CBS for $240M; Mind Candy now has more than 60 million users worldwide and is building a leading global entertainment brand; Wonga has more than $100 million in annual revenues and is highly profitable; Shazam has more than 100 million users worldwide; Badoo generates hundreds of millions of pounds of profits annually.
The company I work for, Songkick, has more than six million registered users and is the second largest live music website in the world with customers in every continent.
Other profitable and successful London startups include Moo, Just-eat, Rightmove, Betfair, Playfish, Mimecast, and Seatwave. There is deep technology being built everywhere: look at companies like RabbitMQ, Spider.io, Huddle, QuBit, Menderley, GoSquared and Ravn; all building complex, innovative technology to solve real problems.
Hardly the few overprivileged web designers throwing out low-grade iPhone apps that Thompson would like you to believe.
Finally, we are harangued for being ‘enthusiastic’, for being ‘excited’ about the work we do. How very British to sneer at enthusiasm. Heaven forbid we actually get excited about something. If Thompson visited Silicon Valley he’d find that optimism and enthusiasm are the lifeblood of startups there.
How refreshing to find it in the UK too. Instead of dismissing those who are actually trying to build world class companies, perhaps it would be better to spread some of that optimism to the rest of the economy, which isn’t doing so well right now.
So, no, I do not accept that Silicon Roundabout is full of spoilt luvvies. There may be a few hanging around, but they won’t last long. There are more than 300 tech startups in London.
Some will undoubtedly fail. Some will lack the ambition and drive to be world-spanning companies. Others already are, more will succeed.
Won’t it be wonderful when those who sit on the sidelines and comment, finally realise that something significant is happening on their doorstep and start promoting UK success, instead of trying to do it down.