Archives for posts with tag: london

panelYesterday evening Sarah and I went along to Tech Talkfest, the eighth of a series events organised by Zoe Cunningham, who somehow manages to do this alongside being the MD of Softwire. Previous events have addressed areas as diverse as TV, women in tech and games, and fashion, but tonight’s event, entitled “Tips for Startups” was aimed squarely at giving some very practical advice to, well, startups.

Zoe hosted a panel that featured four speakers, each of whom briefly gave their 3 top tips for startups before engaging in what turned out to be a lively discussion.

Christine Reilly is a senior executive in the consumer practice at PR agency Hotwire. Accordingly she gave us three tips on promotion and press coverage:

  • Define what news is and establish whether you have it.
  • Find the right person to share your news with.
  • Share your news!

She stressed the usefulness of building a thought leadership position, mentioned the twitter hashtag #journorequests and pointed out that while social media is essential, it’s certainly no substitute for in-person socialising, especially over coffee. (Not news to me, but always good to hear!)

David Davies, of the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite gave some insightful legal advice:

  • Make sure that ownership of any IP is clear, ie that it’s assigned to your startup.
  • Get your partnership agreements down on paper as early as possible.
  • And when you’ve got VCs or angels sniffing around, use your lawyer as a sounding board – don’t just get them in at the last minute to tie up the paperwork.

Next up was Marion Gamel, who has a diverse background in fashion, publishing and technology (including at Google), and is now VP of Marketing, EMEA at Eventbrite. Her advice for startups?

  • Be data-driven
  • Be scalable
  • Be relevant locally
  • Test, reiterate, test, reiterate… and on and on
  • Build a strong company culture

Finally, Matt Ballantine, startup founder for only a fortnight and formerly of (amongst others), BBC Worldwide and Microsoft, talked about selling your proposition to clients – but from the point of view of someone who’d been on the receiving end of a lot of such selling.

  • Understand your different user groups – and crucially don’t get them confused.
  • Build empathy with these groups.
  • Ask yourself: what can you give them?

He also stressed that whenever you can, use the word “you” rather than “we” – a basic rule so frequently transgressed by businesses.

Areas discussed during Q&A included: the enforceability of NDAs; the use of events for PR as apposed to a purely virtual approach; the difficulty large companies have in continuing to innovate (a common theme in this blog); reactive vs proactive PR; the pitfalls in transition from startup to corporate; and the importance of understanding different IP frameworks internationally.

Sarah got in with a couple of questions about how should startups develop and refine their elevator pitch. Tips included: keep it concise, understand what your audience/customer/client wants and have a clear mission statement.

We enjoyed catching up over a glass of wine with Michelle Gallen, the entrepreneur behind the networking app Shhmooze, whom Sarah met through her work with the Springboard accelerator programme (now TechStars London) and whose technology we use at Angel Academe. (Tip: download this app if you’re an event organiser or regularly go to events and want to maximise their value. We find it very useful for event promotion, to see what events our contacts are attending and who we should meet at the events we attend).

Anyway – congratulations to Zoe on a really interesting evening. The next one is at Google Campus and asks the very pertinent question: “Does Your Startup Reflect Your Values?


Anti-Fragile crop

I’m currently reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s follow-up to Black SwanAnti-Fragile. Quite apart from being a brilliant, massively stimulating and (just occassionally) niggling read, it’s a book with real relevance to our practice here – one of the most obviously so since I read the William Gibson non-fiction collection Distrust That Particular Flavor and Lewis Hyde‘s Common as Air a year or so back . I suspect I’ll be reflecting on a few of my reactions here.

One of the most (I suspect) controversial observations Taleb makes is about the link between the spending a nation puts into higher education and that nation’s economic success. Most prosperous nations have a thriving university sector so there’s a direct causal relationship, right? Well, yes, but not necessarily in the way it’s generally read. Taleb claims that it’s the wealth that leads to better (or at any rate higher levels of) university education rather than the other way round. The usual narrative (education inevitably leads to wealth) is not only a logical fallacy – it’s a self-serving one spun out by a sector constantly looking to increase both state and private funding.

Now I can’t call this either way (although I have to say, Taleb makes a very strong case and I’m inclined to go with him). However, the observation has some resonance with what I’ve felt for a long time about arts funding. But first, a digression and a recollection.

I recall, some years ago, the then-Controller of the BBC Proms, Nicholas Kenyon (now the Director of London’s finest arts centre, The Barbican*) giving a speech (at the British Library, if memory serves) to launch that year’s Proms programme. He pointed out that different governments had, in recent years, very much rationalised arts funding as part of a wider politico-philosophical agenda. The Thatcher government saw the arts as a way to boost tourism and celebrate “heritage”; New Labour in turn had seen art as a way of fostering its own social engineering programme (my words, not his), that is, as a way of “driving diversity” and “regeneration”. Kenyon suggested that instead, perhaps governments (and for that matter philanthropists) might view the arts as worth funding in their own right. It’s simply something a decent, enlightened (lower case) society should do.

I completely agreed then and a decade on still do. What Taleb’s observations about education reminded me of is that not only is the argument for arts funding as a basis for economic regeneration unnecessary; it’s very probably wrong-headed too. Yes, economically thriving cities tend to have “thriving” arts scenes (and I put that in quotes because whether that art is any good is always a moot point), but again, don’t get what Taleb calls your “causal arrow” the wrong way round. Wealth attracts art, not necessarily the other way round.

But here’s a funny thing about investment… it comes in all shapes and sizes and can have benefits unforeseen (and of course the whole point about Taleb’s overarching thesis is that most things are). Last weekend, as I reported over on my blog, Sarah and I went to Cafe Oto in Dalston to see a the second night in a residency by the Japanese improvising guitarist Otomo Yoshihide.


The key word here is Dalston. For those of you unfamiliar with London geography, this is a North-Eastern inner suburb, and until recently was considered something of a schlepp to get to from pretty much anywhere else in the city. This was in fact untrue, as the ‘hood was well connected by buses, but most Londoners’ mental map of the city is based on the Tube, and that part of the city was well and truly off the Tube. This has all changed recently, of course, with the opening of the “Ginger Line” – actually the “Overground” – a network of lines around the entire city (some pre-existing, others entirely new) which are integrated with the Tube and, crucially – on the Tube map.

Dalton Junction is a spanking new station on a spanking new stretch of the network which runs from West Croydon in the deep south right up to Highbury. Cafe Oto is about, ooh, thirty seconds’ walk away. And certainly it was very busy on Saturday, (and it frequently sells out what are, after all, some pretty “fringe” musical events).

Now I am unable to prove beyond all doubt that the venue has benefitted enormously from the new line and station, but I do know that apparently poor Tube links were a problem for the now-defunct Ocean, just a mile or so away in Hackney. I’m not making any bold claims here, simply wondering: perhaps spending money on, say, transport infrastructure can have a more profound effect on the success of arts venues than direct investment in, well, art? One thing is for certain (and we’re back with Taleb here): the truth is almost certainly more complex than we think it is – and thoroughly unpredictable.

Oh, and we were home in West London in about 35 minutes. Ever so slightly deaf.


* And yes, a client, but I think our various blogs and tumblr make it clear that we really mean this, regardless; recent delights have include the blockbuster Duchamp show, Low, Geoffrey Farmer’s Surgeon and The Photographer installation and Strindberg’s Madame Julie.

Culturally speaking, one way and another it was a pretty packed year for Sarah and me last year, so as we embark on 2013 I thought it might be nice to get some of the highlights down here.

Our rather late-in-life conversion to Opera – yes the artform, not the browser – continued apace. We caught Jonathan Kent’s splendidly delirious production of Purcell’s “semi-opera” The Fairy Queen at Glyndebourne, Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann at the ENO (delirious in its own way) and two minimalist classics in revival: Glass’ Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican (which Sarah attended without me) and Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer, again at the ENO. It’s also worth mentioning a live relay from the Met of Glass’ much later piece, Satyagraha, which we saw in the cozy surroundings of our favourite cinema, The Duke of York’s here in Brighton.

The theatrical highlight of the year was undoubtedly Complicite’s adaptation of Bulgarkov’s magic realist classic Master and Margarita at the Barbican. It’s exhilarating stuff – if perhaps bewildering to those who haven’t read the book – and I highly recommend getting along to it as it returns this month. Runner up prize on the theatrical front would have to go to Punchdrunk’s immersive Macbeth-inspired Sleep No More, now into its second year in New York, where we were lucky enough to catch it.

Actually, the Barbican – which plainly had a stupendous year – deserves its own mention (full disclosure: the centre is one of our clients). As well as Einstein and Master, we saw: Água, the São Paulo piece in Pina Bausch’s World Cities season, revived by the Barbican and Sadlers Wells as part of the Cultural Olympiad; two truly remarkable blockbuster exhibitions, Everything Was Moving – Photography from the 60s and 70s and Bauhaus: Art as Life; and Song Dong‘s strangely moving installation Waste Not, which gathered into the Curve Gallery everything the artist’s mother had hoarded in her life. And of course we went along to the Barbican Weekender a couple of months back, which we reviewed here.

I’m getting together a review of my “year in gigs” over on my personal blog DGMFS, but of the gigs we went to together, several stand out: Susheela Raman at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (an absolutely intoxicating show), PiL at the Concorde 2 in Brighton, Bang on a Can Allstars at the Barbican and Faith No More at the Apollo (and was that Danny De Vito crawling around onstage towards the end of the gig or a hullucination?) Then of course we travelled to both New York and Berlin to see Meshuggah; still not sure Sarah really digs it, but I think if nothing else she enjoys the gurning look of joy on my face for a couple of hours. I should mention two shows Sarah couldn’t get along to, sadly: singer-songwriter Rufus Wainright at the Brighton Dome (seriously, one of the finest gigs I’ve ever been to) and jazz pianist Brad Mehldau at, you guessed it, The Barbican, as part of the London Jazz Festival. And talking of jazz, we’ve hugely enjoyed our old friend Jez Nelson and Jazz On 3‘s monthly Jazz in the Round shows at the Cockpit theatre in Marylebone; looking forward to many more of them in 2013.

We only made it to one of the Proms this year, but it was a pretty special one; the massive, 120-strong Aldeburgh World Orchestra was recruited online from 35 different countries for three weeks of concerts, including a Sunday evening prom at the Albert Hall. As though the logistics weren’t tricky enough, the band – conducted with the usual verve by Mark Elder – played an astoundingly tricky (but very, very powerful) set including Britten’s Sinfonia de Requiem and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, in possibly the tightest, most aggressive interpretation I’ve heard live.

As I write this Sarah has got the annual film marathon which comes with being a BAFTA judge, so I’ll reserve judgement on the film front except perhaps to say that Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is really quite breathtaking. Oh, and that the most fun we had in terms of cinematic experience this year was a very special screening of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in the appropriately baroque setting of the Brighton Pavilion’s music room (thanks to Brighton’s Cine-City festival for that one).

Three very different gallery shows highlighed the work of three very different (but undoubted) geniuses: the massive Cindy Sherman restrospective at MoMA in New York; Ferran Adriá and El Bulli: Risk, Freedom and Creativity at Palu Robert in Barcelona; and, almost certainly our shared art highlight of the year, Grayson Perry’s The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum which pulled off the remarkable feat of being simultaneously funny, deeply moving and, well, angry.

We finished the year off, appropriately, with a concert of Bach’s Christmas and New Year Cantatas given by period music specialists Florilegium at King’s Place. It was the opening show of a year-long season: Bach Unwrapped and we’re looking forward to much more.

So that’s it. A a hugely enjoyable year, and one that’s going to be difficult to top, although, that said, we’re already looking forward to, among other things, Kraftwerk at the Tate, Cirque du Soleil at the RAH, the Barbican’s post-Duchamp show, the Southbank’s Rest is Noise season, Neil Young, Richard Thompson… and maybe, just maybe, Meshuggah in LA.


A couple of weeks ago I gave a series of talks at MIT, Harvard and General Assembly on the startup scene in the UK and London in particular. I spoke alongside Nick Hungerford, founder and CEO of Nutmeg, and David Hughson, the Tech City specialist at the British Consulate in Boston.

Nick is a Brit but had been doing an MBA at Stanford when he started dreaming about developing an online portfolio building and management tool. Logic would suggest that Nick should base his business in Silicon Valley. He’d received encouragement from no less than Eric Schmidt as well as numerous offers of funding and support. His co-founders were also there. But Nick decided to re-relocate home to get Nutmeg going so, in many ways, is the perfect case study.

Our audiences were pretty diverse – academics, entrepreneurs, MBA students and advisors. All very smart and ambitious, so we had to tell a clear and credible story and be ready to handle some insightful – and possibly incisive – questions. I’d like to run through some of my key points.

1. Introducing the European startup ecosystem

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 13.11.56

Europe is the biggest single market in the world, with free movement of goods and labour between member states. It also has an ideal time-zone, smack between the US and Asia. It’s host to several startup hubs – London and Cambridge in the UK, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki and Prague to name a few – and to several networks helping to join up the EU startup scene, including E-Unlimited, White Bull, Seedcamp and Tech Tour.

Of course Europe also faces challenges: principally that it’s a fragmented market with two dozen or more main languages, equally diverse tax regimes and general business and regulatory environments. But despite this (and on top of recession), Europe has been extremely successful in turning out world-beating tech startups, with Skype, Spotify, Shazam, Rovio and Mind Candy among the most famous.

2. Some startup clusters

Leading tech startups from Paris include flash sales outfit Vente Prive, dating site Meetic, Price Minister (ecommerce) and consumer healthcare specialists Withings. Paris is also host to several key startup events, accelerators and funds including Le Web, Le Camping and ISAI. One of their challenges, however, is that France has a very large domestic market, so French entrepreneurs often don’t have a global outlook. At the same time, culturally and politically France is anything but nurturing of its entrepreneurs. This might explain why London is the 6th largest French city!

Stockholm gave birth to Spotify, SoundCloud and one of the co-founders of Skype, Niklas Zennstrom although interestingly, none of the companies are based in Sweden. Online TV company Video Plaza is another one to watch and early stage investors Northzone Ventures and Creandum are based in Stockholm.

Finland is of course famous for one of the world’s biggest tech brands, Nokia. Its decline, as well as good government support, have given rise to several great Helsinki-based startups such as games companies Rovio, Grey Area and Applifier, accelerator Startup Sauna and the Arctic 15 startup conference. Swedish and Finnish companies tend to have a global outlook from the start as their domestic markets are so limited.

A personal favourite is Prague. I’ve worked with the guys at Node 5, a very cool co-working space and both Simon and I are mentors on the Startup Yard accelerator. (For a brief report on TH’s recent mentoring trip to Prague, take a look at this post on our tumblr.) Companies to watch include Brand Embassy, WebExpo is their big tech event and Wayra has set up an academy there – a clear indication of the City’s up-and-coming hub status.

Other very noteworthy European events include How to Web in Bucharest, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, The Next Web in Amsterdam, Webbit in Istanbul and Web Summit in Dublin.

3. Something is definitely happening in Berlin!

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 12.59.13

I think Berlin* is an especially exciting city at the moment. I first visited 2.5 years ago and the change in that time is palpable. Originally hailing from Sweden, SoundCloud is the poster child of the Berlin startup scene – and this week announced a revamp as its user base hit a staggering 180 million, or 8% of the internet population. They moved to Berlin to take advantage of the large talent pool of young engineers and creatives and of course plenty of relatively cheap post-industrial space in which to stick a team.

There’s also games company Wooga and e-commerce site Fab have located their European HQ in Berlin. Early stage investors include Team Europe and Early Bird Ventures. The Europas awards have just moved to Berlin and the vast plethora of tech events include Tech Open Air, Berlin Web Week, and Next Berlin. Both General Assembly and Wayra have set up there.

SoundCloud have their sales and marketing in London and investment came from London-based Doughty-Hanson. Our friends at Archify are funded by UK firm Balderton. It seems Berlin is a challenging place to raise funding unless you’re doing a clone of a successful US business model or an e-commerce play (Germany is a big e-commerce market).

4. And so to the UK

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 13.02.49

Arguably the most successful tech cluster in the UK is Cambridge**. I couldn’t visit Cambridge Massachusetts without mentioning that Cambridge University is (also arguably) the best in the world and has a long history of spin outs including Harvard University itself in 1636! More recently ARM, Autonomy (worth every penny!) and Blinkbox. ARM provides the chips for most iOS devices and makes more money from chips than Intel.

The 1,500 tech companies in Cambridge employed 54,000 people and generated sales of over $20bn in 2011. It’s home to 12 $billion companies in total. There are also some very lively networks and events including Cambridge Angels, Cambridge Network, Cambridge Wireless, SVC2UK and Springboard. The Cambridge Cluster Map gives a really good sense of what’s going on in Cambridge and how the companies are interconnected. It’s worth noting as well that Cambridge is just 45 minutes by train from London.

5. The 800-pound gorilla

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 13.05.25

But by any measure, London is very much the startup capital of Europe. London consists of several hubs: Soho has been a world-leading TV and movie post-production centre for years; the City is of course one of the oldest financial centres in the world; and the so-called TV triangle on the city’s western fringes is home to some of the most famous broadcasting brands, including the BBC, BSkyB, Discovery, Virgin, Endemol, Red Bee and Disney.

And then there’s Tech City, or if you prefer, Silicon Roundabout – the relatively new tech startup scene in London’s East End. I say “relatively new” advisedly as there has been a handful of tech companies in the area since before the tech bubble of the late 90s. But the growth in the last few years has been truly phenomenal. The area has plentiful former industrial property that seems de rigeur for startups, and while London is of course an expensive city, this area is (that word again) relatively cheap. It’s retained much of the Bohemian character that reaches back to the colonization of then-dilapidated Huguenot housing in Spitalfields by artists in the 60s and 70s, but the last half-decade has seen a pretty radical facelift occur, and for a while it seemed that every week saw a new bar, restaurant or gallery open. And of course, alongside the startups, the big guns have moved in, with Google, Amazon, AirBnB, Intel, Cisco and Ebay among them. It’s a heady mix.

Widening out from Tech City then, a few points about London in general. The city is the largest market in the world for media and entertainment; ditto financial services. It’s home to the largest VC community in Europe, with most VC investments in Europe actually made in UK companies. And the city is remarkably cosmopolitan, with about 300 languages spoken; it’s an ideal city from which to internationalise your company. And while not perfect, our government is listening, and improving the environment for startups.

6. Show me the money


Atomico, who specialise in mobile and telecoms, have invested in Quipper (mobile quizzes), Rovio (think Angry Birds), Fon (the free wifi people) and (streaming music and recommendations).

Passion Capital, who “invest in ambitious entrepreneurs who have global ambition for their early stage digital media and technology startups”, have stakes in Duedil (a quite brilliant due diligence service based on Companies House data) and Smarkets (a betting exchange).

DFJ Esprit have invested in StrikeAd (mobile ad delivery), Conversocial (social CRM), LoveFilm (which I think needs no introduction!) and Lyst (a slick women’s clothing e-commerce site).

Connect Ventures, a new fund, have invested in Ondango (a platform for integrating a shop into your Facebook page), Space Ape Games and Secret Sales (discount designer goods online).

DN Capital have funded Shazam (media discovery) and Mobile Roadie (an app creation tool).

One of Europe’s oldest private equity firms, Doughty Hanson has invested in SoundCloud and Handmade Mobile (a platform for monetising social media).

And Balderton Capital have funded Wonga (personal loans), Natural Motion (games tech), Memrise, (game-based learning – and brilliant imho), Betfair, Archify (for organising and archiving all your online activity) and scvngr (“a game all about going places, doing challenges”).

7. London movers and shakers


For commentary, news and general maven-ing, I suggested following @mikebutcher, @brisbourne, @techcityuk, @TCEurope, @WiredUK, @robinwauters and of course @guardiantech.

There are several accelerators around the UK to watch, including Springboard, Healthbox, Oxygen, Wayra, BBC Worldwide Labs, Seedcamp and Level 39 (starting in mid-January).

London is host to several co-working spaces, with new ones popping up all the time. Among the best known now are TechHub, The Trampery, Google Campus, The Hub and White Bear Yard.

And among the many tech events in the UK are Le Web, London Web Summit, Silicon Milk Roundabout, Seedcamp Week, Internet Week, Noah, Digital Shoreditch, Wired UK and the wonderfully-named Silicon Drinkabout.


* For more on the Berlin startup scene, see Simon’s recent post.

** And for more on Cambridge, see Simon’s report from Silicon Valley Comes to the UK.