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Why The UK Is a Great Place to Build a Startup!
There is a lot of talk at the moment about the relative merits of building a start-up in Europe, and of the UK trying to become more like Silicon Valley in its approach to start-ups.
Being an Australian who moved to London to launch her start-up, I can relate a very personal tale about why I chose the UK as the most compelling place to be entrepreneurial.
1. It’s easier to stand out from the crowd
The London web start-up scene is relatively younger than in Silicon Valley, so it is smaller, and more co-dependent on each other. We all want to be successful, and as there isn’t so much competition yet, we aren’t afraid of helping each other. This smaller community means its easier to get to know everyone, and become known. I arrived in London in September, and within a few months I have met, become friends with, or at least know of most web start-ups, journalists, VCs, Angels and other key players. I imagine in the Valley its a little more competitive and crowded, so it is harder to stand-out and become known.
2. Excellent source of cheap smart developers
The proximity of mainland Europe to the UK is a huge boon. We have access to one of the fastest growing bases for outsourced off-shore development in Eastern Europe, with countries like Romania, Ukraine and Latvia sprouting firms full of hard-working, smart, well-spoken developers, with only 1-2 hours time difference from the UK. The developers of my site, Skimbit are based in Romania, and they cost me half to a third what it would cost me to hire local developers; they speak excellent English, are completely up to date with new technologies and trends, and are only an hour away on a plane to visit them face-to-face. Having worked with my team in Romania while based in Sydney, I fully appreciate the benefit of working in similar time zones.
3. Market to an untapped audience with propositions you know will work
Besides being a fan of affordable development resources, UK’s proximity to Europe also represents a huge market opportunity. Everyone is so busy targeting the US, that they forget the rest of the world is out there, speaks relatively good English, and is web savvy. You can take a concept that works in the US, and market it to a European audience, with confidence that the model works, with less competition. Of course, web applications should be international in their outlook, but there are so many web applications that seem hugely popular in the US, that no one has ever heard of here, possibly because marketing efforts for these sites concentrate on the US. In my start-up’s case, there are a few web applications that do some of what Skimbit does, and I consider this a strength, because no one has ever heard of any of them in the UK, so I have validation my proposition is going to work, and an untapped audience to market to in Europe.
4. Benefit from the helpfulness of other entrepreneurs
I’m not the only one who wants to make the UK, and London specifically, an exciting base for global entrepreneurship. The city is buzzing with creative, smart, passionate entrepreneurs, investors, journalists and mentors, and what I have found particularly special is how much everyone wants to help! Everyone tries extra hard to help, get you introductions, give you feedback, lend you advice… It feels like one very extended family here! There are a few key networking events to go to, and within a short amount of time, if you are personable, passionate and polite, you will be surprised how much everyone will give you free help.
It might be like that in the US, (I will soon find out, as I head to Silicon Valley in a week!), but I suspect the distributed nature of tech centres in the US (Silicon Valley, New York, etc) and lack of public transport in the Valley may work against the creation of as close knit group. There is a lot to be said for meeting up for a few drinks with an experienced investor and businessperson, and to constantly be bumping into the same group of people at each networking event, which enhances the perception of intimacy in the London scene.
Of course, there are some huge disadvantages to being based in London. Cost of living is sky high, and funding of start-ups, although getting more common, is not as easy to get as in the US. The weather is also a little more gloomy, although you can conclude that makes it more compelling to work even harder indoors! But the wonderful thing about London is that you truly feel you are at the heart of global events – even though you have your head down working hard, you are always aware that there is a world of politics, art, theatre, music, sport and travel all around you, and I think it provides a very necessary balance, as well as a useful motivation, to keep working hard.
Alicia Navarro is CEO and founder of Skimbit, a social decision-making tool to help research and make decisions, with the help of others. Alicia is an Australian based in London.