Bye bye London, hello Silicon Valley!

October 23, 2011

Silicon Valley

After two years thinking about it, today I finally arrived for good in Silicon Valley! When I moved to London 18 months ago I always knew it was going to be a stepping-stone to the Valley, but it’s taken me a while to make that next move.

I’ve moved for all the obvious reasons that you might think of, but above all I’m here because I love this place. The atmosphere, the energy and the buzz is like nowhere else I’ve been, and I’m looking forward to soaking it all up. (And also the weather).

I blogged just last week about why I believe location matters to any startup, and while I still think London is a good place to be for many, for me, Silicon Valley is where I need to be now. People often ask me if it’s really better in the valley, but unless you’ve been it’s difficult to appreciate it. The technology and startup ecosystem here stretches back almost a hundred years, although most people think of 1938 as the key moment when Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started working on HP in a Palo Alto garage. Post-war, the “silicon” was put into the valley, when Fairchild Semiconductor pioneered mass-production of transistors, and this company later gave birth to Intel in the 60s. The Venture Capital industry started here as well, decades ago and remains the world’s largest concentration of risk capital, in fact most of them all work on the same street. Palo Alto is also home to Stanford Universty whose graduates have spawned tech giants such as Google, Yahoo, eBay, Cisco, Intuit, PayPal, Sun Microsystems, Electronic Arts and VMWare, to name just a few.

The main business drivers for my move are better access to that experienced tech talent and access to more funding, on better terms. There is a real shortage of both in London.

Why now?

I spent two weeks in the valley last month, my longest and best trip there so far. Lots of interesting things happened as a result, such as meeting SaaS experts, which will really help me accelerate Teamly, as well as seeing strong investor interest.

On my return to London two pivotal things happened, within 24 hours of each other:

1. I had lunch with another startup founder, who – speaking from his own experience – said, “there is never a perfect time to make the move; there will always be a better time just around the corner.”

2. Following Steve Jobs death, I re-read the text of his Stanford commencement address, and it just moved me to make this decision NOW.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

I realised the only thing stopping me from moving was me.

What are YOU holding back from doing now?

P.S. I’ll be back home for Christmas and New Year – hope to see you then!


John Frankel, ff Venture Capital talking to London Web meetup

August 28, 2011

John Frankel is a Brit who is a partner at New York based ff Venture Capital and during a visit back home this week he gave a great talk to a mixed audience of developers and entrepreneurs at the regular London Web meetup. John’s fund, which he describes as “a micro VC or super-angel”, helps companies go from “3 to 30 employees”. ff has invested in companies like Voxy, Cornerstone OnDemand, Phone.com, Mogotix, Klout, ShareSquare and many more.

You can watch the entire talk and Q&A below, or just read on:


ff typically invests in 4 – 12 companies in a year, but since December have invested in 15. The reason? John was unequivocal, this is an “interesting time with unbelievable opportunities for both investors and those seeking to change the world”. The reduction in cost of doing business online in the last decade means that mass customisation is now possible and software can create new and immersive experiences.

This disruption has entered every industry, citing Paige Craig, John told us that “every company is a technology company“. The platforms that didn’t exist 10 years ago are now in place: broadband, smartphones, cheap storage, etc.

He told how Jim Cramer of CNBC’s show “Mad Money” spoke at a conference John attended during the previous dot com boom, telling the story of how the media industry has these massive fixed costs through the legacy of newsprint production, by growing trees, waiting till they are mature, chopping them down, transporting them hundreds of miles, turning them into pulp, transporting paper hundreds of miles into cities usually, making newspapers from them, and then finally putting a pile on every street corner; every 24 hours.

Fast forward ten years and we have Amazon’s kindle, Apple’s iPad, and numerous inexpensive smartphones. John is certain that this time round “this is not a bubble“, although he did indicate they may slow down their investment pace if valuations get too high.

Advice for startups

“Solve big problems, they are more satisfying”.

And he used the example of the Winklevoss twins to tell us that “everyone has ideas, but execution is everything”.

Geography

Being in London – with its perennial inferiority complex-  of course the question of geography came up. John said that ecosystems are made by people and infrastructure, and despite the ability to use Skype, meeting “in person is important”. Although he’s prepared to invest almost anywhere it’s harder to justify if that company is off the beaten track. Another crucial geographic factor is big companies being in the vicinity of startups, as is the presence of second-time entrepreneurs.

Talking from his US experience he compared NYC as very individualistic to San Francisco is more team orientated, and collaborative, gaving the example of one of their portfolio companies relocating there for that reason.

What he looks for in investments

“The team”. And “unreasonable and driven people”. He says “pivoting is normal; the start idea is never the same as the end idea”. Specifically he likes companies with low capex model, and those that start charging for their product early, talking of the benefit of “training” your customer to pay.

He cited an example of one company they backed, the enterprise software company Cornerstone OnDemand of whom they were amongst the first outside investors in and since 2002 they invested in all 8 subsequent rounds until it went public in March 2011. Despite that incredibly successful exit, John says he doesn’t “believe in exit strategies”, and puts faith in interesting things happening and valuable things being created if you let smart people do interesting things.

I really enjoyed his talk, and I hope John spends more time in London, we need more of this kind of seed VC in the UK.

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Start-up offices in London: a tour of TalkTalk in Soho

April 19, 2010

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This morning I was shown round the former Tiscali HQ by the general manager of the building, Maggie Roxburgh. I’d first found about this from Channel 4’s technology correspondent, and former dot com whizz kid, Benjamin Cohen; the timing couldn’t be better as my new venture needs office space in London.

It’s on the corner of Berwick Street and Broadwick Street and the 7 storey building has now been turned into TalkTalk‘s first retail store, on the ground floor; a customer lounge, on the first floor; and flexible shared office accommodation for technology start-ups, on the floors above.

There is room for about 150 desks, 36 per floor. Each desk costs £450 per month inclusive of rent, rates, security, broadband and use of meeting rooms.

Each floor has a lounge and kitchen area, and a large and small boardroom available free of charge to tenants. Additionally on the 6th floor there are extra meeting rooms, available to hire at cost. 300Mbps wireless broadband is included for all tenants though for wired connectivity you have to pay extra.

It’s been fitted out to a really high standard and it’s right in the heart of Soho, but you are paying a premium for that, and while you gain from being in the heart of the city the downside is that you’re further from the bulk of tech start-ups in Shoreditch and Silicon Roundabout.

There are other options, notably TechHub, of which I am a founder member. TechHub will add value by hosting a series of events for the tech community as well as providing casual desk hire for the day and permanent desks on a monthly hire too, but it’s very welcome to have another option. Having toured Plug & Play Tech Center in silicon valley I do think bigger is better, and while I’m realising that London is a great place for a start-up, by spreading everything out across the city there is a dilution of impact which doesn’t occur in silicon valley.

TalkTalk could have just put this building on the market as a whole and are to be congratulated for coming up with an innovative use for this building, one which hopefully makes a positive contribution to London’s tech scene.

Address: 20 Broadwick Street, London, W1F 8HT

Other options:

If you just want somewhere to go temporarily instead of working at home or in Starbucks try the British Library Business and IP Centre.
 
More photos of TalkTalk:

Typical office layout with 36 desks per floor:

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Small meeting room, and lounge area on each floor:

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Additional larger meeting rooms on the 6th floor:

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Ground floor:

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