Last night I was talking with my business partner from SambaStream, Ale, about start-up communities. He went to a big start-up event in Rio (Brazil) for his new start-up Kioos and was complaining about all the ‘chaff’ there with a lot of wannabe entrepreneurs who really had little value to add to the community in terms of experience, advice, network and things that can really help other start-ups be more successful. He compared it to the start-up events like Minibar (which he admittedly only bothered to attend once) that he saw 3-4 years ago in London before he left for Brazil, and how it was pretty much the same experience.
And I have to agree, the first year (2008/2009) of going to those start-up events, which I was a lot more active in than Ale, were generally a waste of time. If we weren’t being compared to Huddle.net (like there was only space for them in the entire $14billion market so give up now :p), there were a lot of entrepreneurs that were like us, new to the game and didn’t really know much about anything. So after a while I stopped going to them and concentrated on building a business and connecting with the ‘grey’ crowd of entrepreneurs who could teach us a thing or two.
Fast forward to early this year, and I have to say the whole community has changed – substantially! Coming back into the events, really kicking off with Geek’N’Rolla in April, either the chaff had disappeared from the community and were no longer around, and the ones that were still sticking at it had 3 years of real hard experience and connections under their belt that actually meant we could actually help each other out in some way. I found it a lifeline as we went through some lows, as we started looking for investment, and ultimately in selling to another very successful ‘start-up’ where I’m now tasked launching their new Cloud Service, Alfresco. (and by the way that never would have happened if Alfresco was not in London and outside in the valley…)
The fact of the matter is, London is maturing as a community FAST! And perhaps Rio is where we were a few years ago and as Ale hopefully has some success out there he will see the same change I have in a few years. But this is what I think is the real secret sauce of ‘silicon valley’ – its a strong successful community that mentors the next generation of entrepreneurs. We didn’t have that 3 years ago, there were very few high profile successes, and to be honest the big companies and entrepreneurs we did have the UK weren’t very accessible.
This mentoring is really an important aspect of any community. How can the next generation get better if the generation ahead of them doesn’t pass down their experience and knowledge? And the best way to do this is by actually going and joining a fast growing start-up and working directly for the experienced generation and learning from them directly (like I’m doing now). You can’t do that when there’s not a lot of start-ups around, but in the valley far more people leave university to join a start-up and learn from the best, than here in the UK where the ‘smart’ kids take city jobs.
If you look at the history of Silicon Valley, there is a direct line back to the original companies that started it all, their founders and the high profile entrepreneurs we know today. But you need a wave of success first before you have enough people to support the next generation of entrepreneurs. It doesn’t happen overnight, it certainly has nothing to do with the VC community, and everything to do with the entrepreneur community and their willingness to help the next generation, because there’s always money if you have the right connections that successful people tend to bring. I can see it happening in London today, but we still have a long way to go before we catch up with the valley. We need to build a couple of really big companies, that hire and train the next wave of entrepreneurs before we reach that critical mass and to be honest, the founders/leaders of those companies need to see themselves as mentors to the next generation. We don’t really do that very well here, but we’re getting better…