Britain’s unfair advantage

By Tien Tzuo on August 28th, 2012

The British have a reputation for self-deprecation. In my experience, this charming habit extends even to technology entrepreneurs themselves. Time and again I’ve heard the British bemoan the “fact” that the UK is no Silicon Valley, point out the supposed insularity caused by being an island people, and regret that there is just not the scale, culture or environment to foster the next wave of great entrepreneurs.

Rubbish. Look also at start-up accelerators like Telefónica’s Wayra launching in London, or the way Facebook, Amazon and Google are hoovering up office space. They’re buying into a world-class city and a country with tremendous access to the markets and people of Europe, North America and beyond, with significant advantages as a potential tech hub.

As English speakers, the British have a built-in advantage in regards to the Internet. If you are accustomed to engaging with the Internet in English, then by definition you are an early adopter. So, if you are in tech, and you want early adopters, the United Kingdom, United States and Australian markets are the best places to start.

Even though English is not the primary language in Scandinavia, they interact with the Internet in English, so Scandinavia has been a great place to feed early technology adapters as well.

Then there’s the UK’s history as an international, open country: the American pledge to welcome huddled masses yearning to breathe free could just as well have been written for the UK. Today’s Britain is multicultural, multiracial and an example of the positive effects of diaspora.

Open-door policies were central to the success of the City, attracting the world’s biggest banks, traders and lenders – essential catalysts for the technology industry.

Look at education. Oxford and Cambridge are world renowned and the university system acts as a magnet for bright, tech-centric people from all over the globe, many of whom stay to build great local companies. This is a country that gets regularly reinvigorated by immigration patterns that bring new blood and ideas.

And finally there’s London, which has over the past two years really stepped up to attract the industry’s best talent and to set itself up as a welcoming place for technology start-ups and entrepreneurs. Within London, there is a confident city and a great vibe around the east end of town which has growing connections with the global financial services market, government and media.

It’s a great place to live with fantastic food and culture, and a high quality of life. This is helping it stand above its European rivals such as Berlin and Stockholm as a go-to place for tech and media.

We all want more tax breaks and less red tape, but the reality is that compared to many other countries, getting started in business in the UK is a cinch. And today the UK is starting to reap the rewards of that open, outgoing culture as the money men seek out Britain’s best people, companies and ideas and to take advantage of a country that has always looked beyond its shores for new opportunities.

With the Valley awash with capital, VCs like Sequoia Capital are looking further afield to make their investments and London is a preferred destination over other hotspots like Berlin, Boston, New York, and Tel Aviv.

When I set up Zuora I stayed in California, because I had roots there, but I could easily have set up in the UK. It’s no surprise to me that some of our biggest customers are British, from News International to Pearson. And when we set up in Europe we made the UK our European headquarters.

In a globalised economy, the winners will be those that have the best networks, relationships and channels, the ability to lure smart people from all points of the compass, and the ability to communicate in a way that’s familiar to as many constituents as possible. And that situation gives the UK a massive advantage over its peers and rivals.