A while back, while rewatching Ghostbusters for the millionth time, I was struck by several interesting startup parallels. I wrote down a few notes with the intention of preparing a presentation about it and then promptly forgot about it until recently.
Of course I made the classic startup mistake of not performing a cursory web search to see if people had already noticed this – which of course they had. So much has been written by others on this topic already, and it has probably gone through a lot more interesting analysis.
I have relocated to the UK under a “family of a settled person” visa (my partner is a British Citizen). The process was… interesting. There are many forum and blog posts about it but ultimately I’d say that (outside of the UK government’s excellent website) there’s a dearth of high quality information, so I thought I’d try to summarise the process from my side.
What follows is as terse a summary of events as I could make of a process that took a significant amount of time and effort, spread out over several months. Hopefully it makes sense!
In November 2013 I moved to the US – so as I write this, it’s been just over two years since I became a non-resident alien in the great state of Ohio.
The entire time I was here I envisioned writing a bunch to explain what it was like moving over here and trying to expand our tech company – a virtual server hosting service called Binary Lane – into the US market. But, reasons, and I never did, and I’ve felt guilty about it. Now 2016 has arrived I thought I’d try to put some words down.
The first thing I wanted to scribble were some notes about why an Australian tech company might want to consider destinations that are alternatives to Silicon Valley.
This recent Dilbert comic made the rounds in startup circles recently.
It is well known within the startup community that an idea by itself is not super useful – it is the combination of the idea and execution that matters.
This belief has become almost instinctive now, to the point where people are almost dismissive of listening to ideas from those who they believe have no capacity to execute them (i.e., non-technical people). It’s always fun to hear concepts that people are working on, but hearing about Yet Another App that someone wants to make – but probably won’t – can be tiring.
While it doesn’t seem to result in outright rubbishing of ideas, there seems to be a trend to devalue the concept of “the idea”, which I think has the potential to be demoralising and de-motivational – almost the exact opposite of every other experience I’ve had in various startup communities.
I am very confident this is certainly not what is intended. It is very important to ensure that people that are interested in startup life realise that the idea is only a part – a very small part – of what makes a business.
However, it is hard enough to motivate people to consider a startup in the first place. Creating a perception that “the startup community” thinks ideas are worthless is probably not the right tone to set – everything has to start with an idea.
It’s easy to see why this comic entertains – I loved it. But the response to it (including my own!) reminded me that it’s important not to be dismissive of “idea people”, when instead we should be focusing on encouraging them to execute their idea.
The United Kingdom has a history of building reasonably decent empires.
The recent news that Australian tech company Atlassian is moving their base of operations to the UK is depressing, but completely unsurprising. Sure, Australia’s an expensive place to do business – but the UK are going out of their way to make themselves ludicrously sexy for technology companies.
I first found out about the UK tax incentives when some friendly people from the UK consulate approached me after I’d participated in a panel at the NICTA TechFest 2013 (along side Matt Barrie from Freelancer.com and Professor Stuart Feldman from Google – the guy that created ‘make’, no big deal), discussing ways to address the ICT skills shortage in Australia. At Parliament House. In Canberra. Right before Prime Minister Julia Gillard took the stage to talk about innovation in Australia.
Seriously, at an event to try to help draw attention to technology in Australia these guys came right up to me and basically started talking about all the reasons why I should be trying to move our company to the United Kingdom. I was impressed by their audacity – but I was even more impressed by what they were offering.
The people from the consulate made a good pitch. There’s a 225% tax credit for research and development, they have a thing called the Patent Box offering significant tax breaks on profits made from patents, they’ve got a tech-friendly ‘entrepreneur visa’ to make it easy to get there, decreases in corporations tax, and – oh, what else is there? Oh yeh, it’s right next to EUROPE which has like a jillion people, so a giant market.
Shortly after that, they got in touch and asked if we’d be interested in talking to some of their people in Brisbane (I imagine they try to have tendrils everywhere, so they have well-dressed Englishmen scattered strategically around the country, ready to be dispatched to technology companies at a moments notice). A couple of nice chaps turned up and we had a chat where they went into some more detail about what is involved in moving to the UK.
They also offered to do a bit of an analysis for us to figure out what the market was like in our specific area. This is basically a free service they provide – looking up a bunch of stuff and doing some (fairly basic, but helpful) market analysis for you. Shortly afterwards they sent through a nice report with heaps of detail about telcos and data centres and that sort of thing, with a bit of a reminder about all the other perks.
A few months after that I got an invite to a breakfast put on by London and Partners, the official promotional organisation for the city of London. I went along just to check it out, but it was mostly a repeat of what I already knew – just with a bit more focus on London.
Still, I was again impressed not only by the pitch (PDF), but the simple fact that the United Kingdom is currently focused like a laser on making their country attractive to technology companies. They know the future is about technology and are displaying adaptability accordingly.
It’ll be sad to see Atlassian go. It’ll be sad to watch others follow. It’ll be sad if Australia doesn’t treat this as a wake-up call.