I’m moving back to San Francisco after living in London for over a year having witnessed quite a different London in that time than what Paul Carr described in his TechCrunch post discussing the depressing state of the London startup landscape. I remember reading the post in the middle of packing up my ten boxes of clothes and shoes thinking to myself, “Am I making the right decision? Is moving to London going to set me back from an innovation standpoint than if I stayed in the Bay Area?”
I arrived in London a few weeks later anxious about what the city had in store for a charming, twentysomething, California girl trying to make her way in the advertising world (no, this is not the opening to a Mad Men scene…but I’m keen if you are, Mr. Draper). I had a few liquid lunches with publishers that first week, which was a treat since the San Francisco version is a publisher coming to see you with a salad in hand accompanied by a coconut water sitting in a conference room for 20 minutes while you’re slamming back lunch to get back to finish a deck for a client. The interesting thing about the lunches, other than the booze, was the fact that most of the conversations I had with publishers were about the growth and future of the industry. Regardless of being in Media, publisher side, a VC – everyone seemed genuinely invested in the adtech industry’s success in the London market.
Maybe last year was too primitive – like the Pilgrims landing in America on the Mayflower just trying to survive in a new place. London’s adtech industry hadn’t been established enough to generate innovation, but in the last year I’ve witnessed more and more adtech CEOs from the US move to London to claim a piece of the growing EMEA market. With that, all of a sudden there was an influx of thought leaders in the London market that sparked a dialogue and new way of thinking unparalleled in years before in the landscape. You could overhear conversations around you throwing out acronyms like DSP and RTB or geeking out over the fragmentation big data and Media and ways to solve the problem.
London is entering the Founding Fathers era. Industry thought leaders – Media, VCs and startups/publishers – can be found after work huddled in corners of dimly lit pubs discussing the industry’s great complexities and ways to solve them. Like the Founding Fathers, these discussions are now leading to action plans to find new answers in the industry with startups like Glow Digital Media, StikeAd, and Zeebox. Glow is trying to answer the problem of social media ad buying, while StrikeAd is developing the first mobile DSP, and Zeebox is closing the gap on how to finally make TV a ‘lean in’ media consumption medium. I’m not saying that the US doesn’t have their fair share of Thomas Jefferson types to drive a startup culture and make it thrive, but the UK share something with the Founding Fathers that the US does not in this industry – lack of history.
There are no rules in the UK market. No barriers or old ways of doing things that defy logic. The UK may be rooted in the past and stubborn in its heritage ways, but the adtech industry is surely not. As such, startups can be true trailblazers. Paul Carr pointed to consumer web startups like Moo, Last.fm and Bebo in comparison to the US dominators – Facebook and Google. What he failed to notice is that the US will always trump the UK market in scalability by the sheer size of the internet population so consumer web companies are most likely not going to take off in the UK like they do in the US. However, what the UK lacks in numbers, they make up for in smarts and scrappiness. If middle school history class serves me well, I believe Paul Revere and his friends won with the help of the French, Spanish and Dutch forces. They’re on the same team as the UK now. I’ll be looking forward to a British Invasion of startups in the coming years…until then, it’s been real London!