Fresh from our whirlwind tour of the dual technology wellsprings of the United States (that’s New York and The Valley in normal English), we take a look back on our eleven, hectic, revealing and thoroughly valuable days with Seedcamp in America.
It’s late morning and Dave and I step blearily out of the subway, into the soft murmur of a clear and fresh winters morning in Time Square. To Londoners, all things are relative. Friendly policemen point us to our hotel, friendly hotel staff point us to the elevator that takes us to our 43rd floor room.
Jonny arrived in the evening and once out and about we, like our Platogo friends were offered tickets to a nearby comedy show,
Comedy sales person – “Hey! Do you guys like great comedy?!”
JS – “Sure, but is the humour of a kind that a British person might appreciate?”
Comedy sales person – “Sure! The drinks are free!”
JS – “Well if you need to give away drinks then it can’t be that good”
Comedy sales person – *blank stare*
JS – “I guess that’s our answer”
So we took our cynicism off to a series of bars, sang karaoke (Park Life by Blur) and created our own comedy with drinks that were not free.
For Saturday, read Friday with more vodka.
Sunday featured three miraculous recoveries, exploration of an amazing city, rain and views like this:
Seedcamp in New York actually began on Tuesday with presentations at the Google offices in Chelsea Market followed by mentoring. We then moved on to the Apple offices for lunch and finally to the Meetup HQ. Everywhere we went we pitched and demonstrated to packed rooms filled with the best and brightest. Their feedback was enthusiastic, invaluable and incredibly generous. For instance standing there for 20 minutes discussing the finer points of metadata on the web with someone like Stowe Boyd was priceless (and indeed, free).
Now I say it was ‘generous’ but every meeting we had in the States was with people who willingly gave up their time, feedback and contacts for no other reason than the will to help. We were told this is how people are in the US tech community and we weren’t disappointed.
The New York portion of our trip ended with a trip to Getty Images and a delicious lunch accompanied by CEO Jonathan Klein’s story of how he turned Getty from an idea into the success it is today.
The hours we spent with him were more than generous – it was a real privilege.
Our (and Kukunu’s) flight to San Francisco was late, which made our arrival later. By the time we were checked into our hotel it was almost 3am which was a mere 5 1/2 hours before our day at the Googleplex – a one hour drive away from the hotel.
Seedcamp in San Francisco and The Valley was like New York, only much more so. While we didn’t get to gauge the progress of Google’s anti-gravity research, we did get to spend hours with some superb mentors and panels.
In the end we were left with the impression that the The Valley is not the most dominant area for web innovation by chance. It is so because its culture of endeavour and creativity pervades every level and every mind it houses; funding is available for the best minds and ideas and not just the more obvious bets, gambles are taken and lost, risks only sometimes rewarded. But that is part of the process – learn what works and learn what doesn’t work. Failure is another step in success, entrepreneurship is synonymous with camaraderie, value to the customer comes before financial success. A contemporary is not a competitor but a friend to be helped. Everyone we met had the same mentality; how can we help each other.
This culture is self-fertilising; it pulls the best from around the world thereby reinforcing its own dominance. On a superficial level you might call it a brain-drain, but in an industry that is by definition global, we all benefit (well, possibly not the UK Treasury but would we trust them to spend it wisely anyway? )
The challenge for the rest of us; Europe and to a lesser extent the East Coast of the US is to infuse ourselves with that same culture so that we can have our own self-perpetuating machine for turning talent into action.
It’s people like Saul, Reshma, Stephanie and Alasdair with their stellar work on Seedcamp that will get us there, but they can’t do it on their own – it is the rest of us, the entrepreneurs, developers, evangelists and journalists who need to help.
We need that same mentality at every level – the focus of innovation and risk.
We already have the template to follow…