A trip to the West Coast of connections and comparisons.
First to San Francisco with the UKTI Interactive Mission, comprising 12 UK businesses with digital technologies at their core but ranging from games companies to audio social networks, AR to animation software, and a structured series of company introductions.
Behind the shiny façade of each of the isolated Silicon Valley campuses crunching changes in corporate culture – creating internal environments which were somehow reflective of how the organizations view themselves – but from Google to Facebook to Microsoft to EA great insight and connection to senior execs.
Two commonalities began to emerge:
First was an underlying sense of a concentration on platforms rather than people. Data analysis was primarily about optimizing and targeting rather than understanding motivations. Flipboard stood in stark contrast, a business utterly driven by design and user experience.
Second was talent as commodity. Each site provided a dizzying array of free restaurants, cafes and personal services (doctors, banks, laundry) – part necessity, partly to keep employees on site, but more often described as a requirement to attract and keep the best talent. This focus has also given rise to a new term “acqui-hire” – purchasing a business primarily to secure the management team.
After a night at the Tech Crunch Crunchies Awards (where the brief descriptions of the start ups nominated were always of $XM raised and financing rounds by star VC’s – the value judgment was clear) gaps in the next days attendance were inevitable, however these were down to the businesses going back to do follow up meetings rather than late night partying.
The CCO of games accelerator Yetizen was highly complimentary about the quality of businesses UKTI had brought toSan Francisco. Expect announcements in short order of high value deals and partnerships with the likes of Flipboard, EA, Rally.org and Yetizen as a direct result of the mission shortly.
350 miles south to Los Angeles for the Innovation Forum – a stellar 2 day event organised by Universal Music Group, Founders Forum and UKTI bringing together LA media moguls and investors with a larger group of UK start ups (see London Evening Standard article).
Kicked off by Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and will.i.am, over 2 days the Forum mixed pitches and panels to explore the changing media landscape, highlight new talent and innovation and make some purposeful business connections.
With an incredible attendee list, from industry heavyweights like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ari Emanuel to the CEO’s of disruptive newcomers like Hulu and Spotify – and even a live link to No10 and David Cameron – the UK start ups made sure that everyone left with a business card and an elevator pitch.
And it was in the aggregation of those messages – whether established UK stars like Moshi Monsters and Songkick or brand newbies like Buddybounce – that another theme began to emerge.
“Left brain / right brain” was how the moderator described the collision of creative and technology during a pitching session by 30 UK businesses. He was attempting to summarise the high creative / arts / UX content which characterized many of the British approaches as opposed to the logic and technology core of mostUSstart ups.
“Make things people want rather than people want things” said Julian Ehrhardt from Ustwo, a comment which found an echo in Jeffrey Katzenberg’s “curation is not about algorithms”. Maybe these statements act as a useful cipher for the two ends of the debate. To stereotype or simplify, the British creative focus on audience and UX with the US concentration on platform and scale.
And the motivation for this search for new approaches was nicely captured by Andy Bird, Chairman of Walt Disney International (and a Brit). Even with a $97Bn market capitalization and 37 different business units they have to keep creatively innovating in a disrupted landscape, because their biggest fear is “irrelevance”.
There were a huge number of very productive business contacts made both in San Francisco and at the LA Innovation Forum, if they achieve opportunities to synthesize the US corporate professionalism and availability of finance with UK creative user engagement then there is a great catalyst for potential growth.
The hard work starts now.