March 04, 2013

Sun, SF, Startups and Sub-par Strategy

It's been a strange day. In the main it's been a lovely day - I've spent it getting brunch and hanging out with a load of engaging and interesting people in the SoMa and Mission districts of San Francisco (we're presenting Good Night Lamp at the Launch Festival this week). It was a warm, sunny day perfect for promenading and chatting, which is what we did.

They are all founders of, or working in, a startup. I don't think I've encountered that since I was in Cambridge, but the difference here is lots of them are startups you'll have heard of. I don't get that in Silicon Roundabout - in a grouping of a dozen or so people there'll be a sizeable number working at digital agencies, and in Liverpool even more will be freelance/agency and a few not in technology at all.

Some of the conversation was about startup culture and how, despite the obvious economic benefits for the winners, it's fuelling a bubble which is spawning lots of me-too and superficial startups, and pricing people (even relatively successful geeks) out of property and gentrifying the city (which is seen as a bad thing).

There's an element of "first world problems" and self-aware I-know-I'm-part-of-the-problem to all this, as I'll readily admit to with my influence on the Georgian quarter in Liverpool, but it's not clear what the solution would be.

At least it confirms that recreating Silicon Valley isn't what we should be aspiring to, but rather we should be looking for ways to combine the economic benefits of a startup ecosystem including some big successes with a skew towards solving "good" problems (where "good" is obviously rather nebulous, but is mostly about not just about creating economic value - so in addition to obvious social good, that would include Flickr, for example, but be less keen on SEO firms or Groupon). And look to avoid creating a monoculture where any one industry dominates the city.

Then when I got back to my hotel, an email to the DoES Liverpool mailing list pointed me at this report on high-growth companies in Merseyside.

It's not a particularly good, or interesting, report but it struck a strange juxtaposition with the conversations earlier in the day. As usual, it makes the mistake of equating "digital and creative" with digital marketing agencies (see Digital? Creative? Startup? for my earlier thoughts on this) and so entirely misses tech startups from its analysis. It also persists in segmenting companies on their local authority, as if Sefton and Knowsley, and to a lesser extent St. Helens, are useful separations from Liverpool for anyone other than local councillors.

It claims to be better than previous, similar reports because of its data-driven analysis. However, whilst using data from and Thomson(!) will be an improvement over the SIC codes used by Government, I'm unconvinced that in 2013 it provides as complete a picture as the author claims, and also means it focuses on existing (at best, and historic at worst) companies rather than looking to the future and what could be.

As a result it seems an unconvincing piece of analysis to support the rather atypical local business accelerator programme Project EV. Which is rather apt, in a way.

Posted by Adrian at March 4, 2013 07:11 AM | TrackBack

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