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Helping UK startups get ahead in San Francisco and Silicon Valley

(For those who don’t know me, I’m a British Internet professional who moved out to San Francisco 18 months ago to work with startups and industry-leading companies out there. I currently provide consultancy to Seesmic [more on TC] and MySpace. Before that I worked for the BBC for a looooong time on many projects you’ll know and love such as the BBC News website and Backstage.)

This is all very much ‘work in progress’ but I’ve been looking to kick off some kind of project to help UK startups tap into the San Francsico/Silicon Valley ecosystem.

This is something I’ve been slowly brewing for a while but will probably accelerate now that Mike Butcher spontaneously wrote about it on TechCrunch UK (following a comment on another TCUK post about VC investment in 2008). Spontaneous in a good way, I should point out 🙂

The project

As Mike writes in TechCrunch UK:

…I am on the side of people like Saul Klein and Ryan Carson who are passionate advocates of staying in Europe to do your startup. I agree with them. Quite obviously I think you can startup in the UK and Europe. But it is also smart thinking to put down feelers in Silicon Valley, that’s all I’m saying. I doubt anyone would disagree with that point.

(emphasis mine)

I certainly support the sentiment. Following on from a previous visit back to the UK in March 2007 I wrote a post about the state of the startup scene in Europe and the fine work Saul and others are doing. Conditions are certainly improving.

However, I also can’t hide my personal preference for SF/Valley – after all I decided to move my wife and I over here! But equally, I’m not as bullish about the place as Paul Graham. He says that it’s the only place to be.

Regardless of where you base your startup, I can’t stress enough to anyone founding a company how important it is to get your ties with the SF/Valley ecosystem going. Paul Graham is correct when he points out that, at least for now, it is the gravitational hub for:

  • Startup funding
  • Partners, suppliers and others who can add to your value chain
  • World-class talent (engineering, biz dev, marketing, etc)
  • Influencers and thought leaders (you were planning on getting them on board, right?)

And so broadly speaking this is what I am looking to help UK startups achieve:

  • Connect startups to local partners, talent, etc where there might be a mutual benefit
  • Host startups when they visit SF (make sure they meet the right people, visit the right companies and events, etc)
  • Utilize my contact network in anyway that will be of benefit
  • Potentially agree to represent them locally if beneficial (but way down the line)
  • Anything else I can do to support

I’ve actually done this a couple of times already, somewhat unintentionally, for startups that I’ve met along the way. It’s turned out to be really successful. Chris Saad, who is the CEO/Co-Founder of Australian-based Particls (formally known as Touchstone) kindly wrote:

“During our trip to San Francisco, Ben introduced us to a number of industry movers and shakers, put us into contact with potential business leads and ensured we were hanging out at the right events and parties. He even recommended where the best places to stay centrally. This helped us spread the message about Tocuhstone even further during our trip, and ensured we went home with an amazing array of new contacts and dialogues to explore.”

I met Chris and his business partner Nik at the StartUp Camp last year. They had just arrived from Australia and where hanging out here for a few weeks to see what was going on. They seemed like two interesting guys, with an interesting product, so I decided to hook them up with my contact network as best I could. It was great fun and I know they went away with lots of good contacts and leads.

Taking this forward

I’m not entirely sure what this project will look like exactly – as I mentioned this is all very much work in progress.

But I’m keen to start getting connected with you startups out there and find out what you need from me. Do get in touch – either via the comments or directly – my email address is mail [at] benmetcalfe [dot] com.

You can also join the “European & Valley Community” Facebook group created by Paul Walsh.

An action for me will be to create some kind of page/site/wiki explaining more about what I can do to help, etc – but I’d like to hear from some startups first so I can be sure I’m aiming it correctly.

PS: a final note on UK startups vs European startups…
All the way through this post I’ve referred to UK startups rather than European startups. I’m not against helping European startups (in fact I have some strong ties with Sweden too) but I’m mindful that there is only one of me and there are a lot of startups out there and so I have to start somewhere. Also, many European countries like France have government-operated projects that provide Embassy assistance directly to startups looking to up their presence in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It’s sad to say that the UK doesn’t have such a scheme.

So if you are a European startup do still get in touch, but I would also urge you to review what government sponsored assistance might be available to you too.

Published in Thoughts and Rants


  1. This is excellent news, but what about startups outside UK and US such as Africa or Asia?

    I guess everyone needs some Silicon valley connections

  2. Ben Ben

    This is a valid point @Charl.

    As I noted in my post, there’s only me (so far). Let’s see where this goes first and see what we can grow it into.

  3. Found your post on Blog Friends, which I’m developing with two friends. We would definitely be interested in chatting with you. We’re currently virtualised in London and its environs. In fact, Paul Graham gave a great talk at Imperial College a couple of weeks back and substantiated his assertion about SV’s benefits most convincingly.

  4. I’m going to take my comments back because Ben is our secret weapon and he adds so much value to our day-to-day operations that I don’t want anyone else to know about him…


  5. Ben, great to have you there, in position, and keen to help. I think my business partner Tom may be in touch about a project he’s currently planning. Cheers – Will McInnes.

  6. Ben, success in the UK entrepreneurial scene will drive more people to open offices in the SV as well (at least that’s my thought) because they will have money to do it. and it’s the place where everybody is. On the other hand, if UK start up scene won’t be supportive enough entrepreneurs will migrate to SV… so either way your project seems to have legs! And I’d really like to have a chat with you some time down the line.


  7. The reason I ask is because im a part of a few startups in South Africa that could do with some US influence

    How can I get in touch Ben?

  8. Ive added you to Skype etc

  9. Great idea Ben. I think it’s fantastic you’re doing this. I’m out in SF soon for the Games Developer’s Conference (w/c Feb 18th) so would love to meet up for a coffee.

  10. Alex Alex

    Ben, couldn’t agree more. Combining the UK excellence in entertainment, communications and financial markets with Valley backing could be a powerful combo. I’m in SF during January and hope that you’re available to meet.

  11. Steve Jevons Steve Jevons

    Can I ask what are the advantages to a UK law firm creating a virtual office in silicon valley, and what are the oppotrunities?

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