What can UK tech learn from Silicon Valley?

We need to revamp our approach if we want to compete on a global stage.

by John Bates
Last Updated: 23 Apr 2018

The news that Silicon Valley invested a record $1.5bn in UK technology last year just goes to emphasise the difference between the US and the UK in terms of scale. On the other side of the Atlantic numbers like these are just... well, a drop in the ocean.

Silicon Valley thrives thanks to several factors, most significantly a skilful STEM research base with plentiful investment from venture capitalists. However, it’s also home to a can-do-culture and an environment where failure is recognised as just part of successful entrepreneurialism, rather than a source of shame – which is often where the UK lets itself down.

In my experience, negative attitudes and a fear of failure go a long way to holding back growth. Add to that the shocking productivity stats that show Britain’s output per hour is 22.2% lower than the US. There are clearly other factors at play aside from investment and education.

Having worked in Silicon Valley, now I’m back in London I feel that the market is crying out for a fresh approach to ensure that the UK really competes on the global stage in terms of start-up success.

Here are five ideas that just might help the UK tech scene thrive:

1. Silicon Valley vs Cynical Valley

One of the most frustrating things about UK attitudes is that we’re always saying, ‘That’ll never work’. In the US the same idea gets a ‘Brilliant, go for it’, every time. It’s the difference between an in-built optimism and an ingrained culture of defeatism.

Just look at the media in both countries – the US praises success and recognises start-up ventures, even if they fail. In the UK, the media shoots down both success and failure (MT aside, of course - ed.)

As a business, you may have your five minutes of fame, but you’ll always be challenged by the default negative stance. Maybe we could help ourselves in the UK by shrugging off the old adage that it’s cool to be cynical…

2. Customer success over your success

Our primary company value is to ‘wow’ our customers, and to make their business a success.

But often in the UK, companies just want to be right – even at the expense of the customer. Put the customer at the heart of everything you do, place their success above yours, and you won’t go far wrong.

In the US, companies make customers service part of their marketing strategy. It’s a winning formula.

3. Move at warp speed

As a nation the UK tends to have a technocratic approach to running business – with the priority on getting things right before they go ahead. In today’s environment challenger brands are disrupting markets at warp speed so this has to change.

If we adopt the assumption that it’s OK to fail - that you learn from failing as you move on - the UK tech scene will quickly get up to speed.

4. What’s the story?

What does the market need? All too often, companies are focused inwardly on their product or messages, without considering the actual story. Your differentiator should address a market issue and ultimately the story that responds to the demand will sell your company.

It doesn’t sound like rocket science, but US businesses are brilliant at anticipating the market and their sales and marketing reflects this.

To use a football analogy, UK companies need to adopt a ‘fox in the box' approach to marketing, anticipating opportunities and capitalising when they occur. A disruptive organisation can spin those market opportunities and turn the company vision into a compelling story.

5. Finally…have fun

I believe that creating an uplifting and fun culture is one of the most important roles a leader has.

Customers are inspired by inspiring people. Service sells and US tech leads the way at this, famous for their exceptional working environments which encourage customers to want to collaborate.

In this doom and gloom Brexit era, as UK tech leaders we must remember to keep our heads high. Be visionary rather than reactive, collaborate to the max, have fun, and first and foremost, delight your customers.

Do all this, and we might just change the world.

Dr John Bates is the CEO of Eggplant, co-founder, former President and CTO of Apama. 

Image credits: Leonel Calara


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime