Time for startups to make some noise

In the early days of his term, Mayor Matt Brown set London on the road to becoming a startup city. Very soon, we’ll come to a bridge on that journey that has little to do with business licenses or high-speed rail. To become a startup city, we’ll need to become a startup community.

While a startup city is a place where entrepreneurs successfully start and grow companies, a community is the group of people who share their experience in company-building with each other. It empowers entrepreneurs and supports them toward success. London has the seed of a startup community, but needs a few changes to make it grow.

Strong communities are led by entrepreneurs, but what exists of ours is dominated by institutions like TechAlliance, the Small Business Centre, and the LEDC. The reasons are two-fold: one is that most of us want permission and support from those organizations before taking initiative in the startup community; the other is that when we don’t, other people take issue with an imagined conflict.

The former is easily solved. As an entrepreneur, if you want to run an event, do it. If you think London should have something, build it. If you want to participate in something that doesn’t exist, invent it.

As a staff member at a support organization, try as often as possible to use the phrase, “Don’t ask. Just do it.” Occasionally use the phrase, “Here’s some money to help.”

For the latter problem, if you’re undertaking a community initiative but you’ve been told it competes with something else or steps on toes, use this questionnaire to guide you:
Do entrepreneurs participate in it?
If yes, keep doing it.
If no, quit (or pivot).

If someone is doing something that irks you because it competes with something you support, just ask them to stop running it out of your living room. If they aren’t running it out of your living room, reassess whether it ought to bother you so much.

Strive to be a startup community of peers where the rule of the day is that any one of us can become a leader. Our startup city should be one where our support organizations are allowed to focus on the important role they play in helping companies grow.

For too long, we’ve asked them to be responsible for making our community grow, too. It’s time to step up.

Speak up. As a community of entrepreneurs, we need to echo our insistence on institutional transparency with an absolute commitment to citizen transparency.

Say something when the city’s ideas about being business-friendly are misguided. Get involved in government decisions affecting your success. Let’s express our opinions in greater numbers.

Talk more openly about your difficulties. If you’ve built some success, spend less time speaking on panels and more time participating in community conversations. Tell organizations when their programs aren’t helpful to you. As assuredly as you want better support, they want to provide it. But for all we understand about the importance of customer feedback in building a great product, we’ve been terrible customers of the institutions that serve our community, keeping our criticism to hushed tones.

It’s time to repair it by building a strong startup community that will fuel the city we want to become. Let’s do what entrepreneurs do best: make s**t happen.


Originally published on May 21, 2015 in Amanda’s column in Our London.